2016 was a weird year. Politics and celebrity deaths aside, it was a bumpy year for me as well. Things were well at home, but at work, I went through some transitions that stretched me very thin and stressed me out for much of the year. A lot of this year was about learning what I want out of a career — something I thought I had figured out already, but turns out I have much to learn. Time to look at the year in review to see how it all went.
The biggest overall themes for me year were: Product at Code School, travel, books & comics, minimalism, and self-reflection. That sounds a bit broad, but the idea is really just taking a look at what makes me happy and healthy and working on that.
So What’s this All About?
I’ve been doing this post every year. It’s a good way for me to reflect on where I thought I wanted to go a year ago and make sure I’m heading to the right place. There are a few past years for comparison: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010.
What’s been notable this past year?
What Went Well?
- Traveled a bunch. Any more and I’d likely be traveled out!
- Stayed on top of change at Code School always seeking out how to make things better and helping to set things up for success.
- Trying to be more appreciative and understanding of others.
- Got a wedding planned without going crazy
- Played a lot of board games.
What Didn’t Go As Well?
- Put off a number of things around the house for months and months (and months).
- Bought a number of games I really want to play, but haven’t made the time for them.
- Spent more money than I’d hoped for – partially due to travel and various home issues (burst pipe, A/C failing, etc).
- Didn’t finish the D3.js course at Code School that I started.
- Let health and diet go out the window towards the end of the year.
This year had some life-changing moments to it. With the Code School group, we spent a week chatting in the Human Element Workshop. If you could imagine a week-long, 8+ hour a day of a deep therapy session, that’s what this was. I doubt there was a day where I wasn’t in tears. This led to a few realizations:
- I want to work on things that impact on peoples lives.
- That doesn’t necessarily mean programming.
- I want to be in an environment that enriches and encourages everyone to thrive in all parts of life.
Much of this year at Code School was making changes to support these three ideas – and not all of it was a smooth road. A number of amazing and talented people (some of which I hired) left Code School this past year. I had some of the hardest months of my career as I stretched myself too thin trying to take on new responsibilities while not passing off my old ones. I’ve always loved branching out to new areas in jobs when I see a need, but this year I started to equally realize the need to balance that with asking for help. I think things are in a better place now.
Product at Code School
One of the big themes of the year was learning about and transitioning Code School into a Product focused company rather than an engineering focused company. The simple description of this is changing from how we decide on what to work on from “whatever our developers and designers want” to “what our users and data direct us to”.
Chances are what the devs were recommending already had some basis in what users were asking for — but was it the most important thing we could be working on? Being able to answer this question with a yes, based on data has been a larger undertaking than I expected, but a rewarding one.
Changing the way I think to this point of view was a humbling change. It takes a lot of research, and the ability to admit when you don’t know (of you’re wrong). I feel like I’m open to change, but I know I have a ways to go towards getting better in this field.
For this change, I stepped down as Course Director / Content Engineering Director and stepped into the role of Product Director at Code School. That ended up being short-lived, and I switched over to Product Manager for how Code School delivers content (courses, projects, video, etc). The definition of a product manager might help make sense of this:
A product manager communicates product vision from the highest levels of executive leadership to development and implementation teams. The product manager is often called the product “CEO.” The product manager investigates, selects, and drives the development of products for an organization, performing the activities of product management.
The big change here for me was transitioning from programming, leading a team and helping peoples careers to research, planning, executing and forecasting the future. With my top two StengthsFinder strengths being Strategic and Futuristic, this has been a fulfilling choice so far.
Only one of our trips this year was international (compared to 3 in 2015), making travel a lot less stressful. Most of our trips were more relaxed — with the exception of the ~30,000 steps we took on our first day in NYC.
- Went to Helsinki, Finland, Estonia and Germany and ate so many amazing things.
- Spent a few days in Portland and Seattle with friends for the 4th of July.
- A Week long stay in Salt Lake City to learn about product from the lovely people at Pluralsight.
- Headed to Puerto Rico for a Wedding Anniversary and toured some of the island in August.
- Code School retreat at Hammock Beach Resort on the Atlantic coast.
- St. Petersburg for Crab Fest with friends.
- New York City for family time, a Magnetic Fields concert and seeing Hamilton (!).
- Colorado trip with Code School friends.
That’s still 6 trips by plane in 12 months, which is plenty for me. I think we’ll be doing less overall trips, but perhaps more elaborate stays in 2017.
Events and Entertainment
We did a lot of things here in Orlando (and abroad). From music performances to theater, to movies and interactive performances. These are some of the most memorable from the year.
- Megacon for the 18th time.
- Florida Film Festival movies including King Georges, Slash, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, High-Rise and Belladonna of Sadness.
- Fringe Festival shows including Restuarant the Musical, The Space Pirate Puppy Musical, The Animatronicans and Simpleton: The Legend of President Trump.
- Ignite Orlando
- Bar Camp Orlando
- Sak Comedy Downtown with Code School
- An Evening with Neil Degrasse Tyson
- Monitorama Conference in Portland
- Orlando Shakespeare shows including The Tempest and Pericles
- Of Montreal at The Social
- Corporate 5k Downtown
- An exciting week of watching the CrossFit games
- Watching the Summer Olympics
- Immersive audio experiment (by Gregg) at Creative City Project in Orlando
- A ton of movies, with my favorites of the year, were: Slash, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Kubo and the Two Strings and Moana.
- Too many TV shows to count, but a few stick out: Stranger Things, Black Mirror, Luke Cage, Walking Dead, Outlander.
Of the ~75 books (mostly audio) that I read this year, here are a few of my favorites. The main topics for books this year were Science Fiction/Fantasy, Product Management/Business, Biographies, Comics and Stoicism/Minimalism. This was the first year I really started to get into comics as well, which has been very enriching so far. I’m on the lookout for new recommendations, so if you have any tips, I’m all ears!
