- Posted by John on January 2, 2020
Welcoming 2020 with our reflections on 2019
It's time to say goodbye to 2019 and hello to 2020! But before 2019 disappears into the mists of time, we thought it would be nice to reflect back on some personal highlights from the year just gone, as we welcome in the new one. 😊
Below you'll find a selection of contributions from our team. In recent years we've ordered them by alphabetical last name (2017) and alphabetical first name (2018); this time we've gone with the order in which we received them, in part so as to get a cute picture in at the start! We hope these stories help inspire you in whatever endeavours are first and foremost on your lists for the start of 2020.
Wishing you a very Happy New Year from the Overleaf team! 😊
Reflecting on 2019
Quick links to each contribution:
- John L-M
- Lian Tze
- Mary Anne
The personal part of my update is easy this year: welcome to the world, Alden! My wife and I have had a wonderful few weeks getting to know him. Now it is not just Overleaf that wakes me up in the middle of the night :)
On the work front, it's been just under a year since we finished the user-facing parts of our integration with ShareLaTeX. Since then the development team has been hard at work behind the scenes, consolidating hosting providers, databases and codebases, which ideally no one noticed, not to mention scaling the site as we passed five million users. And we've shipped a lot this year that you may have noticed, too, including many bug fixes and usability improvements, project ownership transfer, a TeX Live upgrade, new releases of our on premise editions, and of course Single Sign On for our institutional customers. Our work in 2019 has set us up to deliver a lot in 2020, and our product team has been busy running user interviews and surveys to advise what that will be.
Here's to another big year in 2020, and to maybe sleeping more than two hours at a time again some day!
Professionally, this year has been dominated by migrating our front-end services to Google Cloud. We finally pressed the button early September, and despite the inevitable minor niggles and teething issues, it's been going pretty well so far. Since then I've been working on migrating non-user facing tools. There's been some welcome time to get my head out of the clouds and meet real users at the British Applied Mathematics Colloquium in April in Bath - the first time I've attended a conference as an exhibitor. I found out first hand just how popular the Overleaf ducks are! I also gave an Overleaf workshop in Oxford and gave a talk 'LaTeX - It's not just for Mathematicians' at the Oxford and Cambridge College IT Conference (CITC). I developed a prototype Debian package for the Pympress PDF reader - notable for its support for Beamers "notes on second screen" - which I trialled at CITC. Unfortunately this didn't make the cut for the Overleaf Hackathon, but I have continued to work on it in my own time and it’s now been accepted into Debian.
I was delighted that Overleaf implemented the long requested 'institutional Single Sign On' feature this year - and relieved that it was colleagues undertaking all the hard work to make this happen rather than me! This is a subject close to my heart due to my previous roles in Higher Education.
Outside of work, I managed to purchase a second hand laminar-flow cabinet and attend an excellent Hardy Orchid Society course on growing orchids from seed - something I have wanted to try since I was a teenager (many decades ago now). Orchid seeds cannot germinate by themselves, needing either a suitable fungi (or appropriate chemicals) to grow. In cultivation this is done in clean-room conditions on agar plates. It's early days, but so far it's looking promising. For the first time I submitted some of my photographs to a competition, and my photo of a Bird's Nest Orchid came first in the "A single orchid spike, in jpeg form" class.
Again, I had an opportunity to work with some of my mathematical acquaintances for a couple of weeks over the Summer, this time carrying out some further investigations into multiplication operators on JB*-triples. Separately, after much head-scratching, I was able to gain a sufficient grasp of the Isabelle Proof Assistant system to formally state and prove a couple of lemmas, another thing that I've wanted to try for some time.
In April I was lucky enough to ride on Vintage Trains' Oxford 175 Luncheon Circular service to mark 175 years of the railways in Oxford. I was worried that the novelty of a stream train would wear off after 4 hours, but travel is a totally different experience when the journey itself is the destination, and 4 hours unhurried procession away from modern appliances was very restful. Cultural highlights included 'Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing' at The Queen's Gallery, William Blake at The Tate, and a visit to Strawberry Hill House - these were also opportunities to catch up with old friends in London.
I've done a bit of travelling this year: skiing in the Italian Dolomites (beautiful!), returning to old friends in the Swiss Alps (nostalgic!) and attending JSConf EU in Berlin (inspiring, if extremely hot!).
My teaching with Code Your Future continued with our biggest and most successful class ever. Congratulations to all class 5 alumni. We have welcomed our brand new class 6 in November, good luck to all of them in the new year!
At Overleaf, I became a team lead for the first time. Thanks to everyone on Team 💧 for being incredible teammates, can't wait to see what we build next! Behind the scenes I've been upgrading our infrastructure, helping our developers bring improvements to you faster.
Looking forward to 2020 and hoping everyone has happy holidays :)
November 2019 marks my Five-Year-Anniversary as a Community TeXpert with Overleaf. What a five years these have been, from writeLaTeX to Overleaf to Overleaf+ShareLaTeX to Overleaf v2! I handled half-a-dozen support requests a day, to more than 50 a day at times , over the period of these five years. And no wonder, as we now support 5 million users at Overleaf, including students, teachers, lecturers, researchers, publishers, editors and hobbyists, so we are supporting an increasingly diversified users and needs.
