3 New Year’s Resolutions for Everyone in Tech
Time to exercise that creativity and promote personal growth in your tech career.
January 28, 2021
New Year’s resolutions kick off the season for setting goals and making promises, and there’s no time like the present to start thinking about the rest of your career. But first, let’s talk about why you should set your New Year’s resolutions around technology, and how to pick ones with a better chance of succeeding.
Many people’s resolutions don’t make it to spring, and most will fade out well before the end of the year. Why? Well, there’s a fundamental problem with New Year’s resolutions - they’re often quite arbitrary. There is nothing singular about New Year’s that goals set on that date are magically more likely to be completed; if there was ever a goal to be achieved, it wasn’t done by putting it off.
“The best day to start was yesterday, but today is the best it will ever be again.”
New Year’s resolutions tend to be either unrealistic exaggerations or full of noncommittal ambiguity. This kind of lofty thinking rapidly demotivates people due to the perception of seemingly, or perhaps legitimately, insurmountable tasks. Instead, it’s often best to set realistic and finite goals to keep the finish line in sight and stay motivated.
That advice also, or maybe especially, holds true for career-oriented goals. We all want to have successful careers in tech but unrealistic New Year’s resolutions like “I’m going to refactor our product on the side” don’t necessarily get us there. With that in mind, and in tune with the holiday tradition, here are three tangible and rewarding tech-focused projects to tackle in the new year!
New Year’s Tech Project #1 - Design and Host a Website
There exist easy-to-use services like Squarespace, Weebly, and Wix, which provide ready-made templates and robust customization options. They all have what are known as WYSIWYG (pronounced “whizzy-wig,” acronym of What You See Is What You Get) editors and drag-and-drop interfaces used to design your site. In order to get your website up and running, you need two things: a hosting provider and a domain name. A hosting provider is where you put all the files for your website. A domain name tells people where to find your website. Thankfully, these kinds of services can handle both those things for you. I’ve used all three of those services before (though they may have changed slightly since I’ve used them in the past decade), and they all provide either a free tier or free trial to help you get started and evaluate the platform.
Alternatively, if you’re ambitious or already have a bit of know-how, you can choose to design and write a website yourself. If you go this route, you’ll need to not only write the code and content, but also find a hosting provider and register a domain name. Depending on how much you look around and how much you care about quality and customer support, you can find hosting for much less (or much more) than if you were to use the aforementioned services. Domain name registration is much less variable; the prices are generally the same no matter the registrar .
For the ultimate DIY, you can set up a simple static site for pennies on the dollar using cloud computing services like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform (the three major providers in the US). There are a multitude of guides out there to help you set up a site using any of the cloud providers; the principle remains the same, but the services’ names will be different (e.g. AWS Lambda vs Google Cloud Function). Although hosting a static website is the easiest to accomplish, crafting a complex site in the cloud isn’t terribly difficult or costly either. For example, A Cloud Guru (a learning platform that I’ve used) is built using serverless technology and through AWS Free Tier was able to grow without paying for Lambda usage until they exceeded 1 million requests a month.
Building a website and publishing it for the world to see is a creative exercise that will (hopefully) teach you a thing or few. Setting up a website for yourself can help promote your personal brand, making you more competitive and attractive to recruiters and followers. You could also set up your own blog, to give your ideas a home on the internet. If not for yourself, perhaps consider making a website for a friend or family member that owns a small business. In this day and age, nearly everyone searches for local businesses online, and around three-quarters of people will research a business online before visiting or purchasing from a business. Whether for yourself or someone else, a website is a worthwhile investment and a great learning opportunity. After all, digital presence is key in the Information Age.
New Year’s Tech Project #2 - Publish an Article
According to some very loose math, for every “commonly-known” fact, there’s around 10,000 people that learn about it every day. There will always be someone that doesn’t know something that you do, so why not share it with the world? Alternatively, why not take the opportunity to learn something new yourself and disseminate your newfound knowledge?
Writing an article may seem straightforward, but for many people it is fraught with painstaking revisions, meticulous fact-checking, and frustrating writer’s block. However, the reward is not just in the end product, but also the journey. You may find as you research and reference other work, that something you had thought true was not. You may also find that people are quite mistaken about what you know to be true, and that you can help set course to correct that misinformation. And you may also find, as I have, that writing is quite a chore yet incredibly rewarding; and soon enough you may grow to enjoy it as well.
