Is it already too late to write a "year in review" type of blog post in February? Definitely not! The end of 2022 was a hectic time for me so I deserved a proper time to relax. At the same time, January was transitional as I gave up on my full-time job in December and became a full-time volunteer in January. Interested in learning more? I would be happy to share my story with you.
This is the first time ever in my life I have decided to release any kind of personal blog post to the public. I view reflection as an important part of one's life's journey not only professionally-wise. At the same time, I think someone else may find it inspiring, insightful or valuable. People I personally aspire to (e.g. Ismael Velasco and Fershad Irani) posted similar posts regarding last year.
Reading theirs encouraged me to put together mine and post it as well. Sometimes, it may feel like a lot has happend in life recently and that's also the case for my 2022. By putting together this piece, I wanted to make my path more clear to myself in aim to live with more authenticity and intention. If it accidentally sparks an interest in any reader (maybe you?), that is a great bonus!
Living in the mountainous area
Usually, during winter in the mountainous Tatras region where I live, me and my friends take advantage of a good snow conditions and go ski touring or ski mountaineering, depending on equipment used during the sport. In January, I tried the sport for the first time ever which was an empowering experience. We went together through ski slope in Tatranská Lomnica all the way to Skalnaté tarn which is around 860 meters of elevation gain to 1751 m.a.s.l. Shout-out goes to my friends who have encouraged me to rent a set and go. Not even a year later and I now have my own set. In February, I went skiing to Spálená resort in Roháče (The West Tatras) for three days as well. Sport is definitely an activity that helps me keep the balance right in my life. During spring, summer but also autumn days, it usually is about taking my bicycle out. Running and hiking are an all-year-round sports to me in contrast to the three already mentioned. Active body = health body and clear mind.
Vacations / Workcations
Before jumping straight into career development parts of my reflection, in addition to the sports intro, I would like to highlight my two vacations or rather one vacation and one workcation to be more precise! In May, I went to Norway for 2 weeks with Patrik and Ladislav. We travelled fairly big chunk of it's southern part from Bergen to Bergen through Preikestolen, Lysebotn, Oslo, Besseggen, Trondheim, Atlanterhavsveien, Alesund, Geirangerfjord and Lovatnet. Norway is an expensive country, even more so for regular Slovaks which holds true also for close-to-fresh computer science graduates that I together with Patrik were at that time. Thats why we boarded our plane in Krakow with a tent and dried food. To call it a vacation, we drank tank beers in Oslo that cost us 10€ each (beer costs around 2,5€ in Slovakia for comparison). After Norway, I visited Slovenia for the second time in my life after living there for 6 months during Erasmus+ stay in 2019. It was a lovely family trip with target destination in Croatia - Brač. Together with my father, we climbed Vidova mountain (778 m.a.s.l.) on our bicycles from Sumartin where we resided. My brother and mother relaxed on the beach in Bol during that time.
Year 2022 was eventful when it comes to my career development and so I decided to write about it in three separate parts.
Reverberation of graduation from 2021
I tend to push myself hard when it comes to the work I do. I know that doing something properly requires lots of effort. This held true during my college studies as well in case of subjects that interested me the most. During my studies, I have discovered my true passion for frontend development thanks to hard work and dedication to push projects I valued to state I adored. Thats the reason there is a bunch of them from that time that I am simply proud of. I realized that pushing yourself hard is not certainly a bad thing because then you see opportunities you wouldn't otherwise in addition to a good feeling from doing the job properly. Because of hard work and dedication, my master thesis was nominated for IT SPY (IT Student Project of the Year) in 2021 after my graduation. IT SPY is an elite IT competition, evaluating diploma projects of students in 14 Slovak and Czech universities.
What does this has to do with year 2022? That is a valid question. Company I had worked for gave me space to prepare a talk for a virtual StrapiConf 2022 in March. I thought this was a great way to promote not only myself and the company, but more importantly to promote software with higher purpose that was used in a real world for 6 weeks time as part of my master thesis experiment. In my master thesis, I developed an application that aimed at motivating car drivers to drive in a more eco-friendly manner via 2 motivational strategies rewards and gamification. At the conference, I spoke how my technical solution leveraged powers of a popular open-source content management system called Strapi. Unfortunately, I haven't managed to develop my solution further since then. I think it still has a great potential. In December, a friend of mine contacted me that a company is hiring software engineers in order to develop a system with similar objective but in React Native for smartphones instead of web technologies for the web.
For me, title is not only a set of characters that I type before my name. It is my story of personal and professional growth and I am proud to say I am a Software Engineer as I gave it all I could at the time. Do things so that you can be proud of how you did them.
Working remotely on modern web UIs for a high-growth agency with global reach
I have been fascinated by speed, simplicity and consistency of user interfaces ever since I was a little kid who spent nearly all of his free time playing Counter-Strike. Not sure if it's only me but I tend to get lost quite often inside such user experiences in software. They make me feel as if someone really respects me and cares about me. Someone who has developed the solution so that it is joy to work with from the user perspective. This is what real craft means in my eyes within software boundaries. From proper UX analysis to UI design and development, every part of the play was handled to achieve such a great end result that is synonymous with perfection. Would you like to see an example? I think that Vercel is unbeatable in this regard from what I have used so far in the digital world. I may be biased as they also develop NextJS React metaframework that I am also fan of but hey, you gotta admit they nailed it in the 3 aspects I mentioned earlier.
