Joshua Keel

Highlights of 2019, and Looking Toward the New Decade

December 22, 2019

I’ve not been one to do a lot of reflection on the year’s passage, at least not in written form. I do, however, think there’s a lot of value in it, so I wanted to mark 2019 with some thoughts on where I’ve been and where I’m going.

I made a list (in rough chronological order) of some of the highlights of the year, as well as the themes I see emerging from the last 12 months.

1. 2019 was our first full year as a married couple.

My wife and I got married in the fall of last year, so this was our first year as husband and wife. It hasn’t been all unicorns and rainbows, but it has been a wonderful year together.

Since we both work from home, we’ve spent a lot of time with each other, and have grown closer, as well as worked through some big challenges we have each faced individually.

2. Our trip to beautiful Utah (and ng-conf).

I wanted to go to ng-conf, one of the biggest Angular web development conferences, since we use Angular at work, and I’ve been moving my career in a front-end development direction.

Since ng-conf is in Salt Lake City, and we had been wanting to travel out west, we decided to make a vacation of it. We spent our first week in southern Utah, at a little town called Moab, near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

The parks were amazing—beautiful, other-worldly and alien. We were only sad that we couldn’t visit all the other amazing national parks Utah has to offer. From Moab, we went north to Logan, where we stayed with friends for several days.

We ended up back in Salt Lake City, which is a beautiful place with incredibly straight, wide and grid-like roads. You can see mountains all around in the distance, and if you look down some of the main streets, you see a clear path cut through the city for what is probably miles. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The conference was great, with two days of workshops and some fantastic talks and panel discussions with the Angular team.

3. We bought our first home.

When we first moved to Raleigh early last year, we decided to rent downtown, until we could figure out the real estate situation in the area. At the beginning of this year, we got serious about looking for a place of our own.

We got a realtor with Redfin, who was an amazing help as we navigated what is a very competitive real estate market. We made multiple offers on houses we loved, but they fell through. Then finally, after many months of searching, and many frustrating moments, we went out one weekend to look at what is now our home.

There was no hesitation. We both said “yup, let’s do it”. It had just the right combination of size (~1,500 sq. ft.), bedrooms/bathrooms, fenced in yard, garage, well-organized kitchen, etc. that we had been looking for. And, thankfully, it was in our price range, although on the upper end.

We had to offer well above asking price, but our offer was accepted, and we moved in July. As first-time homebuyers, this was such a learning experience, but also a real joy to finally be settled and not have to move around every couple of years.

The best part is we can change whatever we want about our house, and not have to ask anyone’s permission. And because of the way the Raleigh market is, our mortgage is only slightly more than our rent used to be, and we have a nicer, bigger house.

4. I got promoted at work.

I was already a Senior Software Developer, now I’m just a more senior developer. 😂 It was great to be acknowledged at the office, especially as a full-time remote worker in an organization where few people work remotely. The pay increase has been nice as well, what with our home-buying and outfitting.

5. We had a fruitful heart-to-heart about our budget.

We use a budgeting app called You Need a Budget (YNAB), and I had been handling our finances. However, after my wife realized that I was talking a lot about my stress about money, we saw that we were not at all on the same page.

She thought everything was fine financially, whereas I was freaking out a little. We had to come face to face with our spending habits, and define some financial objectives to work toward. Once we did that, it has been mostly smooth sailing this year.

We have a weekly recurring calendar appointment to do a 15-minute budget check-in, during which we go over how our various budget categories are faring for the month, and what our spending priorities are. I find this extremely helpful, and I really don’t know how we managed without it for so long.

My stress has been greatly reduced, and overspending is now surfaced and dealt with. We’re also able to put money aside for various savings goals, like the new car we would love to have, or trips and home improvements. I’d say we’ve always been pretty financially responsible as a couple, but our new system gives us both more peace of mind.

6. I discovered the JAMstack.

I’ve noticed that one of my favorite things about software development is learning new tools. I think this is partly because I love learning in general, but also because better tools generally increase productivity, which means you get to make more cool stuff with less work.

JAMstack stands for JavaScript, APIs and Markup. It’s a way of building websites that has been around for many years, but a little company called Netlify popularized this term, and a community has coalesced around it.

I discovered this community earlier in the year, and got extremely excited about it. There are so many amazing startups like Stackbit, Forestry and StaticKit that are making life better for web developers every day.

I’m so enthusiastic about JAMstack that I redesigned and developed my website using JAMstack tools instead of WordPress, which I had been on for years. I’d love to continue learning about and contributing to the community in 2020.

7. We deepened and expanded our relationships.

Moving to a new place is never easy, and it has taken a while for us to develop friendships in Raleigh. In addition, one of my best friends tragically died last year, which left a big hole in my life.

We have developed some amazing new friendships, though, and I’m excited to continue building new relationships, meet new people, and learn and grow with the friends we have now. This is certainly one of my biggest priorities for 2020.

8. I made my first $$$ from writing. 💰

I signed up for Medium’s Partner Program a couple of months ago, and made $6.82 from my articles in November. This may not sound like much of an achievement, but I’ve never made any money from writing before.

To me, it’s important not because of the money, which is pittance. Instead, it’s one of those small victories that shows me that yes, it is possible to make money from your creative work. Keep going. Get better. Create value. Make shit happen.

A lot of people rag on Medium, but so far I’ve been nothing but impressed with the platform they’re building, and how they allow people to get paid for their work. There seems to be a small community of writers who are making their living on Medium, and I’m grateful that is even possible.

Key Themes of 2019

Without diving into too much detail, here are the key themes I’ve seen emerging in my interests and the way I spend my time.

Learning new skills

Entrepreneurship

Waking up to more of what I truly want out of life

Domestic life

2020 and Beyond

I of course have little idea what form 2020 will take, but I do know I want to keep focusing on building an audience by creating meaningful, valuable work. I plan to invest more in the JAMstack community and my front-end development skills. I will keep writing at least every week, if not more frequently.

I’ve had the idea for a memoir about my deeply religious childhood, my Fundamentalist Christian university experience, and my eventual move toward agnostic atheism. I’m not sure if I’m ready to commit to that project yet or not, but it’s something that has been brewing on the back burner for a while.

I want to meet new people and forge new relationships. As part of this, I’ve been reaching out to interesting people a lot more. Mostly online, but I’d like to expand that to some offline activities like Meetup groups and other local events.

My fitness habits started strong at the beginning of the year, but faltered midway through. I’d like to refocus on healthy eating habits and physical activity. My home gym is almost complete, so I will have little excuse for not making full use of it in the new year.

As always, I’m looking forward to seeing you here in 2020. Drop me a line if you have a minute. I’d love to hear from you.