Wow, what a year

For a long time, my introductory paragraph has read “…interesting challenges get me out of bed in the morning!”, but it’s been a while since I’ve validated that as a fact.

As 2018 draws to a close (and I get closer to some of the deadlines for my long-term goals), now is as good a time as any to revalidate that I’m happy with that sentiment, and that I’m still doing my best to ensure that it’s still the case…

2018-12-31-Wow-what-a-year

Disclaimer: I don’t want this post to turn into a “woe-is-me” or (worse) a “look at all the cool shit I’ve done”-type of boastful success story, but instead I’m documenting it for myself, placing it somewhere that I value, and I hope that for anyone else that stumbles on it, it can provide some inspiration for self-reflection. Please don’t use this post for comparison toward your own achievements. We are each skilful in our own right, and the things I’ve done might not be the things that you need to do.

Now, I’ve set this post up following the Three Pillars of Empiricism, just like a normal retrospective:

  • Transparency: well, this whole post should give you decent insight into my undertakings in 2018, and I’m pretty sure that we can agree that 2018 is “done” :)
  • Inspection: where I take a critical look at what I have achieved, and,
  • Adaptation: where I attempt to identify areas where I can improve those outcomes

So, let’s get started with the intro-, nee, retrospection…

Inspect

Toward the end of 2018, from about November onwards, I felt a bit flat. A bit sad, or angry, or … something. I’m not entirely sure why this was the case, but it led to me taking some extra time off over the Christmas break, postponing a lot of my own growth planning, and doing some serious introspection about what makes me happy, and how I could use that positive drive to “get shit done” in 2019.

I found that the easiest way to get started was by opening my personal Google calendars and writing out from top-to-bottom all the key events of the year, new things I’ve done for the first time (Techorama), or things that made me happy (Visiting Barcelona), or even recurring events that took a lot of time/effort or produced a lot of pleasure for myself or my family: like picking up our new puppy!

2018, a year of events!

One thing that stood out quite clearly is that more than just about any other year I could remember, 2018 was a year of events: preparing, hosting, designing, speaking, running, attending, and evaluating. These aren’t just conferences, or purely technical events, but things like presenting the Coolblue Pub Quiz, guest-lecturing at a university about business practices & decision-making, or attending (non-technical) meetups/networking events.

That being said, naturally, a lot of the events I put time into were very technical… For the calendar year of 2018, I attended 33 events & I was also lucky enough to present on technical topics at 14 of these! From Techorama (both Belgium in May, and Netherlands in October), SDN in June and December, and even PSConfAsia in Singapore! Thanks again to the audiences I had, and the organisers that hosted me, and the other speakers that I’ve befriended along the way!

Work highlights

I entered this year as a Development Manager at Coolblue, reporting directly to our Head of Technology, and directly responsible & accountable for about 75-odd Developers, Designers and Team Leads. This was, in a word, overwhelming. I spent a lot of the first half of the year interviewing, and successfully hiring & promoting 6 new Team Leads (as well as countless developers) to join us in making Coolblue a better place, every day.

In the spirit of this write-up being open and honest, I’m going to be blunt: I don’t think I did a particularly good job of handling this number of direct reports. I know that I directly lost a few employees I would have preferred to keep due to how I was (un)able to help them during this period. I can point at the fact that I didn’t have the (correct) support structures in place, but looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I should have applied a motto that I used a lot as a developer, but not as a manager: Done is better than Perfect.

I should have promoted people into positions where they could support & enable me sooner, I should have trusted others more and empowered them to deal with their own challenges, I should have focussed more on the “important parts”, rather than just the “urgent ones”, i.e.: approving leave requests & expenses before pay-cycles close, vs rolling out better processes in the first place or syncing with my key players. Looking back, I was barely managing to keep my head above water with the operational duties, and struggled to prioritise strategic improvements, and should have noticed this earlier.

