2021 in review

· 6 min read

As another turbulent year has drawn to a close, I’m jotting down my usual thoughts on achievements from the past year. I find these reviews important for my self-reflection more than anything. It’s easy to get wrapped up in work and the challenging circumstances that the pandemic puts us in. However, it’s also essential to take the time to look at what we’ve done to progress ourselves.

Sometimes progression isn’t obvious, like a promotion or finishing a particular project, but I’m a firm believer that we grow for the better through difficult times.

Finishing with Covéa Digital

I’ve already documented the work I completed for Covéa Digital but considering it took up much of my time in 2021, it was worth mentioning here. I learned a lot at Covéa, and I am incredibly proud of the change and influence during my time there. Working with the CTIO as Head of Engineering allowed me to work on technical and cultural challenges.

I delivered a transformation piece on the Engineering function, helping mature our practices and approach to software development. I also spent most of my time ensuring the rest of the business understood the most optimal way to build applications, to provide the time and focus for the engineers to do things properly.

This consultancy project was a large piece of work, with a team of well over 200 people and a budget to match that scale. During an intense year of recruitment in our industry, I spent time refining my approach to hiring and organising a sizeable function to ensure we were well resourced at all times. Achieving this wasn’t always easy, and I’m sure others in the industry can relate to the constant recruitment challenges in a remote world.

Delivering a live-streamed conference (again)

Optimistically, towards the end of 2020, I hoped to run an in-person conference in 2021, but the pandemic and the government restrictions continued. Safety is paramount to me for any event I run, and yet again, it just wasn’t possible to deliver an in-person experience. Lockdowns preventing groups from meeting was the final blow to any hope for an in-person event, but this was absolutely the right decision in line with hospitalisation data proving more people were becoming sick again.

That said, I’m incredibly proud of the event we delivered. Having had the experience of delivering a conference remotely in 2020, we knew the format well and had the time to prepare the content ahead of the event. We also benefited from reusing some of the infrastructure from the previous year.

We brought Phil back up to Leeds and created a hybrid version of the event. We rented a studio to deliver the MC component of the day and knitted this together with the pre-recorded content while the speakers were on hand to answer any audience questions. I was pretty pleased with the production quality and the response on the day, and I am grateful to all who helped make it a success.

Running more infrequent free events

If I were to look at one improvement for last year, it would have been to prioritise more regular events. I only managed to do a single event alongside the conference last year. I think this was partly because many people were fatigued from streamed events (myself included). While the conference was more of a focal point for people to look forward to, I think the demand for streamed events on a weekday evening was much lower last year.

That said, I did a brilliant event with Lianne Potter. The conversation flowed well, and we touched on many good points surrounding the primary topic of Security. I’m hoping to do more of these in the future.

Taking the podcast (not so) seriously

With the more regular events taking a back-seat, I did spend more time focusing on the podcast. Starting at the end of 2019, I had originally been the solo host of Off Script, pitching it as…

A podcast for the tech community. The theme for Off Script is to challenge ideas and opinions within the tech community. We dig into important topics with special guests, talking frankly in an unscripted setting.

After a few episodes, it became clear I needed a co-host to help the format flow and to have someone to bounce off. My friend James was a natural choice for this position. We have long had conversations about the state of technology, our opinions on programming languages and patterns, as well as peripheral topics on software development. It was a pleasure to welcome him to the podcast in episode #1, so from episode #7, we began the regular podcasts together as co-hosts.

We’re averaging two episodes a month now and have a long list of topics to tackle in 2022, including NFT’s, the Metaverse and what the hell web3 is (spoiler: nothing but a marketing term).

Re-imagining the brand architecture for Hey!

As I look towards the conference this year, it feels like there might be a chance we can host a hybrid event with some in-person presence. While looking at this, it became more apparent that there were some inconsistencies in how the Hey! events brand is perceived. We have talks, podcasts and conferences; however, an attendee can’t find all of it in one place. My aim for this year is to fix that by centralising all resources and information for talks, conferences and podcasts in a single location.

The new name for this will be Hey! Presents. Whether you want to listen to tech podcasts, attend community events, or a full-day conference, you’ll have one place to find everything. This piece is still a work in progress, but expect more information in the coming weeks.

Speaking at the CIO 100 Summit

Finally, as part of my work with Covéa, the CTIO and I attended the CIO Summit. I took part in a panel called “IT confronts climate change”, where I discussed some of the work I’ve been doing on Green Engineering.

As engineers, we’re often unaware of the climate impact regarding the applications we build, so my contribution to this panel was how we need to be mindful of our footprint and think differently about engineering applications. The discussion covered various topics, from immutable infrastructures to carbon efficiency.

Sadly, the panel recording isn’t publicly available, but it’s a topic I enjoy discussing, so if you’re interested in chatting more about this, then get in touch.

Here’s to looking forward to a year when things stabilise and the mental effort of planning things becomes a little easier!