Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

Year in Review 2023


Welcome to my annual Year in Review blog post. I mainly write these for myself but like to publish them on my blog because I enjoy reading other people’s similar posts.

To prepare for these, I use a really cool booklet called Year Compass that provides nice prompts to take a look at the previous year and plan for the next.

Previous years

2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022

What I hoped for 2023 last year?

Let’s start by seeing how I did with this year in regard to my hopes from 12 months ago:

I want to focus on my physical and mental health that I've been sacrificing over the past 5-6 years while chasing success and battling the burden of the pandemic. I want to get healthier and get a better grasp of the day-to-day as that's been my main challenge lately.

While this journey is a long one and still going, I definitely succeeded here. In the beginning of the year, I was extremely exhausted, burnt out and demotivated which led me to leave a dream job, move back home and restructure my life.

It took 8 long months but finally as the summer turned into fall, my health took a major turn into better and I’ve been enjoying life this fall a lot.

I do want to make progress with my writing this year as well.

Almost 100 blog posts this year and I ended up writing more varied content and am really happy that I got into a habit of writing blog posts that participate in the discussion in blogosphere.

I participated in Blaugust challenge in August and that really tested my skills as a writer and also inspired a bunch of new things.

I'm launching a new newsletter for software developers next week!

Syntax Error was launched in January and over the first year, I sent 10 newsletter issues and by now, have over 200 email subscribers and likely even more RSS readers. It got me more excited about debugging and my Debugging Python talk was ever so much better this year thanks to it.

General thoughts of 2023

A greyscale photo of a wet concrete floor with bright footprints coming towards the camera

To put it mildly, it was yet another very interesting and eventful year.

Beginning of the year was all about restructuring my life. I left Mozilla and Berlin, moved back home to Turku and got a new job. I was very tired but little by little, things started to get better.

Throughout spring and summer, I worked writing Javascript and PHP and occasionally playing board games and Pokemon TCG with friends. There were a few good moments but mostly it was real rough. I was constantly tired and had many moments of self-doubt.

Towards the fall, I started feeling better and even got back to conference speaking as I visited PyCon CZ and PyCon Sweden. And then things took a turn at work and I ended up spending the last few months unemployed running communities, planning new ones and doing a lot of introspection.

My feeling of the year was that I hadn’t done that much. But after doing this year’s retrospection and writing of this review, I did manage to get quite a few good things done. And that’s one reason why I like to do these kind of reviews of the year, to remind myself that good things happen even if some days feel dark.


A year calendar graph with each day as a square. Most of the Wednesdays of the year are marked, as well as every day in August. In addition, a few squares randomly here and there across the year are marked.

If you’re a returning reader, you probably have noticed writing is a big passion of mine. This year I wrote 79 blog posts in this blog plus 10 issues of Syntax Error. That is a new personal record and I’m happy with the increased quality of my blog posts and how that has made them easier to write than ever.

In August I participated in Blaugust for the first time and to my surprise, managed to write 31 blog posts in 31 days to achieve Diamond Rainbow Award.

Some of my personal favorites from my writing this year:

Communities, events and speaking

For most part of the year I took a near complete break from all things community. I still managed to make few things happen.

A collage of 7 selfies of Juhis wearing a Santa hat with various other people holding boxes of chocolate and Christmas cards. In the bottom right, a text “Merry Christmas from Turku Loves Frontend”

With Turku ❤️ Frontend we organized 9 meetups throughout the year and after moving back to Turku I had the opportunity to participate regularly as well. We celebrated our 50th event in May and I was happy to see a good balance of new people and old regulars visit the events throughout the year.

I also got to return to my favorite tradition (pictured above) where I visit all the partnering companies’ offices right before Christmas and spread happy Christmas spirit and thank the partners for the collaboration. So many nice discussions spark from those visits every year and I like the small gesture.

A conference stage with Tuuli standing on the left end, Jani on the right end and a slide with Future Frontend 2023 logo in the middle.

In June, we organized Future Frontend conference that was our pivot from React to new topics. The event went really nice and I had a great time making new friends and learning new things. I wrote a recap of it in my blog and our next year’s conference is coming in June again with ticket sales on-going right now. Come to Helsinki, it’s gonna be fun and it’s the best time of the year to visit the country.

Juhis standing on stage next to a speaker podium. Behind him, a slide that has a raised hand and a text “Raise your hand if you’ve ever written a bug!”

