This note covers all of 2020!
Things that made me sad
I couldn’t really read anything.
I usually challenge myself to read 50 books a year. I never quite manage it, but get fairly close most years and it feels good to have a target. But this year, I basically stopped reading anything. Partly, I think, because reading was what I did on my commute, and I stopped commuting. I don’t miss commuting but I do miss the 50mins or so a day it gave me too disappear into a book. On goodreads I managed 27 books which doesn’t seem too bad, but only because in late Nov I recording the reading of some comic series (Astro City, The Incal, By Night).
I’ve challenged myself to 50 books again this year. I’m almost sure I’ll fail, abysmally, but I’m going to try my hardest to find time to do some long-form reading again. I’m cheating by starting with a collection of Ted Chaing short-stories, and will probably continue with the backlog of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern that has built up on my bedside table over the past year or so.
I fell off of running
In 2019 I’d slipped into a nice routine of running 3 times a week: 11k into work on Monday morning; 8k up to highgate wood and back with the Like The Wind crew on Wednesday morning; 6k along the canal on Friday lunchtimes, sometimes with work colleagues, sometimes not. I felt fit and like 2020 might finally be the year I trained for a Marathon. But then lockdown and I struggled to fit in 1 run a week, let alone 3.
I did start reading more about running and health and decided to give the maffetone method a go. My heart rate, as recorded by my watch was always pretty high, even when I felt at my fittest. I was inspired to look into this by one of my Wednesday morning running friends who breezily answered “oh, about 90” when someone asked what his heart rate was as we galloped across a hill in Alexandra Palace park. He run-commutes there and back every day to work, so I’ll never be that fit, but it felt time to be more intentional about my technique. In hindsight, this was a silly idea as the process of slowing down to speed up take about 3 months according to what I’v read, but you probably need to run more than once every 3 weeks to get results.
Lockdown 1: 100% work in 50% time
During the first lockdown T and I took on childcare of R. I was daddy from morning until 1ish, then I worked until 6ish while T took over. We shared the bath, story, bed routine then ate dinner together and I worked for a few more hours. This meant I didn’t have to give up any hours and kept drawing a full salary. But it meant I basically spent 3 months with barely any time to myself. Weeks and weeks and weeks of attempting to put in a full working week while also keeping up a part-time child care job were relentless. I know we have it easy in many respects, but it was hard work that left us both with very little reserve for ourselves. Nursery re-opening in the summer and going back to a 9-6 work routine was brilliant.
Things that made me happy
A lockdown cliché for sure, but after many years of trying I finally managed to get good at making sourdough loaves. In 2019 I’d kept the starter going by making simple rye loaves most weeks, the recipe I follow is a simple mix-wait-mix-wait-bake-wait-eat process so easy to do with a commute-based life. However, being at home all the time (and finally getting some large sacks of artisanal flour once the panic buying subsided) meant I was able to get into a good rhythm of making one white loaf every week (or thereabouts). I even experimented a few times with sourdough focaccia and a lager-instead-of-water loaf1 and even a festive mulled-wine-instead-of-water loaf2.
The constant support of the several
#bread channels I lurk in on various slacks is also a great boon. They’re among the most wholesome (pun intended) channels I hang out in. So encouraging, and so free with advice about folding, and hydration, and scoring, and sourcing flour, and timings for baking… The list goes on.
I said I wasn’t reading, but I was, just not anything long-form. In early 2019 (maybe late 2018) I made the Marvel Unlimited influenced decision to read all of Spider-man, or as much as I could stomach (I ignored Marvel Team-Up vol 1 after reading a few and deciding these 60s and 70s Spider-man comics were not for me). On the whole, it’s been pretty good, but by 2020 I was firmly in the 90s era and read the whole of The Clone Saga. These comics aren’t good, but neither are they as bad as a cursory comics-pop-culture skim would have you believe. It is over long, and some of the plot twists seem very out of left-field, like they were setting up something else entirely. Well, as it turns out, they mostly were - this long form review / behind the scenes interviews blog sheds fascinating light on the process.
I decided to take a break from Spider-man towards the end of the year as I got to a natural breaking point when all the Spider-man titles were cancelled and restarted with Amazing Spider-man vol 2 in Jan 1999. I’ll come back to it, but apparently the 2000s are a worse time than the 90’s so it’s a slog before I get back to the good stuff.