This only got worse, and forced me to face facts, when my manager departed mid-year and although his replacement was quickly promoted, a few of our new Team Leads and some of our more experienced developers left to pursue their dreams outside of Coolblue. So even though the department has continued to grow, and I think we are still achieving our individual goals each and every day; it’s been a challenge to keep the Team Leads (and therefore teams) pointed in the right direction - all aiming for a single dot on the horizon: Ownership.

It would be remiss for me to not acknowledge that this has taken a toll on my personal mindset and health over the year.

To end on a happy note: in terms of direct accomplishments that I can take ownership of, this year I started/co-ordinated four new events: Lead Onboarding Week, Beers & Laptops, Code Camp, and Blue Friday - each with the goal of bringing Coolblue Tech closer to “the business” or making Coolblue-ers more successful in their role. I also hosted the Coolblue Pub Quiz twice, told the Coolblue Story countless times, and helped to roll out a bunch of new (streamlined) business processes.

I spent a lot of time this year working with our Brandfather (Joost), and the Events team (Doortje, Suzanne, Lenka, en Naomi), and I couldn’t have achieved half of what I have without their help and support, so, if you end up reading this at some point: THANK YOU!

I was also “hashtag-blessed” to close out my time on our Coolblue “Raad voor Ondernemers” aka. Ondernemingsraad, aka. Representatives to the Board. After holding the seat for 2 years, it was time for someone else to have a seat at the table, and I’m very happy with my successor and feel that he is also in a very good position to represent the employees of Coolblue Tech strongly, directly, and fairly. Good luck Huib.

Family highlights?

Not everything is about technology, or work, and there have been some significant highlights in my personal life this year.

I mentioned one previously: we bought a new puppy in June, he’s a Cocker-spaniel/Poodle mix, so thankfully he doesn’t shed on our couch or clothes, and he’s become a vital part of the family.

Additionally, thanks to my brother, and visiting parents, my wife and I managed to “get away” more this year than any other year since we had children! This is probably my single best highlight of the year: spending a beautiful, fun, sunny weekend with my wife in Barcelona!

We also spent a lot of time with visitors from overseas this year, hosting 7 different couples/people in our house, for periods from a weekend, to a several-week stay. Thankfully, this was incredibly rewarding for all of us, and made for some great memories.

Finally, in terms of “just the fam”, we also managed to fit in a few vacations this year: Dubai in January (very pleasant weather), Centerparcs in May (very relaxing), Efteling in August (very fun), and I even went on a very fast road-trip from Rotterdam to Prague with my siblings in July - with only one speeding ticket in the end!

I closed out the year spending a day each with my son and daughter doing things that they enjoy. Giving them my entire focus and just generally having fun: this resulted in a “LEGO day” with my son, and making a Magic Mirror with my daughter. Both of them told me they really enjoyed having this focussed attention, and I think I might try and make it a more regular occasion in 2019, but, before I move on…

I hope that you can see, that after laying everything out like that above, I came up with the title for the post: Wow, what a year!

Adapt

Retrospection is a great tool to help you identify challenges you’ve faced, or “sub-optimal approaches”, or possibly even blockers that you should have addressed sooner, but it’s all for naught if you don’t do anything with it.

If you don’t come out with assignable, implementable actions, did you even retro?

So…

I asked myself, which of the activities that I completed last year “gave me energy” and which of those that gave me energy I would have enjoyed even if they didn’t. This thinned my achievements down significantly, and allowed me to focus on the topics that I enjoyed and made life more pleasurable.

Naturally, holidays and family-time made the top of the list & spending time with close friends, and extended family also made the top 5 ;)

“But that’s obvious Pat! What are you going to do in 2019?

2019, a year of… events?

One of the biggest things I put time into in 2018 was events; so much so that there’s a section almost completely dedicated to it above - but (most) of those events also gave me energy. It motivates me to be able to tell a story to a crowd and helping them with some of their challenges from a stage, at a larger scale than just pair- or mob-programming allows. I suppose the next step of this would be hosting a workshop, or entering into consultancy, but I’m not interested in either of those steps just yet, so what better than spending time gathering fun stories to share with larger audiences, and finding the right way to share that with them in a way that they can relate to?

