2020 Retrospective

Even people living under a rock will know the main theme of 2020 so there’s little point in repeating it here. However, there are a lot of other things that happened too. Encouraged by the Blogging for Devs community I’m writing my first ever retrospective. A look back at what I’ve done in the year 2020.

It’s crazy to look back through my calendar and realise there was actually quite a bit of time before working from home started. One of my personal early year highlights was watching the superbowl. I bought an NFL subscription (the introductory price is affordable, the renewal price is outrageous) and watched the whole thing, making nachos at half time. I’ve wanted to watch the entire Super Bowl for quite a few years but always forgot to take the day after off, so being able to watch it this year was really cool. Even though they had some technical issues during the game.

2020 was the year we passed Unix timestamp 1600000000. The last time we saw this many zeroes was in 2017 and the next time will be in 2023. I had become somewhat accustomed to seeing the timestamps starting with “15” when I had to look at database values for debugging.

The soundtrack of 2020

The work I do as developer is often accompanied by some repetitive music that requires little attention when I’m solving problems or by a podcast when I’m doing something repetitive or waiting for another process (like a Continuous Integration service) to finish.

I’ve already recently looked at my favourite podcasts for the past year. Most of the music that I listen to arrives to me through Spotify, which provides a useful overview of what I’ve listened to.

At just shy of an hour a day throughout the year, I haven’t used Spotify as much as I thought I had. However, it’s probably still a subscription that I’ll continue in the new year. David Arkenstone and Jason Hayes are both composers for the soundtrack to World of Warcraft which I can listen to for hours on end.

Of interest is that both the artist and song I’ve listened to most were set in the first months of the year. Dance Monkey is a song I’ve had on repeat 6-8 hours a day for 5 days a week for a few weeks of January and February (carried over from 2019). Funny to see how the habits of a few months can shape an entire year.

Health: Sports

Speaking of habits. This was also the year I’ve said goodbye to my student Korfball club after being a member for 8 years. This marked the first time in 18 years that I’m not a member of a Korfball club to play the sport.

In 2019 I had already started experimenting with some weight exercises and joined a gym. Although I had seen regular improvements, waking up at 6 AM to be in the gym by 7 AM to exercise before work has never really grown on me.

This year I was introduced to Freeletics which I’ve eagerly adopted as new habit for exercise that I can easily do at home. In that sense i’ve been quite happy working from home since it allows me to do exercise in the middle of the day, right before lunch. A moment when I’ve found I’m fully awake but not yet full from a meal. At the moment of writing I’ve completed 198 workouts since starting in May.

Health: Food

Another big change this year has occurred after watching the documentary “The Game Changers” on Netflix. After watching the documentary I’ve tried to give a vegan diet a try as a challenge to myself. I’m happy to say that I’ve been eating mostly vegan since the start of September.

I say mostly because with the Christmas holidays you receive some Christmas gifts, snacks and other things that are not necessarily vegan and I find it wasteful to just toss them. My vegan diet can best be described as “I don’t order/buy any food that contains animal but otherwise don’t fuss too much”. I’ve found this to be a comfortable way of getting started. My parents even cooked a vegan nut roast for Christmas dinner, so it may even be rubbing off on them a little bit.

Making sure I eat all the right nutrients and vitamins has been a small puzzle and a bit of guessing work. I haven’t had any blood testing done to check my levels but made sure I ate a varied diet, upped my veggy intake and have started eating Vitamin Gummies after being told by a vegan colleague that B12 deficiency can be dangerous and takes a while to show itself.

i’ve bought a bunch of cookbooks for some inspiration and subscribed to The Vegan Plant Club Newsletter for plenty of recipes on things I can cook. I’ve also noticed that in Dutch supermarkets the amount of vegan products seems to have grown a lot in the past few years which has made my journey a lot easier.

Conferences

2020 seems to have been the year of (online) conferences, with almost constantly some conference to look forward to, as speaker, organiser, or attendee.

Speaking at Decoupled Days

At the start of this year I signed up to speak at the Decoupled Days conference that would take place in New York in July. It would’ve been a great opportunity to have work sponsor a trip to the United States and combine it into a short holiday.

Unfortunately that didn’t quite go according to plan and was instead turned into a virtual conference. Not the trip to New York that I planned but instead a great excuse to work on my home audio/video set-up. After some research I settled on the Rode Procaster Microphone and Logitech Brio Webcam.

It was interesting to do a talk for an online conference and definitely different from doing one in-person. My talk and slides about Open Social’s road to a new headless front-end are available online.

Organising RustFest

In 2019 I attended RustFest in Barcelona and signed up to help organise RustFest in the Netherlands in July of 2020. Little did I know at the time that we wouldn’t be hosting an in-person conference but instead spend another few months to move the entire conference online. I haven’t been able to contribute as much as I had liked but am still proud to have been a part of a very innovative online conference experience that was well received by the community.

Front-End Conference Galore

As far as conferences that I wasn't an organiser or speaker at, the GitNation team has been hard at work as well this year, organising various online conferences such as React Summit, ML Conference, and GraphQL Galaxy. All interesting and educational conferences I’ve attended this year.

My highlight of these conferences has been GraphQL Galaxy where I’ve been introduced to the Urql GraphQL client which I’ve excitedly adopted for Open Social’s upcoming chat feature.

Vercel, the company behind the Next.js framework organised their own conference for said framework. It was interesting to hear how others used the framework and to see upcoming features.

Open Social

As you may know if you follow my blog I work as developer for Open Social — a startup building community software. This year was exciting as we managed to secure a 1.25M investment to help us build our roadmap. During the year I’ve been slowly completing my switch from back-end to front-end developer (although I still have to build any back-end that new front-end needs myself).

I’ve been happy to be involved this year in the removal of the features module, which we shipped at the start of the year and which has drastically simplified configuration management of projects using Open Social.

We’ve also been able to add the exciting Dashboard feature using Drupal’s layout builder. Which are in use to build great landing and overview pages such as the homepage of the United Nations’ SparkBlue platform.

I’ve spent a lot of time this year on building the basis for our new Multiverse tool that allows us to deploy and install an Open Social site in any configuration within 15 minutes without any developer intervention. Some work will be needed before we can start rolling the tool out for use by our sales team but it’s been exciting to see the improvements to our internal workflows that we’ll be able to make in 2021.

The last three months of 2020 at Open Social I have spent building a Real-Time Chat. For this work we’ve adopted ReScript (previously ReasonML + BuckleScript). To make our data available to this new extension we’ve started work on a GraphQL APIthat will offer exciting possibilities for ourselves, third party integrators and customers. It’s all not quite ready for primetime, that’s what the first few months of 2021 will be used for.

A highlight in my personal development was providing a two day workshop on GraphQL to my colleagues at Open Social. In this I shared the knowledge that I have gained in the past year and we focused on how to design and evolve a GraphQL APi, as well as how to implement a GraphQL API in Drupal. It was the first time I created both a presentation and group exercises to apply that information. This is definitely something I hope to do more of in the future.

Wrapping up

2020 has been a somewhat weird year but there’s also a lot to be thankful for. I’m happy that in 2019 I was able to leave my student housing and move into a bigger apartment. This has made this years lockdown a lot more bearable. I’m also thankful for the fact that I’ve been able to easily switch to working from home.

I’m currently enjoying a Christmas Break but look forward to going back to work in January and continuing work on Open Social’s real-time chat and the GraphQL API, as well as starting work on our new front-end. I hope to keep up the higher volume of blogposts that I’ve been lured into by the Blogging for Devs community and expand into some other forms of content production.

Happy New Year! All the best in 2021!