2019: The Year of Craft JAM

A brand new year, a brand new decade: welcome to 2020! Normally, this time of year ends up being quite a productive period for side projects, writing, photography etc. Not so much this time around though, largely as a result of a fairly crippling work schedule for the final months of 2019 (which is now slowly letting up). That means my usual one-two punch of a "year in review" post followed by one detailing my "New Year's resolutions" is going to have to be combined for efficiency 😉

The Major Landmarks of 2019

Overall, 2019 was a bit of a weird year. As we left 2018 behind there was a shared sentiment across the web, including on this website, that we were finally escaping what had become known as the year equivalent of a "dumpster fire". Little did we know that by the end of 2019 we'd be saying the same thing, only about the entire decade. Let's just say that world geopolitics and scientific forecasts have not exactly been ideal and leave it at that. At the same time, on a more personal note, the last year has felt a little stalled, albeit for mainly good reasons. We made a decision heading into 2019 that we weren't going to do anything huge, instead saving up some money (and energy) for 2020, which marks the start of two years of fairly big events: two 30th birthdays and a 10th anniversary.

Instead, the focus was on friends and family, with both of Alison and I using leave to visit parents for extended periods in order to sort through/tidy up/get rid off some of the clutter left over from our childhoods. In that sense, the year has been really fun, getting to revisit old memories whilst making both literal and figurative room for new ones in the decades ahead.

Our actual holidays had a similar theme, with one trip to Sidmouth Folk Festival with Alison's parents, another to Wales to see my family and explore the Lynn Peninsula and southern coast, and a final weekend jaunt to the Victorian (though now mainly hipster) seaside resort of Margate with some uni friends. It was really nice just spending a year exploring England and Wales, without worrying about rushing about on a big, expensive trip, where you often feel like you're missing out if you don't keep moving. That said, my feet are definitely itchy, and you can be certain that next year we'll be getting back out to one of the other hemispheres and some entirely new experiences.

From a work perspective, I'm still at Talent Point, but that's about as far as the similarities go. Back in 2018 I was a newly-promoted Content Manager with one other team member and a fairly narrow scope of work: write and edit content, occasionally make a small illustration or graph, help a little with the creation of a new company hub page, and make the odd small tweak to the website. That scope has somewhat expanded in the ensuing 12 months. Near the start of the year we began work on an offshoot events branch, Growable, which saw me take on the role of UI Engineer within that team, helping to manage the web design process and ultimately building the new website with one other colleague. It was a hugely fun and enormously challenging learning curve that forced me to really get to grips with the JAMStack, that modern front-end tooling setup which relies on serverless hosting, headless content managements systems, and some of the increasingly ubiquitous JavaScript frameworks – in this instance, React and Gatsby.

Of course, even once the website was launched it wasn't finished, and we continue to work on tweaking the layout and developing new features based on user feedback. The launch also meant that we were hosting meetups, which created a raft of new duties for the Content team. I began filming all of the talks that we organised, before editing the resultant videos, as well as becoming the unofficial-official event photographer. At the same time, the rest of the team began expanding the visual language for the brand, creating new hero images, icons, email templates and whatever else was needed. On a personal level it's been great to be able to use my interests for video and photography in a professional setting (even a fairly amateur one), forcing me to learn a lot about various areas of the Adobe suite (which we now finally have at work) that I've never touched before. I'm pretty proud of the results, even if I feel like production quality and finish could be seriously improved, and very much aim to make that a priority in 2020.

The team itself has also expanded, with a new Writer and a new Head of Marketing who now works closely with us. That's meant a lot more focus on content production, as well as a complete brand overhaul and new website in the latter half of the year (and resulted in the previously mentioned insanely hectic final few months). As a result, I'm now "officially" a Front-End Developer (as in my job title changed again), whilst still remaining the Content Manager as well, and have been involved in a much more serious brand design experience with the excellent Manifesto Studios, helping to create a whole new Talent Point. We technically launched on time (Christmas Day!) but it's fair to say there have been some feature casualties and bugs as a result, so there's a huge amount still to do.

Still, that means my work year started firmly in content and has ended with two full, greenfield website builds under my belt using leading-edge technologies and a whole bucket load of JavaScript. Quite where that leaves me in terms of a career is any ones guess, but it'll certainly have opened quite a few additional doors!

