Year in review: 2023

December 27, 2023

I've always found year-end reviews to be a helpful exercise. It's a nice time to pause, reflect, and plan for the future. I especially like doing them in the liminal space between Christmas and New Year's, where time stands still. If you've never done one, I highly recommend giving it a shot! (And if you have done one, I'd love to read it. I love reading them!)

I thought 2022 would forever be my wildest year, but 2023 proved me quite wrong. (You can read 2022's review here: Year in review: 2022.)

In 2023, I:

Surely 2024 will be more relaxed, right? Right.

From SaaS to content

The big takeaway for me this year was the shift from trying to create a SaaS product to fully embracing content creation. The release of the MySQL for Developers course probably marked the "official" beginning of this journey. However, a significant turning point came with the realization that a long-term SaaS project wouldn't work like we thought it was. (You can hear more about that here.) Despite the initial disappointment, this led to a liberating correction towards something else I truly enjoy: creating content, particularly videos.

Doing more of what works

The transition to video content creation has felt very natural. I'd been banging my head against the SaaS wall for years and years and not finding much success, but video felt like a breeze. I enjoy it, I think I'm good at it, and success has come so much easier! I burned out pretty hard on making a SaaS product because I just wasn't finding any success. That was really draining.

Making videos is hard work, but it doesn't feel as draining. I get a lot more energy from it. It's also what the "market" is asking of me. People kept asking for more and more videos. After the success of the MySQL course, the demand for more video content became evident.

It's an interesting thing to reflect on. The thing that I was trying so hard to get (SaaS) wasn't working, and it was tough. In contrast, making videos is easy for me, and it's working so much better. Could I have discovered that earlier?

It's moot at this point, but it is worth trying to avoid the same mistake in the future.

Screencasting.com

In September, I launched screencasting.com with the help of Jason Beggs and Mike McAlister. That went super well. I have big plans for that entity.

Launching this was an interesting contrast to my previous entrepreneurial efforts because it was shockingly straightforward. People told me, "I want you to teach a course on screencasting," I did that, and they paid me money for it. Kinda nice when it works out like that.

I want to find more of those.

YouTube (x2)

This year, I tried out YouTube for the first time. At the beginning of 2023, I had 37 YouTube subscribers on my personal channel. (Yes, thirty-seven.) At the time of writing, I have 28,693. Kind of hard to believe. When I started publishing videos on PlanetScale's YouTube, I think we had ~1,600 subscribers. We now have 29,300.

The specific numbers aren't the important part, as that's mostly an exercise in vanity. Numbers are easy to measure and indicative of some underlying reality, though, so it's helpful for me to watch them. The underlying reality is that making video content might be my sweet spot.

Here are the 13 videos I've published this year on my personal channel:

Honestly, not even that many videos! You'll see some big hits in there and some flops. YouTube is an interesting game and one that I'm still learning. Some videos that I thought would bomb did amazing, and vice versa.

I constantly have to remind myself that my job is to try really hard and to put the work out there. Anything beyond that is out of my control. I'm trying to train myself to get the big dopamine hit when I release a thing, not when it "does well." If I can successfully retrain myself that way, I'll be unstoppable. (I'm not there yet.)

Here are the 22 videos I've published this year on the PlanetScale channel:

Similarly, a few winners with over 100k views and a few absolute bombs. Nevertheless, we press on!

Between the two YouTube channels, the MySQL for Developers course and the Screencasting course, I shipped over 150 videos this year.

That's a lot of videos. I'm really proud of that.

Gateway tasks

At the end of 2022, I reached out to Hugo to redesign this website. He did a great job, turned it around quickly, and then I sat on it for like 10 months. Again, with Jason Beggs's help, I finally finished it.

I've been putting a lot of effort into it because I want a single place to gather everything I'm doing online. Videos, articles, podcasts, etc. I'm very pleased with how it has turned out.

Redoing your personal website is a meme amongst developers. Like, "I'll write a bunch of articles, I just gotta redesign my site first." It's an easy trap!

For me though... it has proven accurate? Once I got the site into a spot where I felt confident and proud, I started writing more.

This is a typical pattern with me. Sometimes, I know things I need to do, but some other prerequisite task is blocking me. I'd write more articles, but the blog is ugly so I need to redesign the blog. But redesigning the blog is a big task, so I don't. Which means I can't write articles.

Sometimes it's that there's no system. Bookkeeping is a good example. I don't do it because I haven't set up the system, and I haven't set up the system because it feels overwhelming because I haven't done it. That's how they get ya!

I've started calling these "gateway todos" in my mind. If I could check off the gateway todo, other things would become much easier. As it turns out, redesigning my personal site was a gateway todo that I have successfully checked off.

I'll be focusing on more of those in 2024.

Family life

2023 also brought some pretty huge changes in my personal life.

We found out early last year that we were expecting twins again, which was shocking. I immediately freaked out and decided we had to sell our house because it was a two-bedroom, and we were about to go from two children to four. This was during one of the worst housing markets in... ever? So we sold the house and moved into a rental big enough for our growing family.

Having four children under three is tough. We reached out to another couple with two sets of twins, and they insisted that we get an au pair to come live with us; otherwise, we wouldn't make it. In October, we welcomed our au pair from Germany. She lives with us full time, and we honestly wouldn't be able to do it without her.

Having two newborns and two two-year-olds is a special kind of challenge, but I wouldn't change a thing. Staying up all night to tend to newborns and then spending all day with toddlers has me run ragged, but it won't be this way forever. I'm incredibly grateful for PlanetScale's generous paternity leave.

2024

As I look to 2024, I will focus on developing systems and processes to manage my professional and personal life more efficiently. 2023 has been a year of significant growth, learning, and realignment of priorities. It's been about understanding what works, letting go of what doesn't, and embracing new opportunities. As I enter 2024, the theme is clear - taking content creation to the next level and refining my systems.

Building systems

I'm bringing as many systems "in-house" as I can. I'll focus more on building the system that helps me do the thing. Whether the "thing" is producing videos, staying on top of personal and side-project bookkeeping, or remembering to change the air filters in my house, I will invest in building more systems. I want to develop the systems that run my life. Build it once, and then execute it forever. I'm excited about that.

This year, I've found some success despite not being terribly systematic; next year, I'd like to see if I can find more success through systems.

Health

As I'm writing this, at the end of 2023, I'm in quite a bit of physical pain. I've had some transient joint pain a few times in the past several years, but right now, it's been quite persistent and, some days, debilitating. I attribute some of this to stress and lack of sleep from having newborns and some of it to general poor health. One of the things I'll be focusing more on in 2024 is my health. I'm no longer a young man, so I should stop acting like one.

Not slowing down

I've said for a long time that this is my Maximum Effort Era, the time in my life when I'm trying my hardest. Someday, I'll be able to sit back and relax, but I'm not there yet. 2024 is no different. Things change, of course. I have four kids now! That's so many kids!

The shape or the outcome of the effort may look different now. But I'm still going to try really hard. I'm still going to wear myself out in pursuit of good things.

We'll see what happens!

Me

Thanks for reading! My name is Aaron and I'm a Developer Educator at PlanetScale — a MySQL platform.

If you ever have any questions or want to chat, I'm always on Twitter.

You can find me on YouTube on my personal channel or my work channel, or my behind the scenes channel.