Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

Year in review 2019

Another year is coming to its end. Last few years I have done some reflection on the past year, mainly to document to myself what I have been working on, how I feel about the year and to fight my impostor syndrome by writing down and quantifying my accomplishments.

To celebrate the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, we got together with a couple of friends and hoisting the champagne glasses to the pitch black sky, I told my friends I had 3 major goals for 2019: (1) speaking in an international tech conference, (2) becoming a full-time developer advocate, and (3) moving abroad.

So I guess, it's good to start by reflecting on these three goals first.

(1) Talks, workshops and events

With good progress that I made in 2018, I started 2019 by submitting a lot of proposals to a lot of conferences. Many of the mornings this year I woke up to see rejection emails from countless conferences. But eventually, I got a couple of acceptance emails as well and in addition to conferences, was able to improve my speaking gigs all around in local events as well.

Out of my 53 talks or workshops, here are my highlights of 2019:

  1. I teach, therefore I learn at PyCon CZ

My first big talk of the year was in the big picture my favorite moment of the year. I traveled around Europe for 3 weeks, gave this talk in PyCon CZ, another talk in the lightning talks sections, met really nice people from all around the world and on my way home, gave two talks in meetups in Berlin as well.

2. Contemporary Documentation at PyCon Estonia

While the first talk was a great conference & travel experience, I really liked the Contemporary Documentation talk because of its side effects. I gave the talk in couple of meetups in Finland, talked about the topic in Webbidevaus podcast, and I got to have a lot of great discussions about documentation practices with many developers. And in the conference itself, I made a couple of good friends and had wonderful time in Tallinn.

3. Self-Documenting Code at PyCon Sweden

I love lightning talks as a concept. In my first conference in PyCon Finland back in 2016 I didn't quite understand them but this year they became my favorite portion of any conference. Five minutes is a challenging time frame that creates both great talks and a great opportunity to share community experiences and showcase projects.

In PyCon Sweden, I gave a 4-minute talk about a side project that I had created to showcase how silly and harmful the trope of self-documenting code is. It was a lovely experience and I really enjoyed how my jokes hit home with the crowd. And in addition to the talk, the trip was a great one and I loved getting to know wonderful people from the Stockholm community.

In addition to these three, I finished the year with 53 talks, workshops, podcasts, Twitch streams and other public speaking engagements. It was the first year I got to be on a podcast (4 in total: Identio Prochat, Bisnesvallankumous (twice!) and Webbidevaus). I really enjoyed being on a podcast and hope to have more opportunities for that in 2020.

In addition to talking about tech, I also talked/coached in a couple of startup accelerators. I did workshops on MVP and prototyping for Cambridge Venture Camp, Hatch Incubator, *ship startup festival and helped teams with pitching at Startup Journey. I also talked to students about dreaming and reaching your goals in multiple occasions.

(2) Developer Advocacy

As I had been running Turku <3 Frontend community for a few years, I started to get more and more interested in building developer communities more seriously. After lots of discussions, planning and negotiating at work, I was finally able to transition into a full-time role as a developer advocate - or developers' best friend like I tend to call it - at Futurice.

Since summer, I have been really happy at working on all sorts of stuff: meetups, hackathons, content marketing, speaking in events (see (1) above), encouraging and sparring my colleagues to speak in events and so on. And I'm so glad that with a great team of marketing and recruitment people, I got a lot of responsibility to help work on our recruitment funnel on a more tactical level too.

In August I started my first developer newsletter, Dev Breakfast and curating that has been a great learning experience. I'm still super nervous to look at the stats after each issue but I'm excited about the next steps and future plans we have for the spring.

(3) Moving abroad

The last of my major goals didn't become a reality. My work at Futurice kept me in Finland for now since I'm doing so many local activities in Helsinki and some in Tampere. I was able to travel a bit for conferences and spend some time on our Berlin and Stockholm offices.

Before joining my current company, I explored a lot of different options in Europe  but none of them ended up happening. After some interesting discussions and job opportunities I turned down this fall, I'm getting a bit more confident and excited about what's out there. While moving away from Finland won't be one of my goals for 2020, intentionally working on multiple things that will help me move closer to being able to life and work location independently are on my list.

