Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

Year in Review 2021

Last year, in my Year in Review 2020, I wrote: "For 2021, my only hope is that we manage to get rid of this damn pandemic." Yeah, that didn't happen. But other things did happen this year so let's take a look at those.

This blog post is primarily written for future me. I like documenting my journey and have found going back to earlier years' review notes really enjoyable. However, you're free to join the ride! I hope this post will open up to you a bit more about who I am beyond all the tech and community posts and board game projects. I've also learned a lot about my personal growth from the evolution of my writing style and the way I do retrospections.

If you're interested in doing something similar – even if just for yourself –, there's a great tool called Year Compass that I've used since 2015 to take a look back and to prepare for the following year.

Previous ones are here: 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020.

Pandemic-ridden 2021

Unsurprisingly, the overarching theme of 2021 was the pandemic. After a rough 2020, this year wasn't much better. From January to end of April, it was all the more the same: sitting at home alone, trying to make some things happen but mostly just not doing anything. After the vaccination rollout started happening, I took my first trip in a year to visit home and spent May and most of June at my childhood home, working from remotely and starting my summer holidays.

It was a nice change of scenery: being able to go to sauna on a weekly basis, being able to barbeque food and sit outside next to the nature to eat food, listen music and even do video meetings. By the time my holidays started in mid-June, I was so ready for a break and it felt good for a few months. The pandemic situation was easing up a bit for the summer and there was a glimmer of hope.

During the summer I also got to meet some friends in Turku to play board games and eat dinners and life felt good for a moment.

After getting back to work, first few months were more of the same: feeling inadequate, having a lot of stress, lack of sleep and worrying if I'd ever be able to bounce back and be able to work again – or if anyone would even want to have me work for them.

In late September, Finland started easing up on restrictions and opening up and I did my first in-person workshop in roughly 1.5 years and it felt so good. In October the policies at work changed too and all together in October and November I did 20+ events, workshops, talks and other community gatherings. It felt amazing.

And then in late November, things went south again, we closed the office again and I was back to canceling all the events planned for December. As I had feared earlier, my mind couldn't really handle that and I've been on a sick leave ever since after crashing real bad. Christmas stress didn't make that any easier though.

The things that did happen

For almost 2 years now, I've been in the mode of desperately trying to reinvent myself and the way of doing what I do in this new situation and mostly it's been failure after failure. I still tried a few things, some that made me happy for a while.

codebase season 1


For a while, predating even the pandemic, I've had this interest in cross-pollination of ideas across different developer communities. I often see people mostly reading and learning and participating in communities directly related to the technologies they are working with. I personally believe there's a lot to learn from these other technologies and their communities.

In March, I launched codebase, a Youtube live show that celebrates developer culture and attempts at this idea sharing. I managed to do 4 livestreams and had to cancel 5 others due to lack of energy, scheduling issues and general pandemic anxiety. Those 4 streams ended up being great though. We talked about web accessibility with Fotis, Clojure backend development with Ykä, the history and modern times of PHP with Larry and the wonderful world of web components with Matias.

I'd love to continue codebase in 2022 with a second season.



As you're reading this in my blog, you might have already noticed or guessed that I like writing blog posts. In October, I reached 1 year of weekly blogging, having published at least one blog post each week for 52 straight weeks and I've been continuing regular blogging ever since.

Here are my favorites from this year:

Also, my article on open source and Spice program was published in Honeypot's .cult in May which was awesome. It was the third article of mine published there.

One writing project I didn't manage to finish this year either is my long on-going Humane Guide to APIs which I'm writing to help junior frontend developers to gain a solid practical grasp of using APIs. Every now and then I've gotten back on it and done some writing but I still struggle with some of the structural parts of it. Maybe in 2022 it'll see the light of day.



I also did a bunch of online talks/workshops and got to do a few in-person as well during that small gap.

Some major highlights were lecturing in Aalto University, speaking in TEDxKuopio in June and in DevRelCon in November. All in all, I finished the year with 28 talks/podcasts/workshops/lectures/etc.

Speaking in in-person events is so so so much more enjoyable and rewarding that I can't wait to get back to meetups and conferences, hopefully in 2022.

One of the most exotic speaking engagements this year was speaking in Rust Denver as my talk was at 3.30am local time mid-June, during the time in Finland when the sun doesn't really go down.



I also built a few software projects during 2021. I enjoy programming more these days than ever now that I don't anymore do it for professionally. I get to work on stuff I enjoy, experiment with technologies I want to learn, write and talk about my projects and not worry about deadlines.


235 was my first-ever Rust project and it has been in daily use ever since January when I got the first version published. Getting NHL results in the command line with no extra clutter is just the perfect experience for myself and building that while learning a new language was one of the highlights of 2021.

Pokemon TCG: Gym Leader Challenge Deck Validator

Another highlight is Gym Leader Challenge Deck Validator that I built for the Pokemon TCG community as a new community-born format was created and started gaining traction.


At the start of the year I built Taajuus, which is an open-source web adaption of a great board game Wavelength. I built it after I had promised to organize fun activities for our team's bi-weekly session and couldn't find an online version of the game that I liked. It's built to be played over video calls and it turned out to be a lot of fun. Speaking of work and fun, I also hosted a murder mystery dinner game for a team in our Tampere office and got some experience in hosting games from that.

Advent of Code

In December, I finally had enough time on my hands to fully participate in Advent of Code, focusing this year on improving my writing and my core Python skills. I picked up Jupyter Notebook as a tool to combine puzzle solving and blog-style writing into one and kept publishing my solutions with commentary on my GitHub page at hamatti/adventofcode-2021. I had a lot of fun doing these together with friends from multiple communities. My fellow developer people at Futurice, Koodiklinikka, Asteriski, Digit and Lumberchill definitely made this year's Advent of Code more fun that it had ever been.

