What 2020 Taught Me

I’ve never given the word normal that much thought before, but 2020 has made me challenge my perceptions of normal. Normal is just a word used to describe the current social status quo. Normal right now is facemasks, excessive soap, and social distancing. If you’d have mentioned phrases like lockdown, covidiot, or keyworker in 2019, most people would have tilted their head to one side, given you a quizzical look and wondered just how large the wine was you had at lunchtime.

Equally, if you’d have said they’d be a fundraiser to buy Chris Whitty his own ‘next slide’ clicker, that Jonathan Van-Tam would become famous for comparing yoghurts to vaccines, or that Brexit would not be the biggest story of 2020 (in the UK), people would have likely nodded slowly and pretended that they had to leave to take an urgent call.

However, all of this is now entirely normal for me. Along with teachers giving kids grades because exams are cancelled, hugging loved ones through transparent shower curtains, and me waving manically at my webcam several times a day. Normal is a word that describes a constant state of flux. I’ll be using it more thoughtfully in the future. I’ll also be checking if I’m on mute.

These are my top three learnings from 2020.

I’m still a Java fan-girl

I pivoted my career from Technical Writing to Developer Advocacy in 2020 (via Product Owning). I did Java at university, it was a long time ago, but as it turns out, I still rather like it. Unlike the more prepared of my peers, I turned up at Sussex University to study Computer Science with virtually no knowledge beyond how to plug a computer in, and a bet to get a degree that I was determined to win. Retrospectively, I probably could have drunk a little less, and applied myself more, but I was 19 and somewhat lacking in life experience and foresight.

Fast-forward 20+ years, I’m no longer 19, I have some life experience, and occasionally I have foresight. This has meant that as my career comes full circle and back to Java (which, much like me, has changed a lot), I’m finding it much easier to work with the language and apply myself. It’s made me realise how much I love the language; although I think a good portion of that love is also attributed to the invention of IDEs such as IntelliJ IDEA. Wow do they make life easier when it comes to learning to code; I wish they’d been around in the ’90s!

I guess age isn’t all that bad after all (aside from pulling muscles doing mundane tasks around the house which seems to be part of the package). Coming back after a period of evolution is really enjoyable, especially in a role where I can learn and share with others who are on the same journey.

I enjoy speaking at (currently virtual) events

Honestly, before 2020 this terrified me. However, 2020 brought this new normal, which involved speaking from the safety of your dining room table/box room/kitchen/sofa to an audience. I’d never done a conference talk of any sort before except internally at places I worked. I joined the London Java Community, and I started with a 5-minute lightning talk. I got the bug; I got it really bad actually. I was offered the chance to moderate a YouTube panel through work and took it, and this week I’m giving a longer presentation to code nation, and I can’t wait. Oh, I’m also doing a podcast episode in a couple of weeks!

I really enjoy speaking, and I’m looking forward to being able to do it in person, so I can better learn the craft and meet more people. I’m sure that’s a completely different skill-set, but one I look forward to working on.

Time is a gift

2020 gave me the gift of time. It gave me an hour of commuting time back a day (at least), it gave me all my social commitments back (I’m still in mourning for these, but I hope they’ll be back one day), and it meant that the phrase “set the alarm” was a fairly pointless one. The 2020 commute to work could be managed in about 7 minutes providing I didn’t have bed hair.

There was no requirement to go anywhere, in fact, it was mostly against the law to go anywhere except the supermarket, and the one thing that needed to happen (work), felt oddly more manageable as a result. Of course, this is just my experience, for many people the 2020 experience robbed them of time, especially for those with children which I recognise.

Initially, I was a little bit confused with what I should do with all the time that I wasn’t used to having, but gradually I became rather accustomed to it. I have read more books this year than in the past five years combined, I have created myself a platform (this site), I have embarked on learning new things both for fun and in my job, I have crafted house-based gym routines that even the most sadistic gym-goer would be proud of, I have made quilts for friends and colleagues, I have contributed to open source projects, and I’ve started writing regular blogs on a variety of subjects too.


I know for many that 2020 has been an incredibly tough year. I have definitely had many low points as well, but these are the learnings that I’m taking from the year for myself, and I hope I can build on them in 2021; whatever that looks like.