Year in review: 2023

Scott Brady
Scott Brady
General

2023 saw a great working year for me. I’m finally in a role where I’m challenged and learning something daily, and towards the end of the year, I’ve made the initial transition to manager of managers. Reflecting on the year, I realize most of my focus and the thoughts that come to mind are work-related. I’ve let this website stagnate a bit, and maybe I’ve not been as focused on my public profile now that I have a career ladder to climb and don’t need to find fulfillment or progression myself.

So, just like the past two years, I will once again complain that it was hard to write this review, albeit for different reasons.

I’ve been doing these for a few years now, and I notice they have become much more personal, rather than some of the humble bragging you usually see in some of these kinds of articles. I find writing these incredibly useful and mark the moment I finally stop and reflect for a minute before starting work again. These articles are mainly for me now and in the future, and I’m good with that. Previous years: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018 Catch up.

I made fewer notes throughout the year in preparation for this review, so I used a template to help guide my self-reflection and what I wanted to focus on in 2024. I chose YearCompass based on a social media recommendation I can no longer recall. It wasn’t quite my style (one of the questions was, “I will make my surroundings cozy with these three things”), but it got me thinking about the year in a different way than usual and got me to reflect on how I’ve been approaching my work life recently. I’ll probably try a different template next year, though.

High-level changes

Let’s go through the significant changes in my life this year rather than the usual highlights:

  • Interim Senior Engineering Manager (SEM): In September, I made the initial transition to manager of managers at ClearBank. This is a temporary role, with a minimum duration of April 2024, and while I’m enjoying being part of the bigger picture again, I’m not going to pretend it is an easy role. This might be due to the role itself, though. There are a lot of teams and a lot of different products in the UK payments space, so there’s a lot to juggle. My line manager recently asked if I was offered a pay rise to do either an SEM or Engineering Manager role, which would I choose? My initial answer was to stick with this SEM role, but I feel like my answer changes daily. Still, when I think about the future, this is the role and career path I see myself in.
  • ADHD diagnosis: I’ve not really shared this one beyond close friends and family, but I’ve decided to start being more open about this, as it is nothing to be ashamed of. Early this year, I decided to pursue a diagnosis of ADHD. By “pursue”, I mean that I’ve always known something is different with the way my brain works, but it got to a point where it was a disorder. In 2022, I found myself in a job I loved, but without coding to hyper-focus on, I had to admit that my inability to concentrate without being in the zone or the perfect mood was starting to seriously affect my work and personal life. Medication has changed how my brain works and allowed me to experience this odd thing called happiness in my everyday life. I have a draft article about this that I hope I’ll one day have the confidence to publish.
  • William: The terrible twos haven’t been too bad so far , but the little man is starting to speak more, interact with people, and show affection. He’s so freaking cute.

The state of scottbrady91.com

I’ve really let this website stagnate this year. Traffic is trending downward as niche content becomes outdated and evergreen content becomes stale, with competing articles taking the top spot on Google.

Graph of yearly traffic

I only managed to release three articles this year and update a handful of super old ones at the beginning of the year. My focus has been on my day job this year, and while I do have a few chunky articles in draft, I’ve really struggled to be happy enough with them to publish them since my usual approach of getting bored of editing and just releasing draft content has somewhat disappeared.

Blog in limbo

My approach this year has been a bit directionless. I’m finding more enjoyment in building and refactoring than writing or updating written content, which means I’ve found myself spending time on some absolutely random things when not poking at a legacy codebase at work. While this has brought some useful improvements to this website, such as a JSON editor for my popular JWT creation tool, it has also produced website design changes, CSS simplifications, JS performance improvements, and build pipeline tweaks that no one will ever notice. I even wrote an entire WebAuthn/FIDO2 library for ASP.NET Core on a whim while updating an old article that I have no intention of ever releasing. That article never got updated, either.

I tried to reduce the cognitive load of creating new articles by creating tooling that automatically converts draft articles from Microsoft Word to my preferred blog format and creates social media preview images, but it’s not changed anything, as I’m just not finishing articles.

