Charles Harries

| Posts

2021

A look back at everything that I did (and didn't do) in 2021.

2021 was a weird one: the year that wasn’t.

Coming into 2021, I had a bunch of expectations about things that I wanted to do: goals I wanted to accomplish, people I wanted to see, places I wanted to go. Sam’s grandma had just gotten the vaccine, we were kicking COVID to the kerb, and picking up where we left off at the end of 2019.

...None of which actually came about. And based on what I've written below, 2022 is going to be all about recalibrating expectations. Didn't do half of what I set out to do last year; held myself to maybe too high a standard. In the last third of the year (or so), I ran into some real emotional headwinds, bringing what progress I had been making to a standstill.

I worked that sense of momentum back up in the fading days of 2021, but 2022 is going to be all about picking battles, making priorities (& more importantly, sticking to em), and building small, accomplishable routines.

Reading

At the end of last year, I aimed to read 20 books—and I did, just barely, eking out 3 books in December after not finishing a single one for the 2 months prior. I think that’s a decent showing.

Was keeping track of what I read and what I thought it using oku.club in the same way that I use Letterboxd: mostly as a repository for quick, low-stakes reviews directly in the aftermath of finishing.

But I haven’t been 100% satisfied with Oku; it’s a lovely application and it’s clear that it’s made by a group of people who love reading very much, but it somehow lacks a crucial ingredient to keep me coming back.

My profile on Oku; probably going to stay that way
My profile on Oku; probably going to stay that way

Instead, I’ve decided to put any publishable writing that doesn’t belong anywhere else into CraftCMS (including this blog). That means that book reviews are going into CraftCMS as well. I’m including as much data about each book as I think is relevant. None of it is public at the moment, but I’m going to start experimenting with ways to visualise my reading data—even if it’s just putting it in a sortable list to begin with.

I also took some more detailed notes on books that I read near the beginning of the year, but abandoned it after a few months. I don't know why. I put a lot of pressure on myself when I write, and rarely like what I write enough to come back and read it again since I tell myself I probably won't like it. Writing feels like awfully high stakes, which is one of the reasons I'm trying to de-big-deal-ify it in 2022.

At any rate, I’m going to up the reading goal to 25 books in 2022. Progressive loading n all that.

Writing

There's a good variety of writing on the blog since I wrote the 2020 post last year, but I only managed 16 posts on the blog this year. Of those, 12 were written before Canada Day, which seems a bit of a shame.

I like writing in Markdown—and my favourite editors are Markdown editors—but I've found that keeping blog posts in .mdx files within my blog's repo has just slightly too much friction for me. For that reason, I've come back around to a CMS—specifically, CraftCMS, for its slick dashboard and editing experience. It could have just as easily been WordPress and Advanced Custom Fields, but I prefer the way that Craft's code is structured, even if I'm not super familiar with the Yii framework, and its database structure is wonky as all get-go.

Editing this post in CraftCMS
Editing this post in CraftCMS

Now that I've got my CMS just the way I like it, I'd like to write more frequently. Fewer words per posts, but more posts. To that end, I’ve started the Stream for shorter little bits that I want to hold on to long-term, but aren't worth writing out a whole blog post about. I recognise my writing has worsened a bit since I was publishing 1000 words weekly for Everything You Have Heard Is True, but I'm hoping to get to quality through quantity in 2022—a concept I heard about first on Shop Talk Show but which makes a lot of sense.

Fitness

Had a goal of running 600km this year and didn't come anywhere near that. I don't know why I set that goal. I had a serious verve for running early last year, and I ran pretty consistently through February or so. But in late February I hurt my knee with all the running and didn't take mending it seriously until the beginning of December. Got to the point where I was having lots of trouble getting down stairs.

I just don't seem to bounce back as quickly anymore. I guess that's a 30s thing. I've gotten to the point where I feel old—heck, I'm the oldest I've ever been in my life!—but I realise that to the majority of folks I'm still young, and I should be taking care of my body while it's still effectively in one piece.

A pair of muddy shoes after the Danby Moors 5k trail run
A pair of muddy shoes after the Danby Moors 5k trail run

Been going to the gym regularly, too, which means a lot, even if I'm not particularly beefy or anything. It's hard to keep up with some days, but it helps to keep the expectations low so long as I show up. Showing up is 80%, &c.

