The main reason for this post is to help kick start a goal of mine for 2019 to re-invest back in myself as a professional. It documents a little back story of my life as a personal reminder of how quickly life can move, but includes all the nice takeaways of a “year in review” list. Enjoy!
It wasn’t long ago that I felt I was at the peak of my web development game. Starting in 2011, I had gotten my masters in computer science, I had worked for a year and a half at a web software company, then at a digital agency after that, and I had freelanced that whole time as a web developer for a number of different clients doing full-stack development – before that term even existed, and we just called it “building websites.”
Also, I started my own full-time dev shop, I was making some money from side-project apps, I was ferociously learning any and all tech that was coming out, I was reading all of the software principle and theory books I could – things like The Mythical Man-Month, Clean Code, and Rework, I was contributing to open source, I was speaking at conferences, meetups, and workshops, and I was networking. In short, I was killing it.
In short: life happened. In 2013, my wife and I were recently married and found ourselves in need of a place for her father to live, which fast-tracked our plans to get a house. Looking to even out the peaks and valleys of income to appease the mortgage police, I took an exciting position as a tech lead at a design agency that I had been freelancing with with for years. That agency, while a blast to work for with new and exciting projects and challenges, also represented a huge investment of my time: long hours, regularly working nights and working weekends, and I become so integral to the operation that I felt like I could never take a vacation, let alone a day off, without the whole thing falling apart.
Then, you blink, and it’s 2015, and kid #1 comes, which is single-handedly the most amazing chapter in your life, and also the most time-consuming. In a career that requires so much of your focus and attention to execute at your best and the time to continue to research and grow, having a family is definitely unaccounted for in that equation (see Chris Fidao’s recent write up). Blink again, and here is kid #2 in 2018, and the little free time you had gets all but obliterated.
The result: your freelance portfolio and contacts thin out, you stop staying on top of the latest trends with no time to test-drive new tech, obviously you aren’t contributing to open source or staying activity in the community, your side project’s user churn rate increases with no bandwidth to market the app or add new features, and when your 9-to-5 – the only remaining avenue for your industry pursuit – consistently over-asks of you and under-delivers in professional fulfillment, you become burnt out and at times resentful.
Putting the doom-and-gloom aside, I like to consider myself an eternal optimist, so I actually never saw any of those things I mentioned as issues; they were simply realities that I needed to evaluate in context of where I was at in life, and figure out how I can improve my situation. The facts are: you aren’t in your 20s, you aren’t single, and you can’t work eighteen hours days… and that’s your advantage. You read that right: advantage. Here’s what I feel like are my achievements in 2018:
I changed jobs. I was the tech lead at my previous job for just shy of six years, and in that time, I gained a great amount of experience, I learned a lot of great lessons, I honed my multi-tasking and complex problem solving capabilities, and a beefed up my client relations and team management skills. However, as I continued to grow – both professionally and personally – for all of the effort I was investing, I didn’t feel the company was growing proportionally to my efforts. We were working harder, not smarter: we became expert grinders and we were always stressing to keep up with deadlines. I knew working this way would only last so long, I lost confidence that the company would be able to support myself and my family, long-term. So, I left. It was an extremely difficult choice to make, but in the short time since leaving, I have already seen that it was the right move, and was by far my best decision of 2018.
I learned to value my time. At first when I realized my free time was almost non-existent, I felt like I needed to regain that missing quantity back. However, I realized that’s a losing game as you get older, and I learned the real key is to increase the quality of the time you have. When you start to embrace this, you start to realize just how valuable your time truly is, and how much you should respect the time you have – which in turn will encourage others to respect your time, as well. My passion is building great stuff for the web, and while I’m a pretty good coder, there are a bunch of great coders – way better coders than me. My advantage is experience, and my experience is my value.
Baby #2! Our second son has firmly planted me in full-on dad mode, and it’s awesome. At nine and a half months, he is a handful: at times he’s way more fussier than our first, he wasn’t a great sleeper up until recently, and he constantly wants to be held. However, it’s amazing how much that little guy has already contributed to my life: he’s taught me to be patient, to stay calm, to be okay with long-term progress and appreciate smaller milestones, and has reminded me to smile at all the good, no matter how small.
I started networking again. When I was in a pretty dark place, career-wise, I realized that I was thinking of my profession as my career; it is not. You are responsible for cultivating your career, and I lost sight of that – buried in my profession. To fix this, I immersed myself in a ton of industry podcasts, I reached directly out to other IT professionals directly to chat, ask questions, or to thank them for their work. I started joining more OSS Slack channels and IRCs, I signed up for mailing lists to stay informed, and I purged my Twitter account to get more signal and less noise. Networking is one of my biggest attributions for reigniting the flame for my career: simply put, you vibe off of everyone else’s energy and you remember why you fell in love with this stuff in the first place.
I hit the gym harder. When I had my first son in 2015, I was at my highest weight and I knew I wanted to get in better shape to be able to keep up with him. That started my now three year stint of actively working out: my weight is down, my muscle mass is up, its increased my focus, my energy, and my confidence. For me, working out also reinforces concepts in my daily worklife: put in the hard work, stay consistent, embrace setbacks and work through them, focus less on results and more on progress, and be patient. Going to the gym is now a crucial part of my daily routine, and I get there at 5:30am to ensure I have no excuse about not having the time, and so that it doesn’t take away from my time with my family. As an added bonus, when you train in the morning, it prepares you nicely for your work day: things become less serious, and I view problems as just challenges that I need to attack.
I finished my basement. One of the greatest things about this career is that we get to envision something and then build it. One of the big reasons I got a house was that I was excited to take on some home renovation projects: again, to dream something up and build it. As our family grew, I knew that we were going to need more space for our family to hang. It took about a full year to find the time and the funds to complete the project, but now every time we are down there with the fam, or are entertaining guests, it’s a great sense of pride to know that you built the space that everyone is enjoying.
Learn more libraries and frameworks. I would like to take a deeper dive into learning React & Vue.js. I have a great deal of experience in Angular.js, but haven’t gotten caught up with Angular.io yet, so that too. I want to continue to gain more experience with Laravel: I’ve deployed a pretty big web app with it, but mainly by repeating MVC patterns I learned in Rails, and not so much learning the “Laravel-way.”
Build more webapps. Like most, I’m a learner by doing, and you only learn of real-world scenarios by encountering them. Building some SaaS projects has always been my way of learning new tech, gaining experience, and picking up some income in the process. As a personal project, I’m working on an accounting app for doing invoicing and keeping track of expenses. There’s nothing fancy about it: the features will be matching a piece of software that I currently pay a monthly subscription for, so I will get that money back when I finish it. However, not concentrating on features means I can focus on learning React + Laravel, and maybe some new infrastructure tech.
Build up my infrastructure chops. I know enough about system administration to get stuff up-and-running, and I started dabbling into Docker mainly for development, but that stuff is still very intriguing to me. I think it all appeals to the teenager in me trying to set up Apache on my old Windows XP machine. I would like to learn more about the AWS stack, as well as what other IaaS stacks offer, I would like to learn more about containers, and how readily obtainable it is in production for a team of one to work with.
I want to write more, and I need to finish theming my blog. It’s been a while. Clearly.
More community involvement. I would love to make the time to speak at more conferences and meetups. I want to engage more on Twitter to network and chat with other smart folks. I want to read more, and listen to more podcasts.
Happy 2019 everyone 🙂