From Dusk Till Dawn: A Year of Personal Evolution - Dev Retro 2022
It's been a tough year but also a happy one
tl;dr: Write, Reflect and Take Care and look into the future. This year's been full of change and full of learnings and surely money doesn't make you happy.
The year started with a depressive phase in the switch from 2021 to 2022. I was extremely unhappy in my job back then as I didn't agree with the management mindset. The salary was reasonably good, above average. I got employed as a Frontend Architect in a FinTech Startup of a Bank. We created indeed great architecture - initially (I know it sounds arrogant but it's important to acknowledge good outcomes) and there were a lot of cool things to learn (e.g. from the Backend Architects which I've worked with 🤝). But very clearly when most of the base was considered "done" we moved to the "we should get done ASAP" mindset.
Eventually, my profession moved from being the Architect to ensuring things get done fast and also making sure to code a lot to get things done faster.
This state of seeing the architecture, quality and consistency loosening up whilst not being able to do what I was hired for due to artificially induced time pressure moved me into a state of a well-payed puppet. My opinion didn't matter anymore. Not because people argued against it - but simply because the setup enforced it and there was no room for critical opinions.
I did talk to my boss about being extremely unhappy. I'm not sure if he got the message back then, I felt I communicated very clearly about what I thought I was hired for.
At this time the only thing that gave me happiness was my girlfriend and my side project of "Becoming a Teacher/Mentor somehow" which I kicked off in 2021 with my first official LinkedIn Learning Courses 🎉.
The night glooms
I quit my FinTech job in Late 2021 but due to contractual agreements, I was only free in April 2022.
It's not perfect anywhere, that's for sure. But after having seen several big players, the latter 2 being automotive and FinTech and having realized that in many of those it isn't about actually making good stuff but it's about making stuff just good enough to make sure a few individuals get a big bonus I felt senseless. Even if you want to make awesome things you'll soon realize that the walls you have to break are not just a few meters thick - rather a few kilometers - you spend more time breaking walls than building things.
I felt enslaved by money-driven companies. Don't get me wrong: It's not that I put disgrace on companies targeting making money - it's the order of priorities. If you go back a few decades you will notice the massive shift from "a product brings massive money because it's a good product" to "a product sells even when it shouldn't because I did a good job in lying". You might call it "marketing". I call bullsh**t and a loss of ethics. And psychology proves that you get unhappy over time if you feel senselessness. More and more money will become your painkiller for unhappiness. Yet, that's not just for products. That's the same for how bigger companies internally work: Just make sure to twist the numbers correctly so that it looks like your company does great.
👉🏾 In the first quarter of 2022 I prepared myself for going back to freelance.
I applied at Toptal and was accepted. I was told I've made great impressions on the talent scouts - not sure if they tell that to everybody accepted but it was indeed helping my motivation.
Additionally, I pinged a few recruiters in my contact list over LinkedIn to let them know I'll be available for freelance jobs.
And I also didn't want to get too narrow-minded excluding myself from good employment options. I had a few standard interviews with some companies as well but none of them checked all my requirements.
There was a short period as well where I was hyped to join https://www.sketch.com/ as I love using the tool ✍️ - the hype turned into disappointment though. The interview process was a bit immature, intransparent and confusing. E.g. they said I should've done certain things in a certain way without discussing my architectural thoughts behind it. And here's something to laugh about: I specifically asked before if the "optional" tasks are really optional or a rabbit hole. They said they are optional but I was punished afterward for not doing them . There's more but the gist is: Disappointment. Sounds bad but there's some good in it: It stopped me from joining a company in which I might've felt too mature / too advanced. But I wanted to join a company in which I don't have to fight for maturity.
tl;dr: I had quite some calls in the first quarter of 2022 - either for employment or freelance. None of them I'd call out wasted time. All of them were helping to see and realize what I want and what I don't - and the latter one is extremely important.
I can see Sparkles at the Horizon
Toptal is more than just a Freelancing platform. There is a Slack community with thousands of people. I wanted to get inspired and started to post on some channels that I'm new and that I would like to have remote calls with random people - just to chat.
I think ~4 people were open to it. All of those were indeed nice chats and it's always interesting to hear about the life and work of other people.
With one I kinda got something like a friendship and we decided to make a combo version (v2, in the making) of my short stories Book. V1: Developer Stories From Hell - so yet another funny side project 🎉.
With all of the calls, and all of the thoughts it became pretty clear that freelance will be my way to go (but read on!).
In one of the calls in February, I was in touch with a University looking for employees to work on their internal Software. They were nice but I felt it isn't a fit for me at that moment. However: I told them if they are searching for freelance adjunct professors I'd be happy to lecture - especially if they got remote options.
In March I saw a Post on Twitter. It said: "If you know React and are open for a job contact me - if you're not an asshole". Ah, how I loved that. Direct, yet funny!
I got in touch with that guy (👋 Pepo from Wahnsinn GmbH) and we had a call. He was cool, the chat was extremely uncomplicated. He judged me by character instead of by "How many space rockets fit into a bus?" and eventually said something like "I like you, next we would set up a call with our boss if you'd like?". "Sure", I said.
Worth mentioning I've worked more and more with Supabase at that point in time. I think I was one of the very early users when it was still in Beta. I've even written a lot of issues of which the most important ones are resolved as of today.
Plus, somewhere in between all of that, I got in touch with Paul Copplestone (the CEO from Supabase, btw. very nice Podcast Episode here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0RwPlcpIR8tSqqv8Y9o898?si=391ab30d53a04859).
Being a very early adopter and convinced of Supabase I would've loved to become a Developer Advocate. Paul indicated that they'd love to but want to grow organically and at that point in time my targeted role was staffed in my timezone already.
