Holding on and making the best out of 2020

December 21, 2020

Again we are at the end of the year and to start with the same words from my 2019 recap. WHAT A YEAR!

If you read my 2019 recap, you know that it was a personal rollercoaster. At the beginning of 2020, I had a lot of energy and was pretty excited to make it a great year. I was ready again to go out and speak at various events, and I needed that. At the end of 2019, I finally found my inner peace, solved most of my internal problems. Little did I know what kind of year it was going to be.

Reminder to 2019
Reminder to 2019

It all started great, with two events in January and February and a winter meetup in Helsinki for Valo. When I traveled back home from Helsinki, I saw people with mouth masks in an airport for the first time. That was very uncommon back then. It was a family of four, standing in a queue to board their flight. A month later, everyone started to wear masks, the new way of living started. I am sure we all struggled in 2020, so I will not complain (too much). Looking back at this year, I can say that I took out most of what I could.

Quote One of my favorite quotes in 2020: Kick out the logic, make impossible possible.

Kick out the logic, make impossible possible
Kick out the logic, make impossible possible

Recap of the recap from 2019

Info If you haven’t read my 2019 recap: Sometimes you just have to learn to let go - 2019 a year full of lessons.

2019 was a year full of personal lessons, and during 2020 I had to think back to what I wrote and experienced. Changing your thoughts is not as simple as flipping a switch. I still stumble and find myself overthinking the same things from the year before, but I can put it aside much quicker. Not let it take over my whole body. You need to be able to let these kinds of thoughts in. We are not machines, and we should be able to think. You need to allow these thoughts because you feel bad that you yet again think about them if you don’t.

Comparing to others is still my biggest pitfall, and sometimes I am still afraid when I do not know what goals to set next for myself. When these thoughts occur, I allow myself to think about them. Allow me to feel bad, but also tell myself: hey, in 30 minutes, we put these aside and regain focus.

Important I needed 2019 to be able to do this.

Starting a new business

I love stickers, there I said it, but this would not surprise you at all. I think most of us do in our community.

Important For the ones that don’t, I have a sticker for you as well: I hate sticker.

I Hate Stickers - Sticker
I Hate Stickers - Sticker

Usually, when I go to events, I bring my sticker bag and hand out stickers during my session(s) or to people that come and ask me if I have new ones.

Beginning of 2020, I took the same approach as Luise Freese provided. She used a form to request the address of people that were interested in receiving stickers. What was cool about it is the flow behind the scenes. Once somebody filled in the form, a Power Automate flow kicks in and automatically creates the envelope to print.

With Luise’s help, I set up the same flow, and quickly I received many requests. A bit more than I first anticipated, but I asked Luise if it would be a good idea to start a sticker store because of this success. That was when both of us began the business’s brainstorming, now known as Pimp Your Own Device.

We did not have to think long. When I asked it, we immediately started experimenting with how we could do it. We did not want to do it the “easy” or “standard” way. We enjoyed both to learn something from it, so we went the “indie” way. Our indie way makes use of Power Platform to automate as much as possible behind the scenes, uses a static site generator which is very dynamic with the power of CI/CD and Azure Functions.

Info Running #PYOD online store with Power Platform and Azure

#PYOD is probably the most fun project I had in 2020. Designing stickers calms my mind, and the online store made me step out of my comfort zone to learn how marketing works and use other kinds of systems.

All of it started as a tiny business, not taking it too seriously. Right now, we are taking it very seriously. We both want this business to succeed, and to be known to conferences/companies/individuals that we are the go-to place for IT-related stickers.

Today we even have a spin-off called Pimp Your Own Bike. It is a store where you can create and buy your name labels/stickers. The reason why is because I love cycling and also because I am part of a team that cycles 1000km each year for a charity race against cancer. Part of the site is to do some fundraising for our teams to start with 12 teams (each team worth € 5500).

Info If you want to know more about our teams and the charity race, check it on Toetiewoetie - 1000km.

You can use these name stickers for almost everything. You do not have to put these on a bike if you do not want to.

More websites

PimpYourOwnDevice and PimpYourOwnBike were not the only websites I created in 2020. When you have so much time, I wanted to see which static site generators were available and test out platforms like Netlify, Vercel, and Azure Static Web Apps.

The reason to test out these platforms was to see how the Azure competitors implement and provide their services.