These things have been fun and let me poke around in other programming languages and frameworks, but they haven’t really pushed this website forward, and you can see that reflected in the traffic and in my feelings toward my self-employed work.

Let’s see what the new year brings, but I’m expecting this lack of content to continue into 2024 as I focus on building and refactoring as a way of decompressing. I’ll at least add some direction by focusing on building something that can be monetized.

I did want to migrate to scottbrady.io this year, but I bundled that domain migration plan in with moving from a Windows-based Azure App Service to a Linux/Docker hosting model, which means it hasn’t happened. I did upgrade all other websites on the app service plan to ASP.NET Core, including an Umbraco website, which was a surprisingly painless experience and saw a major performance change. How did we ever accept life with ASP.NET before ASP.NET Core?

Web security and identity

While I still find interest in my web security and identity niche and enjoy talking about it (presenting & consultancy), I don’t think I’ll be returning any time soon. That leaves this blog in a bit of limbo.

I’m enjoying my job too much, and it provides me with enough of a challenge that I no longer need to create challenges and learning opportunities for myself as I have in previous years. I have a career ladder to climb beyond waiting for others to retire, and I have experienced leaders to learn from who can provide valuable insights into my performance and where I need to focus.

In fact, in Q1, I turned down the opportunity to take a senior leadership role within a security team. While this would have strapped a rocket to my career and provided me with more than enough of a challenge, it would have sent my career in a direction that I don’t think I want (CISO) and possibly in a direction that would have been hard to change. It was a tough decision that prioritized long-term happiness and learning vs. early career progression.

Articles in 2023

I did manage to get a few things released this year:

  • Challenges 7-12: Implementing and breaking AES ECB – I finally managed to pick these up again after being put off by challenge 7. It turns out I had been reading the challenge wrong, and it was much simpler than I originally thought.
  • Loading RSA Keys in .NET – a cheat sheet for various ways of using RSA keys in .NET, similar to my previous article about elliptic curve cryptography.
  • Book notes & reflections: An Elegant Puzzle – another giant article of book notes with a smattering of my own stories and self-reflection. I’m struggling with the size of these articles and how to handle them. I didn’t even like that book, but this article was still thousands of words long. This is putting me off reading new books, which is just absurd, so I’m looking to address this issue in 2024.

I did use some New Year momentum to work through my old articles and update anything outdated that still had traffic. This went well until I hit the FIDO article and spent a week obsessed with hacking together a new FIDO implementation.

Articles updated:

Monetization

Last year, I shared some insight about how my self-employed earnings are split and my intention to reduce my reliance on Pluralsight earnings.It’s roughly the same this year, not much change, mainly due to my focus on my full-time employment.

Revenue stream Percentage of income
Pluralsight 88.9% vs. 87.2%
Consultancy 10.1% vs. 10.0%
Conferences 0.0% vs. 2.0%
Adverts 0.8% vs. 0.6%
Affiliate 0.2% vs. 0.2%

While the revenue split hasn’t changed, I have had more repeat consultancy customers this year. While I can only offer out-of-hours consultancy services, it’s interesting to see how many customers make exceptions for this, especially after they’ve had poor experiences with alternative consultants. I have added a consultancy request form to my website to drive a few more leads; however, I’ve had to be a bit brutal with what I can accept due to time constraints.

For 2024, I am building some new OAuth-related tools and libraries that I plan on monetizing if there is interest in advanced features.

2023 in pictures

Okay, more baby (toddler) pictures. He’s getting big.

My son William in February 2023.
February
My son William in May 2023.
May
My son William in December 2023.
December
My family at the theatre.
William’s first trip to the theatre We took William to see an Olivier Award winning show: Hey Duggee The Live Theatre show.
My family on a steam train.
Christmas train William got to ride on a steam train thanks to his Great Granny. It blew his mind.