Therefore 2019 also saw the expansion to a full Support Team, and a new Product Team! We're now able to work even more effectively with the Development Team using feedback from our users to launch oft-requested features like project ownership transfer and a new project archival/deletion flow. We've also been handling two TeX Live upgrades in 2019, and to prepare for these upgrades I checked through 600+ Gallery templates that may have needed modifications to be ready for TeX Live 2018 and 2019!
It's exciting times and pacing, so I was thankful to have the chance to spend time in person with the team at the Digital Science company retreat (and a nice dinner in a fancy dress), and with family on our holiday trip to Japan!
2019 has been a year of mixed projects, including writing and production of some extensive publications/articles on TeX, such as:
- an online listing of nearly 1000 TeX primitives, cross-referenced to show the primitive commands supported by 9 different TeX engines. This required an analysis of the source code for each TeX engine to extract the list of built-in commands
- an extensive article on understanding LuaTeX’s \directlua command]
- a six-part series on how TeX macros actually work
- a six-part series on how the \expandafter command actually works
Other work has included moving/porting 800 LaTeX templates from one platform to another.
An ongoing project is improving/enhancing a custom build of TeX (derived from Knuth’s original) which I use during research for our “deep TeX” articles (including some of those listed above). This specialized build of TeX, compiled using the Eclipse IDE, is used to probe TeX’s inner workings, helping to ensure our background articles are technically correct. Lately, this work has included partitioning TeX’s monolithic (machine-generated) C source code into multiple smaller files. The objective is to ease the process of modifying/exploring TeX—and at the same time trying to document some of TeX’s more complex, machine-generated, C source code.
In 2020 I’m planning to write a series of articles on typesetting tables in TeX (or LaTeX)—exploring the underlying mechanics to help explain, and understand, just why tables can, at times, be rather “tricky” to typeset. Even Knuth himself was moved to remark (in TeX’s source code) that “It's sort of a miracle whenever
\valignwork...”—referring to the low-level commands (and algorithms) he designed for typesetting tables.
On a personal note, I spend most Sundays with friends/family taking long walks in the countryside, guided by the excellent Beyond Bristol books by Robin Tetlow. So with 2019 approaching its last few days, I’d like to wish everyone in the wider Overleaf community an enjoyable festive season and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020.
2019 at Overleaf saw the Support team grow - a good thing, since our user base has grown to over five million! Each month, we hear from about 1,500 of those users. I enjoyed my work travels to London, Dublin, San Diego, and Washington, DC. I’m looking forward to another year of continuing to help the support team take great care of our users, both through direct user support, and through collaboration with other teams.
At home in Virginia, I completed the C-Ville-athon for the fifth time, continuing my streaker status in this challenge to run a combined 26.2 miles in area not for profit running races.
I have a new colleague in my home office - Shark the dog!
He’s such a mutt that the dog dna test could only identify half of his breed mix. The other half is 25% miniature poodle, 12.5% shih tzu, and 12.5% English foxhound. Shark and I wish everyone a very happy New Year!
2019 has been an exciting year for me. I joined the Overleaf Engineering Team before the summer and I've really enjoyed the last few months. The biggest milestone has been releasing the up-to-date version of Overleaf Server Pro, which our customers were really looking forward to trying out. It's been a few months of navigating through really old code, a dozen different technologies and lots of code reading. Quite a challenge!
On the personal side the highlight was travelling to Japan in October for the Rugby World Cup. It was a wonderful trip, and although my favourite team (allez les bleus!) didn't win, there were plenty of thrilling games. Looking forward to the 2023 edition in France!
2019 has definitely been an exciting year for me. I started working for Overleaf in late May, and I can’t recall a happier time in my career! The team is really great, everyone in the team is very enthusiastic and proactive, and our community of users is so engaged. I’ve spent the last couple of months interviewing users and it was a revelation to see how much they care and want to contribute to the product.
We are a fully remote team, so one key highlight for me was to help organise our first remote hackathon! We had virtual rooms for people to go and ‘visit’ each other, some exciting projects running for over 24 hours (because of the different time-zones), and a collaborative playlist to share music among the team. Although I didn’t take part in the projects, I used the hackathon to dab my feet into Python for the first time :).
On a more personal side, I was very happy to be able to go on a three-week-long road trip to California! We started in Death Valley, then up to Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, then down through Highway 1 on the Big Sur, L.A. and then up again towards Palm Springs and the Mojave desert. We saw some incredible landscapes and wildlife, it was really humbling to see sea lions roaming wild on the beach, or hearing the loudest cicadas ever! My favourite part was going on a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas and back. The view was stunning, what a way to end the holiday!
One other big event was moving into our new home. I finally have space for a millinery studio and for a proper home office. Maybe I should get a dog next? :)
I am grateful for all these happy times and opportunities in 2019, and now I look forward to an exciting year ahead, both at home and at work, as we plan more feature releases on Overleaf in 2020.
