January 1st 2016 wasn’t the greatest day for me. I’d just made the decision to leave my job at ThoughtWorks after taking some extended leave after suffering from a bout of depression; a close friend and I had just had a huge argument at Ian’s NYE party that left a sour note in the mouth; and I was recently single.

But, things were looking up! I’d interviewed for a new job, there was a promising looking date coming up, I’d taken the decision to join a gym and get a personal trainer, and I’d started writing a book.

2016 has been an eventful year for me, so let’s break down what happened a month at a time.

A new start

January started after a long period of reflection for me. I’d joined ThoughtWorks in Manchester in 2015 and I quite quickly ended up being unhappy. This was compounded by the fact that on paper, ThoughtWorks seemed like an amazing place to be, but in reality it didn’t quite gel with me. Perhaps the manager-less culture and the unstructured “on-the-beach” periods clashed with my needs for structure that is related to my Asperger’s, but I also realised that the work in corporate enterprises ultimately just doesn’t motivate me in the same way as the work I was doing in the BBC did.

So on the 4th January I handed in my notice, and we agreed to backdate it to the 31st December to free me up to leave immediately. At the same time I’d interviewed for a job back at the BBC, this time in the R&D UX research group that would allow me to satisfy some of my academic ambitions. The good news was that I was offered the job! The bad news was that my start date could be no sooner than 4 weeks away, due to the time it takes to process paperwork.

So I decided to dip my toe back in to the freelance world (I’d done a small bit of freelance before), but made very little effort to look for leads. Fortunately it paid off and I ended up at a digital agency in Manchester, ironically working on a project for my old colleagues in BBC K&L. Agency life and freelancing wasn’t really for me, I think, but it was really eye-opening to see what life is like in yet another part of the industry.

“Welcome Back” sticky notes from colleagues on my return

February saw my return to the BBC, and after a few weeks it was like I never left.

I was thrown in at the deep-end on a project that eventually ended up succumbing to my awful acronyming/naming skills — the “Cook-Along Kitchen Experience”, or “CAKE”. It’s been a really fun project to work on with some incredibly talented people (shout outs to Jasmine Cox, Ben Robinson and Jon Tutcher), and allowed to slip back into the “tech lead” style role that I enjoy so much, getting a physical board for standup and applying some agile development principles to the research activity.

Holidays

In March, I went skiing, which is always a highlight of the year. It was also an opportunity to see how well my diet and new fitness routines were going, which I’d managed to successfully stick with. I’d lost a stone by this point and was being put through a tough training regime with my personal trainer. Fortunately it went well!

In front of Mont Blanc, at Les Grandes Platieres in Flaine.

I also had a few away days to visit friends within the UK, including getting an opportunity to work at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which is rapidly becoming a highlight of my year. I also managed to visit Edinburgh on four other occasions this year on various trips. It’s a beautiful rail journey, but it is a bit long to do there and back in a day multiple times…

2016 also saw the third EMF Camp, and my second time visiting. I once again thoroughly enjoyed it, with a personal highlight being dancing to chiptune in the main tent whilst everyone else was just standing watching.

This year wasn’t a big travelling year for me, and when it got to September I quickly realised I hadn’t had a proper holiday all summer. So I booked an all-inclusive package holiday to Mallorca, read a lot, drank a lot, wrote a lot and generally relaxed.

Compared to 2015 which saw Japan & Chernobyl as main travel destinations, Edinburgh & Mallorca seem tame in comparison.

I’ve already made some plans to correct this for next year…

Speaking

I was invited to speak at a BCS ELITE event on devops, which I enjoyed and I think went well, and got some good feedback from the audience. I also spoke at BarCamp Manchester and BraCamp (the Manchester Girl Geeks Mini Barcamp) and took multiple talks with me. My talk on Chernobyl (filled with holiday snaps) seemed to go particularly well. I want to speak more and I need to find opportunities to do this more next year.

I was also one of the faces of BBC R&D at IBC 2016 in Amsterdam, and I’ve been writing a book, although my initial target of completing it in 2016 has now been missed, I will start the new year with a renewed focus!

It’s also worth point out that I successfully organised 4 editions of Manchester Tech Nights. The more astute of you will realise that for a bimonthly event, 4 isn’t quite enough events to have happened in a year. 2017 will have to address that, as I’m finding it increasingly hard to get the time to put on a event that meets the standards I’ve set for myself.

Relationships

Although the promising date I mentioned above didn’t pan out, I decided to rejoin the dating website OKCupid, and in September met a cute Latvian girl who’s moved to Manchester to study for her Master’s degree. Without wanting to get too mushy, it has definitely been a highlight of this year so far so warrants a call out. ❤️

Alina and I in Edinburgh

We’ll be travelling together in 2017, starting literally the first weekend where we’ll be off to Berlin.

On the flip-side I’ve lost someone who’s been a significant part of my life. My Aunty Jayne was my Mum’s best friend and my Godmother. We’re not a religious family, but Aunty Jayne took up the role of a godparent in helping guide our morals and ethics and taking good care of us all. Her sudden departure has left a big hole of our life and she will be missed by me for years to come.

In 2010, Aunty Jayne and I getting a ski-do ride to a mountainside restaurant.

A year in software development

Here are a few key things I think I’ve learnt this year that I’d like to highlight:

  • ES6 is good, despite the tooling overhead you need to be able to use it.
  • Yarn is the solution to all my woes with NPM (lock files that work as you expect!). Combined with Artifactory for mirroring and private repositories, my JS dependency management got a lot better this year.
  • Type checkers are useful. I’ve been experimenting with Flow over the holidays and I think I might start to use it in anger.
  • React offers a wonderful toolkit and way of working for UI rendering, but styling still belongs in SCSS.
  • Avoiding classes and sticking to functions and closures has become my personal style and I really like it.
  • JavaScript has warts, but it has a great community and it’s a language that allows you to be very productive. Python still is good for scripting, but most apps I’ve written NodeJS on the server and React on the front-end.
  • That being said, Django is still by far the best framework for CRUD apps.
  • The web as a platform is absolutely exploding. I need to find an excuse to do an offline-first app using service workers.
  • Cross-browser bugs are still annoying. Mobile Safari is the worst platform to support nowadays.
  • Good CD pipelines and deployment tooling is still overly complicated for most people to set up properly.
  • In most applications, people are the hardest problem in software engineering, not the technology.
  • Getting the data modelling right and thinking holistically is also hard (but microservices help).
  • The pattern I’ve adopted for microservices of having a “helloworld” repo that is a template for starting a microservice, that new services as a Git remote and occasionally merge from is really handy.

Some stats to finish with

(for context, this is regards to the Manchester United “fake bomb” threat, as I was attending the match with my Dad)

  • My graph of weight loss
Yet another focus for 2017 is to fix the trend from the last half of the year

Now, let’s see what 2017 has to bring!

A technologist wanting to share knowledge and iterate towards a better world.

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