Outdoors

After finishing the Cleveland Way at the end of last year, we started the Weardale Way on a very snowy day in January 2021. Over the first half of the year we walked about half of it. My favourite part was watching the lambs grow up once the weather started to warm up. Ran out of steam about halfway through and haven’t done any more of it for a while—so it’d be nice to knock out the rest of it and get started on our next long-distance trail.

Weardale Way in winter
The top of the Weardale Way in winter

Did the Esk Valley Walk and then the St. Cuthbert’s Way in quick succession and it was great! Only wild camped one night, which was maybe coddling ourselves a bit.

Bothied overnight only once, which wasn’t a great record.

Loosy-goosy outdoors goals for 2022 include: bothying for a few nights in a row; walking another long-distance route or two (the West Highland Way or Pennine Way if we’re feeling particularly ambitious); bagging at some more (5 or so?) of the Trail 100.

Hobbies

Came up a little bit short on the hobbies front this year. Is reading a hobby? I’ve picked it back up at the end of the year, but from August-November I don’t think I read a single book. Watching movies is definitely a hobby, and I did pretty well on that front—insofar as watching movies is something that you can do well at.

I want to change up my approach to hobbies—or at least, to non-work—in 2022. Brad Frost shared an article from The Atlantic about how modern professionals identify with their work late in the year, and I saw a lot of myself in it. I also spotted this Reddit thread just the other day (well into 2022) about IT/software jobs being/not being cakewalk dreamlands. I think what makes software developers so stressed out is that we tend to identify wholly and inextricably with our jobs: not only do I do software development for work, but I also do software development outside of work.Which makes it difficult to partition failure at work (even if it’s just failure to live up to our own high expectations) from failures of the self—which leads to burnout.

Which is all to say that I want to try and take a step back from identifying so strongly with my software development work. I’ll probably struggle with it—with feeling like others are jetting off ahead of me in terms of expertise—but it’ll be a good star to navigate by.

Work

I started 2021 about 2 months into a new job with Komodo in Newcastle. I spent the beginning of the year finding my feet and figuring out my place within the larger agency structure; I hadn’t worked in a team of more than 2 developers and there was a learning curve not only to the tech stack but to working well with other people. I spent most of the year getting better at pull requests and code review, learning how to give and receive feedback, figuring out how to make architectural decisions. Spent a lot of time with the Laravel documentation. Went to the Komodo offices and wrote code in the same room as my coworkers for the first time in forever. Made friends at work and (hopefully) made a bit of a difference from a like professional perspective as well.

Late in the year I applied for a developer position at NHS Digital. I didn’t expect anything to come of it but after a couple of interview rounds they offered me the job—which I took. So it was back onto the learning curve with me for the last three months of the year. I don’t know if the curve has been steeper at the NHS or whether I’m just getting a little bit more strict with myself in terms of timescales for productivity. I feel less productive at the 3-month point here, at NHS Digital, than I did after 3 months at Komodo. It’s probably just questions of scale—everyone at the NHS has been positive and supportive and helpful, so I’m probably on the right track.

Side projects

Speaking of not living/breathing software development outside of working hours, I didn’t commit a ton of energy to side projects this year. That’s not to say that I didn’t do anything:

Goals

I don’t want to set any hard-and-fast goals this year, in light of the spectacular failure at fulfilling last year’s goals. But it’s always worth having a bit of a think about where I’d like to be in 12 months.

I’d like to continue to make little one-off projects to test new technologies in 2022, but my main focus this year is going to be content. I dislike the word content for the same reason that I dislike the term Human Resources—it feels like a commodification of something that’s supposed to be meaningful in and of itself—but I think it’s generic enough to represent what I want to produce.

On the other side, I want to take a critical look at the way that I self-identify. Lots of people are software developers firstand software developers only, and I really respect that, but I don’t know if that’s what I want for myself. Maybe it is. I’ve been pretty full-bore on the software development train for the past few years and maybe it’s time to take a step back and have a think about it. No goals here.

Sam and I after a walk to Haughton Green, our last of the year
Sam and I after a walk to Haughton Green, our last of the year

See you in 2023!

Year in Review