I got to travel to Prague for PyCon CZ as a backup speaker and got to do a lightning talk about version numbers in September. In October I spoke to engineering students at Turku University of Applied Sciences about communities, networking and developer culture. In November, I traveled to PyCon Sweden to speak about debugging Python (pictured above) and did my version number lightning talk as well. I finished the year by doing that same lightning talk in our Turku ❤️ Frontend meetup in December.

In November, me and Dan sat down one Friday and founded archipylago, a new Python community for local developers in Turku with first events coming up in January 2024. (If you’re a Python developer in Finland, sign up to our first event Thu Jan 11th). Or if you’re a Python dev in Stockholm or Tallinn and wanna travel, why not come do a talk in one of our events? (Unfortunately we don’t have budget to pay for trips/speaking fee.)

A 3-pane Lord of the Rings meme. First pane: Aragorn says “You have my sword”. Second pane: Legolas says “And my bow”. In the last pane, a yellow rubber duck pasted over Gimli’s face with text “And my duck!”

Syntax Error got its first 10 newsletters and bit over 200 email subscribers. It brought a lot of joy and fun moments to my life and as mentioned above, it helped me deepen my understanding and skills in debugging and helped make my debugging talk way better. On the other hand, I had many moments when I felt like the growth of subscriber base was very slow compared to many other newsletters that I follow. I know I shouldn’t compare to others but it does make me wonder why I’m so bad at marketing things.

Given that I dropped pretty much all my projects in January to focus on recovering, I pretty much picked everything up again and added a few as the year went by. I do feel a lot better but I do need to ask myself, why do I do this to myself every time.



A contribution graph from GitHub showing 1150 contributions in 2023, rather equally distributed throughout the year with a notable gap in late January and February

In addition to spending 7 months as a software developer writing React for a SaaS platform and bit of PHP for a WordPress plugin, I continued maintaining the few projects I have and working on one new project. I describe myself as a “Saturday evening developer” who “enjoys writing small apps for demos, tutorials and talks”.

My GitHub profile says I’ve made a bit over 1000 contributions in 2023. It’s more than I expected but some of it is also content since since August, my blog posts have gone through GitHub.


For my NHL results CLI tool 235 I released version 1.3.0 that added a feature allowing users to see goals and assists of their favorite players. It was interesting to get back to writing Rust after a year. It continues to be the tool I use every single day and I love it.

Pokemon apps

As new Scarlet & Violet Pokemon TCG sets rolled in throughout the year, I kept maintaining Gym Leader Challenge Decklist Validator and Pokemon TCG Card Viewer Firefox extension. I got a single 5 star review for the Firefox extension!

I also started work on a deck builder that I have a sneak peek demo of its main feature that streamlines picking of evolution lines. The app is still very early in development but maybe in 2024 I’d be able to release the first version. I use it myself every time I want to build a deck so it works and is way better than the official Pokemon TCG Live’s deck builder but it’s still missing a few features I want to add before release and probably will rewrite the code entirely as its gotten messy during prototyping.

Advent of Code

To finish the year, I once again took part in Advent of Code, solving problems with Python and writing educational explanations along the way. Next week, I’ll share my retrospective of this year’s experience. By Christmas, I reached 36 stars (straight out skipped days 20+ due to Christmas stuff, will maybe revisit them during the holidays) and my explanations gathered a good ~25 000 views on my website during the month.

This website

During the year I also made a lot of smaller improvements and one complete rewrite to this very website. I switched the blog CMS from Ghost to Notion and I’ve been very happy with that, even though there are a few things to still fix and improve. While doing that, I added blog comments via Mastodon, custom cookie consent flow for embedded Youtube videos and most popular posts.

Right before Christmas I also added a statistics page for my blog and learned two things: I’m very commited to publishing every Wednesday and that out of the last 168 weeks, I’ve published a blog post in 152 of them.

Community projects

A dot graph of work experience in years on x axis and annual salary in y axis. Dots are scattered all around with a slight trend upwards as experience grows.

With our Finnish developer community Koodiklinikka I orchestrated and ran our annual salary survey with nearly 1000 respondents this year. It was a lot of fun as I created many memes to promote it. I’m very proud of the result as while it has its own biases and the data cannot be extrapolated to represent entire Finnish IT sector, it offers developers a lot of good insights into what people are making for which kinds of roles.

Potluck board game design

In the spring, I got my hands on Potluck, my board game project and it was a magical moment to hold something tangible and physical I had created as I usually only dabble in the digital realm. And it’s been a great thing to have: I’ve played so many games with so many people in so many different places from pubs to trains to conferences.

