Wednesday, December 23, 2020

2020 - Gratitude After All

Beginning of the year I joined in on a series of fun tweets trying to predict your year. Obviously based on scientific evidence, of course. Well, based on the forecast, I'd say I had been at a good place around that time.

Then the real 2020 came and hit us all in very unexpected fashions. I am sure the year had a toll on all of us, and I'm also sure it impacted us very inequitably. If you made it through this year, then congrats to you! It's more than many can say, it's way more than enough, it's what counts in the end.

Writing this, I'm being aware that for many people this year was hell and full of suffering, the one way or the other. I'm being aware that for the ones that are closest to me the year was a really rough one. I'm being aware of my own privilege and sheer luck when it comes to my situation in all of this and I am very grateful for how things went this year overall in the end. Yes, I had to navigate several ups and downs, and I had to create new automation pathways in everyday life that took a lot more energy than ever expected to build up. Yet overall, things are as good as they can be. So just like every year, I wanted to look back and acknowledge the good things that happened, the things I learned, and anything else I find noteworthy to document here for my future self.

  • My personal challenge this year focused on security and I started learning a lot more about it. I decided to stop the challenge when other things mattered more, yet I dared starting it. Also, what I learned so far, like threat modeling, was very valuable for work already.
  • I learned a lot about systems of oppression, especially racism and sexism. There are so many wonderful people sharing their lived experiences and expertise whom I am ever grateful for. There are so many more stories to hear and learn from. So much more to do, taking action on the growing awareness and doing better. After sharing my first steps on this lifelong journey, I continued learning. I actively looked for more, read more, shared more resources, joined more workshops, and especially spoke up more. I'm only starting to see the patterns and see clearer what's happening, but it's a start.
  • At work, I learned a lot more about various software development topics: observability, performance, GraphQL, user research and usability testing, using mocks for exploratory testing, contract testing, infrastructure topics, and more.
  • I ran several experiments on all kinds of topics, on different levels, with various groups of people. Most failed, some succeeded, and I learned from all of them.
  • Reserving daily thinking time and writing my thoughts down in a journal at work helped me a lot with reflecting, focusing and deciding on my next steps.
  • Longer-term mentoring continued. Inside the company, one mentorship ended, another one started. Outside the company, I agreed to a mentoring relationship despite feeling and sharing I'm over my head - for our mutual learning.
  • I sponsored people for opportunities like public speaking or getting internal training. There's a lot more room for improvement here for the years to come.
  • I found an accountability partner at work to help each other grow better at saying no and make more conscious decisions what to commit to and what to delegate.
  • This December, I had my five-year anniversary at my current company; the longest time I've ever been at the same company. It's been a real ride full of opportunities, challenges, support - never boring.
  • I attended a really insightful leadership workshop series given by my amazing colleague Shiva Krishnan. It helped me reflect and get to know myself a lot better as well as provided me with lots of tools to become a better leader. My workshop group was amazing and made it a safe place for learning, so we decided to continue learning together as a learning group.
  • Speaking of learning groups, my lovely power learning group had further amazing calls supporting each other in these pandemic times. Also, I helped kick-start a new local cross-company learning group and we already enjoyed insightful conversations.
  • I didn't have as many pairing sessions in the community as the last years, I simply didn't have the energy for them. Still, the ones I had were great. In addition, Peter Kofler and I still pair on security testing each month.
  • I spoke at two conferences, two corporate events, three meetups, a webinar, and four podcasts. More things and events were planned, yet everything else was either postponed or I declined due to lack of energy.
  • I was part of a conference program team for the first time. In the end, instead of the planned on-site event, we hosted two online events. Still, a new experience for me.
  • Another first timer: I reviewed paper proposals for a conference. Based on my learnings and what helps me in my context, I created a conference speaking guide.
  • Thanks to Viv Richards, I contributed to a book for the very first time: "Around the World with 80 Software Testers". Loved reading all the wisdom from so many people all over the world.
