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2021 year in review

Ned Bellavance
14 min read

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Entering 2021, I think we all were happy to say adios to 2020 and harbor a little hope for the coming year. After all, we had several viable vaccines about to roll out, meaning this worldwide pandemic might just end up in our rearview mirror. Oh what sweet summer children we were. Maybe 2021 didn’t work out the way we all hoped, but that doesn’t mean nothing positive happened. Amongst all the turmoil and bad takes were some gems of genuine kindness.

As is tradition, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on what Ned in the Cloud accomplished in 2021, and what I plan to do in 2022. If you’d like to get a sense for how I entered 2021, just check out last year’s post on the topic.

Technical Education

The primary goal of Ned in the Cloud is to create educational material for a technical audience. I want to help folks learn and grow, gaining the skills they need to excel in their chosen field. This goal is pursued through multiple formats, including videos, courses, books, and podcasts.

Videos

My YouTube channel has gained a pretty decent following since last year. At the beginning of 2021 I was at 1K subscribers and the channel currently has 3.6K subscribers. I wouldn’t call it bombastic growth by any means, but it’s a respectable and steady rate of growth. Things may have slowed down in the last three months, since I was not posting videos as regularly.

In 2022, I plan to return to a regular release schedule for Terraform Tuesday and add back in content beyond just Terraform. Exactly what that content will be is still up for debate. I’m tinkering with a few ideas including: a weekly tech analysis video, monthly videos on HashiCorp Boundary, and bringing back the Best Career Advice Ever series. I’ve also been tinkering with Raspberry Pi’s again, so who knows what the future holds?

Courses

Pluralsight

Even thought I didn’t match my course output from 2020 of seven courses, I still managed to produce six courses! One of the courses was the second update of my Terraform - Getting Started course, this time updated for version 1.0 of Terraform and completely revamped to focus on teaching through challenges.

When I reflect on how little I knew about Terraform when I developed the first version of the course in 2017, I find it striking how well the course did. I think that is in part due to pent up demand and a lack of available resources. It probably also has to do with my presentation style. Even if I didn’t know everything about Terraform, I presented the material in an engaging and entertaining style. That goes a long way.

The first revision of the course was in 2019, where I rectified some of the technical shortcomings of the course based on my more extensive understanding of Terraform. The improved technical quality of the information was reflected in improved performance of the course. It had been lingering in the top 200 courses before the first update. After the update was published, it spiked to the top 25 and has rarely left that space.

For the newest revision, I focused on instructional design and completely overhauled the course. All the technical information is still there, but I changed the order it was presented in and leveraged the story structure of the course to have the learner build alongside me. I believe it’s a more engaging and immersive way to learn the content, and that is born out by the numbers.

Speaking of numbers, I now have 26 active courses on Pluralsight. In the last year 91K viewers have watched 116K hours of my content on Pluralsight. That is a staggeringly large number to me. I am humbled that folks have found my content useful and worth watching on the platform.

Looking towards 2022, I am already working on a Getting Started course for Terraform Cloud and I plan to revise my other Terraform courses, including Deep Dive, AWS, and Azure. I’d also like to create a Terraform course centered around GCP. Beyond the world of Terraform, HashiCorp’s new Boundary product will probably warrant a course in the second half of 2022. Some of my Microsoft Azure content is also due for a refresh as well. With 26 courses in the catalog, revisions and refreshes are going to eat up more of my time.

Labs and Project

Pluralsight is also providing labs to their enterprise customers, both on the Pluralsight platform and through A Cloud Guru. I think labs are an ideal way to learn a technology, and I’m hoping to get involved with the creation of labs in 2022.

In addition to Pluralsight, I am also in the process of developing a series of liveProjects for Manning based on using Terraform to manage Azure Kubernetes Service. You can expect those to drop in Q1 of 2020.

Books

At the end of 2020 I had started writing a certification guide for the Vault Associate exam. I finished the guide in 2021 and updated my Terraform Associate certification guide as well. I plan to keep these up to date in 2022 and possibly start a study guide for the upcoming Vault Operator certification.

