Twenty-Twenty wasn't a good year for a lot of people - except perhaps for Jeff Bezos and all those who profited from the pandemic. I almost didn't bother doing a review, but felt I owed it to myself and use it as an opportunity to highlight the good things that happened, despite all that went on.

The year of the worldwide pandemic, bullshit politics, white supremacists, racists, Brexit and a whole bunch of rubbish I won't get into - it's fair to say we won't be forgetting 2020 in a hurry.

As I said, I almost didn't bother doing a review of 2020 - we all know it wasn't a great year and it seems that these - 'year in review' posts have become less popular, probably because a lot of people didn't have a great year. But since I've been doing them for a few years I wanted to continue the tradition - even if it's just a way for me to review my year and see what I need to do better and to celebrate all the wins too.

Work

Like the previous year, my contract rolled over into 2020 as it was extended from a six-week contract to a rolling contract. I returned to the Chartered Management Institute and was there until mid-April 2020.

I was scheduled to start a new contract with Signet Jewelers, whom I have worked with before - at the start of March but unfortunately, the UK went into our first lockdown. Signet had to close their stores (Ernest Jones and H. Samuel) and most of their IT staff were put on furlough - which is something a lot of companies had to do to survive.

CMI offered to keep me on for another two weeks (it could have been longer, but they too had to tighten the purse strings).

After those extra two weeks of work at CMI - I went full into lockdown and homeschooling mode because my wife, being a primary school teacher had to work.

My mother in law, who normally looks after our children when my wife and I are both at work - with her being more at risk due to her health, she was staying in her room (she lives with us) and away from us as much as possible to minimise the risk of her catching covid from my wife due to my wife's risk of exposure at school.

This meant I was in charge of homeschooling our three children and also cooking our dinners as my wife was having to stay at work a lot later than usual as the school was open for the children of key workers. I'm lucky all our children know how to get their breakfasts and lunches without supervision.

I was happy doing this, even though it was hard work and mentally taxing. I love cooking normally, but having to do homeschooling and then cook every day, was tiring.

This also meant I didn't do any freelance work or even look for new contracts as I didn't think I'd cope with a full-time job and all the other jobs around the house.

I did think that once things started to go back to 'normal' after the lockdown was lifted that I would easily get another contract but unfortunately that didn't happen until mid-November.

Luckily I had been saving money - enough for three months worth of wages but unfortunately that wasn't enough to cover me during an unpredictable event like a worldwide pandemic and I ended up having to use the money I had put aside for paying my corporate tax bill for the previous year.

After the schools opened up again in September I started looking for work, mainly focusing on getting freelance work as the contract work market was still pretty dire - unless you were a JavaScript/React/[insert other JS framework] developer.

Work started to pick up in October and I also started a new contract as an Interaction Designer towards the end of November with Defra.

This contract is my first and last contract inside IR35. It has not been a great experience. For example, you can only use a certain number of Umbrella companies that are pre-approved by the recruitment agency and the end client. You can't use your own Ltd. company. You then spend ages reviewing the umbrella companies - looking for the cheapest rate - us freelancers don't care much about the 'employee' benefits.

Anyway, I won't go into it too much - let's just say I won't be doing any more inside IR35 contracts.

Freelance

When it became obvious to me that the contract market wasn't going to recover as quickly as I had hoped - I decided to focus on getting back into freelance work.

I put on my marketing hat and started letting all my connections know I was looking for freelance work and it paid off as I was contacted by someone who saw one of my tweets about going back to freelance work and asked me if I would redesign and rebuild their property search website which has been doing very well in terms of visitors and generating a good income, but the design was quite dated and in need of a refresh.

Then I took on a new web hosting client whose website had been built and hosted by one of his employees who was now an ex-employee.

As you can imagine that was a tricky position for me to be in as I had to liaise with a disgruntled ex-employee. Unfortunately, I never got given access to the old hosting or given a copy of the site and database.

I had managed to download a copy of the website using the command line utility 'wget' but unfortunately this doesn't work all that well when its a WordPress website.

The client did want a new website but he had wanted to wait until 2021 but this forced his hand to get moving with the new site. I spent some time researching and creating a proposal for them which they accepted.

The new website will be launching early on in the new year.

They will be my first freelance project where I have not designed the website myself but instead hired a designer to do this - my very good friend and excellent designer, Fern Taylor.

Personal

I'm pretty sure we or most of us had a rubbish 2020 - mine wasn't great but I know it could have been much much worse. We were very lucky to not have caught covid or have lost anyone to it.

But on a more positive note - I completed the Couch to 5k program - I never thought I'd enjoy running but I have enjoyed getting into it. Especially running in the summer with the lovely Suffolk Coastal views to one side and farm fields to the other, whilst listening to dance music.

I decide to isolate right from the beginning – even before the first lockdown was announced – as much as possible – I didn’t leave the house at all unless it was for dog walks or going for a run.

Since my wife was already at work, being a teacher and already at higher risk - she decided that she could do the weekly shopping trip since Tesco was only allowing those at risk to use delivery slots.

But we used that time to get loads of DIY done in the house - we painted all the hallway walls and ceilings, my mother in laws bedroom, planned and hung a load of picture frames.

Side Projects

I didn’t have many side projects this year, but I did have a few things I focused on.

Chicks

On a bit of a personal 'side project' one of our chickens became broody and after a few weeks and one failed attempt, we got two beautiful chicks.

Two young chicks

Blogging

I blogged a bit more than the previous year - a total of seven blog posts, whereas in 2019 I only wrote five blog post. I also managed to post 27 notes in 2020.

In 2019 I jumped on the week-notes bandwagon but it soon started to feel a bit repetitive with not much to write about. Then I saw Clive Walker was doing monthly notes and I thought that would be better-suited format and I managed to stick with it - writing one for every month of 2020.

Looking forward to 2021 I want to continue blogging – I had some very encouraging comments from people finding my posts useful and that was great but it’s also improving my writing skills and ability to better communicate about a particular subject.

My Website

I guess a side project is something you work on the side – so I guess my website was my main side project for the year.

I have spent quite a bit of time improving the performance of my website over the year. I also managed to add more to it.

I delved into security headers and that lead to further improvements to my website performance and overall user experience.

Another side project was a website I designed and built for a friend's martial arts business – Kuk Sool Won Woodbridge.

This was a fairly simple, bright design and a huge improvement on their previous website. All hand-coded with HTML, Sass and using Eleventy with Nunjucks templates.

I worked on another side project, which wasn’t planned – I built and released my first 11ty plugin – Cloudinary Images which allows the user to embed an image from cloudinary in your markup.

This is the first time I released anything code related to the wild. It got quite a bit of interest when released – including a 'like' from Chris Coyer.

Reading

I finally finished the Stephen King series The Dark Tower – all 8 books!

My fiction reading for quite a few years has just been Stephen King books for two reasons – I like his work and I have quite a few of his books. But after the Dark Tower series I fancied a change and have started reading The Fireman by Joe Hill (yes, Stephen King’s son 😁).

I also did a lot more reading from my Instapaper archive and I started tracking my monthly reads and sharing them on my monthly notes posts.

That’s it!

Well, it’s taken me all of January to get this review written and typed up. Just goes to show what kind of year 2020 was that I was so eager to write this.

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