December 26, 2017

A Retrospective on 2017

or Mostly Ups With Some Lingering Downs

As 2017 comes to an end, I find that I am compelled to write a retrospective on the year. I hope that there might be something useful, valuable, or at the very least, entertaining in these words for you.

It has taken me a few days to gather my thoughts and notes on what I think might be worth mentioning about my year. It would be rather presumptuous of me to assume you'd want to know everything. Therefore, it makes sense to try and distill my year into its most prescient points. I posted some of the bullet points the other day in this Twitter thread.

Throughout this gathering process, one particular theme appeared over and over--community. Community was the main driving force behind almost every action I took this year, a trend I plan to continue into 2018 and the foreseeable future. With that in mind, let me share with you my 2017.

I started the year working for a small agency here in Portland that does some incredible interactive designs, especially given their size. My coolest project with them was a touch table interactive for Holland America Cruise Lines that uses React, Redux, Electron and WebSockets. It allows up to four concurrent users to discover information about the ports they are heading to. Yes, that is indeed React on a boat!

While I had full autonomy over my tech stack, which was wonderful, I was the only front-end developer in the company. I found myself very lonely at work. It was very odd to not really be able to talk about my work at work. So, I decided to start trying to sate that need with other communities.

I became much more involved in the meetup scene of Portland. Not only did I start attending a lot more, but I started speaking at several. I spoke 5 times at 3 different meetups in 2017. It has been really great getting to know other devs here in my city.

I also started to work on developing more community online due to my lack of it at work. In particular, I spent the first half of 2017 creating and building up the jobs-advice community on Reactiflux.

One afternoon, I noticed that there were people who would interrupt the stream of job posts on the #jobs channel with questions that were more related to finding jobs or negotiating salaries. That sort of thing. So I asked if a new channel could be made and offered to champion it. It's turned into one of the more robust communities on Reactiflux.

It turns out that there's a big need for people to get better at networking, interviewing, job hunting, etc. Having a safe place to discuss these softer skills has been really helpful to people. We've been able to help dozens of people get their first job, or negotiate a higher salary, or get promotions. It's been really satisfying to see people grow in the community.

Continuing the trend of seeking community online, I really doubled down (maybe tripled or quadrupled is more accurate) on my involvement in the Twitter web developer community. I'm not sure entirely how it all happened, it's honestly felt a bit magical, but somehow my Twitter account has ? blown up ? this year. According to Twitter analytics, I have added more followers this year (2300) than I have current followers (2175) (at the time I started writing this). I know the unfollow bug is real and that many of those could be brands that followed and unfollowed, but either way it's been incredible watching my follower count grow. I literally tell my wife on a regular basis I have no idea why people care about what I say!

I am really thankful that you do, though, and I try and take that seriously. It's why I make such an effort to be responsive to people. To let them know that I respect them and appreciate the conversations we have.

Related to this, this year I started to reach out directly to some of the people I look up to in our industry. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I don't want to be a name dropper so I won't, but it has been really encouraging to start friendships with some of these people. I am really honored by this, and hope to continue building these relationships and growing new ones in the new year.

Part of what enabled me to start building these friendships was attending my very first conference--React Rally. It was an incredible time. I really loved attending, am so excited to return in 2018 and for the foreseeable future. React Rally was where I really got to know some of the people I'm not mentioning. It gave me a taste for conferences and I think I'm hooked. But I can't afford to go to them all, so I'll have to find a way to start getting paid to go!

Speaking of conferences, I spoke at my first conference this year (just a few weeks ago, actually). A connection I made on Twitter asked me to submit a proposal to GDG DevFest Silicon Valley and it was accepted. I gave a talk about functional programming in JavaScript and it went really well. I've submitted the talk to a few other conferences, we'll see if anyone else wants to hear it.