Center Parcs & Bluestone

A snapshot of William’s favorite TV shows over 2023 – because these are a huge part of my life, and their theme tunes haunt my every waking moment. Long gone are the days of watching Padding and Love Monster.

Hey Duggee and the Squirrels.
Hey Duggee
Spidey, Ghost Spider, Spin, Black Panther, Ms. Marvel, and Hulk.
Spidey and his Amazing Friends
Bluey and her family.
Bluey
All of the numberblocks
Numberblocks

Plans from 2023

  • Lose more weight (no longer overweight) – I got there for about a week, and then I went on holiday and started drinking beer again. My weight has gone up and down a few times this year (medication shortages haven’t helped), but overall, it has averaged down; it’s just not naturally sitting at that magic number I wanted it to.
  • Leadership – this has been my focus for the year. I’ve made mistakes, but overall, I’ve improved on things. I worked well with my Lemurs, and we made some big changes to their legacy architecture and system stability this year. Managing managers is now a thing I’m gaining experience in with my new interim position, and it’s a new challenge and learning experience each day.
  • More leadership blogging – I got one article released, which is an achievement based on the size of it. As I mentioned, the last two articles have been a bit bloated, and I need to mix up my approach as it is putting me off reading. I currently have two more book notes to write up, and my procrastination tells me something needs to change.
  • Pursue external sources of income – I didn’t manage to get anything out there in 2023, but I’ve made a healthy start in the background. I’m pushing my consultancy services a bit more and I have some new identity tools on the way in 2024.
  • Update old articles – I used some New Year momentum to work through articles in date order, but this completely stopped once I hit a few that required full rewrites. I finished one rewrite, but it took a lot of effort. A more focused approach will be necessary for future updates. Maybe they don’t need to be perfect, but they need to be at least factually correct again.

Plans for 2024

These yearly intentions aren’t providing much value for me besides offering a snapshot of where my mind was at during the previous Christmas break. This year, I’m going to try focussing on some habits and guiding principles for the year. Hopefully, that will provide that self-reflective snapshot for myself in years to come, but also some direction for the year, rather than quantitative goals that are easy to excuse once missed.

  • Create time for self-reflection – I realize one of the main reasons I’ve felt a bit unfocused is that I haven’t created much time for self-reflection. I’ve found that I’m always “busy”, which isn’t a good thing and isn’t an excuse for treading water in regard to personal development. I’ve found myself reacting and doing things well enough rather than reflecting on what went well, what didn’t, and what I’d like to try differently next time. This lack of development leads to stale meetings, repeat mistakes, and the feeling of treading water (or struggling to keep your head above water when things get too much). This year, I want to build a habit of self-reflection.
  • Build my product understanding – while I’ve always prided myself on being a product-focused engineer (or maybe I was the product), my first experience of “product” in agile organizations was a shock to the system. Who are these people who don’t understand the system, and why don’t the engineers know anything about the product? Since then, I’ve met some interesting product managers and developed my own opinions on how product and engineering can successfully overlap and work together. I want to build on this in 2024 and expose myself to their world by building upon my own product management skills.
  • Slow down, breathe, and ask the right questions – I can get caught up in firefighting mode and struggle to snap out of it once the problem is solved. As a manager of managers, I want to step back and use my experience to ask the right questions. I need to improve how I decide whether the situation needs my JFDI approach or if this is an opportunity for others to make mistakes and learn.
  • Read more – the gargantuan book notes are an issue and are creating pressure to write notes or be in the perfect mood to absorb everything so that I don’t have to re-read the book. This is causing me to make excuses because it’s not the perfect moment, which just causes me not to read anything. Just open the damn book, Scott.
  • Build something new – building (or maybe refactoring for me) is fun. I’m scratching that itch and addressing my busy brain by using code from my full-time employment. This year, I’d like to point some of that focus and energy towards something that will benefit me directly. Let’s get something on here that isn’t written content and see if I can’t monetize it.
Benji the cat Toby the cat Squid the cat
My son shouting cat at a tiger.
Till next time – Happy New Year!