2019 In Review

In 2019 I burned out, found better balance, and entered a mid-life crisis. I'm hoping for more clarity of purpose in 2020. And I wish you the same.


If we're going to measure 2019 by accomplishments, I crushed it! I became a national, international, and keynote speaker. I won my age group at a local triathlon and stood on a podium for the first time since the second grade district spelling bee. I taught several workshops, including one to almost 150 people, and my first standalone course outside of a conference.

Alas...I am not going to measure my 2019 solely by accomplishments.

I started 2019 feeling burned out from over-commitment. I'd crammed too many speaking engagements into the end of 2018. I wanted to find balance. I felt like I was not able to give my best self to any of the many things I was interested in doing. I needed to step back.

And I did. I made a lot of progress in 2019. I learned to say "no" more often than I was comfortable. I limited my involvement to only things I was extremely interested in. I learned that I need to trust my instincts - and stand up for them.

But I still over-committed myself to the many things I love doing. I faced a handful of challenges throughout the year that made me question my priorities and identity. I struggled to reconcile the meditative stance that "you are enough" with my seemingly unshakeable habits and responses that endanger relationships with my wife and children.

I'm not sure if I've found balance this year. I've made a lot of progress...but I'm not sure I'm all the way there.

I'll enter 2020 with many questions. Am I successful? Yes. Was 2019 my best year? A hard "no". Am I focusing on the things I want to be focusing? Am I giving my best self to the people I care about most? Myself? My kids? My wife? Β―\_(ツ)_/Β―

So I'm not sure what I think of my 2019. I did some great things. I struggled a lot. I think I'm in a better place now than I was in the middle of 2019. I'm still working to find that balance of giving myself to strangers, friends, my family, and myself.

Having said that - here are the things I accomplished and learned in 2019! Hope yours was great, and cheers to a better 2020.


I hit my sweet spot for speaking engagements in 2019 - 12, one per month.

In January, I delivered a hugely successful workshop at CodeMash. I had nearly 150 people in the room to learn React, and got incredible praise from attendees. I also delivered my Getting Unstuck talk for the first time.

In April, I attained "international" speaker status, delivering a workshop and talk at ForwardJS in Ottawa. I got miserably sick while I was there, and haven't boarded a plane without sanitizing wipes since. Ottawa is a pretty city. I'd go back.

In May, I attained "national" speaker status, giving my Getting Unstuck talk at RailsConf in the Twin Cities. I love this talk. It is useful for every developer, regardless of experience level, and regardless of tech stack. You should watch it.

In July, I got to deliver a workshop at KCDC in Kansas City - a conference I'd wanted to attend since I started speaking. 2019 was the first time I didn't have a schedule conflict, so I was thrilled to submit and more thrilled to be accepted.

In October came my biggest accomplishment of 2019 - my first keynote! When I originally heard from the Central Wisconsin IT Conference asking if I was interested in keynoting, I thought it was a joke. Why me instead of someone else, but more to the point, of course I was interested. I had so much fun doing this, and I think I crushed it. My friend Joel says so:

There's one event I missed in 2019 that made me really sad - That Conference. A week after I was accepted to speak, I found out I had to be at Artsy HQ in New York for an engineering on-site. I had to withdraw from That Conference, and live vicariously through everyone who got to go. I was extra sad to miss a handful of friends speaking. I'm hoping to make it back in 2020.

I don't think I'll hit 12 engagements in 2020. I have a couple local things lined up, but nothing outside of Milwaukee. I don't even have any open CFP submissions (note: I lied. I submitted once while writing this article πŸ™„). Traveling is hard - I'm mostly focused on local events. I'll submit to some bigger events too, I just haven't figured out yet which ones align with our busy schedule. I'm still looking to attain "overseas" speaker status.

I'd love to give my Getting Unstuck talk more. I'll likely submit it alone unless the event requires more. I'm also feeling a little burned out with preparing talks, which is another reason to submit just that one.


Another of my big goals for 2019 was to teach more workshops. I taught three times at conferences, including the aforementioned smashing success at CodeMash.

More significantly, I also taught a workshop outside of a conference. My friend Amanda helped me out by sponsoring and organizing. It wasn't huge...but it was a huge step toward teaching on my own. I'll definitely do this a few more times in 2020.

One other really neat thing came out of a workshop. In my React workshop at CodeMash, I earned my second biggest accomplishment of 2019 - my new friend Jay Cincotta took the class, loved it, and reached out to me a few weeks later to ask for mentorship. Again, when I got his email, I thought he was joking - of course I was interested in hanging out with him once every couple weeks, giving him advice, and helping him solve problems. Oh, and he'd pay me for it.

It doesn't scale very well, but this is my absolute favorite style of consulting. One-to-one, focused on solving specific problems. We talk about theory and principles along the way, but first and foremost, we're working to get a product delivered for Jay. Throughout the year I've watched him become a strong React developer and do an incredible amount of work. Our meetings have become sparse, but I've acquired a really great friend. 10/10 would do this again.


Writing is one of those things that I love to do, but it falls far enough down my priorities that I never do it as much as I want. 2019 demonstrates this well.

I published four articles on my blog in 2019. I wrote about 2018, about building a workshop, about big refactors, and about becoming a tech lead. Not a lot of content, but I'm proud of all those articles. I started two other articles that never got finished.

