Year In Review - 2015

A lot happened for me this year so I thought it might be helpful to reflect and review some of those things and try to think of things to improve on in 2016 in professional and personal aspects of life.

New Job.

Since 2014 I worked as a web developer at a fashion trade show production company. I originally took the opportunity envisioning a freedom and responsibility that came with being a sole-developer at a company of about 30 employees. My intentions were to maintain the existing system, find opportunities to make it better and then implement solutions to improve things. Rinse, repeat.

After about eight months that idea became harder and harder to maintain as more and more political decisions prevented me from performing the best job possible. At that point I decided to make a change. I didn’t want to leave for any other company, I wanted to make a calculated decision to move onto a company where I could learn and grow, be surrounded by a team and have an opportunity to learn from senior members.

In June of 2015 I took a position with Expand The Room (ETR), a small design/development shop in New York. December 1, 2015 was my six-month review and looking back, I’ve learned more in the last six months at ETR than I ever did at my previous employer.

My mood has changed for the better. I enjoy my co-workers and the products we build every day. And while we all have our gripes, I genuinely like waking up and going to work everyday – which is something I’ve seeked for a long time. Somehow, Expand The Room has managed to hire responsible, smart and fun folks while providing them the space to do their job with resources to grow at the same time. I’ve never been happier in my professional (albeit short) career. PS - We’re hiring.

Most of the knowledge has come from the team I work with and our open environment. We’ve created a space to take the time to learn about development, ownership and quality. Prior to this company, I never really understood what “professional quality” code was, but as I work with my colleagues, I learn a bit more about it each day.

In particular, my boss, Ryan, has done a great job educating on things I never would’ve thought to learn on my own. Small things like declarative vs imperative approaches to development. Or the reason why sometimes the simpler option isn’t the best option. These things (and many others) took him years to learn and it’s something he loves to help early programmers learn as well.

Freelance Work

Another major change is the amount of freelance work I’ve done in 2015. A challenge imposed on myself this year was to really test the limits. I wanted to see how much I could do and find out where my threshold was for new knowledge, work, deadlines and clients.

2015 Freelance Results

  • Total Freelance revenue: 48,435.00
  • Highest Paying Freelance Project: 14k
  • Longest Freelance Client: 1+ year (on going contract)
  • Freelance Hours Worked: 506.61 Hours
  • Weight Gained: 20+ lbs

The hardest part was balancing work and personal life. I quickly found out freelancing on the side takes about twice as long as would freelancing full-time. It doesn’t mean I’m slower but rather I physically don’t have the hours to allocate to a project. Where someone might get 8-hours, I get 4-hours.

Throughout the year I’ve tried various ways to manage my workload; assigning days of the week for a particular client, assigning chunks of the week to particular clients, working in sprint cycles. After trying different approaches to solve the “time” problem it became very clear the best solution was to be honest, set expectations and say no when necessary.

Communication became a big area of improvement as well. Given the workload I’d taken on this year, I tried to be as open with clients as possible. I did it as an act of professionalism and honesty but also realized it became a great way to hold myself accountable. When I stopped keeping deadlines and schedules internally I started holding myself more accountable. It ended up making projects move faster and finding a solution for tough challenges easier.

Fighting Burnout

Throughout this year I’ve tried to be very cognizant of burnout. I enjoy what I do but still had moments of frustration and small bouts of burnout in 2015. My ability to separate work from play this year sucked, as most things took a backseat to freelancing (due to the my self-imposed challenge). But in the small moments of free time I was able to really cherish the time and make it count. I think the balance of full-time projects with freelance projects creates enough variation in my workload that it’s helped prevent burnout to some degree. Instead of hating the work I just get small instances of being tired. Overall, 2015, provided a lot of work, not as much down time to focus on other things but I plan on changing that in 2016.


Personal Life

I never thought my personal life would change as much as it did over the last twelve months. My professional life was my top priority and I certainly paid my dues. Three big things happened this year:

  • Gained a lot of weight
  • Had vocal surgery
  • Moved in with my girlfriend

Weight Gain

Directly correlated to the amount of work I took on in 2015. Hoping to create a much better schedule to make the time necessary to hit the gym on a weekly basis. I’m currently seeing a nutritionist to help shape up my eating habits and eating-choices as well. I’ve found that playing sports is my ideal way of staying active. While I enjoy the gym I tend to carry a lot of negativity around “working out” so I want to get back into basketball leagues or visit the YMCA at least once a week in 2016.

