Twenty Twenty-One in review

I’ve not been writing much lately, but I have been keeping busy! As 2021 draws to a close, I wanted to reflect on everything I’ve done the past year. Things I learned, things I built, and what’s to come for 2022.

My 7th Year at Automattic

I’m approximately halfway through my 7th year at Automattic!

I’ve been working as an Individual Contributor (IC) with mostly JavaScript/TypeScript/React and PHP. I switched from working exclusively with PHP in 2019, and I’m having a great time working with Javascript, despite its quirks.

This year’s contributor graph from GitHub looks like this:

Contribution stats from this year

My contributions in the WooCommerce org were mainly within the WooCommerce Blocks repo. We’ve been building out both the new Cart and Checkout experience and the Store API that powers it—this will eventually land in WooCommerce core.

I’m still really excited about the Store API and the headless applications it enables (I chatted about this in an interview earlier in the year). It’s now reaching maturity and an acceptable level of stability, so I think it could land officially in core soon (hopefully 2022).

Yes, the Store API supports carts!

I had a little more confidence contributing to Gutenberg this year and received contributor status. That means I can merge things on GitHub. I worked on:

One cool thing we did this year was (as a team) to start the Epic React course. It covers the fundamentals and more advanced patterns, each with video explanation and coding exercises. Going into the course, I knew a fair amount about React Hooks, but it clearly explained how they worked in more depth and why. I realise it’s pretty expensive, but if it’s within your budget or your employer is willing to pay for it, it’s well worth doing, in my opinion.

Outside of work, I’ve dabbled with headless sites and GraphQL. I created a fun little app for generating random content for Dungeons and Dragons, which I stuck on Netlify.

The application has a WordPress backend that uses WP GraphQL—I wrote a series of posts covering this, including how to create a login system that may be worth reading if doing something similar.

I believe I’ve done a much better job balancing work and life this year, which is evident to me from my contributor graphs’ many voids (compared to previous years). Being able to switch off and do other things, especially on weekends, has helped with stress and burn-out, and I’m feeling much more relaxed in general—a positive change.

On my list for 2022; contribute to Gutenberg more, some leadership training should I want to go back to a lead role, and continue levelling up React and TypeScript skills.

Astrophotography

Looking back, I didn’t realise just how many incredible images I captured during 2021! I’ve got a decent dedicated astrophotography camera now (ASI 2600 MM), which is a mono camera that I’m using with narrowband filters. Compared to my previous cameras, it produces clean, low-noise images. It takes longer to process a colour image because of the number of frames needed per filter, but it is worth it.

My greatest banes are accurate focussing and the weather. A new “dome” is on my wishlist that will allow me to be better prepared for good weather conditions without having to drag 30kg of gear from the garage down the bottom of the garden!

You can see more of my Astro images on Flickr.

Unfortunately, I’ve had to take a short hiatus from imaging during these darker months because my telescope is buried in the garage while we remodel the house. Still, hopefully, by February, I can start imaging again. I’m hoping to revisit the Orion Nebula—my favourite target—in narrowband.

Other Photography

Getting out and about has been a challenge, given current events. I’ve not ventured far, which makes taking photos a little more tricky, especially when you’re a beginner and struggle with the subject matter. That said, we did do some travelling in the Summer months, and I took some lovely photos. A few of my favourites are below.

I’m currently rocking a Nikon z7ii. I love the ergonomics of the Nikon, and some of the new Z lenses are impressively sharp.

Movies, Games and Videos

Let’s be honest. 2021 wasn’t great for cinema (understandably). The streaming releases are convenient, but you lose some of the magic. Still, if I had to pick my favourites (note, I have not yet seen the new Spiderman Movie or Matrix Resurrections):

  • Shang-Chi for me has probably been the best Marvel Movie this year. Likeable lead, nice origin story, good fights.
  • The Suicide Squad for it’s dark humour. So much better than the first pitiful attempt. Some surprises too; James Gunn was not kidding when he said no-character was safe.
  • Ghostbusters Afterlife was full of nostalga and did not dissapoint. Some of the characters did lack development and probably could have been cut without impacting anything, but overall it worked, Paul Rudd and Mckenna Grace were great, and it was so nice to see the original cast back in action.

There have been a few modern gaming titles this year I’ve enjoyed:

  • Deathloop – I’ve not beaten this yet. It’s like groundhog day, with guns and lots of mystery.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 – This received a lot of stick for being a buggy mess, but I didn’t experience many issues on PS5. Great story, fun gameplay. Kinda like Blade Runner meets Grand Theft Auto.
  • Mass Effect Trology – Probably the best sci-fi RPGs of all time re-released on modern consoles. Number one shows it’s age a bit, but 2 and 3 are so good. Spent countless hours in this universe.
  • Super Mario 3D World – I don’t think there is a bad mario game. Not as good as Odyssey, but me and my son enjoyed it.

I reckon I’ve played way more retro games this year. I started streaming my retro game playthroughs on Twitch. I play bad, die a lot, and don’t have many followers, but it’s good fun, and I’d be playing anyway. It’s definitely given me an excuse to break out the old consoles again and experiment with mods, upscaling, and modern RGB cables.

I play beat ’em up games Tuesday nights.

Everything else…

  • For my retro streaming, this year I’ve procured a Sega Master System, an modded Super Famicom, Gamecube, a ZX Spectrum +2 (my old one died), and a BBC Micro. I’m amassing quite a collection!
  • I bravely modded my Sega Mega Drive to play NTSC games at 60hz.
  • I bravely tried to fix my Spectrum 48k and managed to replace the keyboard, but it ultimetely died. RIP.
  • I’ve used Arduino before, but this year I got my first Raspberry Pi to play with. I built a Picade to emulate arcade games and I love it!
Photo of a Picade Arcade Machine
Picade I built this year for arcade titles, powered by a Raspberry Pi 4
  • My Dungeons and Dragons group (nerd alert) which started in Lockdown have been playing weekly throughout 2021 online using Roll20. This game is a lot of fun and we have some much needed laughs.
I’m a wizard!
  • I also had a go at being Dungeon Master for the first time which was a little scary, but it all worked out well; we did the Rick and Morty dungeon. I made lots of custom assets for the NPCs and a custom dungeon with Dungeondraft. It looked much better visually that the source material in my opinion.
The stream was a disaster (lousy video), but the players had fun in my D&D one-shot.
  • Our little family is growing. Dexter is now 3 years old. He’s definetely a handful, and working from home can sometimes be a challenge with all the distractions. But we manage. He also enjoys games and loves Mario (well, Luigi more, so he knows his stuff).
  • Next year there will be a new challenge with Baby #2 arriving in March! I’m quite fond of the name Chuckie but that might be a hard sell to my wife. We shall see…

Thanks for reading my little round-up of 2021, and have a happy new year!

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Mike Jolley is a tech hobbyist, astrophotographer, retro gamer, and software engineer who works at Automattic and contributes to open-source projects such as WordPress and WooCommerce.