A coding noob’s chronicle — 2020

Photo by Lukas Hellebrand on Unsplash

This is a coding noob’s chronicle, volume III. (I can’t believe it’s my third year already! Here’s volume I and volume II fyi)

2020 has been a really weird year for me, as a coder and as a person. I know it has also been a weird year for you and many others, so let’s try to appreciate the weirdness together shall we?

This is going to be my archive of the year, it is also a story among many others stories in the global pandemics — there’s no tl;dr, unfortunately. But I do hope that you somehow resonate with it.

Lucky? Final bit of freedom (My work-ation)

At the very beginning of the year, Corona hit China very hard while I was planning to utilize the flexibility my job gave me to go to Mexico for a visit. I got the first slap from the reality — I got rejected boarding the plane. Well, it wasn’t because of Corona, but because I didn’t have the transit visa for laying over in Toronto for an hour in order to transfer to Mexico. Like many other sudden decisions popping up in life, I needed to decide if I give up or if I continue. It was quite messy as I was trying to proceed with a transit visa and contacting my travel agency to figure out possibilities. In the end, I just bought new round way tickets and went anyway.

That was my first time as a coder experiencing “work-ation”, a word for describing a new kind of work-life-style. To still have some overlap with my team, I started working at around 6:30 in the morning. I usually finished work around 2:30 to 3 pm, and I’d go do my tourist stuff. I was a bit concerned about being a Chinese traveller in the middle of Corona time, so I tried to explain that I’m based in Denmark whenever being asked. The good thing is, either because Mexico is too far or Mexicans I met are just nice people, I didn’t have any troubles during the stay. I was very grateful that I chose a career that could give me freedom like that, was also feeling lucky working in a flexible company.

I went back to Denmark at the beginning of March. The news coming from China wa mostly how the country locked down and everyone was in the middle of that battle. It was the peak time that I felt lucky that I wasn’t in China, my own words at the time was that “I’ve dodged a ball”. How naive I was.

Nobody had saw it coming — until it became real.

Nobody would have guessed the following development. The wave came to Europe and then very soon hit Denmark. The whole country started ‘work from home’ quarantine while China started loosening the restrictions. I bought some masks from China because I couldn’t get it in the local pharmacies — nearly nobody wore masks in the street — except for some Asian faces.

Working from home wasn’t difficult for me as a coder, on the opposite, it actually offers more focus time. The biggest issue is actually the practicality — like what to eat for lunch, the free coffee in the office is gone, no standing desk, no 32" external monitor, more awkward online meeting (can you hear me? am I muted? can you repeat?) etc. The problem with the quarantine is that the food/product delivery is quite inefficient and expensive in Denmark, and the choice is also limited. This makes me feel less lucky about not being in China — in a random conversation I had with a friend, we talked about how consumerism is smoother in Asia; this is exactly it. I started missing the time I could go to cafes and meet friends.

It never rains but it pours.

As the old wisdom suggests, it never rains but it pours (祸不单行). At the end of March, a lay-off happened to me. It was probably the darkest time for job-seekers, there’re too little certainty for the commercial world but too many talent availabilities all of sudden. I was lucky to be in Denmark at the time because the law requires companies to give three months notification in terms of dismissing employees. That gave me some time to breath.

The coldness of the market winter was not the worst in such situation, the worst is the darkness arose within, the self-doubt, the anxiety, the fear, that eats people the most. The whole world was at the verge of pain, many people had similar experience, some even worse.

I wrote a blog post to have a closure and stop licking my own wounds, then I started looking into job possibilities. Surprisingly, the blog post attracted some people’s attention and they tried to help; it brings consolation when your pain was seen. I was somehow considering a relocation. Of course, that wasn’t the best idea ever given the situation.

Misfortune always reveal true faces.

Interview process with companies also became quite weird. I started talking to a scale-up which contacted me almost right after the lay-off, and it went really well in the beginning. I did the technical interview, had team interview with the engineers. I was invited to talk with the engineering director and the PM soon after. Then the recruiter asked me to give two references, including their names, emails, their professional relationships with me etc. I thought it was a final call on giving out the offer, so I made my former colleagues to fill those 20-quesition form for me. At the end, I was told that they don’t have the resource to hire me because they want to hire more senior devs (what a familiar script!). I questioned: what is more senior, why you think I’d need more resources and how I can fill in the qualification. I got some generalized answer at the end. What I felt was that Corona takes off the last piece of clothes companies wear, the ugliness is exposed to the full extend.