It has been a discussion starter in many occasions too. People have been interested in the process, the design and the final product and I’ve had so many lovely discussions about board game design thanks to it. I have an itch to start working on the next project in the spring.

Movies, games, books, podcasts and so on

I watched a metric ton of movies and TV shows, and mainly thanks to Steam Deck played a lot of games this year. Here are a few picks of recommendation. Some were released this year and some I happened to watch, listen or play this year.


What a year it was for gaming. Great new releases and because of Steam Deck, visited many old favorites.


Nintendo Switch recap with 9 total games and 78 total hours played this year. Game art shown around from various different games.

Game of the Year was obviously The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kindgom for Switch. It improved on the already great Breath of the Wild and brought in plenty of new ideas. I spent 45 hours of my total 78 hours in Hyrule.

I haven’t played Super Mario Bros. Wonder yet so Zelda was pretty much the only new Switch game I played this year. I did buy Advance Wars 1+2 Bootcamp but more of that below.

I’m not sure why FIFA 20 and Picross S6 are not showing up on this recap since I spent a good chunk of time in January and February playing FIFA when I was waiting to find an apartment after moving back to Finland.


PS4 Wrap-up top 5 games screen with NHL 21 (134 hours), Far Cry 6 (37 hours), Far Cry 5 (26 hours), Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (14 hours) and Madden NFL 20 (8 hours)

PS4 Wrap-up revealed that 58% of the time on Playstation I spent with NHL 21 - all of it on a single Franchise mode with NY Rangers. After that, a main chunk was spent on Far Cry 6, followed by Far Cry 5, both great additions to the series. I also spent a nice portion playing Madden 20 and FIFA 23.

The Wrap-up claims Call of Duty taking 14 hours but roughly 10 hours of that was it sitting on the main menu, waiting to download the single player campaign so it’s not very accurate.

Pretty much the only reason I still have PS4 is the sports games. NHL, FIFA and Madden – and before 2k went and made their NBA games unplayable, NBA 2k21 – require either Playstation or Xbox pretty much.

Steam Deck / Mac

Steam Replay collection with 44 different game covers

On Steam Deck, I really enjoyed DREDGE, a horror fishing simulator. In terms of number of hours, the most played game of the year was for the second year in the running Stardew Valley (42% of playtime on Steam). I started running out of power to play it with all my mods on my Macbook but with Steam Deck, I was able to keep on going.

Deck builders are great games and Slay the Spire kept the top spot of that genre this year and I reached many ascensions during my trips and wait times in train stations and ferry terminals. I tested quite a few new indie games of the genre but only one managed to capture my attention: Backpack Hero. I originally played the demo via Itch.io, then got the early access on Steam and finally at the end of 2023 they released 1.0 with a story mode and lots of new stuff and that finally got me hooked. It’s a really fun take on the genre by turning the deck into a backpack inventory management puzzle but keeping the rogue-like format. Backpack Hero ended up being my 3rd most played game on Steam this year, right behind Stardew Valley and Slay the Spire.

For the relaxed sessions, Dorfromantik and A Little to the Left filled the void. They are great games for when you don’t care about performing or winning but just want to have a great time.

As a big Advance Wars fan, this year had a lot of potential. Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp was released for Switch in the spring and its spiritual successor Wargroove got its own sequal Wargroove 2. Unfortunately, I got disappointed by both. The Advance Wars game didn’t bring really anything new to the table (the GBA version is just snappier to play with so I played more of that) and Wargroove 2 took a turn towards more character-focused story elements and I lost interest on it quite early on.

Luckily, romhacking scene is strong and I got to keep my Advance Wars desires alive with Advance Wars Returns from 2021. This year saw also the release of two really great romhacks: Pokemon Crystal Legacy that fixes a lot of balance issues and makes the game more challenging and interesting. In Mario Kaizo scene, BarbarousKing released long-awaited and brutally difficult Grand Poo World 3. If I ever complete even one level of that game, I’d consider myself a top tier gamer.

Final mention goes to Sea of Stars, a great modern turn-based RPG. I bought it right before my trip to Czechia and ended up playing a ton of it during the trip as I had long waits with no Internet in ferries, trains and terminals. It has a captivating story and game play that combines great features from many older games in the genre into a modern mix with good playability.

While Steam’s Replay doesn’t say how many hours I’ve played, I calculated through the percentage shares that I got 300 hours of recorded Steam time. Plus all the emulator games, offline gaming, GOG and Epic Store games so let’s say 50-100 hours on top.