Location-independence (or remote-first) has been a topic that I have been exploring a lot lately. My goal is that before I turn 35 (luckily still few more years to go!), I have reached a situation in life where I can life and work without being tied down to a specific location.

(+1) Communities

This year I mostly continued my work in existing communities. With Turku <3 Frontend, we celebrated the 4th anniversary in December, hosting another 9 meetups this year and welcoming new companies to the town. With codebar, I coached in various workshops and hosted a hackathon together with them at the end of the summer.

With our Futurice internal developer community, we hosted weekly Tech Weeklies meetups and a Global Code Camp hackathon in Tallinn where we learned to hack with emerging technology.

One new thing that I did start this year was Helsinki Dev Lunch. As I often normally eat lunch with my friends or colleagues, I wanted to meet new people and to bring them together to meet each other. So I started inviting people to an open lunch on social media and throughout the fall, we had developers, data scientists and students joining together once a month to eat lunch and to talk about stuff. (I you're interested in joining, follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn and I'll post about them once a month before the lunch.)

One of my failed community goals for this year was that I didn't get to launch Code Parrot. I did have some discussions with bunch of people over the summer about it and throughout the year was looking for a great opportunity and the best approach but other things - like my new job - took my focus and Code Parrot needs to be postponed once more.

(+2) All that jazz

So everything above was pretty much work related (or "work-like hobbies" as one of my occupational nurses described my life when I told about my hobbies). That's because most of my life is that. Once your passions and hobbies turn into full-time work, it's kinda bound to happen and I don't regret it a single bit. I'll take working on things I love and having less hobbies over working a horrible job and having great hobbies any day. I'm extremely lucky that I don't have to work to finance my hobbies. My hobby finances itself.

But other things did happen too in my life. Once again, I played a bunch of video games. Link's Awakening remake for Switch and Super Mario Maker 2 were some amazing highlights of 2019. Other than them, I mostly played older games. I replayed Firewatch twice, continued putting in hundreds of hours into FIFA, NHL and NBA games and played Super Mario World and Link to the Past like a lot.

This year turned out to be one that will forever be remembered in history. Finland managed to make its way into men's UEFA Euro tournament for the first time in history and next summer we'll be playing with the big boys in Denmark and Russia.

I also got a bunch of new friends into my life through work, meetups and conferences and I am so happy about them. If we become buddies this year and you're reading this: I like you and I'm happy I met you ❤️.

(-1) Not all roses

While this year was full of great moments and accomplishments, it wasn't all just happy moments. As the year is pretty much done, this Christmas holiday couldn't have come on a better time. I'm beyond tired and seriously need to catch my breath before embarking to the new decade.

I ended up working a lot and stressing about work a lot too this year, especially after starting in my new position. It was originally agreed to start as a 6-month experiment (which to my delight was continued and now is a real permanent role) which caused me to put everything I had into it to show that it's a valuable role and that I'm the right person to do the job.

I also had some positive problems as I had to really think about where I want to take my career as I was discussing with multiple companies about developer advocacy positions throughout the fall. For now, I ended up staying as I believed not many company can right now provide me the level of autonomy and flexibility that my current job does.

But those discussions did put some extra stress on my shoulders and this Christmas holiday I have planned time to once again think about which direction I want to take my current job into to make sure it doesn't become "just a job" but actually something that helps me drive things that are important for me.

I also tried a lot to start making video stuff. Video is the medium of this decade (and even more so next decade) and after struggling with the idea a lot, this year I started to experiment. I started a Youtube channel and continued streaming on Twitch but neither one really felt right nor went anywhere.

Filming and editing was something I learned just a bit this year but not enough to get comfortable enough to get into the workflow of shoot-and-publish. I started recording one Javascript debugging video in July and it's still on my editing process because I can't get over the things I don't like about it.

2020, here we come

Looking back at this year, 2019 was amazing year of personal and professional growth, dreams coming true and life being great. There are great things in progress also for 2020 and I hope to tell more about them soon.

If you’re looking to do some end-of-year reflections but don’t know what to think about, check out Year Compass. This was my fifth year doing it and I absolutely love it.

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