In the two months time, I’ve talked to around 10 companies, half of them, after a few rounds of interviews, told me that because of Corona, they’d decided to postpone the hiring; one rejected me because of cultural unfit; one was rejected by me because of pay cut caused by Corona; three went into the offer negotiation round. I went with the most ideal one at the time. Although you can still see the shadow of Corona in the process, I was definitely in the priviledged position comparing to many others.

When storm comes, some people cry, some people laugh.

Another fun fact is, while many experienced loss, some gained big time because of the pandemic. The company I joined was one example — the sales actually skyrocketted a bit — it’s a legal tech company that offers product to lawyers, which is a profession that actually becomes more significant during crisis. You can deduce that the logic for my job selection was to be on the safe side. We are all insignificant beings in the midst of disasters, I thought.

Life still needs to go on, plans, too.

I put myself in a part-time online CS degree program a few months ago, and in April, finally, my first semester started. I kept myself busy during the jobless time. Even though I can’t see clear, I know that there’s a future awaits me, and I need to prepare for it. Being a self-taught developer, I have a very sticky imposter syndrome, it visits me every once in a while. It is not very good thing to get used to, so I officially started this battle. I don’t think having a degree would actually make me win this battle, but I do think it could give me some different perspective — I’d know what most people have to go through before they start such a career. It also exposed me to various interesting topics that I myself might not spontaneously get into.

I also started taking more teaching responsibility from HackYourFuture. I can help more people step into a brighter future path just like I did myself, I thought.

Time started running again, while pandemic becomes everyday life

Time started running fast again since I started a new job. Danish government had several waves of change of policy, it got stricter, then relaxer, then stricter again. The government has been preparing for the recovery of economics, so they try to preserve the businesses by offering generous subsidies if the business promises not to fire and let employees take vacations.

I bought a ticket to fly back to China in December, hoped that I could escape from the lockdown in Denmark — you guessed right, my mindset shifted from feeling lucky not being in China to the opposite. Lockdown in Denmark means no eat-outs, no coffee talks, lots of money going into food delivery for not so great food and little choices , not so fast yet not so cheap online shoppings, no social gatherings, close to no entertainment. On the other hand, the new lockdown in China, as I heard from my friends, allowed people to move around as long as one possesses a ‘health code’ and wears masks at all time. Plus, online shoppings and food delivery in China offer thousands of options, and are cheap and fast; basically they exist as entertainments.

Journey to the east.

From here on, I’m gonna tell a lengthy story about how I got back to China. Fasten your seat belt, let’s go!

Fast forward to December, time to go back to China and end this weird year. Surely, it never gets easy. I knew it long ago that I needed to have a negative COVID test result within 72 hours from my take off time. The public health provides free COVID test and the result is usually out within 48 hours. It could work, I thought.

Then, the new policy was released by the embassy in November, notifying that now taking flights to China requires two negative test results, COVID test and antibody test, both approved by the embassy within 48 hours from the take off time. I was panicked for a while: firstly I wasn’t sure if I can get both results within 48 hours, and also I have no control on when the embassy employees work; secondly, I didn’t know what exactly antibody test means, and I surely didn’t know if I’ve ever got COVID myself. I called the embassy to ask, but they also didn’t have much clue as it was a very new policy. I did some research: so the antibody test only requires IgM to be negative, there’s another antibody called IgG. IgG can be seen as the ‘COVID-proof’ weapon as it persists in the body for several months and causes the immunity during the time whereas IgM appears but disappears very briefly in the early stage of infection.

I did a test round just to see how both test were done, and I learned that antibody tests could be done by walking in any pharmacy and the result is out in 10 minutes, and that COVID test offered by the public health needs reservation, but the result could be easily out in around 24 hours. Still, it could work, I thought to myself again.

After sorting everything out, I started looking forward to the trip — until I got the email saying that my flight is canceled just four days before. I called the airline company, just to figure out that all flights to Beijing were canceled. My options were to fly to Shanghai either the second day, or a week later. I have to say, I did see that coming — during the time waiting for the trip, Denmark had a minx crisis, and peaked its infections, I had been worrying that China might disallow in-bound flights from Europe again.

To avoid further change, I decided to fly the second day; however, that means I needed to have both tests done and approved within 36 hours, also to finish the packing etc. It was a bold decision, but I started running for it immediately. I went to the airport test center (a newly set one that offers paid quick test), and I was told that I could get the result by email the second day around noon and the print version around 2pm. My flight was at 650pm, so it would still be in time. I did the antibody test the same day, then I packed the whole night till I went to bed. The only thing that was missing was the COVID test report, but I didn’t get it even after the agreed time. I went directly to the airport to ask for the print version — maybe the print is out, they could have typed wrong email address, I thought.

