Tom Newby

Awesome things about 2018

20 Jan 2019

This is purely a listicle of stuff I did this year which I thought was awesome. It’s somewhat verbose and not particularly well written, but one of my goals in 2019 is to try and waste less time endlessly re-drafting blog posts.

Professional things

Joined an awesome team as a co-founder

I left my previous job in December 2017 to join a new team as a co-founder. 2018 was an awesome year, I’ve developed hugely as an individual and as a team we’ve accomplished so much.

We’re a 99% remote team - we work in person about once a fortnight. This was my first full-time remote gig, having only done a few days working from home previously. Like I had read, when a company is remote-first, the remote worker experience is really good (it’s much easier than doing a few days from home in a company that is largely based in an office).

I’ve been really grateful to have a team that is constantly trying to become better, quite consciously as well. We had an off-site last week where we shared a lot about each other personally and collectively built our company vision/mission and values. I left super happy to be surrounded by these people, brimming with optimism.

Learned to test Symfony apps well

I hadn’t really tested Symfony apps that much before. At most, some unit tests in PHPUnit that were tightly coupled to the implementation. Starting on a greenfields project, I knew day 1 was the best time to start learning this.

Really, we were struggling with it for months. Struggling in the sense that we didn’t know exactly how to do it, so it wasn’t really that bad. We knew where we wanted to end up (from a technical perspective), we just kept grinding to work out how to improve there. We took a lot of learnings from other frameworks and languages but got there in the end.

One of my goals for 2019 is to develop some more tangible resources from these learnings. Do talks, write blog posts, courses/books.

Properly learned TypeScript

I’d only used early version of Typescript. Lots has changed, the language is so good!

I remember struggling with including @typings from other projects, but it’s really not an issue anymore. I also noticed I don’t really use that many 3rd party dependencies with Aurelia, whereas when I had first used it I was probably more dependent on it.

Learned Vim for real and actually used it daily

This didn’t happen until October I’d say, but I’m so glad I did. Nathan had been bugging me for years to use it, I was capable enough for various CLI based text editing purposes (editing config on servers, notably) but I wasn’t able to use it for a full days work.

Now I’ve used IdeaVim to add it to PhpStorm and love it. It probably took me about 2 weeks to become particularly “fluent” in it. I noticed that while I was adapting, I was thinking about what keys I was pressing way more than regular IDE mode.

Invested in infrastructure automation

  • Ansible
  • Terraform
  • Packer

This was awesome. We had seen this done wrong before, so we knew what not to do. Still, Nathan spent a lot of time working to make this better and better. I have no regrets about how much time we spent on this (it was a few weeks in total over the year). It’s easy to suggest that startups shouldn’t bother, but it really is the cheapest time to do it, and now I’m more of the opinion of “it’s not time-consuming, you just don’t know how to do it yet” and it’s definitely worth doing.

Our remote-dev, a recent graduate, rebuilt AMI’s and cycled the instances in the autoscaling group at 4pm on a Friday afternoon while we all had a beer on Zoom. We put enough into the automation (and documentation!) that we felt comfortable enough to do this.

Nathan writes on his blog about his learnings with all this infrastructure stuff, if you’re interested.

Invested in the development process

This is still a moving beast, (as it always will be) but we set this up from a pretty early point. I’m intending to write a blog post on the exact mechanics, but we’ve got a nice system setup that manages a lot of the feedback loops that is often a gripe among tech and non-tech people in businesses.


Personal things

Bought an ultrawide

This one was a pretty minor one, but I’m glad I did it this year. I find it’s very easy to have to IDE editing windows open without struggling for screen real estate.

Bought a standing desk

This wasn’t until about September I think. I bought an electric sit/stand desk from Officeworks. Not standing up all day is awesome. Particularly when I’ve been training heavily.

It’s strangely just nice to walk up to your desk and not have to sit down. It sounds lazy, but just like walking into the study to quickly Google things.

Consistently went to the gym

Not sure how many times, but roughly 2-4 times per week all year. Brief break while I went to physio for what turned out to be a fairly non-issue.

Gym was end of the street for me, which I was really grateful for - There was a time I was doing 5 mornings a week “before work”. This year I’m changing to a Powerlifting specific gym to be surrounding with more like-minded people.

Competed in two (amateur) powerlifting competitions

I competed in an amateur powerlifting competition (squat, bench, deadlift) in March. After registering a few months before, it massively focused me.

At this first competition is lifted 365kg at 93kg body weight for a Wilks score of 229. My only goal was to break 200, which I did quite easily.

After the competition, my interest waned and I had some physio shit come up which had me not train particularly much for about 8 weeks. From this experience, I learned setting a dated goal like a competition totally focused my training. I roughly committed to a November comp (there was no date set) to try and get back on the horse which seemed to help.

At the second competition I lifted 447.5kg at 97kg for a Wilks of 275. I had some lofty goals of a 185kg squat, body weight bench and a 200kg deadlift. I missed all of those goals, but otherwise was happy with my performance, it was just a few months too soon for me.

Got two Dexa body scans

Being a ‘numbers person’ and someone competing in a strength sport, I naturally was inquisitive about my bodyfat percentages. I knew it was high, but didn’t know what number. I also found it challenging to appreciate changes in body composition - I was trying to lose fat and gain muscle after all!

Dexa scans are a type of X-Ray that uses two wavelengths to classify mass as bone, muscle and fat. It was originally intended to diagnose osteoporosis but turns out it’s not bad at measuring body composition too!

I got scans on the 24th of May and the 29th of November - about 6 months apart.

Results comparison

The results aren’t groundbreaking by any means, but I lost 0.8kg fat and put on 3.2kg of muscle. The net result to the scales was putting on 2.3kg of mass, which I had assumed was mostly fat. I was very pleased with the result and it re-energised me to jump back into training.

Got better at cooking

I’ve always been a (over)confident cook, having been cooking since I was a young age with family, but I was rough and imprecise. This year we really got stuck into the Bon Appetit universe: excellent YouTube videos and a great recipe archive and articles. Having also worked from home as well, I really started to improve the way I cook as I cook most nights.

A rough collection of things that I’ve done that helped:

  • build a rough plan in your head of order of operations, particularly if you’re cooking solo
  • prepare (chop, gather ingredients etc.) before you start cooking, minimise the amount of concurrency (ie chopping while cooking something else) so you can focus on watching and responding to how things cook
  • mise en place - don’t be afraid of using more bowls than necessary - once it’s chopped, get it off the board!
  • tried to work on balancing and layering flavours: lots of fresh herbs, spices and oils - not one, not many but a few flavours in harmony

I post stories on Instagram a few times each week of the dinner I made.

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