2021 Retrospective

Your 2021 Work-From-Home Resolutions — The Storyteller Agency

Writing my personal yearly review on this blog is always a good way for me to reflect on my wins and challenges of the year. But this year’s post is harder to write just cause the whole year has been such a blur. Being mostly locked up at home as the world lives through the second year of a global pandemic has denied me the usual anchors of travels, conferences, and other social activities that I write my narrative around. And while I am thankful that my own immediate family has not been affected too badly, we did have a few deaths in my extended family in India, which was sobering, to say the least. I am hopeful that this ends in 2022 or 23, and that everything we have learned through this crisis, from new ways to work to the advances in virology and vaccination technology can be used for better ends in the future 🤞

I seem to start this writeup every year by talking about how educational the previous year had been working on new technologies at Comcast Labs. This year was no exception though maybe slightly more focused in a domain that I had never worked in before: AI-generated speech. While deepfake technologies have mostly been in the news for the wrong reasons, there is a huge opportunity for useful applications using synthetic video or audio as well. Specifically, I explored the current state of the art in synthetic speech, the differences in the offerings of the various cloud providers and startups in that space, and its applicability to some of the domains I am focused on. We tried a number of open-source Text-to-speech libraries like Mozilla TTS and ESPNet and used them to power a “voice-first” device-setup experience. This year definitely seems to be the year of voice-first platforms, with the explosion in voice platforms like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces as well as the continued proliferation of voice hardware like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Our prototype was not only educational technically for me but also highlighted the prototypical nature of the current state-of-the-art in Voice UI/UX.

The customer experiences I worked on this year were mostly iOS-based which gave me a good opportunity to really get into SwiftUI this year. After about 5 months of working with it, I am feeling pretty confident with it. I like it though there are some language features in Swift that still make me go cross-eyed. Another part of the iOS stack I had never touched before was their on-device Machine Learning stack, CoreML. I built a fairly simple classifier in CoreML to handle customer responses and it worked pretty well, though I haven’t had the chance to compare it to something like Tensorflow Lite. I also spent a little bit of time with Jetpack Compose (I wrote about that experience here). Between SwiftUI, Jetpack, React, and Flutter, I feel my front-end bingo card is pretty much all checked 🙂

Speaking of Flutter, I shipped my first Flutter-based app to the Google/Apple app stores. The app, Jax, is a JavaScript learning app powered by Flutter on the frontend and a Rails/Firebase combo at the backend. Side apps can take a long time and this one certainly did, having started as a native Android app first, and then a React-Native app, and then finally a Flutter app. I learned a ton about Rails and Firebase through that journey and am really starting to dig the Flutter+Firebase stack for projects.

I continue to run the Comcast Blockchain Guild as well as the Philly Google Developers Group. This was of course the year of NFTs whether you love them or not, and I enjoyed doing some technical explorations in that space. I also got pulled into some very interesting conversations around how the city of Philadelphia could leverage that technology. The fact that the Phila.gov site now has a page up on https://phila.gov/blockchain is a great sign.

As with a lot of technology meetup groups, the pandemic severely shrunk the group that met monthly for the Google Developers’ Group meeting at the Comcast Center. One thing I did start late this year was using Twitter Spaces to host some of our meetings and that has gone off pretty well. We will definitely continue that in 2022 and I am excited about the possibilities of that format.

Otherwise, life has been good. I enjoyed reading a fair bit of books this year including a bunch of graphic novels. I am in the middle of 3 books right now and have half a chance of finishing at least one of them before the year ends in about 24 hours 👋

2021 completed list

Author: Arpit Mathur

Arpit Mathur is a Principal Engineer at Comcast Labs where he is currently working on a variety of topics including Machine Learning, Affective Computing, and Blockchain applications. Arpit has also worked extensively on Android and iOS applications, Virtual Reality apps as well as with web technologies like JavaScript, HTML and Ruby on Rails. He also spent a couple of years in the User Experience team as a Creative Technologist.

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