And speaking of speaking, I found two new ways in 2017 to do more of it: a Twitch stream and a podcast. Late in the year, I decided to start a Twitch stream mostly to deal with some loneliness I experienced while working on side projects in the evenings. I'm an extrovert and making sure I get enough interaction with people when you sit behind a computer all day is challenging. I don't need to be in the same place as people, so much as I need to have some form of interaction with them. Twitch has been great for this! What started off as my meandering side projects has turned into a channel focused on teaching React and JavaScript (which has led to an opportunity with, see how this stuff compounds?). It's been a lot of fun to meet new people and to build a small following. I hope to do a lot more streaming in 2018.

I also came up with an idea for a podcast late in the year--Second Career Devs. I interview people who have come to web development or software engineering after working in another field. So far, the reception has been awesome. There are a lot of great stories out there about people changing their lives. I really hope to keep building this community up.

Not all things in 2017 were amazing, though. I've had my share of tough times throughout the year. I really wish I could share more details about what's behind my unhappiness, but it's not really proper to talk about publicly, so I won't. You'll have to be friendly and speak to me privately for those details, I'm sorry.

One of the challenges of 2017 was a season of interviewing, I hit a strange cusp in my career this year. I think skillwise, I was hitting or about to hit the level of "senior" (whatever that means), but having had such a short career and not a ton to show for it, I was striving for positions that I think were intended for people with a few more years of experience than I had. Regardless, I kept knocking at the door, getting to final interviews at every company except for one that I started the process with (what gives, Facebook? ? To be fair, I got stuck on half of my phone interview, I knew the answer, but couldn't see how to get there, oh well). Eventually, I cracked through at a few places, choosing to take a job at Fastly.

Taking the job at Fastly meant going back to using Ember. I had hoped that things had gotten better in the year I had spent away from the framework, but honestly, I still don't love it. It's just not my jam. I won't go into why. Not here, not now, it won't do anyone any good. So let that be sufficient for now.

Another challenge in 2017 was that my wife, Anna, was laid off from work around the same time I started my job at Fastly. She was working as a grant coordinator for a small firm. She was 100% remote, so she was used to being home all day, but not being home all day, without a job, and her husband is spending a week down in San Francisco starting a new job. Oof. That was rough! It's been challenging trying to figure out how to move forward. Unlike web development, there's not a booming grant coordinator industry and Twitter community for her to tap into. We're trying to think creatively, figure out ways to tap into her potential and help her get a career going. I'll say this completely shamelessly, if you need someone who's a great writer, researcher and organizer, let us know. She knows how to work remotely, too, if that fits your business.

Yet another challenge of 2017 was we added another hell beast, I mean cat, to our family. Our first cat, Krios was pretty lonely and we thought a second cat would help him. It's been a very mixed bag. Tali was weaned too young and didn't learn proper social behaviors, is very aggressive (especially about food), and though they are occasionally pals, they fight a lot. It has been a lot of work trying to make our home a place where they can live peacefully and enjoy each other's company. It's still a work in progress.

Lastly, my grandpa died in the spring. He was the one who introduced me to golf. Golf was the greatest passion of my youth. I honestly believed until I was about 22 that playing golf for a living was what I was most likely to do. That, fortunately for you (and probably for me), is not what happened (though I do miss competing at it). I miss him, wish we could have played one last time together. The grandparental generation of my relatives is now gone. It's a bit strange to think about it that way.

Overall, 2017 was a largely a positive year. I've felt very affirmed in my career and am really excited about my growing impact in the communities I participate in. I hope I can continue to be a positive influence to others. It brings me joy to be able to help others and I don't want that to end any time soon.

Thank you for reading this and being a part of this great year. Hope your holidays are going well and that you're ready for a new year. See you in 2018!

P.S. I wrote so many words recapping 2017, that I didn't think it would be a good idea to add my goals for 2018, so those will be in another post. I'll come back and link it in this post when that one is published.

Web Development


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Kyle Shevlin's face, which is mostly a beard with eyes
Kyle Shevlin is a front end web developer and software engineer who specializes in JavaScript and React.