Mark Boulton

That was the year that was

That was 2019.

What to say? It's been a little while since I wrote a post like this. For the past few years, the turn of the new year has been marred by work issues, family ill-health, and other such distractions. And, honestly, I'm not normally one for reflection and I should probably get a bit better at it.

Like many this year, I found myself getting increasingly embroiled in the UK's parliamentary gymnastics about Brexit. I tried to learn how parliament works, watching it almost daily for a few months, following the ups and downs of UK politics for the most of 2019. I can't say it helped my mental health, or my relationship with my family or distant friends who voted to leave the EU. I tried to understand other's point of view – and continue to do so – even by listening to Nigel Farage's radio show on LBC. I really, really tried to understand. But I'm not doing that in 2020; it didn't help. I still don't understand. Sure, I'm more informed and engaged in UK politics as a result, but much less positive and confident my country is being run by those that have the citizen's best interests in their hearts and minds. It makes me bitterly sad and angry that we're going to led by donkeys for at least the next decade, probably two. All I can hope for is electoral reform, strong opposition occupying the centre ground, and a true reflection of society represented in our government. But that's wishful thinking. And that's all I'm going to say about that. On to other things...

Work was tough this year. Our main project sponsor left. My project co-owner left. I have a new boss. All of which resulted in turbulent times for the team and I. That said, we did some really good, hard work. Continually resisting the urge the deliver short term, lipstick-on-a-pig-with-technical-debt solutions, in favour of digging deep on the hard problems: siloed data, building collaboration between siloed teams, building services not web sites. Always asking 'is what we're doing sustainable?' The work we’ve done on the new design system is really good and I’m very proud to have been a part of that project and look forward to seeing it in the wild later this year.

But it’s not been without its difficulties. As a leader, I try to be a good shit umbrella, but occasionally I'm just a shit umbrella. Trying to deliver good digital products in a shifting and transforming scientific/academic environment tested my resolve on many occasions and continues to do so. More on that another time.

2020 is a year in which I will focus on talking about, demonstrating, and teaching the work I want to be doing for the next ten years. As I move into the latter stages in my career I have choices before me and sometimes these choices are presented as binary: practitioner or leader? Designer or manager? Talker or maker? Freelancer or Agency owner? In-house or external? Of course, I'd argue each of these is a continuum and not a binary choice. Preferences fluctuate. A good role/person fit allows for this fluctuation, this ebb and flow of how work happens.

Side project work was good though. I spent a week in CERN working on recreating the WorldWideWeb browser with an amazing team. Remy has a whole series of blog posts on that (1, 2, 3, 4 and 5), and you can read about, and experience the browser over on the CERN site for the project. It really was incredible to spend a few days in the company of such wonderfully talented people. It just goes to show the power of really great balanced teams, focussed energy, and the best fondue you will ever eat. I also rebuilt this site in Eleventy and Netlify. In doing so, I Learnt a bunch of new stuff. I’m still pretty crap at JavaScript though. I should try and fix that. I started writing weeknotes and it’s helped me start writing again and get things out of my head. Even if they are mostly crappy first drafts and a stream of consciousness. 2020 will also be the year I finally launch that typography side project I've been working on since 2015. Promise.

Cycling was a big focus this year. I close out the year with my Strava stats being:

  • Distance: 7,105.1km
  • Time: 303h 36m
  • Elev Gain: 95,129 m

I'm a bit disappointed I didn't get that last 5000 metres of climbing to top out 100,000 metres this year. That's quite some elevation (even if some of it is virtual). I wish Strava could differentiate that in Zwift rides and not add it to your real-world total.

I rode up some big mountains this year: Sa Calobra, Puig Major, The Valley of Tears, Serenity, Soria in Gran Canaria – this blog post was a great help in planning rides and get a feel for what I was in for, Col Du Glandon, Col du Galibier, and Alpe D'Huez twice. I did my fastest 100 miles (5.5 hours), too. For me, that's pretty good.

In January I signed up to ride La Marmotte in July. It was really hard, but worthwhile. The mighty Galibier was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Above 2100 metres my legs just sort of stopped working. No goals in place for next year yet, but a lot floating around: triathlon (but I’d have to learn to enjoy running, I guess), some local races I’m keen to participate in, and my local sportive - the Dragon. But I’m carrying on with the training. I need goals, but more than that, I need structured training. I need people (Tim, and Emma) to be accountable to. Mostly for my mental health, to be honest. The added bonus with all that serious training is a: I have to think carefully about what and how I eat, b: I have to manage injury and illness sensibly, and c: I have to think in weeks and months, not hours and days. We're increasingly encouraged to think hour by minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Forcing oneself to pick a goal a year out, and then put in place a very structured plan of how to get there, has been very rewarding.

I’ve learnt so much about myself, my own mind and what I’m capable of (and not! Yet). I've also binged on books on nutrition, physiology and anatomy. Trying to understand what is happening to me as I train and get stronger. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to more of the same in 2020.

All around the blogosphere (haven't written that word in a while, but it's nice to write it again!) I see many posts from people recapping the decade. Honestly, I can't even really contemplate digging through what happened to me over the last ten years but it's been full of big, life changing events: having our second child, buying our second house and embarking on five years of serious renovations, starting a business, growing and selling two businesses and a startup product, getting laid off, getting fit and learning to ride a road bike, building a delivery team in my latest role, getting a dog. I've probably missed loads of things like health, family, friends, parents, holidays, conference trips, travelling. The last decade has been full of exciting, scary, rewarding hard work. And I hope the next decade is exactly the same. I'm not one for standing still. Buckle up, Boulton!