Random image I took in my apartment. June 2020.

2019 In Review

June 2020

I'm cheating a bit. I'm writing this in the middle of 2020. But I really wanted to do it for whatever reason. I felt like I had to. After all, you only have one opportunity per year to do it ;-)

I've never done this exercise but I think it's worth taking the time to review the previous year as a whole. It puts things into perspective. I usually plan my tasks on a weekly basis. And one says that people overestimate what they can do short-term but underestimate what they can accomplish long-term. This review will help me in taking a step back and appreciate everything I've accomplished in 2019.

I will keep it simple this time and describe what I've done, category by category. I was thinking about the following categories: photography, videography, my main job, freelancing and personal finance.

Landscape Photography

I've a passion for landscape photography. I don't know how it happened, it just fell on me. There is nothing more exciting for me than being in front of an amazing landscape waiting for the sunrise or sunset. The landscape changes every few minutes. It fascinates me. I've also noticed that it's a way for me to be in the moment with just nature, a few people I know and the camera.

2019 was an amazing year for my landscape photography passion. I did three trips overall: two in the Dolomites in Italy and one in Iceland. Those landscapes were gorgeous. I couldn't believe my eyes.

I already know that it won't be the same in 2020 but I'm so grateful for those three amazing trips that it doesn't really matter. I see this passion as something long term (think 10 or 20 years).

If you're interested, you can check the results of those photography trips here:

On the gear side, after spending two years with the little Sony 6500 and two prime lenses, I finally purchased my dream camera: the Sony A7 III. I wanted something more convenient than primes for my travel photography and there was no quality zoom at the time for the 6500. What can I say, this camera is a beast. I made this choice because it's equally good at photos and videos. I actually didn't expect the switch from the Sony 6500 to the A7 III to be that great. I wanted my photography to be good enough and waited to know if it wasn't a short-lived passion to justify such an expense. I expect this camera to last, unless I give in to a model with a higher resolution. :-)

Videography Hobby

I've also developed a strong passion for videography. Maybe even more so than for photography. I love how video transmits emotions. I started with a simple video of my girlfriend's niece when we were at the seaside. I didn't tell her that I was filming and I'll never forget how she reacted when I showed her the final video. She got teary-eyed watching her little niece. She still watches it from time to time. Videos are that powerful.

In 2019 I filmed two weddings. Filming a wedding brings a lot of pressure. It's an intense and very long day. Events unfold very quickly and there is no room for error. In the end, the couples were so grateful for the results they told their friends to hire me for their own wedding. As a consequence I'll probably film some weddings in 2020 too.

I've also shot short commercials for three local businesses. Again they were really pleased and asked me multiple times to shoot other commercials. I genuinely enjoy helping those small businesses, it's a lot of fun.

All in all, I'm not doing it for the money. I could easily make way more money with other activities such as programming. But I love to meet entrepreneurs outside of the tech bubble. It's refreshing.

With videos, the only thing I'm struggling with is the time required to edit them. I've still some videos to finish but it can easily take 20 hours to edit them properly. As a consequence, I procrastinate.

My Product Manager Job

In January 2018, I made the jump from software developer to product manager. In the beginning I was busy learning everything at once: my new job and the company I joined at the same time.

In 2019 I got more comfortable with the job and took the time to reflect on how I was doing things. This gave me the opportunity to more deeply understand my role at Elium and more broadly the responsibility of a product manager. I'm now more confident in my skills and my added value.

We also had ambitious projects at Elium. We've implemented the entire free trial flow, from the sign-up to the billing. Previously each new customer had to go through our technical team to set up their platform. Sales people had to open a ticket to get a demo platform for their prospects. All of invoicing process was also manual. It was obviously a slow and frustrating process and had a significant impact on the business.

It took us several months of hard work but in May 2019 everything was running smoothly. Website visitors can now easily start a trial and test the product online without any interactions from our side. If they are happy with what they see, they can subscribe using a credit card.

The first page of the free trial flow.

It's something that's taken for granted by most, but Elium, like many companies in the early 2000s, started as an on-premises solution. Making the switch to a full SaaS was not trivial.

As a product manager, it was a huge project. It was technical and broad. People had high expectations. We had to set up not only the flow on the website, but also the credit card billing and the whole onboarding process. I'm really proud of what we've achieved with the team. It was a true collaboration with engineering, sales people, the executives, the product team and marketing. It's not perfect yet, but it's a huge step forward.

Freelancing

I'm freelancing on the side and take a project from time to time. This year I built a web platform for an engineering student association. They come from the same university I graduated. They contacted me because I built another platform for another student association. Word of mouth is truly a magical thing. I've never ever promoted myself and yet I've got project propositions every single year.

The admin panel of the app.

I tend to only accept greenfield projects because:

1) I don't want to deal with someone else's mess during my evening and weekends.

2) I want to have a 10x impact and the easiest way for me is to build something where there is nothing yet.

3) I can use a stack I'm very familiar with and be really productive.

The project went smoothly and the students were really happy with the platform. Like with the previous platform I built, it allows them to be way more productive and transparent than before. The project itself wasn't technically difficult, but I enjoy delivering great outcomes and seeing people be more productive with my software.

Personal Finance

I bought a brand new apartment in September 2017 and made a great trip to Canada and the US in mid-2018. I was broke. So with discipline I rebuilt my savings from scratch. My goal was to get at least 6 months of living expenses and filling my pension fund to the maximum. Although we did a trip to Iceland in mid-2019, I achieved my goals.

I'm glad to have my side hustles to finance my expensive photography and videography gear, it would have been more complicated otherwise to reach my financial goals.

I'm in a much more stable situation now and I can start being more ambitious with my money.

Wrapping Up

Looking back, I'm very happy and grateful for this year. Compared to 2018, it wasn't groundbreaking, but it was really fulfilling on a personal and professional level. I feel like I've deepened my photography, videography and product management skills and I'm now more confident in the value I'm delivering to others. I'm now in a stable enough situation to try ambitious things.

Let's see how I do in 2020.

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Crafted in 🇪🇺 by Julien De Coster