My 2020 – Year in Review

Each year I used to write a reflection on the last year, set out goals etc but for whatever reason I stopped doing this. I’m not too sure why as I found it a useful exercise.

Last week I saw Paul Glavich’s post and felt inspired this year to give this some time.

This post is mainly for my benefit but maybe it has something useful in it for others too.

2020

2020 was a weird and challenging year for everyone and a year I don’t think one anyone wants to repeat!

I’m grateful to live in Australia where we have so far been relatively untouched by everyone’s least favourite Corona Virus. I live in Melbourne however and we experienced some of the heaviest restrictions in the world designed to reduce the spread of Covid (everyone limited to 5km travel radius, schools and day-care shut, most non-essential shops shut etc).

Whilst the strategy has been a success reducing cases the impact of these restrictions in Melbourne was very unequally distributed with some individuals and businesses hit in an absolutely devastating way and I felt lucky to be able to work from home for a supportive company. In fact my employer was one of the first to move staff to work from home and very supportive over this period.

Whilst the restrictions were frustrating for all, I tried to make the most of the time and saw the following advantages:

  • I got to spend more time with the kids and with my daughter in particular as part of home schooling (this was good and bad!)
  • I saved some money having no commute and with various activities being closed
  • I revisited some hobbies/stuff I hadn’t touched for ages such as drawing, astronomy and playing on the Xbox (No Mans Sky)
  • I ate healthier – probably by not having access to Melbourne’s various lunch time options!
  • I had less of a commute so had more time*

* I’m not sure this actually worked out this way and the work day appeared to just extend..

There were some aspects I really didn’t enjoy:

  • Juggling work and kids was very draining and more so with co-parenting.

    Most colleagues and clients were pretty good about the impact of this but I ended up working some pretty long hours once kids were in bed to keep up with work/make hours up.

    On reflection I probably created some of this pressure myself and would have been better working less hours and taking personal leave.

    I remember one particularly terrible call to a client where I was looking after my kids. They spent the time making cockerel noises in the background whilst jumping between two sofa’s. One of them also had a er toilet accident to round off a great meeting..

    On another meeting I was assisting my son to find his favourite toy monkey and hit the unmute button on my head-phones so other folks could hear me walk round the house with him calling out for monkey. I didnt know this until my colleague texted me bahaha
  • Context switching is always hard and wasteful but I found the switch between work and parent mode very draining. I had not realised that my commute back from work provided a kind of transition between the two parts of my life that I no longer had working from home. I ended up building a transition period into my day where I wound up work stuff as found I would be tired and grumpy when I had my kids dropped off/picked-up without it
  • Teams etc is good but I missed in-person conversations, team meetups, socials etc
  • After a while I grew to hate the repetitiveness of working from home and being in the same room. Yesterday I moved my computer into a different room which probably isn’t as well suited a space just for the variety

What went well last year?

  • We had significant success on several proposals, and I increased my commercial knowledge, awareness, and understanding of contracts
  • I improved my security knowledge and obtained (at least as far as I know) a good foundational understanding of penetration testing via Offensive Security’s PWK course.

    I also found a mentor in this area and cant recommend enough this being a great way to rapidly upskill in an area by having someone more experienced to advise and coach you.

    I focused on security as wanted to understand how an attacker would approach applications so I could better defend against them and well it sounded pretty interesting as well 🙂

    I really enjoyed learning about a new area as had probably become a bit jaded by .NET and front-end frameworks and enjoyed the variety and challenge of something different. It was great to get into some lower-level stuff such as buffer overflows/assembly programming.

    I also discovered CTF style challenges such as Hack the Box which worked well during lockdown to keep me occupied and challenged!

    I’m scheduled to do the exam for this course in March. OSCP is known as being a difficult exam and many folks seem to retake a few times so suspect it will be challenging and may require a few attempts.

    I’ll give it a go through although I have a queue of other items starting to build up requiring attention so not sure how long I’ll be able to spend on this but will see how it goes
  • I obtained a good working knowledge of Linux as part of the course discussed above. Whilst I knew Linux would feature heavily this was kind of an unexpected benefit and an area, I’d like to explore more. It’s probably also looking in future if your PD study could hit a few areas at once for efficiency purposes
  • Savings from lockdown meant I could pay off a loan 5 months earlier than I expected
  • At the end of the year I replaced my 11 year old car which made driving more enjoyable and easier to transport kids & their stuff

Plans for 2021

  • This year needs a better work life balance. I’m not sure what this looks like yet but last year work certainly got the majority of my time and energy and the kids had a tired and grumpy dad at times which isnt right. Some of this was probably on me as due to everything being shut in Melbourne during lockdown it could lead to the decision of well I’m not doing anything else so might as well do some more work..
  • Building breaks in between conference calls. Conference calls at one point seemed continuous throughout the day which was very draining, made it difficult to maintain attention and also do other work. I now build in time between calls which I wont move. I also block out focus periods, lunch and try to leave the house during the day
  • I have a good desk and chair setup but need to move around/stretch more as started getting various aches and pains I have never experienced before. I saw a physio last year who said he was seeing a heap of folks complaining of various issues related to working from home 😦
  • I’m enjoying learning about the security stuff and once the OSCP exam is complete intend to shift my focus here to developing some kind of security foundations/basics program. I think most of us tend to learn this stuff from a theoretical perspective only and getting some more hands on knowledge could assist us getting a better knowledge.
    I’m not too sure what this looks like yet but maybe some form of intentionally vulnerable app. It would also be great to have some more Microsoft tech focussed examples in this area. I’d also like to spend some time looking at threat modelling.
  • Miro has proved a useful tool for remote collaboration for us and I’d like to spend a little time looking at what can be done with it beyond the basics
  • I’d like to spend some more hand’s on time with AWS. I’ve spent a fair bit of time with Azure and want to learn something different. I had planned to get a bit more involved hand’s on in one project but this didn’t eventuate due to other commitments but I’m planning on insisting on doing this in 2021
  • Revisit Azure DevOps build and deployment functionality. This has progressed considerably since I last looked and I need to update my knowledge
  • Spend more time for personal development – and do it during work hours.

    We have a good PD program at Purple but due to work-load most of my study for the security course was done in my own free time.

    Whilst I enjoyed the course it is also important to get rest (whatever form that takes for you) and my approach to do this study in the evening eventually left me felling quite burnt out by the end of the year.

    I found that with a long list of tasks its very easy to focus on these at the expense of your own development and this will eventually lead to the atrophy of skills.

    I think most folks who start to get a larger workload will go through something like:

    1) Work longer hours to try and keep up. Maybe you start to do a sweep of emails/items at the weekend or work a longer day. This works for a bit but isn’t a long term strategy especially as work loads dont tend to decrease
    2) You might then look at stop doing “non-essential things” like personal development to make more time. You later realise some of this stuff is er essential/you enjoyed
    3) Realization that you are dropping things so then look at other options such as delegation/prioritisation
    4) Declare work load bankruptcy!

    This is a trap – build time to focus on skill development and make sure you do some stuff you enjoy as well as stuff that needs to be done.

Summary
Anyway if you have made I to the end of this I wish you all the best for 2021.

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