2019 has been a fantastic year for me! We celebrated my daughter’s first birthday and my partner and I both enjoyed taking the whole of August off to have lots of family time together. During our month off we did a couple of camping trips and a few beach trips during the heatwave. Beatrix sort of liked her first dip in the English Channel! One of the trips was to Wilderness festival in Oxfordshire, as the name implies it is set on a beautiful piece of land that is a slice of paradise. There is a lake where you can swim next to some woods and the grounds are absolutely stunning, plus there are lots of great bands and it’s super children friendly. We also enjoyed a camping trip to Devon with my brother where I had a few chances to practice surfing and we had a nice bbq on the beach. Admittedly some of the trip was a bit of a washout but we still had fun. Gotta love British camping :)
At Overleaf the advisor program has continued to grow, we now have over 300 advisors from across the globe. This year we have laid foundations to further support our advisor group and I’m looking forward to developing these in 2020. It has also been incredible to read the many testimonials people share about Overleaf on twitter, it really is fantastic working on a product that is so loved!
2019 has been one of the busiest years for me to date. Since starting with Overleaf in April I have been working to build a pipeline and making my first sales into new institutions and territories (new for me anyway). To represent Overleaf at conferences in both the UK and overseas has also been a real pleasure. Hearing how positive and enthusiastic users and institutions from across the globe are about Overleaf is fantastic.
Alongside starting my new role with Overleaf things have been even more hectic. A one year old starting in nursery for the first time, learning to walk, talk and generally create mischief 24/7 has kept us busy. It was with great timing that he made his first steps while we took our summer holiday and we both spent 2 weeks chasing him around.
A final project for me in 2019 was project managing an extension to our home. A small building project that should have taken 10 weeks but actually lasted just shy of 10 months (through no fault of the project manager I might add). At least it’s finished in time for Christmas and I have a new stove to heat the house / mess about with and burn stuff.
This year has flown by! I can’t believe I’m already writing my ‘end of year’ summary for 2019! It’s been a crazy, hectic year filled with ups and downs. Through it all, Overleaf has been a source of joy for me - surpassing 5 millions users and providing direct end-user support for over 5 years are incredible milestones. I can’t believe how much Overleaf has grown since I started at the beginning of 2015! And I’m so lucky to have the privilege to work with this incredible group of people we have at Overleaf. It’s been a year of hard work - but a lot of fun!
On a personal note - my twin boys started college this year - so that’s been exciting! On top of their hectic college schedule, they still successfully run the business they started which connects young adults to help seniors with technology. I’m so proud of them for not only starting a business that continues to grow - but for it to be a business that helps so many people in our community. :-) My husband and I love watching the boys grow into wonderful young men!
And to end, I want to say thank you to all our customers and the wonderful end users I’ve had the pleasure of working with this year! I truly wish you all a magical holiday season and the happiest of New Years!
What a year! I joined the company in May, and it has been a great ride ever since. It's fantastic to be part of such an amazingly diverse team and contributing to a product everyone loves to love. (An anecdote: when I ask my old research colleagues if they use Overleaf, the most common answer is "Who doesn't?")
At the personal level, the kids continue to grow. There's always something fun (or crazy?) happening with a 3 and a 5-year-old around. I also helped my wife launch her startup, which has been a gratifying experience.
I want to finish with a huge thanks to everyone within and outside the company. Let's have a great 2020 together!
The year 2019 was full of changes in my life. First, I decided not to continue in my academic career after my current PostDoc in mathematics. At the same time I decided to pursue studies to become a professional church musician, which means a lot of playing the organ and other stuff. To accommodate all of this, I was looking for a flexible job, and that brought me here to Overleaf during the autumn! Having spent only 3 months at Overleaf, I cannot say I achieved much here, but I settled in and I look forward to the challenges of 2020. It goes slightly better with my organ practice, and this is me playing some nice baroque music on my home organ:
2019 was a very busy year for me, both professionally and personally. I always enjoy reflecting on the year by putting together a short video, while attempting to capture some of the moments and events that set 2019 apart from other years. I continue to be grateful for my life in ‘the harbor,’ my family and friends, and my amazing colleagues and opportunities at Overleaf.
A short visual representation of my 2019 is here:
What a year 2019 has been - wow! I was lucky enough to join the Overleaf team in April, and have thoroughly enjoyed getting to work with, and know, the fantastic team here and our amazing community of Overleafians!
My team and I have spent a lot of the last 7.5 months building the foundations that we need to focus on the future - so it's super exciting to see what 2020 will bring and I've just had some time off work (see next paragraph), so it's great to start back with the news that we've gone above and beyond 5 million users!
In my personal life, my family and I enjoyed a holiday in France for my brothers wedding in July (my son loved getting dressed up for that!), my son - Zachary - started "big" nursery in September and last, (but not least!) along with John L-M I joined the Overleaf #BabyBandwagon and welcomed a beautiful addition to our family, Isabelle, in November - she's now 7 weeks old and (thankfully!) is sleeping amazingly - plus we've just, this week, been graced with the most perfect smiles!
Thanks for getting this far! In case you want to jump back up to read any of the other stories, here are the quick links again :)