December 28, 2020 ~ 9 min read

2020... amirite?

I could start this post the same as I did my 2019 year in review. Basically, 2019 was a shit year. I left a job I loved for a false bill of goods at an eCommerce company. My dad passed away and I let my mental and physical health spiral. Heading into this year, I had resolved to turn things around, but, as we have all experienced at this point, the year had other plans.

Things started out well. I completed dry January and spent every day either on the treadmill or on my rollers. I was losing weight, taking control of my overall health and feeling better than I had in years.

Professionally, I took an interview with a software development company as a lark toward the end of 2019, not thinking much about it until they called me in for a second interview with the entire product team a month later. The interview went well, but I was having a blast building out a headless PWA for the eCommerce company with Next.js and Magento, largely in charge of the entire front-end stack. I felt that if I could bank that project on my resume, I'd probably be able to get almost any job I'd want, so I had largely decided to pass if offered a role at the software company.

A new start

In one of the few truly positive chain of events this year has offered, my PWA project was abruptly cancelled and I started being shuffled toward project management for content publishing, which was leagues removed from what I had signed up for. In a serendipitous turn of fortune, I got an offer from the software company that same day. Everything seemed to have aligned to make the decision for me and I gave notice the next day.

My first week as a 'senior front-end software engineer' was wonderful and it was immediately clear that both the environment, team and scope of deeply challenging work was exactly what I wanted from my career. I started on the second of March and felt immediately welcomed.

Then, six days after I started, the gravity of the COVID crisis became undeniable and the company decided that we would be working from home for the foreseeable future.

Into the deep end, from home

The transition to full-time work from home coincided with the transition to remote learning for my kids. Their school had to make up both an approach and a curriculum overnight and it showed. I am deeply grateful for the effort they put in, but it meant that a huge amount of schooling responsibility went to us, the parents, and this came right at the time I was onboarding with my new job.

To say this was a challenge is an understatement. Our platform is immense and built on Ember. While I am a fan of the modern Ember approach, the older versions, commonly referred to as 'Ember Classic', are highly bespoke, difficult to read and generally confusing from an architectural perspective. Trying to get a handle on that while making sure my kids did what they needed to do without melting down, all while watching the world fall apart with paralyzing uncertainty had me falling back on all the health progress I had made at the start of the year.

There are many on Twitter who have proclaimed this forced transition to primarily remote work as a gift and a paradigm shift for companies moving forward.

I don't see it that way. I work better in an office where I can focus and feed off the energy of my team during an impromptu collaboration. At home, my office has no door, so the kids are schooling ten feet away where I can hear each one of their distractions or meltdowns or disappointments when they don't get picked to partner up in a Zoom breakout room. Knowing that my wife is left to navigate that while I try and focus just adds to the challenges of our 'new normal'. My company has a very generous PTO/flexible schedule policy, but it's hard to feel good taking advantage of that as the new one on the team.

Settling in

Despite the challenges, I made it through. I took on a number of in depth projects over the course of the year, including front-end lead on an entirely new product for our company. I've been able to conduct a couple lunch and learns and I feel like I've genuinely brought value to a JS focused team with my knowledge of CSS, HTML and A11Y. While the onboarding process has taken longer than I'd like, I am 100% sure that this professional move was the right choice. My kids are still schooling one room over, but I've largely got the hang of our immense codebase at this point. At least, to the extent that it's possible this far in.

Ongoing challenges

While I feel like I've basically gotten my sea legs at work, there are plenty of challenges heading into 2021. My kids are continuing with full-time virtual learning and will be for the rest of the school year, I still don't have a door on my office and there's seemingly no real end in sight to the pandemic that has kept us all in our homes for the better part of a year. Still, there's reason to be hopeful and there are a few things to celebrate from the last year.

Bright spots

It's fair to say that there is near univeral agreement that 2020 was trash. Having said that, there were a few points of positivity for me throughout the year and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention them.

  1. I got to spend a ton of time with my family. Yes, it was full immersion around the clock, but there's no way I would have ever gotten to see so much of my kids if we hadn't all been forced into quarantine.
  2. After a decent amount of hiccups and mis-steps, I gained a lot of clarity around what are the real priorities in my life. I don't know exactly what I thought they were before, but I know for certain that my priorities are centered around my family and those in my life that I can count on to be genuinely compassionate and empathetic people. We may have had to cancel vacation and get creative with a lot of our usual past times, but I know for sure that this year brought us all closer together.
  3. I've landed at a truly special place to work where I know I will grow as a developer and eventually, when we can see each other again, develop the kinds of relationships that I value in a working environment.
  4. I got to teach Digital Photography this year in addition to the usual Web Design classes. It felt great to get more involved in photography again and put my degree to use.
  5. I redesigned an re-built this site using a super enjoyable stack of Svelte and Netlify. As a result, I've blogged more in the last year than in any year since I was racing bikes. While it's not as much as I'd like, it's still progress and it feels more sustainable now.
  6. I finally started contributing a bit to open source and have had a few PRs merged in projects where I can feel comfortable knowing that my efforts have contributed to inclusivity and accessibility. While my Github graph isn't quite as robust as a 'real programmer', I'm happy with my productivity there. My Github contribution graph
  7. I decided not to sit on the sidelines of the campaign this year. I sent thousands of texts across six states and phone banked in three. I needed to feel like I did something beyond voting and I'm confident I did all I could.
  8. I got a new mountain bike and managed to get out on it five times before the weather turned sloppy. Again, not as much as I'd like but an improvement nonetheless. Specialized Epic Evo
  9. I turned forty. Is that a bright spot? I'm still here, so I have to say so.

What's next

I'd be foolish to make too many resolutions, but I can think of a few areas I'd like to focus on and improve for coming year.

For my family, I want to continue to work on being more present, connected and in the moment. It's easy to get run down after a day at work or a double shift, but I only have one chance to be with my kids at this age. As cliche as that statement might be, I'm focusing hard on that reality.

Professionally, I'd like to make test driven development a regular part of my workflow. Between that and a conviction to finally buckle down and get comfortable with TypeScript, I think I'll be producing more robust and durable features. Luckily, I work at a place that encourages such growth, so it won't have to be on nights and weekends.

Physically, I want to get back to the progress I had started at this time last year. I'm finishing this writing on January 4th and am successfully 3+ days into dry January and some decent exercise each day. This time, I won't be so casual in disgarding that progress.

Big ticket life items

I'm also going back to school for a master's in software development. I don't necessarily need it for my dev career, but I'm excited to immerse myself in fundamentals. I'd like to be able to teach at the university level someday and a master's is requisite at most schools to do so.

And, finally, my family is adding on to our little house. We've outgrown it somewhat over the last couple years and now spend most days directly on top of each other. The pandemic has only emphasized this. It will be a lot of work and good deal of disruption, but I'm confident it will be worth it.

Wrapping up

So that's it. As I know is the case for all of you, it was a hell of a year. While I'm cautiously optimistic for the new year, I know it's just a symbol and I've been burned before. If nothing else, I feel like I'm in a better position to handle surprises and roll with them. I've definitely set out a huge agenda for myself with the above plans, but as long as I continue to focus on my real priorities, I'm hopeful for the future. Thanks for reading.

Matt James

Hi, I'm Matt . I'm a husband, dad, cyclist and front-end developer from St. Louis, MO. You can follow me on Twitter or see some of my work on GitHub .