Lockdown 1: 50% childcare
As mentioned above, we split childcare and the hanging out with R parts of those 3 months were tiring for sure, but I loved getting to spend that time together. We played, we went for walks, we watched a lot of terrible kids tv, we drew, we painted, we read stories, we made stuff out of cardboard. I got to know my little friend in ways I don’t think I would have if there hadn’t been a lockdown. I will look back on those 3 months as some of the best times, even while I also recognise they were some of the worst.
Not mine, obvs, but the folk I know that were doing them. I couldn’t see my friends that often, and if I could it was mostly on video, but I could keep up with them via their public weekly diaries. Kinda like what twitter used to be.
In September I treated my self to some new socks. I finally threw out some old holey ones and bought nine new pairs from BAM. Receiving nine new pairs of socks in the mail felt like an over-indulgence, but my feet haven’t been comfier, and TBH lockdown has made me realise we need to take our treats where we can find them.
As a child I would marvel at my dad getting socks for Christmas or birthday presents. As a teen and twenty something I would occasionally buy said socks and feel unimaginiative or sad about doing so. As an old-man I now appreciate nothing more than comfy socks that keep my feet warm. Time makes a joke of us all, but at least my feet are warm.
Work was a mixed bag. I started the year as a Tech Lead, Engineering Manager and Backend Developer and struggled wearing those three hats. I was ready, somewhat begrudgingly, to give up at least one, if not two, of those hats. I wasn’t at all sure which to keep and which to give up though. I navigated my first full performance review cycle with my reports, which I found incredibly stressful so I was almost ready to give up on being an EM. But then lockdown and I just had to really focus on getting by.
I shepherded my reports as an EM and my team as a TL through those 3 months as well as I could and we delivered some big exciting pieces of work at pace and to a decent standard of quality. I then moved to be TL on a different team and it transpired some of my TL style had been too “protect the team” or even “spoonfeedy” and the team I left had to do some serious reflection on ways of working because I’d allowed silos to grow up as I was the only one who saw the whole picture. The new team I was on struggled with setting direction and delivering the right work. I also had some difficult EM duties with people leaving, and performance management that left me feeling quite low. By the last few months of the year I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do as I wasn’t sure TL or EM were the right roles for me, because I wasn’t sure I was at all good at them, but neither was I sure I wanted to go back to being “just” a backend dev.
In the end it was clear I needed to choose and it came as quite a surprise to me that the thing I would most easily give up was being a TL. Giving that up led naturally to giving up being a backend developer on a team too, and I’m a full-time EM now. I get good feedback about the 1-to-1s I have with my reports, and without the distractions of trying to do two other jobs, I’m starting to settle into my role. I miss the day-to-day structure of being on an agile team, I miss having meetings that aren’t 1-to-1s, I miss building a thing. But! Turns out… I enjoy coaching and mentoring and helping my reports. I dread performance review cycles, but now I can be more available and focussed on shaping that process.
I don’t know that I’m good at it, but I’m trying. And I think I’m getting better?
In 2019 we lost our long-term venue provider for LRUG when Skills Matter collapsed. We muddled through with finding venues from various companies in London, and were gearing up to keep that up throughout the year. But then lockdown and we quickly had to retool as a virtual meetup via zoom. It’s been a struggle finding speakers, but we’ve been able to widen our net and have heard great talks from several speakers who aren’t even UK-based, let alone London-based. That’s pretty exciting.
Buuuut… I can’t help feel that with so many great talks about ruby and development being hosted for free online, what benefit are people getting from our monthly live talks? As a physical meeting, the obvious benefit is the network-building we get from chatting before and after the talks. We can’t really replicate that on zoom because there are too many people, so what purpose does our meetup serve if we can’t actually meet up?
Other online conferences
I “attended” one of the Lead Dev Lives this year, and Brighton Ruby. Both were online remote versions of previously in-person events. Both took a different approach. Lead Dev Live was a traditional conference style: a schedule of talks given via youtube that everyone could watch, backed up by a slack instance to replicate the hallway track. Brighton ruby released all the videos in one go and followed up with a podcast series of interviews with the speakers where questions had been solicited from people who watched the videos already. Both were interesting, both were not quite conferences. Maybe we were onto something when we raged against paying £500 for the hallway track in our intro to ruby manor classic. The hallway track is what makes the conference.