  • This year I wrote eleven blog posts including the present one; honestly, more than I would have expected given my energy levels and priorities.
  • I joined a remote ensemble initiative, learning a lot about how to work well with new people, learning more about TDD, Python, software architecture and machine learning, and working on a practice project together. Not to forget the fun and energy this gave us all during pandemic times!
  • I was a lot more mindful about my own level of energy this year, realizing my bar was a lot lower than what I perceived the previous years. I made it a lot more explicit where to involved myself and how much time to spend, trying not to overspend my energy anymore.
  • I made self care a priority by keeping it as part of my personal challenge and continuing it even after marking the challenge as done. Each week I did things just for myself, for fun and relaxation - before other tasks at hand. I failed at it during three calendar weeks only and I know the reasons why. To add to that, intentionally granting myself more sleep during the week helped a lot as well.
  • I de-cluttered my life to quite some extent. Reducing the number of work initiatives (and hence my parallel load) which provided me a lot more focus and flexibility. Not committing myself to every opportunity that comes my way, remembering to say no and rather sponsor others wherever possible. Finally completing long postponed things on my personal to do list (like replacing way too old furniture that fell apart for years already), or acknowledging they are simply not important enough to be on that list of maximum twenty items, and if they became important, they would surface anyway again. Freeing myself of the constant pressure of the learning resources I haven't checked out yet. On the one hand, I created habits like "whenever I drive my car I listen to the next podcast episode on my list" that automatically has me chip away on my lists so I could stop worrying about them. On the other hand, renaming my lists from "to hear" to "might hear", granting myself the freedom to discard them at any time. I simply don't have to consume everything.
  • I finally overcame the denial phase and took the time to set up a proper home office. I even enjoy working from remote nowadays and definitely see the benefits, helping manage work with my new private life.
  • I created a personal vision and mission for me as a guiding light, especially for decision making. It does guide me well so far, and I'm curious what I'm going to say in half a year from now.
  • I'm ever grateful for the communities I'm part of. The power of community really cannot be overrated, in good times and especially in bad times. I had countless calls and messages to stay socially connected with each other, remotely, during a pandemic. To be human with each other. To give each other space and be heard. Inside and outside the company. You know who you are, and I'm grateful you are there.
  • What makes me really happy is that I could help some people this year. So many helped me, and I'm trying to pay it forward. Every time someone shares with me that I made a difference for them, no matter how small, it makes my day.
  • The most important thing I learned this year? Thoughts and words without actions hurt; and silence supports the status quo. Both of these apply to the context of a team just as much as to the world.
That list grew longer than expected for 2020. Here's a side note on all this: I intentionally set myself up to remember the good stuff. I jot down my upcoming plans and keep track, yet that's just a small part of it. I have moments on Twitter with all achievements shared and appreciations received. I keep positive feedback that I get. I take a lot of notes, like that journal at work. All this helps me think in the moment, and also helps my future self to acknowledge what happened in the past. It's giving myself the comfort and confidence I need to look into the future.

Speaking of next year? Well, I regained enough energy to make plans again. I already have committed to a few of them for 2021. I'm aware they might not become reality, and that's fine. I also granted myself a lot more leeway to reduce pressure and give myself flexibility to decide in the moment, following my energies. We never know what comes, besides that things always change. I try to keep seeing opportunities for growth.

To set the tune for next year, I'm currently listening to The Happiness Lab. Really recommended science podcast series! Let's take on shaping 2021 together.


  1. Hi, I just wanted to reach out and say I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. It reminds me of self care that I need to prioritise and only having so much energy. Lots of interesting things to explore like the 80 testers book and the happiness podcast. Again fab, good luck with shaping 2021.

    1. Hi Melissa, glad to hear you enjoyed the post and found it valuable. Thanks for your feedback, it's much appreciated. All the best for 2021!