Here are a couple of sites I created in 2020:

  • PYOD URL shortener: similar to bit.ly, but automated for all the stickers we sell at PimpYourOwnDevice. The reason for this site is to share the short links of our stickers on Instagram.
  • PYOD order management system: as our business keeps growing, we face issues with the current set up of how we were printing envelopes and creating discounts. Our order management system runs on Azure Static Web Apps and secured by Azure AD.
  • Borger Cycling: a website for the cycling club I joined this year with Strava integration.
  • Localization portal (still work in progress) for the Valo products
  • CollabDays Benelux: Virtual conference organized by BIWUG and DIWUG.
  • BIWUG Live: our BIWUG evening events are now running virtually.
  • And two other websites for clients.

Automating my home

Being home the whole time gave me ideas as well to automate whatever was possible in the house. It all started with creating my own busy light, which shows my Microsoft Teams presence.

Info DIY: Building a busy light to show your Microsoft Teams presence

The project runs on a Homebridge plugin and a lightweight Python API to change the LED colors. It was a fun project to get me into automation and finally do something useful with the Raspberry Pi’s lying in my drawer. By far, this is the most popular article from 2020 and featured on Hackster, Raspberry Pi blog, Adafruit, and even a mention in Linux Format magazine (September edition).

Linux Format Magazine mention
Linux Format Magazine mention

This busy light was not my only automation project. I automated my sunroof, window screen, garage, and created an office clock with integration to Microsoft Graph for retrieving my next upcoming meeting and Microsoft To Do tasks count.

Office clock with Microsoft Graph integration
Office clock with Microsoft Graph integration

Info Info: I shared another project to ring my doorbell on my Sonos speakers: Ringing the doorbell on your Sonos speakers.

Blogging

That post of my Microsoft Teams presence was not the only one. I wrote a lot more this year. In 2020 I have written 53 (not including this article) articles in total. Another popular article was my review of the Jabra Evolve2 85 headset.

Blogging is still something I love to do, and so happy I finally create a new theme for my blog. It was on my to-do list for such a long time, but I never really had the time or the energy to start working on it. Luckily 2020 gave me this time, and as I need to keep my mind busy with fun things (coding is also a hobby of mine), I started this redesign process and so happy with the result.

Info Redesign of my blog with Tailwind

Speaking

Events in 2020 were different for everyone. Attendee and speaker wise. I am not a big fan of virtual conferences, doing webinars because I miss interacting with my audience. I miss the feedback you get from the audience, but I learned to like it.

I did less of speaking engagements than the years before because I wanted to provide new content each time. In total, ten events and a podcast, that is not so bad after all. The most significant thing is that I stepped out of my comfort zone for a couple of them. I did some use-case talks on Microsoft Ignite and did my first Azure session at an Azure event about Static Sites.

Info Find all my speaking engagements of 2020 on my speaking page

Other worthy mentions

There were so many things that happened in 2020. In some way, I am also happy that 2020 gave me so much time to do all the things I produced. Of course, there are also things I did not do. I was thinking to create videos, record a workshop, and some other smaller projects.

A couple of worthful mentions:

  • Created my first project with Next.js, which is PimpYourOwnBike. Next.js is a fantastic React framework. If you have not yet tried it, I encourage you to do so. Much more comfortable and better than the default create-react-app tooling.
  • Started moving all my code repositories from Azure DevOps to GitHub.
  • Created a static site generator for SharePoint called Doctor, and very happy I was allowed to make it available for everyone to leverage.
  • After struggling for a long time, I found a way to finally E2E test solutions in Microsoft Teams with Cypress. After many tests and different approaches, I wanted to give it one more try, which ultimately did it.
  • 7k on my bike - which means that I could have played Final Fantasy VII (original) two full runs (120 hours each).

Work goes on

End of 2019, I got a new role in Valo and started working as an Engineering lead. Still, I am delighted with this role. Although this role comes with lots of meetings and less coding, I love to be in touch with all my colleagues.

Probably the reason I started doing all these side projects was not to get myself disconnected from development.

All these meetings have some disadvantages as well. You get a bit disconnected from your old team and the product you were building. Sorry about that, teammates but all of you did a great job this year, do not let others tell you otherwise.

Maybe I can get one more tear from one exceptional colleague, or I should say ex-colleague. Yes, Seb, I am pointing to you, my friend! Thank you for the time we had together in Valo and for creating a product together. The last months were hectic, and we got disconnected as well, but let 2021 make up for that!

Translate dreams into code
Translate dreams into code

What will 2021 bring?

Based on 2020, I have no idea. Let us all hope for the best and stay safe. I’ll end this recap with another quote I like: dream it, believe it, achieve it.

Dream it, believe it, achieve it
Dream it, believe it, achieve it

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