My first freelance job ahead of me: At Wahnsinn.
Meanwhile, we're still in the first quarter of 2022, the University got back to me and said that they would have a job as a part-time lecturer for me 🎉. That was perfect because I love doing different things in small packages over monotony hence there would be enough time left to do freelancing.
The second call with Wahnsinn was equally chilled. They made clear that Freelance is an option but that they'd rather have employees. I responded: I can't. I'm burned by being locked in places that force their employees to get SAFE to prove they're agile even though they really are anything but agile. The boss said: "All good, no worries. You do you. We'd love to have you as an employee but you gotta do what fits your needs." That was unusual. Normally, companies are trying to convince you into something even if you state you're not into it - and they normally don't give you the option to do either freelance or being employed. I never felt so much in control about a job decision.
I told them that I wanted to go freelance to have the freedom of also being a teacher on the side and that it helps my overall motivation when I can learn and experiment with other things as well. He said: "That shouldn't be a problem. You'll have a 30-hour job and you can do your other stuff as long as you'll not lose focus on your job." Again: Unusual. Most companies give you some kind of suspicious look. But he was just being honest and expected nothing but honesty from my side.
I got an employment offer (still undecided if I wanna be employed at all) with something that might scare off other people: A 2-week notice period. And I loved it. It shows: That company doesn't want to hold people that do not want to be there. That company tries to hold people by trying to be a good company. And as a developer, I only see the benefits as there are lots of open opportunities in the market.
All of the above made me decide to join the company as an employee . No one forced me into anything and I said "if they lied or stuff is going nuts I'll be out in 2 weeks." There was not a single feeling of being locked in 🍻.
The Sun rises
When I joined I was put on a React Design System project. I love Design Systems. I've not only read a lot of books and articles about how companies evolve with Design Systems but I've also worked on a lot of them and helped with the implementation of those - not only from a technical but also from a design and organizational perspective.
My motivation was back - I still felt exhausted though. I wanna point that out (!) because many people could trap their thoughts into "Ah okay, David got a cool new job and now he's happy again, all good." It's not like that, so don't even start to think that things change over night 🌝. Things change gradually and that's a hard pill to swallow - for me same as for everybody else.
I loved improving the Design System at work. I revamped a lot of things there. On the side I started a YouTube Channel (https://youtube.com/@activenode), eventually had my first 45mins of lecturing at the university and worked on a side project with Supabase: I've rewritten an existing 9-year-old PHP application with Next.js and Supabase.
Since Supabase centers all of the features around Postgres (a Database System, similar to MySQL) I got even more boost as I just love working with databases features (even though I am primarily a Frontend Architect).
The best thing about that was: I got so much into Next.js and Supabase that we found it to be a perfect stack for one of our company projects. This means (Attention please!): My side project work led to the fact of me becoming a Next.js / Supabase Pro which helped reducing costs in the company project. This is crucial 💪. Too many companies watch your side actions suspiciously because they think it harms them. But in fact, they harm your bond of trust by stalking your actions.
I also moved my blog from dev.to to Hashnode because I could easily set up my custom domain without any fees and the overall UX was much more inviting. It helped me to write more blog posts and it also provides the feeling of not being trapped as I own the domain.
Looking directly into the Sunlight isn't healthy 🥵
Let's recap: Without reflection it felt like "I didn't do much this year". But in fact: Lots of calls, lots of thoughts, 2 LinkedIn Learning Courses (I underestimate the massive amount of hours it takes to have 1 hour of final video all the time), started lecturing at the University, created a YouTube Channel, became a Supabase Expert and helped on the repository, switched to a company as an employee although having everything prepared for going Freelance, mentored 3 people on their journey of becoming developers, improved my information chaos by using Notion actively, coded a lot and learned a lot (too much) of new tech and more...
It sounds like it became a perfect year eventually but there's one thing I didn't do: Put my health at first place. Over the year, I not only had COVID-19 which was a tough one even after being negative but I even had 2 months in winter of getting sick all the time. And at this point of writing, I'm still struggling with the aftereffects of a rough flu. It's getting better every day but it felt like my immune system had to re-initialize after all of the "being mostly at home".
The weird thing is the thoughts that come up:
Why am I still sick?
I wanna do stuff.
My body is annoying.
My doctor said something clever:
"You have to show a little bit more humility to your body. Your telling me that you don't know why you're so tired lately. For me it comes obvious: You've been jumping from one infection to another and the body needs time to regenerate. Not giving it time is not showing enough respect."
Of course, it is very obvious that our body is the most important thing we have and well all know about the well-known facts about doing sports. Still many of us don't. And we only come to realize that when it seems to be too late.
So here I am reflecting that when I ask myself "Can I skip doing Yoga and making sure to just work a little bit more to finish that task?" I will need to always go for the first one. Because you only notice missing out on it when you're in pain. And when you are it's even harder to do so.
One more thing
You might've read my article about my offer from Amazon (https://blog.activenode.de/getting-interviewed-at-amazon). In 2022 I got contacted again by Amazon because I'd made such a good impression the last time. I felt flattered and agreed for interviewing with an even higher position (Level 6). However: This time I didn't get an offer and I was not told exactly why. Unfortunately, it's normal that they don't tell you exact reasons for legal reasons to avoid law suits 🙃. I'm pointing this out because rejection happens on all levels and is part of the process (another good read: https://blog.activenode.de/mastering-frontend-interviews). I felt extremely secure that they'd provide me with an offer but at the end of the day it could've been anything aside from my hard/soft skills e.g. fear of me signing and then going freelance again. I'll never know.
Thanks for Hashnode for initiating the Dev Retro 2022. I probably wouldn't have reflected if you hadn't brought it up. It is known to be extremely helpful to reflect more often and this one really helps appreciating the year.