Challenges and Growth

Of course an end of year roundup means a look at my 2019 Challenges! So how did I get on? Well, not great..:

Photography

  1. Finalise all photos taken in 2018 by the end of March ❌
  2. Upload at least 52 photographs to portfolio channels (500px/Instagram) ❌
  3. Print out and hang more photos ❌
  4. Get my Quiraing shot framed ❌
  5. Go on at least two specifically photography related day trips with friends/solo ❌

General Life

  1. Finally finish sorting out my hard drives ❌
  2. Create a process for organising video files ✔️
  3. Finish digitising my magazine backlog ⭕
  4. Plan the big 3-0 trip ⭕
  5. Visit the zoo at least 6 times ✔️

theAdhocracy

  1. Create a personal logotype and logomark ✔️
  2. Migrate CMS!!! ✔️
  3. Create a better review system ⭕
  4. Add social streams/focus on homesteading ❌
  5. Publish at least 12 articles ⭕

That's a lot of red! To be fair, I only just missed out on the 12 articles (I count 11, plus 2 drafts... so close![1]); the review system is technically done, but I haven't coded it into the website yet (so it doesn't really count); and I have made a huge amount of progress on the magazine backlog. I have also completed a decent amount of the hard drive sorting and 2018 photos, but not enough to feel like I can really call them anything but failures, and I did upload a few images to 500px. On the more positive end, I smashed my zoo target, visiting 9 times in total (I think); fully migrated the CMS (which should really be worth five ✔️'s as it's been on the to-do list for so long); created a logo and - more importantly - completely redesigned this website from the bottom up using modern technologies.

Obviously, in a year where I've learned all about GraphQL, Craft CMS, Gatsby, React, and much more, it seemed fitting to do some of that skills gain in my own time, hence a whole new, JAM-powered version of theAdhocracy. Honestly, this new website is definitely in my top three successes for 2019 and may even be #1 on that list; the design scheme is vivid and a bit off the wall, which I had worried would begin to chafe around the edges, but nearly six months after launching it I'm still extremely excited by what I managed to achieve. There's a lot I still want to do with it, but just having something that feels 100% my own for the first time ever is an outstanding achievement in my book.

It also started an absolute love affair with Craft CMS, which we're now also using across all websites at work. At long last I've found a CMS which offers immense developer flexibility without ignoring the fact that, at its core, a content system needs to have great authoring functionality. Are there some bits I'd like to see improved or added? Absolutely, but overall Craft has been nothing short of revolutionary for me and an absolute joy after having used WordPress for so many years.

Of course, whilst web development has been a big focus of 2019, my other big passion has clearly taken a firm backseat. Photography just slowly fell off the radar, despite starting out strong with a whole Trello board scheduled out and several albums from 2018 hitting 80-90% completion. The camera has still come out with me, particularly to the zoo where I've racked up several thousand more shots to sift through, but it just hasn't been a priority. Plus, I've learned a little bit about the limitations of photography in Britain. Trips around London with a shoulder-mounted bag definitely contributed to ongoing back problems that I'm having, whilst rain managed to completely hamper two separate walks in Wales, including temporarily breaking my camera just as a seal and her pup swam within metres of us at the beautiful small port on Ramsey Island wildlife reserve. Luckily, an extremely exciting Christmas present just as the year ends may solve both issues, but it definitely made me a lot warier of pulling out the camera then I have been in the past.

2019 also saw a very strong return of another old hobby of mine: video games. In January, a particular set of circumstances caused me to abandon reason and splash out on the first current-gen games console I've owned since the Wii was released over a decade ago! Even more baffling, it wasn't the latest Nintendo console[2], but instead (for the first time in my life) one built by Sony! My teenage self is looking on in disgust...

You see, January saw the opening of the first video game specific exhibition ever at the V&A, which we promptly went to see. The whole collection was fantastic, but what it really left me with was a deep yearning to play the indie-classic Journey, which I've been hearing about for years. It wasn't just me either; having poured over the concept art and watched a short documentary on the making of the game, Alison was hooked too. The only problem is that Journey has only ever been released on PS4, a fact I only learned after committing to myself that this would be my year's tribute to the gaming gods of Wintereenmas. Oh well, nothing else could be done then, clearly, but to buy said console and play one of the best games I've experienced in a long time. Honestly, it deserves all of the hype: Journey is one of those games that will stay with me for a long, long time.

Having completed the game several times over, unlocked all the Easter Eggs, and then watched Alison do the same, though, I felt like I should probably buy something else to justify owning an entire console. As luck would have it, the Game of the Year edition of Witcher III: The Wild Hunt just happened to be on sale around the same time, so I picked it up and quite simply haven't looked back since. If my work life has been dominated by React, my personal life in 2019 has been dominated by the Witcher. It has some mildly frustrating parts, but it's exactly my kind of sandbox game, with a strong narrative and strictly defined limitations that allow the main character, Geralt, to feel much more real then similar titles by Bethesda or Rockstar have ever managed (in my experience, at least).

