Already in the last end-of-year blog posts, I have focused on the positives rather than the negatives. And if I hadn't already done so in past yearly reviews, I would start this year. This time of the year has enough 2020 retrospectives that are more or less garbage fires, and I find it charming that at least my little web dev bubble concentrates on good things that have happened (like Max Böck or Hidde de Vries for example).
2020 finally introduced me to a systematic approach on how to build my own knowledge database. While I have been taking notes in tools like Evernote, Ulyssess and even a Kirby-based internal wiki for years, it neither "felt right" nor improved my way of working substantially. The Zettelkasten system, which I first discovered in the book "How to take smart notes" by Sönke Ahrens changed both things. It's hard to summarize the concept appropriately in a paragraph (I recommend Tiago Forte's article about the Zettelkasten system and Ahrens' book). However, the way of deeply interlinking notes (and thus, thoughts) instead of having a strict folder-like system is an approach that still feels refreshing and more natural. So if you are feeling the same, I highly recommend at least skimming the article, and if it hooks you, to get the book.
Like for many others, 2020 was also the year I invested in a proper home office. While I have my desk in a shared office, I decided not to visit it too often and instead I set up a little corner in my flat to work in. When confronted with the question of the table, I decided to go for a Sit-Stand Desk after hearing a lot of positive things about the concept. And, lo and behold, the praise for these types of furniture is appropriate! It's both great for mind and body to change positions (not only because of health reasons), and it fits better with certain tasks. As unnatural as 2020's amount of video chatting feels (and as necessary as it is), standing while doing it at least make it more bearable and, again, more "natural". To return to the topic of learning: This year I learned that I am capable of working from home (even close to books, balcony and gaming consoles) when I just tweak the right things, know what to strengthen and what to avoid.
This brings me to distractions and the hell hole that is social media (in general, but especially in years like this). For example, Twitter alone causes me to hold three opinions about it simultaneously: One the one hand, it is toxic, amplifies and even creates hate, strengthens bubbles and is the last place on earth to communicate in a nuanced way. At the same time, it is so useful in the web dev industry, a constant source of learning things, being inspired by humans and ignites thinking and empathizing like no other tool on the internet. But even an overdose of positivity is somehow possible. The anxiousness of not doing enough, not reading enough, not going deep enough into certain topics is real. As Sara Soueidan says (no, tweets!), we may be aware of this absurdity, but it sometimes just gets us. Now in 2020, I haven't learned the solution to all of this, but at least a new way of consuming Twitter. Since RSS is still close to my heart, I took the leap of faith (and put my money where my mouth is) and switched to feedbin.com. Using this service, I re-routed most of the newsletters I subscribe to from my emails to my RSS feed, but most importantly, follow a dozen or so selected Twitter users in a refreshingly asynchronous fashion. After 7 months of doing so, that alone decreased the slight feeling of FOMO unease, I felt when not opening twitter for a longer period of time.
Due to everything 2020 and an increased amount of customer work this year (which I'm very thankful for) I might have written more than in the last years combined, but in my Zettelkasten, instead of this blog. I only managed to churn out 9 articles, and most of them in the first quarter of the year. Of these, the most popular ones were "Improved accessible routing with Vue.js" where I tried to adapt Marcy Sutton's research on SPA routing strategies to Vue.js. The other one was a short article, stemming from a shower thought dubbed "Making RSS more visible again with a /feeds page", which got shared far and wide to my earnest surprise.
The elephant in the room though when it comes to my writing is of course "Accessible Vue". Certain progress on the book has been made, and I entered the editing phase, but I will fail my original plan to release it in 2020. But I don't need really form a sentence with "2020" and "plans", do I?
I don't know why I did not list great books I read in the past year (respectively) in earlier retrospective articles. Anyway, here are my book highlights for 2020 (all of them non-fiction):
- I praised How to take smart notes by Sönke Ahrens and its effect on my 2020 in the "Learning" section already. Find more on the author's website.
- Ward Farnsworth's The Practicing Stoic: While I'm still in the progress of reading it, I'm loving it and consider it the best book about the philosophy of Stoicism I read so far. It is accessible, gives philosophical and historical context to the quotes of Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius (among others) and is written in a style that is close to my way of thinking. I don't know if I recommend it as an entry-level book, but it is the most "edible" literature on Stoic thinking I found so far. Find more on the author's website.
- Storyworthy by Mathew Dicks is a very entertaining and educational book on, well, stories and both their function in our daily lives and what makes them work. Unsurprisingly, the author has succeeded in conveying a lot of theoretical information and useful strategies on the one hand, and on the other hand, in an extremely entertaining way. Again, more on the author's website.
- Fake Facts (Pia Lamberty, Katharina Nocun). Despite the title, it's a book written in German. Still, it's topic is an international one: The origins, inner workings, sustained contradictions and psychological reasons of conspiracy narratives. Although the book was launched in May, it has references and a separate chapter on the Novel Coronavirus and reading it definetely help me to digest what is happening right now and will happen in 2021. It's a great book that – I hope – will soon be published in English. Find the book page of its German publisher here.
Work-wise the last year has been a good one (and I am fully aware of the privilege of being able to say that. Especially being a freelancer, and especially regarding how wild 2020 has been economical). In the last 12 months, I managed to move even deeper into the topic of accessibility and continued to shift from being a front-end developer only to being a front-end developer and (accessibility) consultant, with more leaning towards the latter.
Besides ownCloud, I had other interesting customers and projects on the topic of accessibility in 2020. Due to non-disclosure agreements, I'm not really able to talk about them. And it looks like 2021 could be more of the (amazing) same.
This year, I also got my certification as a Web Accessibility Specialist by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP). Being a self-taught web developer who is also an autodidact in terms of accessibility, doing the certification was an excellent way to find out where I stand professionally (and whether I may have overestimated my abilities in the past). Also, working with the Body Of Knowledge gathered by the IAAP provided me with a very structured way of learning that experts in the field agreed on being essential for web accessibility. All in all, I recommend aiming for being a certified professional in the field. And even if you decided to not take the exam, the freely available body of knowledge offers you a great way for structured learning.
Doing side projects
Not so much happened on the side-project front, due to a healthy amount of customer work, progressing on my ebook and the-2020-topic-that-shall-not-be-named. I managed to jot down a bunch of ideas for some fun hobby projects, though. Maybe they come into fruition in 2021, let's see.
What I managed to create in the last twelve months, though, was a microsite about the European Accessibility Act. This European directive is by no means perfect but will improve the accessibility of the physical and digital Europe overall. Find my notes on the directive, its timeline and why the concrete phases are still yet to come over at a11y-act.eu.
I'm relieved that I stopped making resolutions for the next year in the retrospective blog post last year. That meant no yearly plans to fail in 2020. Since we aren't done yet with the pandemic, I'm the last person to create new ones for 2021 either – maybe aside from staying healthy. I'm planning to do the part of it that is in my control.
And with the dawn of this year, I hope you will too. I'm looking to more "normal" days again, to meet you folks at some proper in-person conferences again. Until that, take care of yourself and your loved ones.