Other smaller projects

I also did a bunch of smaller customization projects like making Liiga.fi site more usable, worked on my unpublished work-in-progress Pokemon TCG Online Cube Draft tool, experimented with Svelte on another unpublished sport stats project and built a Prism.js syntax highlight extension for Pokemon TCGO deck lists.



Turku <3 Frontend and Helsinki Dev Lunch were mostly on a hiatus during the year, although in the fall we managed to run a couple of great events bringing the community together until we had to shut down everything again.

Four pictures of people eating lunch with texts Oulu, Tampere, Helsinki and Turku on top of images in that order

One of the things I got to enjoy during the short window of events was eating lunches with developers in Oulu, Tampere, Helsinki and Turku within a month. Eating together is a great way to connect with people since most everyone eats and I've found it a nice way for even more introverted of us to join as you're not expected to do other things than to eat and can participate in discussion on your own pace.

In May, I was involved in organizing Euruko conference as a Discord moderator, and in November I joined React Finland's organizing team to help organize next year's conference.

Koodiklinikka's online community was a huge part of my year as well and in the spring I ran a community-driven salary survey to help members understand what kind of salaries others are making in Finland on different levels of experience and positions.

I also started planning a new kind of meetup-ish community around technical documentation that I hope might see day of light next year if we're able to get back to organizing in-person events.

I also got to mentor a few junior developers both 1on1 and through codebar and that is always something that brings so much joy to my life. I wish I could do that half-time for a living.

I got to also see a lot of friends shine this year. People who started doing more community stuff and public speaking and blogging being noticed and brought into meetups and conferences and being awarded for their amazing work. Love it ❤️. Also seeing friends find their first jobs in the industry is lovely.

At Futurice

At work

At Futurice, two major things that we kept running throughout the year were our monthly developer newsletter Dev Breakast and our internal weekly tech meetup Tech Weeklies. Both of them are things I'm extremely proud of but the effects of the pandemic were definitely visible also on how much (or how little) we had people creating talks and curating the newsletter – understandbly so.

I also took time this year to call every new developer who started at the company between January and October, which turned out to be a great way to get to know the new members of our internal developer community and to make some really good friends across Europe.

I was also part of a team that won one of our remote company pub quizzes that our offices in Germany were running. It was a nice way to connect more with my colleagues in Germany.

I participated in our FutuStories campaign sharing my insights into developer communities and worked on our new Futurice Academy trainee program as well as our summer job programs both from this last summer and for next summer.

A lot of soul searching

The worst part of this pandemic has been that I feel like I've lost myself into this never-ending nightmare. After finally reaching a situation both professionally and personally where I thrived in late 2019/early 2020, having to give up all of that and not being able to make things happen for almost two years already has done some major damage.

For years and years I've been trying to find my place in all this. What I really want to do is to help people get into technology but I still feel I'm very much early in that journey trying to discover what's the best way for me to do it. And the pandemic has definitely hindered my abilities to experiment and has caused a lot of stress and anxiety, especially when combined with the social media where the only thing that seem to matter is if you please the algorithm enough to get your stuff out there. And I flat out decline to do that.

I also faced a lot of rejections this year, all throughout the 12 months. Some were harder to accept than others and all of those really started to take their toll on my mental well-being. And I had to give up one possible dream in December when my mental health took a plunge to the worse. That sucks as I had waited for 3 years for the opportunity to arrive.

Not being able to make progress, and not being able to keep the things I've started running has been rough.

I've cried more this year than probably any other years since I was a toddler. So much cosmic anxiety around.


What's up, future?

Honestly, looking into the future and dreaming of the next things to come used to be my favorite part in these year in review notes. But this year it's not. It feels like I can't afford any optimism or hope because the more I dream, the harder I crash when the rug is pulled away from my feet.

But I'll allow myself to dream an unlikely optimistic future today. If not for anything else, at least for the sake of "if it happens, I'll have a list of things to do".

  1. I have this idea for a meetup community that doesn't have its own meetups. Bit like gypsy breweries don't have their own breweries or cloud kitchens don't have their own restaurants. I want to start a nomad meetup themed around technical documentation. Communities like Write the Docs are great but I'm bit afraid they attract people already into documentation and I'd like to spread the good word to other developers as well. The idea is to gather a pool of speakers who want to talk about documentation and then co-host events with existing meetup communities by providing speakers to talk about docs and technical writing.
  2. Play more board games. Way more. During these two years, I've pretty much only played during midsummer and during Christmas break when I've been able to visit my usual crew in Turku. I've spent more time in BoardGameGeek's forums, No Rolls Barred's Youtube channel and designing my own board game projects than actually playing games and it honestly makes me very sad because I love this hobby.
  3. Travel to Europe. I want to meet all the new friends I've made online during these years and to reconnect with the ones I met before the pandemic in meetups and conferences. Tallinn, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Munich, Prague, Amsterdam, Brussels – all of them I keep dreaming of. I also want to test the new overnight train from Stockholm to Berlin as that will make my non-plane traveling so much easier.
  4. Codebase season 2 needs to happen. So many preliminarily booked guests and topics were left over from 2021 that I want to refine the concept and bring more different aspects and communities to the mix and to highlight great people doing good stuff.
  5. Write more. I really want to improve as a writer so in 2022, I want to keep up my monthly blogging schedule but also finish a few bigger pieces, mainly the aforementioned Humane Guide to APIs but also a few guest posts I already kinda promised to provide some day. I'd also like to make time to explore fiction writing again as I have some stories in my head I'd like to flesh out. I also have a 14-part CSS blog series in works that hopefully will move forward a bit next year.
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