This year has obviously been a lot different than everyone expected. I feel extremely fortunately and lucky to be in an industry that naturally makes it easy to work from home. In fact, remote work is something I've wanted to try full-time for quite some time, and this year has not only forced it to happen, but also made it more normal in our industry (hopefully now moving forwards). It's just a shame it took something so terrible as what's happening for this to become a thing.
It feels like a life-time ago thinking back to pre-March this year, but I guess that's still part of 2020, ergo this post. I mentioned in last year's update that I'd started Azure Oxford together with James World. On-top of some great events in 2019, we also had two in 2020 - January and February before the lockdown hit. We happened to be a bit behind planning our March event, when news of the Coronavirus hit, so we decided to wait to see what happened. Sadly, we all know what happened, and we then decided to put Azure Oxford on hold. I don't want to say Azure Oxford has been stopped for good, but James and I haven't as of yet discussed bringing it back. A large part of it not coming back virtually (like we did for .NET Oxford) has been time. With the kids being at home for the lockdown (so lunch breaks where I normally got things done were spent with them) and my new contract (see below) being an 8-hour day rather than previous 7.5 (so 2.5 hours more each week) - I just didn't have time to run two user-groups.
As for .NET Oxford, because this has been going for quite a few years and has quite a decent community around - we decided to attempt to keep this going virtually. And this actually worked really well! Thanks to technologies like Zoom, this has just worked. In-fact, far more people are now able to attend than they could have done in person. Obviously it's not quite the same as an in-person event - but it's still working surprisingly well. We still also get the regulars attending the virtual pub session afterwards (we used to meet in the physical pub after in-person meetups). It's obviously bring your own drinks - but it works! Being virtual, we've also had the opportunity to have speakers where there's no way we could have gotten otherwise - for example, in June we had Scott Hunter join us, and in September we were joined by Scott Hanselman! There is a down-side though with famous speakers being able to talk at user-groups all over the world from their own homes... it's become harder for newer speakers to start getting into public speaking. We've had a couple of lightning-talk events where some of the speakers have been first-time speakers, but I'm quite keen in the new year for our next lightning-talk event to be primarily for new speakers to help encourage developers who fancy giving speaking a go, so dip their toes in!
I've been an avid podcast listener for many years, and have even vaguely wondered what it might be like to start my own. But I never would have actually done it if it hadn't have been for all the other changes that this year has brought. When I started working remotely full-time, knowing that I'd also be hosting .NET Oxford virtually - I decided to invest in a decent microphone. A new contract (see below) had me pair-programming remotely all day, so I quickly got very used to talking 'programming' all day into the mic. When I first invested in the mic near the start of the lockdown, giving podcasting a go was also in the back of my mind - but due to the kids being at home all the time, I just didn't have the time. Then in October, I started The Unhandled Exception podcast, and ended the year eight episodes in! I've had great feedback, and at the time of writing this, have had 1,134 downloads! I've really enjoyed all aspects of it - from planning the episodes, to chatting and geeking out with the guests, and have also really enjoyed editing and learning all about audio!
Blog post: Starting 'The Unhandled Exception' podcast
In last year's update, I spoke about my company Everstack's primary contract/client at the time - Sharp Life Science. This was a medical company building hardware and software to help automate genomic and proteomic applications. It was a fantastic company and team of people to work with, some of those people I'm now fortunate enough to consider good friends. In March, naturally more and more staff moved to remote working, which actually suited me quite well - but then sadly, it became apparent that the parent company was planning to wind down the company. It was a startup that was investment backed - and the parent company had to focus on the pandemic.
After finishing at SLS, I did a little bit of consulting for a couple of other companies before finding a longer term client. This is a 100% remote team anyway, even before the pandemic, and I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of really cool technologies! .NET Core, Docker, Kubernetes, Azure, React, etc. They also do TDD, which is the first project I've worked on that has been properly TDDed from the start. It's been quite eye-opening, and has certainly shown me the true value of doing TDD! It's also a really great team, that I really enjoy working with.
I've mentioned a couple of times above about remote working. And this is something most of us have had to get used to this year. It's actually something I've wanted to try full-time for quite some time to see if I got on with it. And it turns out that I quite enjoy it, and I'm quite keen to continue doing this, and not go back to an office. I love my home office, and have it set up with decent audio/video equipment, a standing desk... It's home.
I miss the commute where I could listen to podcasts, but have replaced it instead with daily walks or runs where I listen to podcasts instead. It perhaps helps a lot though that I pair-program a lot with the team I'm currently working with, so it's a lot less isolating. It's possible that in the future I might change my mind about remote work, if I'm working with a team that's in the office, and I'm the only person working remotely. Time will tell!
I'm also very honoured to say that my Microsoft MVP status was renewed in July this year! I'm very proud to be considered part of this amazing group of people! I was really looking forward to attending my first MVP Summit in Redmond in March, but sadly that wasn't to be. Maybe in a year or so I'll have the opportunity again.
I haven't really done that much public speaking this year. There's been the .NET Oxford intro talks, and I also did a couple of lightning talks. One of the JetBrains Rider IDE, and the other on the MediatR library. Details (inc videos) can be found on my public speaking page.
From a non-tech point of view, nothing much has changed really. The boys are continuing to get bigger every time I turn around! Mason, my youngest, started school (reception year), and Jack's now in year two. My wife's work has luckily been extremely flexible over the lockdown period, and she was able to take the brunt of childcare duties whilst I worked during the day. The downside of being a contractor is that if you don't work, your company doesn't get paid!
I feel extremely lucky and privileged during this year that I have such an amazing family at home for company. If I think back to when I first moved down to Oxford and was living in a tiny house on my own, and imagine that it was then that the pandemic hit - things would have so different. But even then, whilst I would have been very lonely and isolated, I'd still have been in an industry where I most likely would have been in work. If you're in a similarly fortunate situation, it's important that we take a moment and really appreciate how lucky we are. I can't even imagine what this year has been like for those that have lost their jobs, can't afford to feed their families, are completely on their own, lost and depressed; or have lost loved ones. For a lot people in our industry, jumping on a Zoom call and using computers to communicate is effortless and makes the world a smaller place, whilst lessening the impact of the pandemic. Not everyone is computer literate, or wants to be. Most people need other people, and using a computer as a medium for that social interaction just isn't the same. This year has been pretty shit for so many people, and we can only hope that 2021 improves. Stay safe everyone.