The process of writing also provides many benefits. Notably, writing can help:
- Promote awareness of your thoughts - through writing, you can lay down ideas and re-evaluate them without relying on something as transient as memory.
- Elevate your prose and clarity when communicating - in writing, every word is deliberate and every thought is organized.
- Improve information retention - you are actively processing an idea when writing, which improves your ability to recall information.
These benefits help in all instances of communication, including in your career. Your emails will sound better, your meeting minutes will be more thoughtful and organized, and your presentations will be more eloquent and focused. Through continued writing and expanding reach, you may also be able to position yourself as an influencer in your field or even leverage your work to gain speaking engagements.
Writing can be intimidating, but starting small can help alleviate the pressure. Begin with an idea, whether an opinion or a curiosity, that you are personally invested in. If you’ve been trying to decide between some open source libraries to use in a project why not turn that into an opportunity to not only research them but also publish your findings so others can reap the benefits of your evaluation as well? Alternatively, if you have some amazing macros that you use all the time, let the world know with a well-crafted piece! These are just a couple of examples that illustrate the abundance of potential ideas to touch on. Remember, you’re just trying to share some knowledge with the world, not write the entire Harry Potter heptalogy or solve all of tech’s problems.
A couple of free tools I’ve found that can aid you in the writing process are Hemingway and Grammarly. Hemingway is a tool to help you stylistically in the fashion of its namesake, American literature icon Ernest Hemingway. The basic version is an online editor that highlights words or phrases in which the complexity, brevity, simplicity, or intensity can be improved. On the other hand, Grammarly is a tool which, as its name suggests, focuses more on syntactical and lexicographical suggestions. The app is available as a browser extension, a Microsoft Word plugin, an online editor, and even a standalone desktop app. Once you finish your piece, you’ll want a place to publish it. Popular blogging platforms include Medium, DEV Community (aka dev.to), LinkedIn, or even your own site (perhaps the one that you set up in the first project)!
So do yourself and everyone in tech some good by putting your thoughts out there. For what better way is there to celebrate the birth of the new year than with a resolution to both learn and share your learnings with the world?
New Year’s Tech Project #3 - Create a Simple Mobile App
You’ve probably either had an idea for an app before or were using one and thought “this app is terrible!” Act on your inspiration (or frustration) and turn it into your New Year’s resolution! Whether you have five years experience in iOS or Android development or not, you likely already have the capability and tools to create a wonderful simple app.
If you have little to no experience in writing mobile code, look to something like MIT App Inventor; it’s the same tool that we use in Capital One Coders to help teach computer science concepts to students. App Inventor requires no prior programming knowledge and instead utilizes a block-based visual programming language for constructing logic and actions. When you’re done, or want to test your progress, it’ll package it and you can download and install it straight to your Android device!
While Apple’s iOS and iPadOS are currently unsupported on App Inventor, those of you looking towards that side of the field can try out Swift Playgrounds. It’s available for both iPad and Mac, and contains a large catalogue of highly interactive lessons. Apple themselves includes a set to help teach beginners the basics of coding and guide them through creating apps. Unlike App Inventor, there’s no need to install your creations; changes you make in the code are reflected almost immediately right in the playground.
On the other hand, if you know your way around your favorite IDE, then decide whether you want to create an app for Android, iOS/iPadOS, or maybe even both! Both Google and Apple offer a slew of (free!) resources to help familiarize and get started with their respective preferred language and platform: self-paced courses (Google), books (Apple), and playgrounds (both, though Apple’s is more immersive).
For seasoned veterans of the mobile app industry, or those not sold on the personal growth factor, there may still be meaning in pursuing this project. Americans spend an average of 3 to 5 hours a day on their phones (depending on the source), and the mobile app industry was worth over 150 billion USD in 2020. The industry is also projected to grow to half a trillion USD by the end of the decade. Creating an app as a New Year’s project could very well help you generate an alternative revenue stream. Even if you’re not in it to better yourself, the monetary carrot might just be worth it. After all, that’s an incredibly large pie, and who wouldn’t want a slice of that?
All these ideas presented to you are projects that I’ll be tackling this year. I plan on:
- Finding six interesting topics to research and hone my writing prowess with.
- Creating a functional skeleton for a mobile app idea that I have.
- Crafting a website to up my personal branding ante.
If you ever needed a sign to start doing something, this is it. What will you be doing?