Year in Review: 2020

January 06, 2021 - 7 min

2020, what a ride!

I cannot believe 2020 has already finally come to an end: with the lockdowns and quarantines, time simultaneously flew by and dragged on. A lot of my life was lived through a computer and the Internet. Time to reflect and remember.

Let’s start with some remarkable facts and events:

  • personally:

    • turned 30 in April, without even a beer to celebrate! (hint: the last bit is what’s remarkable) ❌🍺
    • traveled only once to see my family in France 😢
    • got engaged in August 💍
    • spent the Christmas holidays alone, for the first time (I feel you, Kevin McCallister) 🚰
  • at work:

    • got a raise and earned a promotion 📈
    • wrote 3 posts on the Frontend Platform’s internal blog ✍
  • on my blog:

  • miscellaneous:

    • joined 2 great online communities (Coding Career and Blogging For Devs) 🙌
    • revamped a handful of desktop PCs and laptops (cannot believe I was about to get rid of my older laptop when it’s so smooth now!): most low-end/mid computers are slow because of their stock hard drives (and limited RAM), a nice SSD and some RAM extension will do wonders! 💾
    • jumped on the sourdough bread baking train (and learnt recently how sourdough baguettes are a lazy baker’s dream!) 🇫🇷 🥖

Despite everyone calling 2020 their worst year ever, it did not seem so bad personally. Of course, I missed social life and being able to do “normal” things, but all things considered, I still learnt a lot this year.

Consumer to archivist

Spending so much time online means I absorbed vast amounts of data and after a while, it did not sit so well with me. I believed that I learn best by immersing myself in a continuous flow of information surrounding one topic. Of course, it’s worked for me so far, but the cost is that I get overwhelmed and it’s difficult to know when it’s enough.

Trying to change that brute-force approach to learning, I read here and there that taking notes would force me to slow down and choose what I consume more wisely. I obviously bought “How to Take Smart Notes” by Sönke Ahrens (and only half-read it), came across the German word Zettlekasten and went on a wild goose chase for the best Personal Knowledge Management system, and read all the articles and watched all the YouTube videos about the subject. Old habits die hard. 😅

After using a few of them, I ended up settling with Joplin (which I had of course already set up prior to any of this) and have not looked back. It does not have backlinks so I’m deeply missing out on interconnected notes, as the hype goes, but it’s okay. My FOMO is in check for now. Joplin is an active open source project which is available on desktop as well as mobile devices. I retain full ownership (and responsibility) over my notes as Joplin integrates with different storage backends: I chose to use my self-hosted NextCloud instance.

In short:

  • just-in-case knowledge is expensive; prefer just-in-time knowledge
  • it’s easy to go on a wild goose chase only to realise you had everything already
  • note-taking does force me to slow down and helps to remember better

Archivist to creator

This story does not end here, dear reader. Accumulating notes about topics I’m interested in helps to slow down and be more intentional with what I consume. But it turns out knowledge without action is mostly useless.

Luckily, Daniel Vassalo wrote this influential tweet:

and Shawn Wang (@swyx) acted on it almost immediately to produce the Coding Career Handbook a few months later. I had followed him for some time on Twitter. His posts, conference talks and online presence in general always brought me value so I wanted to support his work. I was also really glad that half the proceeds would go to FreeCodeCamp. I got the Creators package, not entirely sure what to expect. This was one of the best decisions of 2020.

As part of the Creators package, there have been regular workshops and they definitely spurred me further to action. After he invited Monica Lent to give a workshop about blogging for developers, I formed a resolve to try and publish a post every 2 weeks, as a way to transform my note-taking game into something more valuable. That’s when I resurrected my blog with 5 Tips to Start Blogging (for Devs).

A lot of my posts were shared at work and in the company’s external newsletter (thank you 🙂) and for the most part, this resurection was successful, even though December was a bit of a hiatus in my blog publishing, as I started my newsletter, Robin’s Gazette.

I still have a lot to learn when it comes to creating online content and I am looking forward to continuing with this momentum. Whenever I need a reality check of what it takes to embark on this creator journey, I would have a read through Alex West’s story, as it’s so real, inspiring and humbling!

Joining online communities

The Coding Career Handbook is an amazing resource and I would like to write a proper review of the book some day; it contains so much valuable information that it would be hard to do it justice here. What’s even more awesome about it is that it came with access to a community through Discord and Circle that Shawn manages really well as it keeps delivering value and furthers the book’s teachings and principles. And if that wasn’t enough, I met a few interesting people there who I’m looking forward to getting to know more in 2021.

Judging by how much the Coding Career community helped me to get real with my volitions, I also decided to join Monica Lent’s Blogging For Devs community because I’d like to take my blogging further. For example, my article about [Building] Standalone Expo .apk and .ipa with Turtle CLI broke the 10k unique visitor mark in December, through accidental SEO mostly. 🎉 I’m hoping to get a little bit more intentional with SEO as it’s a great way to magnify the reach of your content. There are so many interesting and inspiring people in Monica’s community, as well as discussions and workshops about SEO, newsletters, monetization, and of course blogging—topics I definitely want to dive deeper in in the new year!

Writing, writing, writing

If you have read this far, it has become pretty apparent that writing is now more than ever my main focus. I think it has been a tremendous source of clarity and success in the last year for me.

The resource that influenced my writing the most this year was this lecture by Larry McEnerney about the Craft of Writing Effectively (here’s a summary). Having done a PhD, I practiced the “wrong” way of writing for a very long time. Focusing on what’s valuable for your intended readership makes so much sense.

As I mentioned in my first newsletter issue (let me know if you want a copy of it 😉), design documents have been crazy useful at work. I must thank my colleage Tobiáš Potoček for bringing about this revolution. In this remote-only work environment, they were a great tool to discuss, make decisions and document them in a searchable manner. Every shortcut needed to be reckoned with and set against the bigger picture. Every quirk or contextual piece of information (which are critically important to understand past decisions or make new ones) are now recorded in writing.

Being a member of the Frontend Platform team, communicating as effectively as possible with the teams we serve was critically important too—especially in such challenging times for a travel company in 2020. Most of that communication was done in writing through Slack and Google Documents. (Not to say it was always a smooth ride…)

A look ahead

In 2021, I will focus on staying in shape, physically and mentally. We will go for walks in nature more regularly with Emilia (we agreed at least once a month and have a list of places in Czechia!) I will cycle to work as much as possible, get back into the nice workout rhythm we had during the first lockdown and take care of my sleeping patterns (it’s all great to wake up earlier to write, but that means going to bed earlier too, Robin ;-)) I will take breaks when I’m getting overwhelmed, instead of resorting to my usual “strategy” of pushing through until I’m burnt out.

In 2021, I will focus on maintaining the shift from content consumption to content creation. I want to continue publishing on my blog every 2 weeks as well as send my Gazette every 2 weeks. I will write a book to help PhD graduates transition to web development: I’m now further along the path (and my work seems to be appreciated :)), so it’s time to try and lift others as I climb.

In 2021, I will finally speak Slovak fluently to be able to speak to all our wedding guests (still to be planned… so I got time, I guess :P) in their preferred language. (Robin of January 2022, you’re welcome!)

C’est parti!

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    Personal blog written by Robin Cussol
    I like math and I like code. Oh, and writing too.