2020 Year In Review

Phew! What a long year it has been. So much has happened that it feels like we've been living in this craziness forever now. But believe it or not, this year started pretty normally. I was still going to the office in January and February, although now it all feels like a very distant memory.

Improving My Writing

Trying to remember what I've been up to at the beginning of the year, I've turned to Google photos. And here's what caught my eye:

A photo of a poster hanging on the wall with the Heading "Help us get plant milk options in the office" and a QR code

It's a poster that I designed, printed, and hanged in all kitchens at our office in late February this year. The link led to a post in our corporate social network, in which I went on about how unfair it was that we had cow's milk for all to use, but no plant milk. I argued that plant milk was better for the planet, how badly the milk industry treated cows, and suggested to replace at least a portion of cow's milk with plant milk alternatives. A lot of people supported the idea in the comments (while some hated it, of course), but in the end, the initiative was turned down by someone up the company's hierarchy chart, and that was it. A sad but not surprising outcome.

Still, I'm glad I at least tried. For one, it felt good to finally do some vegan activism (well, sorta) that I'd been wanting to do for a long time. Also, writing that post made me realize that I like writing, and I wanted to get better at it. That's why some time later I took this MOOC on Coursera called "Writing and Editing: Word Choice and Word Order", which is a part of a whole specialization consisting of 4 courses. After completing the first one, I enrolled in the second but had to take a break to focus on university stuff. I'm going to continue, most likely during the long New Year holidays, as I find it very interesting and informative. I tried to apply what I learned on the course in my writing for this blog (which is, by the way, another thing that I started this year), trying to make it easy to read.

Blog

I'm quite happy with how this blog turned out. I consider it my biggest achievement of the year. I had a lot of fun both building it and writing about building it. To gain readership I've crossposted a couple of my articles on Dev.to. The first one (3 Reasons Why You Should Choose NGINX Over Http-server For Your Static Site ) was very niche, and therefore went almost unnoticed, but the second one (10 Things I've Learned While Building A Website For My Blog 📚) did pretty good in terms of reactions and number of reads:

A screenshot of my Dev.to dashboard with some statistics on my posts

At the moment of writing 3934 people saw my second post on Dev.to, 138 liked or bookmarked it, which is mind-blowing to me.

Another thing that I've discovered this year when I dived into the rabbit hole of personal web sites building was the Indie web community. I've found many interesting people's blogs, and started to use RSS reader extensively. Most of the reading I've done this year was on my phone's RSS reader app. Honestly, it was like a breath of fresh air after social networks with their ads and never-ending algorithm-based feeds. If I had to choose one most favorite and inspirational article that I read this year, it would probably be this one: Into the Personal-Website-Verse.

Photography

I didn't do a lot of photography in the first half of the year, because, you know, the lockdown. There's not much to shoot inside one's apartment after all. I also had had issues with my Nikon for some time. It's been nagging me with this error, refusing to read memory card, and oftentimes I wouldn't bother taking it with me when I was going out because of how bulky it was. But I missed photography. So I decided to replace the old camera with something lighter, plus, I was eager to try a full-frame camera. In August I sold the Nikon and bought Sony a7ii with a small 35mm fix lens. It's much easier to carry around, as it can even fit in the pocket of my jacket. I took it with me on my trip to Crimea at the end of the summer, and shot a few beautiful pictures there. I continued to shoot steadily throughout the rest of the year, so this purchase has breathed new life into my hobby.

Crimea

Halfway-in this year I was burned out at work, and I felt that I desperately needed a vacation. A real vacation, mind you, not a stay-cation. I'm really glad I decided to go to Crimea because it turned out to be a wonderful trip. It was the first time I did this kind of thing - to fly somewhere, rent a car and drive around wherever you want. Driving dusty roads of the peninsula, watching vineyards passing by in the warm light of the setting sun is an experience that I will not soon forget.

Physical form

This might sound cliché, but the pandemic, or rather the quarantine that it caused, has made me stronger. I mean literally. Because our company went to Work-From-Home mode as soon as it all started, I had more time I could spend on myself. I wanted to compensate for my sitting job, and I decided to start working out. Almost every day I've been able to dedicate at least 30 minutes to do some physical activity: yoga, strength workout, or running. I ran outside during warmer seasons, but when the weather was cold or slushy I preferred the treadmill. This is something unprecedented for me. Never before in my entire life have I been doing something so regularly and consistently as I've been doing exercises this year. As a result, I'm pretty sure I'm in better shape right now than I ever was.

Work

In the spring I finally passed an assessment at work (from the second attempt) and upped my grade from Senior software engineer to Lead, which was nice, if only because it meant a small raise. Despite the change of title, my role on the project hasn't changed, but I still got some new responsibilities: I've been assigned as Resource Manager (I hate that term) to a couple of my colleagues. I think I've been doing a terrible job at it at first, but I think I'm getting the hang of it, and slowly getting used to the new role. Also, I've started to take more and more technical interviews. In total, I've conducted 24 interviews this year, and I feel much less stressed when doing it compared to how it was even at the beginning of the year.

University

Another year has passed, and I'm on a finishing line now. If everything goes according to plan in about a year I will be getting my bachelor's degree. I hope I'll be able to maintain my motivation throughout next year, and continue submitting all the assignments in time. I also hope we will continue studying in a remote mode because it saves so much time. I'm so accustomed to not having to go to Uni all the time, it's going to be hard to bring myself to begin attending classes physically again if the quarantine ends.

Plane Piloting Master Class

One of the highlights of the ending of this year was my flight on a Cessna 172 airplane. Alena and a couple of friends gave me this certificate for a master class on piloting a small aircraft for my birthday. It wasn't much of a master class, but rather more like just a passenger flight, but I was sitting next to our pilot, behind the secondary steering wheel, and at one point I was even allowed to fly it myself for a few minutes. I wasn't doing much, just steering left and right to fly at a straight line and maintain the altitude, but it was still pretty awesome. And, surprisingly, it wasn't at all scary.

Books I Read

  • "The beginner's guide to Creating & Growing your blog" by Emma Bostian. It's a small self-published book packed with good advice and insights.

  • "Changing the Game" by Norm Phelps. I read it in Russian translation, and wrote a summary of it on my Instagram.

  • In the process: "Homo Deus" By Yuval Noah Harari.

Games I Played

I played through Portal and enjoyed it very much. The song in the end credits is so good. I'm almost done with Portal 2 now, have just a couple more chapters left.

Other stuff

  • We went on this cycling trip with Alena, which consisted of an hour-long train ride to the nearby city of Sestroretsks, a ferry crossing of a lake, and a beautiful road along the Gulf of Finland shore.

  • I rode a Stand-up Paddleboard to the open-air museum village of Vikings.

  • We went on a hike to Yastrebinoy lake, which, it would seem, has become our annual tradition to do in early September. This time I didn't chicken out and swam in the cold lake water. The weather let us down and we nearly missed our train back, but the hike was great nevertheless.

Thanks

Wow, I didn't realize how eventful this year was for me until I sat and wrote it all down. I think I've managed to get the most out of it considering the situation that we were in. I am fortunate enough to have a job that allowed me to stay home, and, thankfully, the pandemic didn't affect me as much as it did many others. Much appreciation goes to all the people who delivered food to my door. I know I wouldn't make it through the year without them.

I'm not going to make plans for the next year here, as this post is already too long.

Happy New Year and stay safe.

Cheers!

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