Vocal Surgery

Realized I’m not a young-buck anymore. In September of 2014 I lost my voice and never really recovered. Nine months later I visited a specialist to discover I had a polyp on my left vocal cord. Summer became the season of recovery as well as a 3-week period of vocal reset (absolutely no talking - post coming soon) post-surgery.

Vocal rest was especially fun when trying to do a code review with colleagues. And for what it’s worth, Apple’s say command is pretty good, but still light-years away from human communication.

Health Overall

Probably my worst year health-wise in my entire adult life. Looking to increase physical activity to at least once a week to start in 2016 to start and make it a real priority. This is the first time I’ve ever really disliked myself or my body and it’s really taking a toll on me mentally. I’d like to be proud of myself again (good ol’ high school days!) so this is definitely going to be very important in 2016.

Relationships

A lot of things took a back seat this year, including relationships. Not super proud of it so I’m looking to recoup some of that in 2016. Thanks to digital communication I didn’t lose too much communication with friends but really wish I spent more face-time with friends and loved ones. Maybe it means leaving weekends open for socializing or a night or two a week to hang with folks. Not sure entirely what the solution is but it will be something I hope to explore and find a better fit into my life.

Moved in with My Girlfriend

Biggest and most exciting part of this year by far. Love her to death and really happy we’re living together. But it clearly comes with its own growing pains. We’re getting better at cohabiting the same space in a way that allows us to do our own thing while still being respective and inclusive to the other.

We finally got settled in November so looking forward to turning this place into a home even more than it already is.

I was worried about my freelance workload in 2015 and how it’d affect our relationship but she was always super supportive. In 2016 we’ll be discussing freelance work (and all my work) more openly to make sure its not getting the best of our relationship (or me). This is also something I plan on writing more about in the future. I’m quickly realizing my freelance work not only affects my life but those around me and definitely want to document how it grows and changes over time.

Personal Projects

Most personal projects fell by the wayside due to freelance work but I’d like to make time for them in 2016. At first I wondered why I was unable to stick to some of those side projects (even one’s I invested money into) but I quickly realized two things: they were not generating revenue immediately like freelancing and they were not a priority.

I had a goal to create 12 things in 2015 but failed horribly. While freelancing work could be considered apart of this goal, I was still nowhere near the 12 things I set out to create.

I plan on baking more (some friends know about this) and putting on a few more Beta Tasting events throughout the year, too. The truth, though, is baking 100 cookies for friends/people is really time consuming and costly so I’m thinking about doing them in smaller batches or increase ticket quantity to make up for the cost of ingredients and time.

Sidenote - If you want to stay in the loop about cookies, I’ve got a mailing list you can subscribe as well.


Time Spent

In 2015 I tracked a lot of time, working or otherwise, and it’s been really helpful to determine if I spent time doing things I deem “of value”.

Reading:

Read about five books in 2015; a mix of fiction and nonfiction. Hoping to read more in general and try to alternate between fiction and nonfiction in 2016. I’ve discovered I enjoy technical books but they get dry quickly and nonfiction really gets me excited to keep reading (and helps creativity) so hopefully it will create a balance to read more. If you have any book recommendation send them over.

TV Watched:

I’ve watched over 160 hours of TV in 2015 (that I’ve tracked) and it definitely wasn’t worth it. This doesn’t any live sports. I could spend this time doing other stuff like going to the gym, working on something fun, hanging out with my girlfriend or learning something new.

Movies Watched

Same as the TV section above, I spent roughly 54+ hours in 2015 watching movies. The good news: that’s significantly less than the past two years (I write down every movie I watch) but looking forward to spending my time doing things of higher quality in 2016.


2015 Overall

This was definitely a different year for me. I was thrown a bunch of curveballs and for the most part, I performed accordingly (good or bad, I’m not sure). After the freelance “challenge” this year I’m hoping to make 2016 a more impactful year for my personal life. Shifting focus from work and onto my health, relationships and personal time. All the while still freelancing, just not as crazily as 2015. I think the crux of this is to focus on structure, priority and importance. Some aspects of this will be personally decided on while others a joint effort for my girlfriend and I.

Overall I think 2015 was a pretty solid, fun and interesting year and I expect no less from 2016.