December 30, 2015 #,  #,  #,  #,  #,  #,  #

don’t call them resolutions: a year-in-optimistic-review

I’ve had the past week off, and have been pondering writing a ‘year-in-review’ thing for even longer than that. There’s only so many such posts you can see and be jealous of via Medium/Twitter/[insert social media] before you start to feel like you’re missing something. But I didn’t know how to quantify what I’d done, or even if I wanted to.

So rather than write a list of everything I did— which would exacerbate anxieties of how I would evaluate those things, whether or not they would be “enough,” as well as the fear of coming up short (whatever that might mean)— I wanted to look back at the highlights instead. I wanted to choose some overarching themes and look at what those highlights meant to me, and how they’ll influence my 2016. 2015 was tough in many ways, professionally and personally, and I could do with focusing on the good. Far too much of my time is spent worrying about accomplishment and measurement, and I wanted to take a moment to be proud, pleased, and optimistic about the year ahead. There’s no reason not to be.

So, five things I did…

I moved back to Canada.

I arrived in Scotland from Vancouver in September of 2010 thinking that I’d be there for one semester, but I never left. In Glasgow, I met an amazing woman, discovered my career, and grew up immeasurably. We moved to Edinburgh. We bought a flat together. I realised (with her help) what kind of work I wanted to do and finally had the courage and stability to go after it— I worked for several startups, ran a freelance practice, and felt challenged and fulfilled for the first time in ever.

But after four years, we both wanted a change. I wanted to go back to Canada and see if I could hack it as a proper adult, and she wanted to live somewhere besides Scotland. Myplanet offered me a job in October 2014, so we packed up our jack russell terrier (and some other belongings) and made the move to Canada. Wife’s visa paperwork took weeks and was no small feat, and neither was arranging to rent out our flat (she did the majority of this, and for that herculean effort I will forever be grateful). I spent six months in Toronto getting acclimated to Myplanet and the people that I would be spending my days working with, remotely and otherwise, before reuniting with my wife in Vancouver in April of 2015.

Now I’m back and we’re settled here, as is the aforementioned jack russell. I’m doing good work with good people, and am slowly getting involved in the local design community in a way that I hadn’t in Scotland— I hadn’t been ready to. I’ve already met some great designers and makers and gone to some excellent events, but I’ve also seen gaps in the community too, ones that will need filled in the future, and look forward to having the chance to help make things even better.

I spoke at my first conference(s).

Alterconf, Typebrigade, and &yetConf were kind enough to host me and allow me to share my thoughts with their audiences this year. Typebrigade was the first, my talk a result of a ‘Call for Speakers’ form on their site and an uncharacteristic flash of recklessness on my behalf— I’d never spoken anywhere before. Perhaps I hadn’t caffeinated yet that morning. But I wanted to talk about typefaces, Cyrillic in particular, and its implications on Eastern European identity and the war in Bosnia that I experienced as a child. They let me, and I’m so grateful.

For the most part, I was terrified, but managed to get all my words out coherently (and even enjoyed it, much to my surprise), and followed Typebrigade by speaking at Alterconf Toronto. There I rambled about concentrating on inclusion before “diversity,” on making sure our employees and colleagues feel included before becoming champions or role models.

And last but not least, at the wonderful &yet, I got to wax nostalgic about my early experiences of the internet, and the implications of anonymity on identity, self-esteem, and freedom. There was a theme developing here, but more on that later.

I started things.

Ever since getting started in this industry, I’d always felt guilty for not putting work “out there,” something to call my own, outside of my day-to-day job. I was jealous of people who seemed to churn out side projects and articles and play an active part of our community. This year, I finally did that, with two things. Each deserves its own post for all I’ve learned in the short time I’ve spent running them, but for now this will have to do.

