2019 In Review

I’ve seen quite a lot of people writing up a summary of their last year, and given that we’re at the end of a decade I thought I’d join in. In standard fashion, it’s a) a big pile of oversharing, and b) 2 weeks late.

The good

I’m going to get married!

After years of making jokes about commitment (“We thought we’d have three kids, buy a house, you know, see how things go..”), I finally got my act together and proposed this year. It went well! I’m incredibly excited to be a husband. I don’t think it will change our relationship in any ground-shaking way, but it’s going to be lovely to make that commitment in a public way, and I know my fiancée (ha!) is looking forward to sharing the same name as the kids. Speaking of kids…

Three kids is a LOT of fun

We had our third child at the tail end of last year. I’m now a very proud dad to a 6 and 4 year old girls, and a 1 year old boy. It’s been absolutely amazing watching their growth over the last year.

Our eldest has grown in confidence so much, and is still consistently kind and caring. Our younger girl is learning at an absolute rate of knots, and amazes me every day with the new things she’s picked up. The youngest is in a fantastic phase as well, soaking up the world around him and generally delighting everyone.

There’s definitely been challenges (cars? baths?? Family tickets?!), but I adore my small people and the life we’ve built around them.

Work is still enjoyable

I’m incredibly lucky to have a rewarding job with colleagues that make coming to work a pleasure rather than a chore. It’s not been a completely smooth year, but I’m incredibly proud of the team we’ve built and the working environment that’s been created. It’s one that’s endured through multiple transitions and team changes, and I hope will continue.

We’ve built some fairly cool new stuff this year, while still supporting and improving our existing products. We’ve also managed to secure a bunch of interesting work for the next few years, which I can’t wait to properly get stuck into in the coming months.

From a technical point of view, I’ve become much more comfortable in the world of React and front-end than I have been for years. I’ve had to lean on some amazingly capable (and patient) colleagues, but have enjoyed getting back into that side of development immensely.

We also ran a large selection process for a third party vendor, and consciously tried to make it a collaborative and open effort. I think it absolutely paid off, and it’s been recognised within the organisation as an excellent pattern for future selections.

I’ve learnt a lot

I’ve dealt with more challenging situations this year than any other in my career, but it’s definitely been an opportunity to inspect how I interact and communicate. Reading Radical Candor was a particular eye-opener for me. It helped me identify where I tend to retreat where uncomfortable (ruinous empathy, if you’re interested!) and how to avoid it in the future.

We’ve been working at a much larger scale this year, and I’ve learned a ton from the team on how to handle that scale and complexity. This is only going to increase in 2020 as we move to a proper 24/7 team. The foundations we’ve put in place this year are great, though, so I’m definitely excited rather than worried about the transition!

I’ve taken a much more structured approach to developing my non-technical skills this year. After a few years of assuming I can only improve through experience, it’s been really refreshing to learn in a more directed way, and put that new knowledge to use.

Managed to run some more events

I really wanted to kickstart GraphQL Manchester towards the end of the year, and managed to run two events in August and October. We moved to a new venue, which was a massive improvement, and generally levelled up a bit in terms of setup and polish. I’d have loved to run another in December, but Christmas is a tough time to get organised!

I didn’t speak at all this year, which I’m a bit sad about - I’d definitely like to do some more talks in 2020, and probably step outside my safe GraphQL niche at the same time.

Rugby!

The world cup was great fun, we battered New Zealand in the greatest England performance I’ve ever seen, and if the engagement doesn’t work out I’m going to propose to Owen Farrell.

The bad

Mild Cancer

A “mild cancer” is the exact term my doctor used in the letter confirming a diagnosis this summer. I’ve taken to describing it as “diet cancer”, and sometimes “cancer lite”, but either way it’s fairly shit. Luckily, the type of cancer I had is extremely treatable and extremely common - a Basal Cell Carcinoma. Regardless, it’s still left a fairly scary shadow over the rest of the year - I’m at much higher risk of developing them in the future, and I’ve got a reasonably gnarly scar on my nose where the tumour was lopped off (via Mohs Micrographic Surgery, a super-cool technique that I’m still pretty amazed by).

It made me realise my health is pretty bloody important and I need to take care of it more. I’m incredibly lucky to have the means to get it treated and sorted quickly and easily. Also, I’m apparently lucky to have been blessed with a broad nose. Thanks, Doctor!

Double Vision

I’ve had double vision for quite a few years now, caused by a minor squint. It’s meant that I can’t really drive, and have had to wear prisms in my glasses to be able to see reasonably. Late last year, my eye checkup showed that my sight had degraded a fair bit, and I got a referral to finally get it fixed.

I went into surgery in July - this involved tweaking the muscles in one eye so they lined up better, and involved a TON of measurements and calibrations. Also, the greatest shiny train eye-patch I’ll ever wear.

It’s definitely improved things, but it’s been a lot of post-surgery work. I do daily exercises to improve my fusion range (officially the coolest medical term), and I’m now wearing normal glasses rather than my massive prisms. My surgeon compared it to working towards a six-pack - obviously something I’m very familiar with - it’s going to take time and effort, but the end result should be worth it.

Mental health is a thing

Probably due to the above, I’ve definitely struggled with mental health for the first time this year. I spent a lot of time after surgery fairly out of things. I had reactions to my stitches, infections and general unpleasantries. I’d taken on way too many things at work and was pretty much burnt out. My eyesight hadn’t been fixed as I’d been hoping and I had a ton of hard work to do. In hindsight, it’s not really surprising that I didn’t cope particularly well, but at the time it all felt a bit much.

It brought into focus that I’m surrounded by lovely people who care about me, and were generally brilliant in keeping me from spiralling. It’s also made me re-examine what was motivating me to try and take on so many things - that I wasn’t giving myself any credit for the things I was already doing. I think I’m getting better at this now, but I’ve still had the odd wobble since. I’m slowly developing strategies for breaking myself out of that - but it’s all a work-in-progress.

Rugby

I’m pretty much pretending the Calcutta Cup never happened this year, don’t ask me any more questions.

This year

There's a bunch of stuff I'd love to do this year:

  • Read more. I've been really crap for reading for a few years, but whenever I do I remember how much I love books. I'm not going to try and commit to any fixed number, but I want to read more than last year, at the very least.
  • Write more. Writing this post has already been really fun, and it's a skill I don't practice enough. I'd really love to make the time to write up at least one thing each month - we'll see how that works in practice.
  • Build more cool stuff! The new team we've brought together at the start of this year is already a lot of fun, and I'm properly excited to see what we build.
  • I want to get better at tracking my progress. I've been really taken with Lara Hogan's writing about engineering management, and especially the BICEPS model she talks about tracking. I'm going to experiment this year with tracking them week-to-week, as well as writing up weeknotes to decompress on a Friday. In the past I've been a bit crap at continuing this sort of thing, but I'm hoping keeping it lightweight will make it easier.
  • I'd like to do more public speaking, and speak about things that aren't GraphQL! I've had discussions about a few topics, now I need to get my arse in gear and actually write something up.
  • GraphQL Manchester is incredibly fulfilling, and I want to keep some momentum with it. If I can finish the year having run 4 instances of it, I'd be happy.
  • Start exercising more! I used to love to go bouldering, but had to cut back when our youngest was born. Now he's much easier to handle, I want to get back on the wall and properly progress in terms of skill. It doesn't hurt that it's a fairly good workout as well.
Published 16 Jan 2020