- Death’s End – The 3rd book in the Three Body Problem Series (Chinese, translated to English). This science fiction book is on my shortlist of best books I’ve ever read.
- Red Rising Trilogy – Hunger Games meets Enders Game meets Illium.
- The Obstacle Is the Way – When reading about modern stoicism, this one kept coming up as a book recommendation.
- Saga / Walking Dead / Attack on Titan / Y The Last Man – These were my first foray into comics/manga, and have been a lot of fun to read each month.
- Sprint – Great book about creating products with market fit.
- Alexander Hamilton – One of the most interesting and gripping biographies I’ve ever read.
On a side note, I read 15 books by women authors this year! A few years ago, I noticed at the end of the year that I’d only read 1 book by a female author, which seemed an extreme underrepresentation. I’m happy to see that improving.
Everywhere we go we look for the best, most memorable food possible. Compared to past years, this one was above and beyond.
- Ate at Vendome, a 3 Michelin star restaurant in a German castle outside Cologne.
- Scandinavian Dinner at Olo in Helsinki
- Delicious Sushi tasting at Kappo Omakase at Redlight^2 in Orlando.
- Had a number of delicious meals in Portland, with Little Bird standing out above the rest.
- German comfort food at a brewery in Dusseldorf.
- Momofuku Ko with drink pairings in NYC.
- Langbaan, a Thai speakeasy in Portland, for the spiciest meal of my life.
Goals from 2016 in Review
So, how’d I do for my 2016 goals that I set out?
Narrow down possessions to fit in half of a closet
- + Cut clothes down to 50 total pieces
- + Reorganized clothes to only be in my closet – no storage elsewhere
- + Cleared out downstairs of most things and kept only what was important
- + Have a closet with a number of things to giveaway/sort still
Complete and release a new project
- + Launched cocktailfly.com
- + Launched minafi.com
- – Worked on updating Forkful.net, but not to a launch
- – Didn’t learn any new technologies
Release the D3.js course @ Code School
- + Completed the content for the D3.js course
- – Changed my role from dev to Product Manager, and was unable to complete it
Exercise for at least 3x week for 10 minutes
- + Did this for roughly 20 weeks this year
- + Learned handstand walks, and made it to about 8m walk!
- <> Trying to get on a good schedule where I go the same days
- – Don’t think this was a well-phrased goal, since it can be failed with a single bad week.
Hangout more with friends
- + Definitely did this a bunch more. Always felt like out calendar was full — maybe too much.
- – Want to start saying ‘no’ more often and relax at home more.
Track todos better
- + Switched from Things to Todoist, and have been staying on top of things
- + Started theming days/months and tackling todos with that theme on that day
- <> Be more intentional about using my todo list as a planner to focus on the highest priorities
Eat better and drink less
- + Did well on this for the first half of the year
- – By the end of the year was drinking and eating whatever I wanted. Need to reevaluate this.</span>
Goals from 2017
What am I wanting to focus on in 2017? I do want to keep some of the themes from last year that worked well and see about leveraging those.
1) Set Monthly Themes and Weekly Goals
This is an idea I read about, that I started trying in December and want to continue. The idea is that I’d set a monthly theme (for example Home Maintenance) and then when setting what I’ll work on for a given week I could take that theme into account. I’m hoping this will help keep me focused on some of the things I’ve put off doing and focusing on things that I know are a high priority for me.
What I’m excited to try about this is that it’s not setting a year’s worth of goals but instead taking it week to week and month to month. For example, the first week or January, my goals are to get a quote for some work on the house from at least 2 contractors, hit the gym 3 times, limit drinking to 2 nights — and then setting goals for the next week next Sunday. This is effectively just planning the most important things for my next week in advance every week. The hope is to stop putting things off and do them. Rather than setting a goal of doing that for 52 weeks, I’m going to try taking it week to week and see how things go.
2) Launch a Side Project That Brings in Income
I’ve launched a bunch of projects “for fun” over the years. These have all been with the idea that whether it’s a hit or not it was a fulfilling learning experience to just create something. I’m going to challenge myself to think about the creative process differently and try to create something with the intent of getting some income from it in 2017.
This doesn’t need to be a significant amount — even a few bucks is fine. I’m hoping to learn more about creating something with market fit. I think the journey into Product this past year has shifted some of my focus from “Can I build this?” to “Should I build this?”, and I want to dig more into that.
3) Create a Better Work/Life Balance with Boundaries
I have a nasty habit of letting things for work take up all available time. I’ll think of something that needs doing and just do it. This is (sometimes) good for Code School, but instead of something I should be doing — like chores around the house — I end up hacking on CS. To help with this, I got a separate computer for Code School and for personal use. Part of this will be changing how I think about what I can accomplish at work and being OK with a scoped down version that limits it to only working hours.
My hope is that this one impacts a number of other things in my life. Having more time to tackle personal projects, more time for people, more time for games, more time for whatever the year opens up to!
4) Be Mindful of False Productivity
There’s a number of things I do that “feel” productive but really aren’t. This includes most time online, social media and even some planning, tracking and organization. There comes a point when the next step is action, and anything else is a delay. I want to do a better job recognizing those moments and pushing for action. One step towards this is limiting social media access to only on mobile devices since I know I won’t linger on those as long as when browsing on a computer.
The Next Year
2017 should be an exciting year. Marilyn and I are getting married in February! Afterward, we’re traveling to Japan for almost two weeks. I’ll be continuing to build awesome things at Code School. There’s a bunch of books I’m looking forward to reading. I have some ideas on the side project that involve a tech stack that I haven’t worked with in many years (WordPress). Other than that, the year is open to whatever happens!