Facets: After reading a couple of great longform pieces on diversity in the web and tech by minority authors, I really wanted a way to share them with people— there are so many initiatives these days to promote “diversity in tech” without knowing what it is, or understanding the experiences of those that such initiatives would benefit. As an avid writer and reader myself, I wanted a way to share the writing that I found profound, helpful, or informative in some way. This newsletter has helped me do that, as well as taught me so much about the challenges of minorities in STEM industries. It’s helped me look inward, too; I better understand the privileges I enjoy (as a white woman) as well as the disadvantages that I didn’t even know I was subject to (as a woman, occasionally androgynous, and a member of the LGBT community).

Origins: Sabrina Majeed‘s piece in Offscreen No.11 helped to inspire this, after making me reflect on the very first ‘eureka’ moment that I had while working with code— the moment that sparked my passion, even though I didn’t know it at the time. As a result, I wanted to hear about the eureka moments of other women in STEM, and how those moments led them to where they are now. For the project, I’ve interviewed women in academia, product design, and visual journalism, to name but a few. I’ve learned about the web and about interviewing, about asking the right questions to tell great stories, and these discoveries continue every day. I’ve loved the interviews I’ve done so far and the people I’ve met as a result, and hope that others have as well.

I began helping out with Offscreen.

As someone immersed in the digital world in my day-to-day, it’s been fascinating working on a print publication— and print most definitely is not dead. We know this now, but I’d never known just how different (and how fulfilling) it is to work on it, to have a tangible thing to commit to and hold at the end of the day, to engage with the digital world through print. I’ve learned so much from Offscreen (and from Kai) about how much work, anxiety, and stress goes into a single issue of a print magazine. There are so many potential leads to chase, questions to ask, and contributions to juggle before the right balance is found— if it is found at all. I’ve learned even more about diversity in tech, as well as the importance of not just having great ideas, but being able to articulate them.

My own ideas and opinions began to crystallize.

This is tangentially related to speaking, but I finally became confident enough this year to begin to articulate my own opinions in such a way that they were concrete ideas, spun out into talks and discussions with peers. It’s very easy to consume content and agree and share on Twitter, without necessarily having an opinion on it that we’re willing to defend. It’s even harder to take that opinion and articulate it into something meaningful, either in a project or a piece of writing, and subject it to the outside world.

That said, what I’m interested in most revolved around the interpersonal aspects of the web. My opinions and interests began to focus on identity: how the internet helps us express and explore ourselves as individuals, and how what we make and the communities online we create are reflections of that. This was the core of my &yet talk, and I want to keep exploring that idea and its technical implications.

I’m also interested in exploring the data behind work habits and patterns (for freelancers, remote workers, and the industry in general), and how we build better teams and better products when we are attentive to these individual rhythms.

…and moving into 2016, five things I want to do (don’t call them resolutions):

Keep running Facets and Origins: At least, as long as it makes me happy and fulfilled to do so, and I continue to learn from them. When I don’t feel they’re as good as they can possibly be, I’ll ask why and pivot as appropriate.

Collaborate more: Facets and Origins are solitary enterprises, and I want to work on more interdisciplinary work, either within the web or (even more exciting) outside of it. I especially want to get involved in technology as it intersects with print and/or physical spaces. If you’re doing work in these spaces, talk to me!

Give more talks: I’ve caught the bug! I want to talk again, at events of all kinds, not just about tech but about the personal, emotional, and sociological implications of what we create. The web permeates everything we do, and I want to talk about how, and how we can make our communities better and more diverse, both technically and personally.

Keep being reckless: What got me talking in the first place. I may not think I know what I’m doing, but it doesn’t matter— people might still be interested in what I have to say. Respond to calls for speakers and proposals, and see what happens.

Do less, meaningfully: I’ve been guilty of saying “yes” to projects just because I want to help, not because I feel I will get value from it. Without contradicting everything I said above, I don’t necessarily want to do more; I want to do the things which make me happy and bring me value. I want to read less, but get more out of what I do read. I want to be involved in projects, but only if they are of value to me, both professionally and personally. I want to kill more birds with less stones, or at least aspire to.

So here’s to a wonderful 2016, productive but thoughtful.

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