Twists and Turns

The fact that I'm writing these lines in a 300+ year old country house in Gozo, Malta, and in particular the fact that we're staying here around this time of the year is all but normal (for us, at least). It's the result of a year of twists and turns — and the intentional decision to be here today. How come?

It's been 2 years since my last blog post here. That's a long time. And to be honest, I don't want to spend too much time writing now either, as it means I'd have to let my family wait for me. Instead, we could go and explore a new part of Gozo or we could just have another lazy day together. Thoughts like these aren't super typical for me, but I'm trying to get used to them. And while I'm slowly getting there, I think it's a good idea to quickly jot down some of the 2019 events — some of them trivia, some of them pointing the way.

I started 2019 with the resolution to step back from organising so many events. There had been more than 40 activities in 2018 — from many smaller meetups, 9 CoderDojos, 3 IndieWebCamps to 2 major conferences — and I was kinda exhausted and frustrated. It wasn't that the events didn't work out but I felt that I had lost the ability to participate myself without being in constant "organiser mode". I was like an event zombie. So I decided to focus on no more than 2 different topics (no idea why I came up with exactly that number):

  • There would definitely be the Accessibility Club and everything around it. Not only because a11y is my biggest personal passion but also because it aligns perfectly with the new focus we chose for tollwerk some time ago.
  • Then there would be the CoderDojo Nürnberg which has established so well over the last 4 years and is kinda strongly connected to me (although we constituted an association around it and there's a great and independent pool of 20+ mentors running the Dojos).

Focusing on 2 topics only required me to turn down some other things:

  • I decided to take a break from organising IndieWebCamps and try to be a regular participant instead. Long story short: I didn't organise anything in 2019, but I sadly didn't really attend either. To my surprise, Alex Cio started the year with heralding that we'd be super consistent with Homebrew Website Club Nürnberg meetups in 2019 — which we kept up until the summer break, so there was still more IndieWeb activity than I originally anticipated. I mostly spent my time with helping others and preparing to get IndieWeb bits into the upcoming tollwerk website relaunch.
  • I decided to retreat from all my activities around the Nürnberg Digital Festival (formerly Nürnberg Web Week) which is a major step that I was considering for a while already. By being a co-initiator and the CTO since 2013, my team and I have contributed quite a lot to the history of the event (the corporate design, several instances of the website, many trend-setting decisions). In the last couple of years, however, I became more and more disconnected from the main organisational unit, which is mostly a side effect of the festival growing at an incredible pace, and every attempt to fix this didn't work out in the long term. Today, the Festival is a tanker going its own direction, and I don't think I can still provide effective impulses. After 6 years it's time for me to make room for someone else, directing my energy to something that still needs impetus (the Accessibility Club is my best bet for this).
  • Our traditional Web Week CoderDojo aside, we didn't run any events during this year's Nürnberg Digital Festival (which featured ~330 events in only 10 days — something I can't really endorse). Personally, I attended 2¼ events in total (including our CoderDojo). I was just fed up.
Table and chair in front of our country house

Table and chair in front of our country house

In 2020 tollwerk will celebrate its 20th anniversary. I turned 45. It's time to get things under control, I keep telling myself. At the beginning of 2019 I set out to get some major things on track (without a tangible plan, of course) — I'm happy to say that I think I succeeded in at least some areas.

I started reading books. I'm not talking about fiction here, but not about purely technical stuff either. I became interested in lots of different topics, like leadership, conversation, working culture and ethics, among others. As I tend to get sleepy really quickly when reading printed stuff I tried listening to audiobooks for the first time — and I must say I really dig it. In total I read and listened to 22 books, some of them multiple times. I won't list them all here, but these were my favourites:

  • Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler)
  • The Business of Expertise (David C. Baker)
  • Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It (Chriss Voss)
  • The Choice Factory: 25 Behavioural Biases That Influence What We Buy (Richard Shotton)

Overall, I found Blair Enns to be my personal hero of 2019. His books — The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity — managed to explain to me many principles that I couldn't grasp for a long time (and hence rejected them). I especially also recommend 2Bobs, the podcast he's publishing together with David C. Baker. It's both entertaining, insightful and super instructive. I found a lot of inspiration in these resources (which also led me to some of the other books and podcasts I was reading / listening to).

Compared to the years before, I definitely grew mentally in 2019. As a result, I'm communicating more consciously (both in business as in private contexts) and I also tried to improve my listening skills. Which, by the way, includes listening to myself — something I'm not known to be particularly good at. I finally tackled some long outstanding health issues and started to take a bit more care of myself. I demand more time off, which also happens to be the reason for me sitting in this beautiful Maltese country house right now instead of doing some super urgent business blabla back home at the office. ;) Unfortunately, I didn't manage to improve my physical fitness in 2019 (which was one of my goals for this year), but I'll keep on trying.

Inside our 300+ year old Maltese country house

Inside our 300+ year old Maltese country house

In general, 2019 brought me a lot of self-consciousness and self-confidence, both as a person and as part of a team that finally wants to thrive. It may sound stupid for some of you but for the first time — after almost 20 years — we realised that success can be as easy as a) setting a goal and then b) going for it. We started ploughing through all sorts of internal things that seemed to be set in stone for ages — and no one, let alone I, remembered why and what they are good for. We've still got a long way to go but at least we made the first steps and will keep walking in 2020.

Probably my most accidental yet constructive idea in 2019 was to officially become a website accessibility auditor. I remember well the evening when I sat down and started researching the topic for the first time. I definitely had to leave my comfort zone, but the qualification measures turned out to be less challenging than I expected and in a certain way it's really fun to run these audits. Most importantly, being an auditor seems to be a door opener to places that I always wanted to get to. It finally makes sense: "Claim to be an expert" and "Be / become an expert" are equally important. I have never been good at marketing our services, but this one feels like a good step in the right direction.

Another first that led me well out of my comfort zone is the university lectureship I accepted early this year. While the topic — Content Management — isn't really what I'd genuinely offer spontaneously, I really enjoy mentoring and teaching and, fortunately, it's pretty much up to me how I conduct the lessons so I can flavour in a good dose of out-of-band stuff (like accessibility or design topics).

As a side effect of giving lectures, running on-site audits and generally acting more as a consultant, I travelled a lot and spent less hours at the office. In general, I consider this a good thing as it forces our business to run less dependent on me as a person. On the other hand, my team was now facing a couple of new challenges that we still have to find (better) solutions for. Speaking of our team, I had to deal with two novel situations this year, but talking about details would definitely go beyond the purpose of this post.

In terms of music (and according to Spotify's statistics), my year was dominated by one particular new discovery: Sophie Hunger. Interestingly, also Anna Calvi and Sharon van Etten made it to my personal Top 5 (besides Kate Tempest and the Portico Quartett), both of which I had consciously picked up in one of Jeremy's notes a year ago (Spotify had played me their songs before but I never looked up their names until then). Thank you, Jeremy! ;)

I'm sure there have been many more highlights in 2019 (the Accessibility Club Summit comes to my mind ...), but these ones have to do for now. Off to the New Year's Celebration in Victoria, Gozo. Wishing you all a splendid end of the year, and an even better 2020. Let's be conscious, act wisely and become a better version of ourselves. See you in the next decade.

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