Ringing in the New Year

January 2, 2023

It's a new year, and the perfect time to start planning my professional and personal goals for the next twelve months. If you read my previous post wrapping up everything I did in 2022, you'll see that I touched on a few things I'll be tackling in my professional life this year, but I wanted to take the time to properly lay out some of my personal and professional goals in a written format.

Why share your goals on your blog?

Sharing my goals in a written format on my blog has several advantages:

  • It lets people in my social circles know what I'm currently focussed on, and what type of opportunities I'm seeking
  • It gives me a tangible record to revisit, both for my own personal growth as well as during performance reviews in my current dev role
  • It's a great way to get back into the habit of writing regularly

I recognise that sharing personal, non-technical content in a blog post isn't necessarily common practice among developers, but, in addition to the reasons above, some of my favourite developer blogs are those with content that is skewed more toward sharing the author's personal experiences, both programming related and otherwise. Jason Lengstorf has one of my all-time favourite blogs, and is one of few I read on a regular basis. He shares many anecdotes from his personal developer journey which are not only entertaining to read, but almost always leave me with a new grain of wisdom.

I'd much rather try to replicate the style of writing that I admire than deliver dry, purely technical content. That's why I built this blog in the first place - rather than continuing to post on Dev.to and limit myself to purely technical content, I wanted a space where I was free to share my thoughts on whatever topic pleases me. After sharing some of my posts with friends and colleagues, people generally seem to enjoy this style of writing, which gives me one more reason to keep sharing things on here as I see fit.

With all of that said, I want to share my first goal - to blog more.

Keeping a Consistent Writing Habit

While I love writing, it's never been something I've been able to consistently maintain a habit of doing. Much like in software development, writing things down has become a kind of afterthought in my day to day life as opposed to a tool that can be used to structure learning, thinking, and new experiences. This is something I am going to try my best to change this year, by continuing to maintain posts on this blog.

Previously, there have been two main roadblocks stopping me from writing more frequently - lack of confidence, and lack of time.

Why do I care what people think of my writing?

Entering the tech industry was a huge trajectory shift from my previous studies at art school, and along with that change came a healthy dose of imposter syndrome. Unfortunately, as many far more experienced devs have informed me, that feeling is one that lingers throughout your entire career as a developer - you just have to find ways to live alongside it without sacrificing your mental health.

Since starting my developer career, imposter syndrome has not only been a constant companion, but a roadblock that more often than not has stopped me from sharing my writing with others. Unfortunately, I have the additional setback of not being born a cishet man, which means that when I do overcome my own internalised scrutiny and share something I've made online, there are many people more than willing to scrutinise instead. Additionally, being openly queer means that this usually comes in the form of targeted harassment - I've been told to stick a fork in an electrical outlet more than once after sharing a tech-related opinion online - to a degree that many cishet male developers simply don't experience.

It's taken me a while to realise that, regardless of the content I post, simply daring to exist as an openly queer indivdual within a male-dominated industry is going to mean I'm a target no matter what. The quality of my work has no bearing on this - I could write the best and most thoroughly researched article I'm capable of, and I'm sure there would still be snide comments made questioning my knowledge and capability. I'm choosing to embrace that.

See, knowing that this is the case has made me realise that I simply don't have to care what people think of my work. Knowing that I could write something that I feel is the perfect blog and still have targeted harassment thrown my way as a result has shown me that I can share my work without it being perfect. There is no consequence to sharing my thoughts online, because the result is the same every time. Knowing this and continuing to hold it in the back of my mind as I share my writing has become the key to tearing down this particular mental barrier.

