2020, A Post Mortem

2020 is coming to a close, and I'd like to take some time to look back on this bizarre year. I didn't do one of these for 2019 unfortunately, but you can read my 2017 and 2018 post mortems here.

What can I possibly say about 2020 that hasn't been said before much more eloquently than I ever could? We've gone - are going through - a pandemic. Some of my close friends got sick for weeks on end, and whilst I've managed to dodge the virus until now, this year was a lonely one.

The pandemic

I started January with a two-week holiday in Portugal. There were some rumours about a virus in China, but I wasn't worried. Not too long after coming back, I booked a trip to the Canary Islands in March. I was planning on staying at Nine, a co-living space. I'd spent some time at SunDesk in Morocco in 2019 and really enjoyed the co-working experience, and I couldn't wait to do it again in Spain.

I was supposed to leave on March 18. On March 14, a complete lockdown was instated in The Netherlands. I was simultaneously terrified, excited, horrified, and elated. I took long walks in my neighbourhood, taking photos of an empty Dam Square and a Red Light District without the hundreds of tourists. I freaked out over the lack of toilet paper in stores. In the first month, I ordered Uber Eats like eight times (and I love cooking!). I didn't physically touch another human for weeks. I did dinners and birthdays over Zoom and cried online with friends over the state of things. I was terrified to catch COVID - not because I was afraid of getting sick, but I couldn't stand the idea of accidentally infecting someone else.

I live in a 170 sq ft (16 sq m2) apartment, and in mid-April I had a mild case of cabin fever. I couldn't exercise, go to the office, or go to a café to work -- my entire life has shrunk down to these 170 square feet. I've been eating, sleeping, working and relaxing in the same room since March. As I write this, gyms are once again closed and we're in a stricter lockdown than at the beginning of the pandemic. With the vaccines slowly being rolled out, I am seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, but suffice to say I'd like to forget 2020 as soon as possible :)

That's not to say nothing good happened! I landed an amazing new job, and in the summer I was lucky enough to go to Berlin to meet up with friends. I also took a walking holiday in the south of The Netherlands (we have hills there! One or two, but they're there!), giving me a much needed break from my head. I've been practising yoga consistently and definitely gotten stronger physically. I feel better in my body than I have in years. I signed up for a Korean language course, and I'm already looking forward to when gyms open back up and I can take real-life yoga classes again.

Switching jobs

At the start of the year, I was approached by a recruiter for well-known, "hot" Dutch tech company to interview for a job. I was happy at my job at the NOS, and didn't have any intention of leaving. I decided to take them up on their offer so I could practice my interviewing skills, and with no pressure behind it, I thought it'd be a good way to get out of my comfort zone. At best, I'd get a new job that paid better, at worst, I would've met some cool new people and learned more about how I am positioned in the tech market.

It started very positively, but quickly spiralled into one of the shittiest interviewing experiences I've ever had. Here's a rundown:

  1. A recruiter reaches out with one of the coolest recruiting e-mails I've ever seen. I'm excited!
  2. I visit the office (this was pre-lockdown) and meet people from the "Team X", the team I'd be interviewing for.
  3. I am asked to do a technical test at home. I can use any technology I like, and I decide on Vue. It takes me about six hours, spread out over a week or so. (One note: I am never, ever doing unpaid assignments again.)
  4. I have a technical interview with Team X. We hit it off well.
  5. About two weeks later, they send me an email. The company decided not to move forward, specifically stating COVID-19 uncertainties as the cause of this. I'm disappointed, especially because it took so long for them to get back to me, but it makes sense. I move on! I still have my perfectly fine current job.
  6. Several weeks later, the CTO reaches out to me with a different opportunity, writing that they decided not to move forward not because of COVID, but because I don’t know React well enough. I'd never mentioned having any proficiency with React and it seemed no problem at all during the technical assessment and interview, but okay. This should've been a red flag, but I have to admit: I was pretty flattered since the CTO reached out to me directly. I ask him why my lack of React experience never came up before, and he chalks it up to a miscommunication. He tells me there's a position open on a different team, and if I'd like to interview with them. I accept.
  7. I take the time to do another interview with the lead of this team ("Team Y").
  8. I do another long technical interview with people on Team Y.
  9. After several days of waiting I receive an e-mail from Team Y's team lead. Turns out Team Y actually doesn’t have any open positions: they were just thinking about adding a new person to the team, but they'd never actually made a definitive decision. I realize I've been put through several hours of interviews for nothing. However, they tell me, there’s a third team that is possibly interested. They say they realize it's a little annoying, but I'd only have to do a couple more interviews since I'd already done so many.

In Dutch we have a saying: daar zakte mijn broek vanaf. I was flabbergasted! All this took place over about five months, and this is what I sent them after they so graciously offered me another chance to do fourth (!) round of interviews with a random team I hadn't heard of before:

To me it seems like you don't have any actual open positions (or you do, but you don't have any idea what you're looking for in a new hire) and you're passing me around like some sort of game of hot potato. I'm sure you are well-intentioned, but for me this entire process has been stressful, disheartening, time-consuming and quite frankly, insulting. I'm no longer interested.

The company e-mailed back with a (pretty weak) apology, but the damage had been done. I felt so stupid: I'd already had a great job, so why did I go through all of this? Why didn't I see the early warning signs? Was I so desperate to be recruited by a cool tech company? Was I actually happy at my then-job, or was I just being complacent? What did I really want for my career? Did I even want to stay in tech? All this combined with an ongoing pandemic was ..not great. Life felt stagnant. I slowly realised I wanted to move forward with my career, but I didn't know how. I felt stuck, and because there were very few things I could distract myself with such as travel, meeting friends and new people, etc, it was all I could think about. I felt like I was floating untethered through life, merely reacting to things with very little agency. It sucked. It took me until August-ish to stop feeling bitter and angry, and I was able to focus again on the good things I had going for me.

Then, in September, an position opened up at Confrere. I applied, because I'd heard nothing but great things about them.

The interviewing process at Confrere was the absolute opposite of the experience I'd been through earlier that year. I felt empowered, valued and appreciated, and it gave me back the confidence I'd lost. I really, really wanted the job, but I'd have been okay with a rejection too: the process made me realise I still love working in tech and making software. If I didn't get the job, I would've been excited to get back to my current job. We were doing some really cool things at the NOS that I'd gotten quite invested in.

When I got the job I was elated, but I was also worried: would switching jobs in the middle of a pandemic work out? My current job felt very safe and secure. Would I like working remotely full-time (answer: yes, and I'm never going back)? What's it like working somewhere where you've never seen your co-workers in real life (answer: it's fine)? I took the plunge, and I'm so happy I did. It's only been a month, but I'm learning so much cool new stuff. My new co-workers are fantastic! I'm doing a WebRTC course, studying several hours a day, and it feels wonderful. I can't wait to see what the new year brings :)

Wrapping up

I still have my own little forever sideproject, what.pm. I use it to track what I read and watch every year. I haven't worked on it for a while and it needs some love, and I'm excited to get started on that next week. So far in 2020, I've read 53 books, watched 42 movies, and saw 36 seasons worth of TV shows 🤠

Wew. To anyone reading this: I hope 2021 is a good year for you. If you made it through 2020, you're a winner. Just surviving is a massive accomplishment and I'm proud of you 🧡