I also wrote 2.5 articles for the Artsy blog in 2019. In all cases, they were collaborative articles - this is something I'd never done before, but have found that I really enjoy. It's an interesting challenge to make sure everyone feels heard. I co-wrote about the Artsy engineering hiring process and the tooling we use for server-rendering a responsive web app. (The other .5 is so close to shipping, but still has some work to be wrapped up. Look for it in the next week or so!)

I'd love to say 2020 will feature more writing, but I think we all know what we're dealing with at this point 😬. I do want to be better about letting articles sit in an "in-progress" queue, and working on them as I find inspiration. I'd also like to write shorter articles, since I often lost interest before finishing longer articles.


In 2019 I became a remote worker! Sure, I started working remotely in 2018, but it wasn't until 2019 that I felt confident about it. I've become more structured with my time than ever before. I do lots of 1:1s to stay connected. I co-work with friends like Leo to keep myself from spiraling into dark loneliness. I over-communicate. I've weirdly found myself over-emoting on video calls when I'm muted, without thinking about it. Big smiles and belly laughs.

I've also developed some good habits as a result of remote work. I've finally developed a consistent meditation habit. I meditated 23 work-days in a row at one point. In 2020, I'll hit 30 at least once. I've finally embraced early morning workouts, preferably daily. Meditation and exercise are really important for me to set the trajectory of my day, which is hugely important as a remote worker.

I took on the role of tech lead for my team at Artsy. I've learned that there is no one way to lead a team. I went into it expecting that the things I wanted from a tech lead would be the things my team wanted from a tech lead....but it turns out everyone is different, and expects different things from their leaders. I've also done a lot of reflecting on what I want to be doing with my time, versus doing what I think others expect of me.

Cream City Code

Cream City Code 2019 was not great. The event itself was great...the organization leading up to it, not so much. I’ve helped organize this event for its entire life, and it feels like a third child to me. I love it so much it hurts.

But the organization went so disastrously bad this year that I had to step away. The core CCC team made the decision early on to join forces with another event. We were excited at the prospect of having less work to do, fewer costs to cover, and a unique spin on a tech conference. Many of our problems from previous years seemed like they’d be solved.

As the year went on, it became clear that our expectations were not going to be met. As we got closer to the date of the event, we felt increasingly helpless to do anything about it.

I lost sleep. I felt awful physically. I ruminated. After talking to my therapist a few sessions in a row, I decided to dump the work on the rest of the core team and remove myself from organization, because my well-being couldn’t handle being around it. As they’ve always done, my friends - especially Rachel Krause, David Pine, Ben Felda, Adam Pritzl - worked ridiculously hard and put together an amazing event.

The thing I learned most from CCC was to trust my instincts, and more importantly, to fight to defend my instincts. I am a passive person when it comes to conflict, and I give up quickly when I meet resistance. I need to stand stronger when I have strong beliefs.

Sporty Spice

I scaled back my participation in triathlons in 2019, so that I could better focus on trail running. I love trail running - it is very meditative for me.

I ran two trail half marathons. At the Dances With Dirt race in Devils Lake I fought off cramps for the last four miles in terrible heat and humidity. It wasn't a great race from a results perspective, but I loved it.

At the North Face Endurance Challenge in the Southern Kettle Moraine Forest, I got the results I wanted - a trail half marathon in under 2 hours.

One other cool thing happened this year - I won my age group at a small race in my wife's home town! It was supposed to be a triathlon, but heavy rain cancelled the bike portion. I haven't stood on a podium since the second grade, when I finished second in the Oconomowoc school district spelling bee. I lost on the word "embarrassed," if you must know.

In 2020, I'm going to run more trails. I'm in the process of choosing a marathon or 50k race. The North Face Endurance Challenge is cancelled or changed or...something..., and I don't know if it'll be back in Wisconsin. I've found a few other potential races, I just haven't decided which race I want to focus on yet.


Well-being was my biggest challenge of 2019. I started the year off with some health problems. Our 13 year old cat Mr. Turtle died. We hired someone to do a basement remodel, which was stressful and brought out the worst in me. I started seeing a therapist. Cream City Code wrecked me. I had some more physical health problems. I entered a midlife crisis, questioning why I was spending time doing things I didn't enjoy.

This is the reason I can't say 2019 was a smashing success. I had so many instances of success this year, and I'm grateful for and proud of all of them. But I also felt emotionally crushed for much of the year.

I'm doing better. As I've pulled myself further away from commitments, I've found time for myself. I've started playing piano and guitar on a regular basis. I'm bad at both, but I'm learning! I found some old drawings from art school, and they inspired me to draw again. We got a new cat - Captain Marble - and he is a punk, but also nice and cute.


The things I'm most focused on for the next year:

  • Continuing to find balance. I want my kids and my wife to get the best me, instead of the leftovers of a person stretched too thin. My scary thing for 2020 is to devote more time to myself and my family.

  • Undoing some very old habits and patterns. I quickly fall back into bad habits during intense but important conversations. I'm working hard with my therapist to break free from these loops in 2020.

  • Running a marathon (or 50k) on trail. Five years ago I said "I can't imagine ever wanting to run more than 6 miles," but here I am Β―\_(ツ)_/Β―. I really want "ultrarunner" to become part of my identity. It will take way more structure - I'll need to follow a training plan more closely than I ever have to run that long.

Aside from that, we'll see. I make no promises, other than that I shall do my best.