With all three platforms combined, that means 600-700 hours of gaming this year. And I had such a good time with almost every of those hours.

Movies & TV

When writing this, I noticed how bad I am keeping track of or remembering what I’ve watched. So I’m missing out a ton of great stuff but here are some highlights of what I remember.

Marvel Cinematic Universe kept churning out good stuff. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Guardians of Galaxy 3, Loki Season 2 and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever were all movies and shows I enjoyed a ton.

Star Wars brought The Mandalorian and Ahsoka to the table and I’m a sucker for all things Star Wars so I ate up every episode and geeked out hard. I still haven’t seen Bad Batch’s latest season from this year but it’s on my ever-growing to-watch list as the first season was real good.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was a stunner. Peter Pan & Wendy was a big positive surprise. Elemental wasn’t history’s best Pixar film but an entertaining one anyway.

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things was maybe my favourite movie I watched all year.

British comedy & game shows were great as usual. Taskmaster UK’s 16th season was an upper mid tier season within the show, Only Connect’s 19th series featured great matches and questions, Alan Carr’s Picture Slam had a few weird quirks but otherwise was a ton of fun and Richard Osman’s House of Games completed the my need for quizzes.

Everyone Else Burns left me wanting for more. It was absolutely hilarious British comedy and I can’t wait to see the second season when it comes out.

From Finnish media, a few good mentions: Pohjoisen Tähti was a stunning Lapland cop series with boxing twist and a stellar crew. Third season of Ivalo (Artic Circle) came out and also it is a Lapland cop series with a stellar crew. There’s clearly something in the water. Etsijät took a moment to get started but ended up being a really fun series. I also discovered Pientä laittoa this year, it’s a real fun comedy series about friendship.

FInland also got its own version of a great Swedish quiz show På spåret, called Hengaillaan and it was really really good.


Tom Scott’s quiz podcast Lateral made so many moments of waiting or traveling go by way faster. It’s a really great concept, although I really hope they’d keep producing it as a video show as they did with the first few episodes.

In tech podcast scene, I mainly enjoyed Elisa Heikura’s Koodarikuiskaaja (in Finnish), Syntax.fm and Front End Happy Hour.


With books, I did a horrible job at finishing any. But I did start and continue quite a few. Seth Godin’s Linchpin had a lot of good food for thought wrapped into a very sethgodin-y hustle culture that made me want to skip some parts of the book.

I listened to Fern Brady’s Strong Female Character as an audio book and liked it a lot. I enjoy biography books that talk about a life completely different from mine. It’s eye opening to explore other worlds and lifes.

I revisited Paul Jarvis’ Company of One as I was once again thinking about starting my own business. In the fall I also read most of Mike Cohn’s Agile Estimation and Planning which was a really good and practical book.

And I continued reading Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet which is a wonderful scifi book that I’ve been reading for way over a year now. And it’s part of a series so I hope I’d make time to actually finish it and continue the story with the next books.

I don’t know which category to put it but I also listened to Finnish story Rakastitko, Vesku? which is a great radio/audio play about the life of Finnish multitalented artist Vesa-Matti Loiri. Also a recommendation to similar style play Itkisitkö onnesta? Tarina Gösta Sundqvistista that is even better than the Vesku story.

What’s coming in 2024?

I have four main goals for the following year.

First, I’d like to find a job I can thrive in. This year especially was quite a rollercoaster in work life and had me spend way too much in self-doubt as I failed in not just one but two jobs in the same year.

Second, I want to build archipylago into a lovely, warm and welcoming Python community for everyone interested in Python in Turku area. In a longer run, I’d like to see it lead into bringing back PyCon Finland but not yet in 2024.

I want to read more and actually finish some books. So I’m setting a goal of 10 books (and I count finishing that Becky Chambers book I’ve been reading for a long time). My thinking is reading a book every month and then knowing I won’t quite read that much in reality.

And to continue improving as a writer, I want to write 100 blog posts + newsletter issues in 2024. Towards the end of the 2023 I had multiple weeks of 2 posts per week and if I can maintain that motion into 2024, it’s a possibility.

A bonus inspiration more than a goal is that I want to spend some time and actually create a prototype for a board game I’ve been brainstorming inside my mind.

The start of 2021, 2022 and 2023 have all been under horrible circumstances but going into 2024, I’m actually feeling great and even more optimistic than usual.


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