2018 into 2019

I really enjoy this time of year. Christmas is always a bit of a whirlwind due to numerous individual family gatherings and birthdays, but New Year is always a nice lull. As always I’m using a blog post as a prompt to look both back and ahead.

Top 9 instagram photos
My instagram top nine is an interesting take on my annual highlights!

2018 and health

Let’s start with the rubbish stuff. This year was hard in a lot of ways that I hadn’t experienced before. For the first time in my life, I got to a point where I felt debilitated and restricted by my heath. I’ve always been lucky enough to have no kind of disability, but increasingly I’d battled with getting very, very tired. There was a subtle reference to this in last year’s goals, with “To continue to try to look after myself, with exercise, good food, and sleep and rest when I need it.“ This year everything came to a head, and at points I was too exhausted to do anything at all.

After lots of blood tests and going round in ME/CFS or declining thyroid circles, I was finally put on lifelong medication for hypothyroidism. The best description of how I’ve been feeling is in this article - things like chronic fatigue, flu-like symptoms that disappear after rest, psoriasis, pains, incredibly light sleeping, brain fog, and weight gain (partly due to being much more inactive) have all taken their toll.

I put this first in this post because in all honesty it’s had an impact on so much this year, both in terms of work and life. You may (or may not) have noticed that blog posts fell off a cliff, side projects fell silent, and I’ve generally disappeared from visibility at points. That has made me sad, and I’ve felt quite isolated and disappointed in myself at points, but I’ve also tried to learn to be a bit more tolerant over my own high expectations. At the moment my brain hormone is still high and I’ve not got the thyroxine back up, however I’m really hopeful that now we’re starting to ramp up the medication things are headed back in the right direction.

2018 and work

Despite the above, I’m so proud of everything I’ve done work-wise this year.

Let’s start with the obvious: it wasn’t planned, but I am now employed again! I wrote about the reasons why in this post, but the short version is that I’m now in Engineering Management at Monzo! I’m continuing to do consultancy into January, but after that will be doing very, very limited other work. I have absolutely loved it since starting, and have no doubt at all that this was the right move for me.

As for the rest of the year, my goal was to gain 2 or 3 new clients. In actual fact I spent the majority of my year split between 3 existing clients and 4 new ones, spanning charity, travel, finance, sector change, volunteering, startups, and events. Pretty varied! I’ve done everything from creating a digital strategy from scratch, helping build internal teams, recruit digital agencies, developer experience and creating tutorials, assessing technology capabilities and making recommendations for improvement, doing discovery, overseeing a website revamp, coaching, running workshops, and more.

I also didn’t win projects. One of those was being down to the last two to be the interim CTO for a magazine. Another was to work with someone I respect in the blockchain/open data space. An exciting team-up opportunity didn’t get past proposal stage. One company kept stringing me along for months only to disappear. I’m adding these in to add some balance to the highlight reel, and to show others who work for themselves that you’re not alone in disappointment. Sometimes working for yourself is really hard.

In the past I’ve done more, but this year I set the low goal of speaking at 3 events, and I met it: WebExpo in Prague, Dev East in Ipswich, and a personal highlight of DevRelCon in Tokyo. I also hosted Render conference as well as being part of the organising committee with my co-host Ben Foxall and the always wonderful organisers White October Events.

Hosting Render
On stage with my co-host and sock fashionista Ben at Render

2018 and life

Learning was a big part of my life outside of work. Despite the brain fog, I managed to smash my previous year’s goal of “To give my hobby language learning into a bit more focus, by starting the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) exams.” Not only did I take (and pass with flying colours!) my first exam in July (N5), but I also managed to be ready enough to take the N4 in December (results still TBC).

I’m incredibly proud of myself for the amount of progress I’ve made since I’d resolved to study every day. I wrote a post about my learning journey, in which I mentioned that my study time is always one of my favourite parts of a day. This has only grown, and I’ve had to actually make myself spend a bit less time studying, to make sure that I don’t neglect other things! I’m a long, long way from fluent, but I can read childrens’ manga (finishing my first book was such a great feeling), and am getting a lot better at being able to understand native content like conversations on the Terrace House TV show. My main weakness is still speaking, followed by writing - the curse of the Suffolk-dwelling self-studier! - and this is something that I’d like to focus on more in 2019 and have already made some steps towards.

