2018 in Review

It’s that time of year when everybody is writing year-end posts, and I am no exception. Using this opportunity to look back on what’s been accomplished in the last journey around the sun is helpful for me. (Here’s the 2017 version of this post for comparison.) Here we go!

We moved back to North Carolina early this year and bought our first house. We went from apartment-dwelling Manhattanites to suburbanites with a two-car garage. I love everything about it, and am much happier here. My garage gym is still awesome.

Penny is now a healthy, bubbly little 15-month-old. She eats almost everything, sleeps well, and gives really great hugs. She’s the best thing we’ve ever done, and she makes every day just a little bit better. Plus, I’ve only been peed on once!

I’ve got a few big things I’m working on for 2019. I can’t wait to tell y’all about them.

Books!

In 2018, my buddy Ben Gaines and I co-authored our book, Building Products for the Enterprise with O’Reilly. It was published early this year, and has done pretty well. Both Ben and I have heard from people fairly regularly who get in touch saying that our book helped them get their first gig in enterprise software, which is frankly amazing. I’m grateful to O’Reilly for the opportunity and to Ben for saying all the smart stuff.

Ben and I committed early on to donating 50% of our book proceeds to the charitable causes of our choice. He chose the International Rescue Committee, and I went with the New York City Rescue Mission. We didn’t write the book for the money (it’s not much!), but being able to send them a meaningful contribution every month from my O’Reilly check is a great feeling.

I also self-published my first completed novel, The Second Transit, for a while and then took it offline. I want to take another crack at editing and re-writing parts of it. I’m working on a second novel now, hopefully using some lessons I learned in that first, and hope to have it ready for a manuscript competition in late 2019. (I’ll be looking for beta readers, by the way. Drop me a line if you’re interested…)

The email update

My email update list had a big year. About a 200% increase in subscribers year-on-year. The average open rate has climbed to around 42%, and interestingly, the average link click rate almost doubled, to 22%. I sent it out on average every 3 weeks in 2018.

What I discovered doing this was that the thing that really drives signups is a popular blog post above all else. Signups kind of trickle in day by day, but when a post of mine goes big and there’s a spike in traffic, that’s when everyone signs up. Pretty much no one forwards it.

I mostly use my update to share interesting stuff I’ve read and provide a way for people to get my writing delivered to their inbox. Now that RSS is dead, social media or email subscriptions are pretty much the only ways the vast majority of your blog readership will ever hear of your new content.

Top posts of the year

My most-viewed post, by a mile, was “Don’t work ‘remotely’.” It hit #1 on Hacker News one day and completely blew my normal traffic out of the water.

Interestingly, someone who read that piece then posted another blog of mine to Hacker News, and that one went crazy too. For a few hours, 2 of the top 10 posts on HN were to my blog! (Several people alerted me to this on Twitter.) That piece was “Why you’re having trouble hiring,” all about why moving to SF/NYC is a raw deal to most mid-career people. That knock-on traffic made it my #2 most-viewed ever.

What’s a Senior Product Manager’s job?” was #3. That one was widely shared in a bunch of product management circles, and people liked it.

Learn to Sell” was actually written last year, but is now racking up really consistent traffic. Same with “The Distributed Company.” These two were #4 and #5, respectively.

Some pieces that I really liked but which didn’t really get as much traction were Losing Faith (American Christianity is imploding), This Meeting Should’ve Been an Email (our workplace organizational technologies are broken) and An Enterprise Primer (what consumer folks need to know when starting to work in enterprise).

I read some books

This year, I discovered audiobooks. I didn’t ditch podcasts completely, but I transitioned most of my listening time to books instead. As a new dad, I have pretty much zero time anymore to read, and if it weren’t for Audible, I pretty much wouldn’t be “reading” anything.

I also made a deliberate effort to increase my fiction diet. I think reading and absorbing really excellent stories makes us better, more compassionate and thoughtful people. As someone who’s also trying to write fiction, it’s also really useful for me to know my craft.

Strongly recommended – these were not only great stories, but the questions they raised had (/have) me thinking about them for long after I finished. You should really check them out.

  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Moving character-driven stories, with a lot to say about who we become as we get older.
  • Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The best sci-fi I’ve seen in a long, long time.
  • The Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. I’m not usually into “war books,” but this historical narrative of the Battle of Thermopylae blew my mind.
  • Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. I’m a big “KSR” fan, and this might be my favorite of his to date. It tells the story of humankind’s first attempt to settle a world outside our solar system.
  • The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Set in North Korea, this book challenges the reader about what an individual is, what freedom means to him/her, and whether our stories ever really belong to us.

Recommended if you’re into the topical area

  • On Writing by Stephen King. A classic.
  • Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke. The first half was tremendous.
  • Encounters at the Heart of the World by Elizabeth Fenn. This is a modern history of the Mandan Native Americans, which I knew nothing about, and I really liked it.
  • 1491 by Charles Mann. Everything you know about pre-Columbian America is probably wrong, or at least extremely incomplete. This book was exhilarating.
  • The Storm Before the Storm by Mike Duncan. It’s amazing to me how, in learning about Roman history, it’s easy to see how, in Mark Twain’s words, history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
  • The Sleepwalkers – How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark. I’ll be done with this in about a week. I knew very little about the origins of World War One, and I feel kind of nervous now that I do.

Just okay – these are all great books, but I just didn’t find myself thinking about them much a week or two after I finished them.

What’s next?

Like I said, I have a couple of cool projects planned in the upcoming year. I’m not ready to reveal just yet, but rest assured, I’ll let you know.

Thanks again for reading. Let me know if I can be helpful with whatever you’re up to.


I send out a semi-regular update with the most interesting stuff I've read recently, as well as a digest of my own blogging. Learn more about it and read old issues, or just sign up below. I won't spam you - promise.