2019 in reviewDecember 27, 2019
I've been privately writing year-in-review journal entries for a few years, but since I'm jump-starting this blog again it seems fun to share more openly here. I certainly enjoy reading other people's review posts, so maybe someone out there will find this interesting, too.
Here were the goals I set for myself for 2019:
Failed. I didn't end up traveling all that much this year. This should have happened though - we moved to New York in February, which is so much closer to Europe. Yet, it seems that between work and exploring all that New York has to offer, we were never able to prioritize traveling abroad.
Failed. I made no progress this year learning Chinese. If anything, I regressed — I spent time in China in 2018 and managed to pick up some words and phrases, but without any practice this has slipped away.
Semi-passed. After years of shoulder injuries, I finally bit the bullet and had labrum repair done in March. After 9 months of physical therapy and a slow ramp back up, I'd say I'm at 95-98% full range of motion and strength. I still have a lot of psychological work to do next year to feel more comfortable with dynamic movement and getting back on a snowboard. My back still remains a problem and will need some follow-up in 2020.
Passed. I began working on a rewrite of my personal site in November, shipped it in the first week of December, and wrote the first Overthought post that same week. So far I've published five posts (this should be the sixth).
Failed. I wanted to launch one new idea in 2019 that would generate revenue. Even $1 would count. But instead, I doubled-down my energy on Design Details, building Figma Plugins, and working on new websites like Security Checklist. And, of course, I stayed focused on my actual day-to-day work with GitHub.
Passed. The actual number here is largely irrelevant, I only say 12 because it feels like a good way to frame a pace that feels optimal for me. My favorite book of the year was probably Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins.
Passed. I've been increasingly aggressive about shutting off push notifications and badges on every device. This has paid off: in general I have a fairly calm home screen on my phone, and I rarely feel like I'm playing catch-up with a barrage of notifications. However, Slack has become the ultimate distraction. It’s a persistent noise machine that is constantly interrupting deep work. Next year I will set strict no-Slack hours each day, most likely during the morning, in order to stay focused.
Semi-passed. This year I managed to break free from constantly reading Reddit, for the most part. I also had a seriously productive mid-year where I was largely off social media. But: somehow this fall and into the winter, Twitter has snuck back into my life. Next year I want to focus on being action-oriented on Twitter: whenever I check in I want to be contributing to a conversation or sharing something useful. Less mindless scrolling, please.
Passed. In November we shared that we're building native mobile apps at GitHub. We launched the iOS beta with Android coming very soon. We're planning to launch both apps to the public in early 2020.
Passed. When I joined Facebook in 2015 I set a goal to contribute something to the codebase before I left. Unfortunately, this never happened: as much as I wanted to, it was difficult to find the time to ramp up an environment and commit anything meaningful. When I joined GitHub last November, I set the same goal.
Fortunately, this time things turned out differently. Thanks to the patience and support of the fantastic engineers I work with, I've been able to ramp up a tiny bit on iOS and Android development, making a handful of polish tweaks and bug fix commits to both apps.
Passed. I’ve really enjoyed building in the open this year, even if it's mostly sharing website code and small Figma plugins. Next year I'd like to shift my focus from launching new things to committing fixes and improvements to existing open source libraries.
Here are some notable things that happened this year that I found to be fulfilling or helped me to stretch in new ways.
In February we moved from San Francisco to New York. Last winter I was nervous and anxious about making such a huge move, but in retrospect I'm so glad I did. Moving cities and coasts helped me to develop a thicker skin for change. Also: New York is an incredible city with so much to do and endless nooks to explore.
In November, we found out that we'd be moving back to San Francisco. It's bittersweet, but there is a lot to look forward to by going back. We'll be back on the West Coast in February, 2020.
One of the most fulfilling parts of my year was regularly hosting brunches, lunches, and dinners at our apartment. We barely ever had enough plates and bowls, and never had enough sitting room, but it felt so good to bring friends together over food so many times during the spring and summer.
I've worked remotely for several years, but always at small startups where I was usually the only designer. Joining GitHub this year was a new experience: working remotely with an established and growing team of product designers. One thing I noticed in my first few months was how difficult it was to get a sense for what everyone else was working on. Max Stoiber and I teamed up in the spring to build an internal tool to help people share work in progress across teams.
I'll share a more complete post about this tool in the future. For now: it has seen modest adoption internally, but it's not perfect. There seems to be a clear opportunity here to build a product that will smooth out the painful parts of sharing work within a distributed design team. Stay tuned...
Design Details has grown and evolved slowly over the past five years. This year, however, Marshall and I worked overtime to switch the show over to a patron-powered model with Patreon. Bluntly: this experiment hasn't gone as well as we'd hoped. We have almost 100 supporters (which is amazing) but we still have to rely heavily on corporate sponsors to fund the show's production costs.
Our Patreon experiment is a work in progress – we've changed our tier rewards twice, adjusted pricing just as many times, tweaked descriptions, and iterated on our social media strategy. We'll continue to tweak things in 2020, specifically: releasing more bonus content and figuring out an easier way to onboard people who want to support the show. This process will probably end up becoming its own blog post in the future. Running a podcast is hard work, but convincing people to financially support a podcast is turning out to be even harder.
Here are some things I'd like to work on in 2020:
Since we didn't make it happen in 2019, I'm keeping this one on the list. Traveling is so rewarding, and I've never regretting spending money on a plane ticket to visit someplace new. I find that traveling stretches me in a lot of unexpected ways, either by pushing my comfort zone, or putting me in situations to connect with people in novel ways where there is a communication barrier. At the top of my must-visit list right now is The Netherlands.
A failed effort this year, but an opportunity for 2020. I'll be traveling again in China next January, which feels like an appropriate way to jumpstart my effort here.
Another failure from last year that has continued to tumble around in the back of my mind. Over the years I’ve built so many things that either don’t make money, or make money for a company where there was already an established user base and revenue stream. Creating something from scratch on my own, and having that thing be worthy of it's own revenue, feels appropriately challenging. No dollar amount goals here.
This will be table stakes going forward.
There's no point in relaunching a blog if I don't write on it! This year I would like to hit a monthly publishing cadence, weighted more towards tactical topics, like tutorials for designers and developers.
If you've ever met me, you know I'm tall and scrawny, with long dancer's legs that aren't much good for dancing at all. It's been a goal of mine for the past 10 years to gain some weight and fill out. Now that I'm over the hump of my shoulder surgery recovery, it's time to get back on track: by this time next year, I'd like to increase muscle mass by 14lbs.
I really enjoy reading other people's year-in-review posts; if you wrote one of your own, drop a link to it in the form below and I'll check it out!
Happy New Years, everyone.