Places I’ve been to

On looking back at this I was a bit surprised at how little I went away. Ordinarily I’d have more conference trips, little bits of work, or short breaks. This year I went to:

🇯🇵 Japan x2 - 1) Tokyo for EVO Japan, then skiing in Hakuba, 2) Tokyo alone for two weeks of intensive language school and speaking.
🇮🇹 Italy - Venice, Florence, Rome, Iscia, Naples (Pompeii/Herculaneum)
🇩🇰 Copenhagen for work
🇨🇿 Prague for speaking (where I only saw one road as I got really ill!)

Skiing in Japan was wonderful, and definitely something that I intend to do again (we would have done it this year if we could have got some dates to align). I also loved language school and living a reasonably normal Tokyo life for a few weeks. I found Italy fasinating as I’d never spent real time there. My highlights were Venice (just so strange), the archeological parts of Rome, Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Lanters on Odaiba beach
Getting to go to the Odaiba lantern display for 海の日 was particularly special

My husband and I did some other fun stuff too:

  • Secret Cinema’s Blade Runner was perfect
  • We ate incredible food at Kitchen Table
  • Went to MCN Comic Con, where Robert was competing in a games tournament
  • Spent a weekend with some of my best friends, seeing one of them get married in Otterburn before then getting to see university friends and visit old haunts in Newcastle.
  • Staying in Southwold for our anniversary

Side projects

I didn’t do last year’s goal of “To actually launch a project that’s been stuck at 80% for too many years”. That’s ok. It just wasn’t important enough. I’ve decided I’m going to completely rebuild it at some point, but only when I have the real desire to do so, rather than it being a chore.

We once again successfully managed to play World Cup Dinners, although the documentation stopped when I left to go to Japan and didn’t end up being a priority.

I started dabbling with Vue.js by making 日本語 ipsum, and submitted it to Tim Holman’s collection, Meet the Ipsums.

Finally, I started to learn more about vectors and CSS animation through making natsukashii.art. This was one of the things that I’ve been most sad about putting on hold, but I just hadn’t had the right headspace.

2019

And so on into 2019. Here are the things that I’m intending to focus on this year. Some of them are more quantified than others.

Professional

I’ve written some quarterly Monzo goals, but haven’t agreed them with my manager. Once we have, I’m considering making them open for some extra accountability, and to give others a feel for what progression in this path entails.

The current plan is for my primary goals are around people management (managing at scale, managing managers), and other elements of working towards Engineering Director level. Other goals include work I’m involved with around improvements in engineer on-boarding, changes to an all-hands meeting, engineering knowledge sharing, and some other little actions. In general I’m very keen to champion the web and good practice within the business, doing good things with it, and using it to help support a range of people.

I’m undecided about conference speaking at this point. At the end of last year I turned down a lot, and I want to make sure I have stories that I’m really excited to tell before I make any more commitments.

Personal

  • 🛌 Find my balance with health. Make sure that I get enough rest, but also try to regain my fitness and make sure I’m not compromising relationships.
  • ✈️ Go skiing. Go to Japan. Have a relaxing holiday.
  • 📝 Write at least 5 blog posts that I’m really proud of.
  • 🏯 Create at least 5 things for Natsukashii.
  • 👷🏻‍♀️ Create something physical.
  • 🏡 Make some more improvements to the house, beyond what we have booked in.
  • 🏞 Finish clearing and replanting the bit of the garden by the river.
  • 📚 By the end of the year I want to have completed my current textbook (An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese), studied all of the grammar, vocab, and kanji at N3 level. I may decide to take the December exam for practice, but the goal isn’t to pass.
  • 🙊 Get more confident with speaking and writing Japanese. If possible, go back to language school for a couple of weeks to help this.
  • 🦊 Use Firefox as my primary browser, and support a diverse browser ecosystem more.

See you this time next year! 🎆