Goodbye, 2020

We all know 2020 has been a bad year. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to continue the tradition of writing my end-of-year review, to reflect on my goals and achievements (personal and professional). Writing things down can help make sense of a year that has often made very little sense. For me personally, and no doubt for many of you too, there have been many times throughout the past 12 months where I’ve felt stuck in limbo, and that I’m not achieving very much at all. So I’m writing this to celebrate the highlights and the small wins (as well as reminding myself they exist). But (as Hidde also acknowledges in his end-of-year post), it doesn’t mean the year has been without its lowlights. Don’t feel bad if your biggest win this year has been just getting through it — it’s the same for me, and countless others.

Redesigning and re-platforming this site

My goal at the beginning of the year was to re-vamp this blog, and in early January I gave it a new visual treatment. I’d intended to do a major refactor and re-platform it to Eleventy at the same time, or at least earlier in the year, but in the end I didn’t end up doing so until November 2020. I wrote a little about the new tech stack and some of the decisions.

Writing

I wrote a total of 30 posts for this blog, plus one post for CSS Tricks on theming with Tailwind and custom properties. My most popular post (in terms of page views) was Why I Don’t Have Time For Your Coding Challenge, a rant about the many reasons why coding challenges are not a good way to hire people. It seemed to hit a nerve for a lot of people!

Next year I’d like to fit in a couple more guest posts for other sites if I can. Writing for CSS Tricks in particular is always a pleasure.

Speaking

I was due to speak at CSS Day back in June, which would’ve been the most exciting speaking opportunity of my career so far. I was also looking forward to meeting some of my web development heroes and peers in person. Needless to say, that event didn’t happen, and sadly it won’t happen in 2021 either. I hope CSS Day returns in the future, and that I get another opportunity to speak there, but in the meantime I’m grateful to have been asked.

I had intended to cut back a little on speaking at events and conferences compared to the previous year, and the fact that most events moved online in 2020 made me feel less inclined to chase speaking opportunities. For me, speaking is extremely hard work, made worthwhile by the friends and connections I’ve made at events. That element is almost entirely missing from online events, and for the most part I find the preparation work exhausting, without the reward of the in-person atmosphere and instant feedback.

That said, I was honoured to be invited to speak at a few online events this year, and the ones I agreed to were 100% worthwhile. Speaking at two events run by Smashing was a personal career highlight for sure. The team have put a lot of effort into making a great online conference experience, with lots of interaction. I hope that when life finally returns to something like normality, I’ll have the chance to speak in person.

Learning

In late 2019 I started a new job as Lead Front End Developer at Atomic Smash, so 2020 has been a great year of learning at work. Aside from working on developing our internal front end framework and processes, and completing some challenging projects, like many workplaces we’ve had to learn to work as a fully remote team. I’m hugely proud of how we’ve adapted, and the level of communication we’ve retained.

As for my personal web development tinkering and side projects, the things I’ve loved playing around with in CSS this year are custom properties, Motion Path, gradients and 3D transforms. I’m also really enjoying using GSAP for animation, especially the ScrollTrigger plugin. This culminated in spending a lot of time making a 3D scrolling animation based on the Radiohead song Weird Fishes — probably the most time-consuming demo I’ve ever made!

See the Pen Weird Fishes by Michelle Barker (@michellebarker) on CodePen.

Amazingly Alex Trost featured it in his awesome newsletter, Frontend Horse.

Mentoring

I’ve done a bit of mentoring this year, both in work and outside of it. While I’ve had some great conversations and shared some (hopefully helpful!) resources, I feel like this is something I need to get better at. What makes it hard is not knowing how “successful” the advice is, which to an extent you just have to accept is inevitable. There are many factors that can influence someone’s progress, and mentoring is just one of them. But listening is a skill that we can all improve on.

At times it has also been quite tiring organising evening mentoring sessions online after a full day of work, so I need to work on striking the right balance.

Personal life

The one upside (if you can call it that) of this whole pandemic situation is that working from home has given me more incentive to prioritise activities away from the screen. My son started school this year, and working from home means I can walk him to school before starting work.

Many years ago I played the drums in a band. I haven’t played for a really long time, but this year I bought myself an electronic kit and have played more or less every day. It’s been a lifeline, and I’m so glad I did it. I’ve also been baking a lot more this year. It’s something I enjoy doing, but didn’t feel I had a lot of time for before. Since my son was born I feel like I haven’t had time for any hobbies outside of web development and writing about web development which, as I also do it for my day job, might not be the recipe for the most healthy lifestyle. So this is the year I’ve finally found a sort of equilibrium.

Goals for 2021

I’m not setting myself any major goals for the coming year. I have some ideas of things that I want to learn, but I’m also happy to see where things take me, and won’t beat myself up too much if my work leads me somewhere different. So mostly my goals are to take things easy, keep writing and keep making creative things. Happy New Year!