Toward the end of 2018, with so many events confirmed in October-December, I put a pause on submitting proposals for other events, so that I could take a moment to figure out that this is what I wanted to do… as I wrote on my Speaking page. Over the last week or so, I have resumed submitting proposals, and hope to take the stage at some of the same events that I attended or spoke-at last year: Techorama, Lead Developer London, DevTalks, PSConf, and possibly even a few new ones: FutureTech, DevDays, or possibly even an NDC?

2019, a year of… personal growth?

Events isn’t going to just be the focus for the year though. I still have a “day job” of being accountable for roughly 50 people spread across 6 teams (naturally, with a new manager came a new structure), and even though these Developers and Leads need me to enable/unblock/empower them, I am going to start putting a lot more focus on the role of the Leads in their teams, and what those Team Leads can do for their teams, hopefully saving me a lot of time that was spent on operational duties in 2018.

I love my employer here in the Netherlands, and I’ve been here for nearly 5 years. I love our motto, the branding, and most of all, the lessons that I learn nearly every day from either a crazy business idea that doesn’t pan out, to a technical improvement, to a story that emerges from a team that’s pushing the edges of our technology stack.

In fact, I’ll even put a call out that if you’re a developer, or a manager with a technical background, you should totally come and join us! Check out our recruitment website or send me a message on Twitter.

So, I love the responsibility and freedoms that come with my role, BUT, I do acknowledge that in 2018, my role was quite draining; mentally, emotionally, and sometimes even physically… Moving into 2019, I will be keeping a close eye on making sure that ratio is still balanced evenly between my love for my employer, my day-to-day responsibilities, and my need to make the right decisions for myself, and also my family.

Closing out

Late into the year, I stumbled across a short post titled 37 lessons from this years Do lectures, which led me to finding out about the Do Lectures, and after watching a few, and finding myself nodding along in agreement, I took that post from @Matt Spry and condensed it down into a single-page Google doc that I then printed and highlighted the ones that are most important to me.

When I looked back and compared this list to some of the notes that I took from the Lead Developer London conference, I saw that there were a few similarities in some of the take-aways and so I decided to make it a bit more visible…

I hope that by sharing them with you (and possibly adding them to my Management Handbook?), I can hold myself more accountable to these phrases that stuck with me.

In no particular order, but in a very particular grouping, here are the ones that stood out to me that I will try and live-by in 2019:

General mindset:

  • Do less, but better
  • Build adventure into every day, whatever that means to you
  • We must have the gumption and guts to do what we know is right
  • Control what you let into your body and mind; Our physical and emotional well-being is an expression of being in balance.

Work life:

  • Consciously choose everything you do
  • What is most interesting to you? Do that!
  • Ask how can you put others in a position to succeed wildly
  • What does the world need now, that you are uniquely able to deliver?
  • Find and celebrate the soul or essence of every organisation
  • Space and environment matters more than we realise
  • Ask what we can do to serve those closest to you

Personal life:

  • Follow your curiosity, talk to more people, try things, tell your story
  • Look for where your personal voice and commercial opportunity meet
  • What is the “from… to…” you want to create?
  • Take a long-term view of the change you want to make. How does this change the way you do things?
  • Beauty and fun is often in the little things

…and there’s one more that really stood out to me:

Remember that nobody knows what they’re doing! We’re all making it up as we go along.

So, with that, Happy New Year, and hopefully I’ll see this editor a little more regularly in 2019!


I'm Pat Hermens, an Australian that's currently living in the Netherlands. I am a .NET developer (for the last 15+ years), a technical manager (for the past few), an international public speaker, a happy husband and father, but most of all; I'm just a nerd.
I'm also currently a Development Manager at Coolblue in Rotterdam, NL.

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