Making time for personal development

Historically, I've not been the best at setting aside time for myself and the things I want to do outside of work. I'm generally a morning person, and will be at my computer by around 7am most days. Since this is when I feel most productive, I'll generally start work around then, which has its benefits and drawbacks. However, this is a habit I've realised is having a negative impact on my life overall - starting at 7am and finishing at 5pm, when my coworkers and I are generally expected to wrap up, means I'm working around 10 hours per day. This is bad for a few reasons:

  • I'm salaried, so I don't actually get paid for the extra work and time I put into my code and various other bits of work
  • I'm spending 10+ hours in front of a computer every workday
  • I find that by 5pm I'm losing a lot of focus (though, as mentioned above, I am generally someone who is more focussed and productive in the morning than I am in the afternoon)
  • I'm using time I could be spending on personal development for unpaid work instead

Writing all of this down is making me realise just how bad this habit has become and the negative impact it's having on my day-to-day life, especially as someone who works from home and is easily tempted by my desk and work equipment being right there within easy reach. This year I want to try and actively structure my day to better utilise my time, especially given that I'll be taking a design course (which I'll outline below) while working a full time job.

My plan is to timebox my mornings and start working at my actual salaried job no earlier than 9am - currently, the dev I am on a project with has family commitments and tends to start later than that anyway, so there's less benefit to me starting early given that we rarely touch base with each other before around 10am. By keeping to this schedule, I'll free up around 2 hours in the morning where I am feeling refreshed and energised that will allow me to not only write more often, but additionally, will give me time to work on my other goals - namely, shifting my career trajectory to encompass product design.

Kickstart my product design career

You may know that I originally went to university to study Visual Art before the pandemic hit. I do still dabble in digital illustration on my instagram page and I've even had my own solo art show, so it's fair to say that creativity is something that has always been a big part of my life. I've written a post outlining my transition from art school to programming bootcamp, but this year I'm circling back to my creative roots with my arsenal of technical skills in tow.

In March this year, I'll be undertaking Dribbble's 16 week product design course to round out my skillset and get back in touch with my creative roots. Ultimately, my goal is to take what I've learned as a developer and utilise that knowledge, combined with skills such as UX/UI design, user research, and competitor analysis, to be able to provide value and insight to high-level design decisions during the "discovery" phase of projects. I'm planning to write more about why having these skills in-house is so important for companies, so keep an eye out for that in the future.

While I love programming, particularly frontend work, and despite allegedly being good at what I do for the relative level of experience I have, I'm looking forward to shifting into product design. I sincerely feel as though I can provide the most value to both my employer and our clients why helping to solve design decisions at a high level during the initial phases of a project, before a single line of code is written (or touched, in the case of established projects and team augmentation) by our own developers.

By the way, if you do need software development or developer team augmentation, you can reach out to our team at Alembic. We specialise in Elixir but also have plenty of NextJS/React and Ruby/Rails experience under our belt, among other things. Check back in the latter half of the year and who knows - I might be helping with high level design and discovery work.

Trying to enjoy the ride

All things considered, while I have a feeling this will be a hectic year, I'm trying to put less pressure on myself to have everything completely worked out right this second. There's big changes coming to my life this year - not only with (attempting) the shift to product design, but also with my partner, who recently quit his microbiology lab role to pursue the same web development bootcamp I studied at back in 2020. While this puts a bit more pressure on me financially, I'm super excited for him to learn more about web development and grow his own professional career. I am, however, less excited at the prospect of playing Technical Support for the next ten months while he learns to code, but in fairness, I wish I had been dating a professional developer when I was going through bootcamp, so I'm going to do my best to help him succeed.

I'm going to do my best to enjoy my personal hobbies, too - I started taking singing lessons back in August of last year, which was a pretty scary thing to do as someone who had their voice break as an adult man instead of a teenager. It's been a great way to relax, express myself, and learn more about my own body and how it works. I also do plan to continue creating art and illustrations in my (limited) free time, and have had friends ask if I'd be keen to do life drawing and pottery classes with them, which seems like a great way to socialise and relax outside of work.

Ultimately, I'm just trying to take life less seriously this year - while I'll never be someone who can simply stop at the end of the work day, I think 2023 is the year that I slow down and see where life takes me.