It wasn’t. I was waiting outside of the test site since 2pm, trying to get the staff to help me speed it up. I was told by various persons that the test was still ongoing. I couldn’t even drop my luggage without the report, so I had to stay there and wait. If in the first 3 hours I still had faith, that it’d be okay, I still have time, after 3 hours, I was drenched in the imagination of all the worst scenarios: is it possible that I can change my flight after it takes off? can I just upload one test result and hope that the embassy staff would oversee and let me pass? is it the second flight that I’m gonna miss in 2020?

The clock didn’t stop because of my anxiety; very soon, the luggage drop-off was closing. I went to one of the staff, almost crying, telling him that I’m going to miss my flight because I couldn’t get my test report — which was supposed to be ready a few hours ago. He then told me, ok, I’ll go with you to the service counter and ask them to let you check in first and wait at the boarding gate. There were also a few other people waiting for the results, so we all went to the counter together. Luckily, the flight was delayed. We managed to pass the security and the border control. Once I hit the gate, I realized that there were around 11 other people who were waiting for the test results and that was the possible cause of the delay. The flight was postponed once more as there were still people waiting. However, I got my result when the boarding queue started forming. In my view, all that happened because the newly established test center does not have the test capacity, and they clearly didn’t know that themselves.

Is it the end of the surprises? I would hope so. 10-hour flight with mask on was clearly just the beginning (honestly, it was ‘breatheless’ experience sleeping with the mask on). What was waiting for me in Shanghai was not the food that I missed, not the sun shines that I missed, not the friends that I missed, but 2-week strict quarantine.

When I landed, I went through a very long pathway that was designed for the ‘imported’ personnels and had another COVID test through the nose. I literally teared when that was conducted, a guy told me that he also teared. After the 20-minute walk, I arrived at the spot to wait for the bus that drives us to the hotel. Afterward, it was then a 2.5-hour bus drive to go from east Shanghai to west Shanghai that takes us to the destination. I paid around 7k RMB (around 1.1k USD) for the two-week stay including three meals; it was not the best, but also not the worst. The internet in the hotel was pretty bad — I was working meantime with the company’s VPN. I was fed everyday at 7am, 11am and 5pm; I was allowed to order food delivery and do online shopping, but the hotel did the dispatch at certain times per day. The result of that is some of the warm food became cold because of the delay. (Well, you might say that I should plan the order timely. Well, I did, but the staff there were not the most punctual people in the world)

Did my peace finally come? Not really. On day 5, I got a call, not from food delivery or package delivery but some local administrative department. I was asked about my seat number in the flight, and then I was told that someone in the same flight was confirmed positive and they were trying to find all the close contacts. I asked if that would affect my quarantine time, and the person told me that it wouldn’t. At the end, I was told that I would need to take extra COVID test. It was brutal — they invaded both my nose and throat 😂. After that, it went back to ‘normal’ quarantine.

I started having insomnia after a week or so. I didn’t have much of jet lag in the first week, but I guess because of the quarantine, I didn’t really get away with it either. I asked for some sleeping pills after 4 days of insomnia in a row, but I was told that I would need to take the ambulance to go to hospital in order to get the prescription (it’s not OTC drug). I cannot imagine what could possibly happen, so I decided to suck it up. Luckily, it became better in the last two days with more exercise in the daytime.

Finally, I served my time. I’m breathing free air again while I’m telling my story. I’m still alive, and now I find life to be wonderful because of that.

A few last words.

I’m having difficulty to conclude 2020, as it is such a year that takes away a lot, but also gives back a lot. I, as a coder, learned what it feels like to be the lizard’s tail in the commercial world; as a person, learned that the world can change so fast that the stability everyone assumed was really an illusion. You never know which comes first, accidents or tomorrow.

2020 is a year to remember that life itself is hope, even though the darkness seems long and unbearable. When it hits the rock bottom, it always come back. Goodbye, 2020.

I’m Zoey Zou, currently a front-end web developer based in Copenhagen. I write about stuff, so random that I cannot conclude. I organize meetups and workshops with friends too. I have a very bizarre style of emcee and I love to see people awkward but happy at the same time.

If you want to connect with me:

twitter: @zoeyzou0117

linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zoeyzou2018/

github: @zoeyzou

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It is a story of 'zero to hero' of mine - a web developer's tour from scratch.

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Zoey Zou

Zoey Zou

It is a story of 'zero to hero' of mine - a web developer's tour from scratch.

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