Where is the aforementioned high-growth agency with global reach though? Speaking of Bejamas, they caught my eyes instantly because of the way I perceive craft that I described above. They are frontend-focused agency building solutions based on Jamstack architectural approach which is characteristic of speed. That is because in the beginning, you always have just a static website and iterate from there. For nearly 2 years, I had been building the static web in a modern way with them. I had worked with clients from around the globe on different projects from my little home office space. Slowly but surely, I was advancing to a more senior role. When it comes to 2022, I am very happy I took the opportunity to lead the DR SMILE project. To put things into perspective, their websites receive real traffic in hundreds of thousands visits per week. This is a piece of cake for a static website hosted on CDNs built with GatsbyJS, Cloudflare Workers and Optimizely. It was an honour for me to be responsible for delivering new features for their frontend part of the application that is deployed in 11 countries accross Europe.
I made a decision to part my ways with Bejamas which I describe in a bit more detail in section that follows. However, it was a great time working with so many enthusiasts in one place. I had a full taste of asynchronous work in a completely distributed team. I also worked with cool clients and expanded my professional network beyond Slovak borders.
Climate Tech is an area where the power of technology is leveraged to solve problems related to the climate crisis that we are inherently facing as a humanity in today's industrialized and capitalistic world. I have been interested in the Climate Tech area since I was working on my master thesis for the first time (mentioned in the Reverberation of graduation in 2021 section above). The next blog post I am currently working on is going to be about the broader story of how I got into the space and I how I stand where I am standing today. People I have personally met with asked me these questions a few times during past two months and I found out there is no easy answer as this journey has been progressing for more than 2 years now. In this section, I would like to highlight significant events from last year. I have been member of ClimateAction.Tech community (CAT in short) since October 2021. I would highly recommend joining to anyone who is interested in the Climate Tech area as there are lots of other like-minded people looking for ways to make a positive impact with their careers. Through this community, I have learned a lot about greener web development, greener design, climate justice and more. I have also managed to expand my network in the space as I am always eager to get to know other people who are concerned with same things as I am. For me personally, job is not only about making money anymore. Seeing the negative impacts of human activity is causing a substantial shift in my mindset when it comes to my relationship with work.
In 2022, my curiosity unlocked a whole new set of possibilities to me. I have been writing down different ideas into my engineering daybook since the beginning of 2022 and one idea stuck with me for the whole year. It was just the two keywords: UIs & Climate Tech. In May, I coined the name Sustainable UI for the first time without connecting any other dots with it. I have learned about the Green Mode Design principles in August. Through the CAT community, I found out about Carbon Hack 22 which was a 3 weeks long global hackathon about building carbon aware software. I didn't hesitate to join with idea from May made more concrete by the Green Mode Design principles I learned about in August. What if we could make modern web apps based on React carbon aware? Even better, library or framework independent? What if we could build a tool that helps developers build such UIs with more ease? It would help build Carbon Aware UIs. So I built a headless library based on React that provides Carbon Aware UI primitives to any React-based application. Coincidentally, the project has won The Most Innovative award among minor category winners. 395 participants in 85 projects and mine was among 7 that won the prize.
I have been telling myself ever since the moment that there has to be more than the award. That's why the award was just a start of something way greater than I could have imagined at the time. I haven't identified more with anything else I did for work previously in my life as much as with Sustainable UI. The project merged two areas I have been immersed in for a long time: UIs and Climate Tech. I happened to be a member of Tatry IT community and one of the organizers there whose name is Radovan has reached out to me in the beginning of November that my LinkedIn post about the hackathon has sparked interest in him. In December before Christmas, I presented my solution on Tatry IT meetup to the local community of IT specialists with a live-coding demo. By winning the prize in the hackathon, project was also granted a slot in Incubation Lab of Adora Foundation. It's founder Ismael inspired me with his Green Mode Design blog series and also mentored me during the hackathon.
I think you now have a better understanding of why the end of 2022 was a hectic time for me. At the end of the year, I had a performance review meeting in the agency I was working for that I mentioned in the previous part of the blog post. It went great as I was doing everything that was expected from me in the leading role of the project. Unfortunately, despite enjoying the work with them a lot, my expectations didn't meet with theirs and so I did not hesitate to take a leap of faith and start a new journey in January of 2023. I need to say that this step felt as natural as nothing else before. I had an impression that parting my ways with the agency liberated me in multiple ways. Considering my financial situation at the time, I didn't see any reason not to pursue my dream of working on Sustainable UI on a full-time basis as a volunteer. That is what I am doing at the time of writing this blog post and I couldn't be happier.
A look ahead
I would like to close this blog post with a reference to my tweet from around a year ago. Balancing things out is still a hot topic for me despite being more than a year old at the time of writing this blog post. I have read a book called The 3 Alarms by Eric Partaker recently about importance of basing our lives on the top of the three fundamental pillars: health, wealth and relationships. With my tendency to overkill a single aspect of life, I now have a system in place to confront my unwanted tendency directly. Let's see how it goes.