2020 Year in Review

2020 was… a year. Or more like a decade packed into a single year. Looking back at everything that happened, it seems both too much and not enough. Conferences were cancelled, schools were closed, Zoom proficiency spiked, and we all added several new words to our vocabulary. This post is not meant to rehash our shared trauma of 2020, but I need to at least acknowledge it as a driving factor for the year. At the beginning of the year, I set out some ideas and goals for the year. Let’s see how I fared given all that happened.

Because I am completely ridiculous, I created a mission statement for Ned in the Cloud at the beginning of the year. That statement?

Ned in the Cloud’s vision and purpose is to create compelling technical content for IT professionals across multiple mediums based on impactful and emerging technologies.

That’s a pretty good vision statement! I think it accurately describes what I did this year. Speaking of which, what did I create this year?

Day Two Cloud

The Day Two Cloud podcast continued to roll on into a second year of existence. At the end of 2019, Ethan Banks came on as my cohost and the show shifted to a weekly cadence. In 2020, we published fifty episodes covering cloudy topics like Kubernetes, cloud economics, and hybrid cloud. If I had to pick our five best episodes for the year, I would have to go with the following:

  1. Episode 79 – K8s is inevitable but not always necessary
  2. Episode 70 – The state of multi-cloud networking
  3. Episode 67 – Choosing the right applications for the cloud
  4. Episode 55 – Securing cloud infrastructure and applications
  5. Episode 52 – Moving back home from the cloud

That was a tough selection process! We had so many amazing guests this year, including people like Mike Pfeiffer, Tanya Janca, Bobby Allen, April Edwards, and Corey Quinn. Our goal is to create engaging content from interesting people with real-world experience. And I think we did it! We’ve already got a few episodes in the can for 2021, and I’ve got to tell you there are some bangerz.

The Daily Check-In

As the pandemic ramped up, I saw event after event being cancelled, and I was worried about my mental health and others. I work from home 100% of the time, with the sole exception being conferences and events. These are my main social avenues and when I get to interact with others. Removing that outlet was going to hit me hard, and I suspected others might have a similar reaction.

In fact, I thought it would be worse for those who normally work in an office. They were used to the constant social contact and casual interactions that I had learned to live without. Robbed of those situations, things were going to be difficult psychologically. With all that in mind, I created The Daily Check-In, a short, daily live-stream on YouTube where I talked about a prepared topic and interacted with anyone who joined the chat.

If you’ve watched any of the episodes, you’ll know at the beginning I check in with the viewers and let them know how I am doing. Sometimes people would join the live-stream and say hi, but mostly it was just me talking to myself. After a lot of streaming issues and a lack of interaction, it became easier to record my daily videos and publish them, instead of trying to live-stream the whole thing. I maintained the check-in at the beginning, and also tended to do every video in one-take.

The result was 178 videos on topics ranging from tech industry analysis, to professional development, to Terraform Tuesdays. Each day of the week ended up having a theme to make it easier for me to figure out a topic. From April to December, I managed to amass about one thousand subscribers, which is not a ton I know, but it was good enough for me.

At the end of the December, I decided that it was time to shift things on my YouTube channel. Looking at the analytics for my videos, I could see that my best performing content was around HashiCorp technologies and how-to videos with home lab stuff. I had also started to do Best Career Advice Ever with fun guests, and that seemed to be picking up steam. Rather than try to pump out half-decent content everyday, I decided it would make more sense to slow down and increase the quality of my output. Since it would no longer be daily, I would drop the Daily Check-in from the moniker and simply be Ned in the Cloud.

To increase the quality of videos will require investing some money into the channel for better equipment, editing help, and probably some other things. With that in mind, I have started a Patreon to help fund my efforts. If you’ve got a couple dollars to spare, why not join up? You’ll get regular updates on what is going on with me and a chance to ask me questions and influence future episodes!

Certification Guides

Last year I started writing a Terraform Associate certification Guide with Adin Ermie. The guide was meant to prepare readers already familiar with Terraform for the certification exam. We took the approach of breaking out each major objective into its own chapter, and including some key takeaways at the end of each chapter to really hammer the point home. At this point we have sold just under one thousand copies! I’ve heard from multiple people on LinkedIn that they used a combination of our certification guide, Bryan Krausen’s prep questions, and my courses on Pluralsight to prepare for the exam and pass.

