2020—My Year In Review

nawaz's quarantine looks in 2020
My 2020 look

As I was writing this post, I took a deep breath and thought to myself, what a bizarre year it was? Many ups and downs but certainly 2020 gave us many things, from Tik-Tok dance challenges to making the perfect sourdough bread. But most importantly, the value of empathy, physical touch, love, and human connection.

It was a few mins past the stroke of midnight. I was riding a Lyft bike along with my roommate, cheering and yelling "Happy New Year" to everyone on Valencia street in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco - that's how I began my new year. I dusted off my personal website the next day and published my first ever blog post, "2019 - My Year In Review". I cross-posted it on Medium and shared it with some family and friends. It felt exciting to embrace my creative writing talent out in public finally and to reflect on a whole year.

By January, I had spent a couple of months into my new job as a Senior Engineer at Everlane - a fashion company that focuses on selling ethical and sustainable clothing. I enjoyed the work culture, and everyone was super nice. I had some ambitious technological shifts in mind for the e-commerce stack that I was working on. Did I get to move this forward or not? Not yet, but I'll get into that in a bit 🙂.

Around the end of Jan, I decided to fly to India to see my ill Grandma. Somehow, I realized that I might never see her again if I did not make an effort. She was my mom's mom. She was short, moderately fair in color with long grey hair, extremely kind, sarcastically funny, generous, and most importantly, she had a Lion's confidence. I was one of her favorite grandchildren. She used to write me guides for my different academic subjects when I was in senior middle school and wake me up well before my alarm went off, yelling, "wake up, it's time. Remember, you should score more than Vikram and Arun! So wake up!!". She was special to me. Luckily, I had a visa to travel to India, and I booked a short trip for ~12 days.

nawaz with his grandmother
A special moment with my Nani!

My friend Nik was getting married around the same time, and I had timed my visit perfectly. I was thrilled to be a part of his special day. I ended up spending a wonderful 2 weeks in India with family and friends before flying back to the US - no pandemic yet.

nawaz with Nik's friends at the wedding
Nik's friends and I at the wedding celebration

WHO declared a pandemic in March; I knew what a pandemic was but never knew what measures would be taken and how long it would prolong. I thought everything would be fine in a couple of months after the lockdown. God, I couldn't have been more naive 😅. The news, social media, and google search results were flooded with concern and anxiety. By then, my company's management approved revamping the mobile-web, and I was pumped to take it forward. The office was shut down, and remote work became the norm. This is when I took the red pill and dived into the Matrix wonderland - a digital world filled with screens, bots, binary, and the word was "Zoom." I've wanted to work on GraphQL for a while. Next.js was creating lots of buzz in the world of JS; hence it was the perfect project I needed.

After working on the mobile revamp project for about 3–4 months in the lockdown, my team and I launched the new Everlane mobile website on July 6th - it was easy to use and performant. We gathered lots of positive reviews and praise from our users and top management. When I was not working on the project, I read books, watched all the documentaries out there on Mars(my way of fun to staying out of mainstream media), listened to audiobooks, and cooked delicious new recipes. Here's a glimpse of my cookbook,

a look into nawaz's cookbook
Briyani night with Abu, shrimp tacos in a roti shell, sambar rice with chicken curry & omelet, paneer tikka, dosa waffles with butter chicken, roti pin with the kneaded dough, Pongal vada sambar, chicken korma, and chicken tikka masala (from left to right.)

As I was preparing to go to Yosemite a month later, there was a second disaster, the California forest fires. The sky turned orange for a whole day, and the Bay Area had the world's worst air quality for weeks. The cars parked on the street were covered with a thick layer of ash. Around that time, my colleague from the photo team at Everlane asked me if I was interested in a Japanese oxford shirt modeling assignment. How could I turn it down? So I didn't. A couple of my friends Saf and Chris helped me out with the photo shoot. My pics made it to the home page, email blasts, and banners. Here's a look into my modeling career,

nawaz modeling for Everlane
Everlane men's homepage. Photo courtesy: Safiyyah

Due to the smoke in the air, I had to cancel my trip to Yosemite. I took the week off from work and stayed home to focus on my mental health. It was a peaceful week, but Corona hit home on day 8. My dad was getting sick by the day with a high fever and started experiencing breathing problems. He was being monitored at home by my sister, who is a medical doctor. His blood oxygen levels were dropping, and we got concerned. Getting a hospital admission in India turned out to be a challenge as they were filling up quickly. Even if the hospital beds were available, they were reserved for the VIPs 🤷‍♂. Fortunately, there was one COVID bed available, and we happen to get it because my sister knew a doctor at the hospital. Dad spent almost 10–12 days at the hospital. We were in shock and praying the whole time. Luckily, the drugs administered at the hospital were effective in reducing his symptoms. He successfully defeated the virus and got a second chance for life, and I could not be more delighted. He's doing well and currently undergoing physiotherapy. My sister handled all this by herself, and I've never been more proud of her. This was the toughest paragraph for me to type as I was reliving these moments in my mind. But in the end, my dad defeating the virus and coming back into our lives was my best gift of the year.

Okay, moving on to some lighter topics. As beautiful as San Francisco could be, it is one of the most expensive cities on earth. People started flocking to other cities to make use of the remote work culture. The all-time high San Francisco apartment rents took a dip for the first time in years. Taking advantage of this situation, I moved into a 1-bed apartment with a balcony and a magnificent SF view. Here's a glimpse of the sunrise from my apt,

sunrise from my balcony
Sunrise from my balcony

Highlights of 2020

  • I penned and published my first year in review for 2019.
  • I visited India to see my Grandma.
  • Attended Nik's wedding ceremony in Hyderabad.
  • Revamped and launched Everlane's mobile website from scratch with a slick design and picked up new technologies like next.js, apollo, Cloudflare workers, and GraphQL.
  • Made lots of chai with roots and spices like ginger, cardamom, turmeric, etc.
  • Embraced my inner-chef - made lots of delightful childhood recipes and new innovative ones - have I mentioned about my fancy shrimp tacos yet? 🙃
  • Was featured on Everlane's men's home page - modeling for Japanese oxford shirts.
  • I listened to wonderful audiobooks and read some interesting non-fiction.
  • Moved into a 1bed apt with a balcony and a glorious view.
  • My dad recovered from COVID after being treated in the ICU - my blessing of the year.

My Takeaways

I learned that I could not focus, measure, and improve every tiny quality or habit. But rather have high-level 6-month themes or targets that are achievable and work towards them. Carve out some time for your loved ones every day.

High-level goals for 2021

  • Invest more in health and mental fitness - my spaceship.
  • Build a brand under my name, out in public in the dev community with blogs, videos, and a social media presence.
  • Seek and nurture old and new relationships.
  • Be patient, consistent, and have fun while doing it!


Thank you to all the frontline workers for your hard work and sacrifice🙏 , my late grandmother for motivating me every step of the way, mom, dad, and what can I say? I've got the best sister in the whole world. Special thanks to Dr.Sapna, KV (a friend of my sister), and all the others who helped us out in the pandemic. Thanks to my colleague Steph for picking me to do the photoshoot and Chris and Safiyyah for being the keen eyes behind the camera.

To my reader friends

Thank you for reading my article. If you enjoyed my storytelling and writing, drop me a line on Twitter. Happy 2021. I hope you all have a wonderful year ahead.