Then, in the summer I found myself hooked once again by the League of Legends World Championships, at the same time that several friends began playing Apex Legends. Whilst the latter has failed to keep me engaged in the long run, League remains as fun as ever. Finally, to top it all off, April saw the announcement of a game I've been waiting for my whole life: Planet Zoo. It's the third game I've ever preordered, finding itself in the company of the first Animal Crossing and Skyrim, but it was definitely worth it for the beta access alone. I couldn't imagine a better successor to Zoo Tycoon, which had a huge impact on me as a kid, shaping a lot of my future decisions by introducing me to the world of game mods and teaching me a huge amount about both coding and conservation. Well Planet Zoo may not have mods (yet), but its fully modular building system is the missing ingredient from the old Tycoon-game formula, making creating entirely customised zoos possible. Add in a ridiculous variety of animal behaviours, some system-busting graphics, and a seemingly genuine interest in listening to the community and I'm in gaming heaven. So now I have far too many games vying for my attention and both PSN and Steam sales going on... yeah, I think I'll keep this gamer thing going into 2020 as well 😉.[3]

Challenges for 2020

Speaking of which, what are my 2020 challenges? Well, I'm going to mix it up again this year. Whilst I'm obviously very content with how much gaming and web development have rejoined my life, photography and reading are still lagging behind where I'd like them to be. Work goes some way to scratching my writing and videography itches, but they too could be better embraced. Most of all, though, the dawn of a new decade has thrown into relief the parts of my 20s which will slowly be dwindling away. Friends are looking to settle down, which includes leaving London (even though we only just arrived - how rude!), and honestly I'm starting to feel the same myself. Plus there's this whole 30th birthday malarkey which I need to wrap me head around.

The result isn't going to be a "To-Do List" like last year, even though I'm going to keep focusing on a few of those challenges to try and ensure they actually happen. I don't think planning for a whole year really makes that much sense; for instance, I don't regret letting photography slide for the last half of 2019 at all, but it made some of those challenges absolutely impossible. I don't think super-frequent challenges work either, given how the whole "monthly theme" idea died an immediate death. I'm tempted by a quarterly challenge but it actually feels like a bit of the worst of both worlds: too restrictive and too agile all at once.

Instead, I'm going to take a leaf out of John Green's book and look at which things I want to end in 2020, which I want to begin, and which I want to keep going at:

To End

  • Planning my big 30th trip (I'd rather go on it now, please and thank you!).
  • Building the review section of theAdhocracy.
  • Creating notes/thoughts/links archives.
  • Fixing my PC so it can actually receive Windows Updates again.
  • Having magazines knocking around; time to digitise the lot!
  • Needing to juggle hard drives constantly; delete some files and sort out a backup routine that works.
  • The Wild Hunt – it's an amazing game but I want to see it to completion (definitely one for Wintereenmas).

To Begin

  • Reading more, particularly at night, instead of playing games or just mucking around online.
  • Some semi-formal training around the blank spots in web development, chiefly database management, testing and high-level animations (D3, Python, Node here I come).
  • Going to web dev meetups that matter, like Indie Web get togethers and Homebrew Website Club.
  • Augmenting theAdhocracy to publish elsewhere, particularly with things like Discogs integrations into a new vinyl collection microsite.
  • Coach to 5K with Alison. I'd definitely like to run more in 2020.

To Continue

  • Listening to loads of music. 2019 was another year with more individual tracks listened to than before, but my rate of artist/album discovery has started to decline, so I want to work on that and branch out more.
  • Keeping up on RSS, podcasts and YouTube, though feeling happy to cut out some of the white noise as well.
  • Working on my photography, particularly now we have Wildlife and Wetlands Trust membership, it's a good excuse to really get into birding again.
  • Gaming. Once the Witcher is done, I'd like to get stuck in to something new, maybe the new Spiderman game, or maybe something indie again.
  • Prioritising friends. It would be great to have more people around for meals this year and have slightly more smaller get togethers.

Yep, even more sporadic and loose than last year, but what I said then remains relevant now:

"Hopefully in twelve months time I'll be able to write-up a success story, but even if the hit rate is as low as [2019] (or lower) I think simply putting these plans out there and having somewhere to refer back to will be a useful tool."

So here's to an exciting, progressive, focused, and fun-filled 2020[4]! 🍻

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Footnotes

  • <p>A look back and a look forward... it must be the start of a new year. 2019 held a lot of change and personal improvement, but I can't help but feel that 2020 is going to be a big one. So what exactly do I have planned and what am I hoping for the next 12 months?</p>
  • Notes from the Editor
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