With the success of the Terraform cert guide, I decided to also write a guide for the HashiCorp Vault Associate certification. While the writing process is still ongoing, the guide is about 95% complete. I am currently proofreading the guide, and I have sent it to a few folks for technical review and accuracy. I imagine I will write one for Consul since the certification for that product just went GA.

As a companion to the Vault cert guide, I also created a series of videos on YouTube to help you prepare for the exam. They still have the standard daily check-in introduction, but I am working on adding timestamps to each one so you can skip straight to the content.

Pluralsight

I published seven new courses in 2020, bringing my total course count up to 20. That’s not as many courses as 2019, but I also got to stretch out a bit. The Advanced AWS Networking course allowed me to expand my AWS expertise and get a little more familiar with the more esoteric concepts in AWS VPCs. I also updated my Terraform Deep Dive course to use Consul for remote state instead of AWS, and I updated the content to support Terraform 0.12. Recently I had to update all the exercise files to support Terraform 0.14 and the way it handles provider versioning. That’s the price you pay for creating content on a software platform that keeps evolving.

Speaking of evolving, my poor Azure Security Center content is now out of date again because Microsoft decided to change the product names to Microsoft Defender and completely reorganize the ASC menus. It was a long overdue update, but it also means I’ve got my work cut out for me in 2021 to update any courses that reference ASC. The good news is that under the covers, everything still works basically the same, so it’s more that I need to record the videos over again than actually create anything original.

GigaOm

I continued working with GigaOm as an analyst, but my focus has shifted from writing Key Criteria reports to performing benchmarking tests. Although I was able to write the Key Criteria and Radar reports, they weren’t especially enjoyable for me. I like to be hands-on with technology, and a lot of the analysis stuff was taking vendor briefings and never actually using the product. By performing benchmarking tests, I can get my hands dirty and learn more about the product at a basic level. While that information might not be as valuable to a CEO or CIO – who is looking at tech trends, it is going to be useful for the IT Director or SysAdmin who is trying to make purchasing decisions about a tool or product and wants to know more about the technical implementation, verified capabilities, or actual cost of operation.

Docs Writing

I spent all of 2020 writing docs for Solo.io part-time, and it was an excellent opportunity. Working with a startup that is on the front-line of cloud-native technologies, I got to see how products are developed, redesigned, and expanded. It also gave me a chance to work with the tech first-hand and write documentation that attempted to clearly explain difficult concepts to a new user. Being a new user myself, it was easier to capture my initial confusion and stumbling blocks, and then write docs that would hopefully make things easier for the next person. It was also fascinating and occasionally frustrating to write docs on products that were under active development. As I tried to write guides, I also became a bit of a QA tester and bug finder.

Starting in 2021, I will be leaving Solo.io to pursue a new opportunity that came up at the end of 2020. It has been a pleasure working with their team, and I highly recommend checking out their products if you have the need.

Various and Sundry

There were lots of other random things that came up in the past year. Webinars, video content, speaking at virtual conferences, and more. I appreciate all the opportunities that cropped up as the year progressed. When I started Ned in the Cloud as a full-time venture, I was naturally concerned about keeping enough work in the pipeline to feed the family. Even with the pandemic, I did not have that worry this year. Instead, I had to be selective about what opportunities to accept and balance the cost of pursuing an opportunity versus the benefit of doing so.

And it’s not just about money. There is a satisfaction component and a desire to give back to the community. Basically everything I did for my YouTube channel this year was at the cost of doing something else that would be making me money. The satisfaction of creating content for you and trying to give back to the community with engaging professional and technical content was worth more than the money I could have made doing something else. I want to make that content even better, which means sacrificing even more time and potential earnings. But I think there is a net benefit in the long run for myself, the community, and vendors that I work with.

Conclusion

There was no way for me to know what 2020 had in store, and all things considered, Ned in the Cloud did very well. I believe I stayed true to my vision statement for the company, and I’ve set a course to continue building on that vision in 2021. However, this post is long enough, so I’ll save those thoughts for another time. Thanks for reading and thanks for being you. I hope you emerged from 2020 relatively unscathed, and that 2021 will be a better year for all of us.

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