Podcasts

At the start of 2021, I was running two podcasts: Day Two Cloud and Buffer Overflow. I had made the difficult decision to retire The Daily Check-In in December of 2020, since it was a lot of work to create, edit, and publish a video every day. That decision was not built to last.

Day Two Cloud

I promised that 2021 would have some banger guests and I wasn’t lying. We recorded some of my favorite episodes ever this year, and I am happy to report that our subscriber base has gown accordingly. Here are my top five episodes from 2021:

  1. Ep. 88 - The Tech Recruiter with Tyler Desseyn
  2. Ep. 100 - Get to Know Crossplane with Daniel Mangum
  3. Ep. 114 - Transitioning from a Tech Role to Mgmt
  4. Ep. 111 - Infra as Software with Kris Nova
  5. Ep. 128 - DevOps’ing All the Things with Kyler Middleton

We’ve also seen an uptick in sponsored episodes lately. If you’ve listened to any of our existing sponsored episodes, you know that we don’t just parrot the talking points from a vendor’s marketing department. That would be a disservice to you - the listener - and honestly to the sponsors themselves. It’s only effective marketing if people listen to the episode, and to that end we do our best to make the sponsored content interesting and informative.

I’ve also been doing my best to transcribe our episodes and post that with the show notes on daytwocloud.io. It seems like I’m always a few weeks behind, and that is because I don’t just feed it through a transcription engine. I actually listen to each episode and correct the auto-generated transcript to be as accurate as possible. Even listening at 1.4x speed, it still takes at least an hour to do each episode. In 2022, I have started blocking out 90 minutes on every Wednesday to get the transcription done. Now I just need to get caught up!

The Daily Check-In

In December of 2020, I posted the last Daily Check-In video on my YouTube channel. Honestly, the daily grind of a video was too much to sustain and I wasn’t sure how much value folks were actually getting from it. After posting the video, I got feedback from a few people that they really enjoyed the Daily Check-In content. All of them were listening to the audio-only version I had been posting through Anchor. At the end of January 2021, I decided that I would revive the Daily Check-In as a podcast only and try to post daily episodes during the week. I got rid of the themed days element, and just focused on talking about things that were important to me. And if there was a day where I had nothing to talk about or life got too crazy, then I just skipped it. That has proved a healthy approach and it has allowed me to continue the Daily Check-In throughout 2021.

In terms of audience, it’s still fairly small, and that’s okay. People I know and respect are listening, and I think I am doing the episodes as much for me as I am for them. It also provides great fodder for new blog posts and videos. Turns out writing still has a place in this world! And of course, doing a daily podcast keeps my speaking skills sharp, which might come in handy at some point?

Buffer Overflow

Good lord, three podcasts is probably too many. In fact, it is 100% too many, and that is why I made the difficult decision to drop off as a host of the Buffer Overflow podcast. The reasons are many and sundry, but I think it boils down to three key points:

  1. The podcast was associated with Anexinet, my former employer. That was… weird.
  2. There was a significant amount of work to create, produce, and edit an episode.
  3. There was no way to monetize the podcast, largely because of point one.

My decision to leave the show was essentially the end of the podcast. The rest of the cohosts decided to put the podcast on indefinite hiatus. That was back in April 2021, and not only have there been no new episodes, the latest redesign of the Anexinet website removed the links and feed. (I still have all the original files though.)

Failures and Deprecations

It wouldn’t be an honest accounting of 2021 if I didn’t acknowledge some of my failures and deprecated features. Here’s a fun, bullet pointed list of things I failed at!

  • Learning Go: Once again I planned to learn Go this year, and once again I did not. The two primary things standing in my way are time and motivation. Oh well, I guess I’ll try again next year!
  • Passing the CKA Exam: I sat the CKA exam in January of 2021 and failed it. I have declined to take it again. My primary reason for taking the exam was to learn more about the guts of Kubernetes. Despite failing the exam, I achieved my goal, and that’s enough for me. For now.
  • Learn about Consul or Packer: You might have noticed that I am extremely familiar with some of the HashiCorp stack, but I don’t really know much about their Consul, Nomad, or Packer products. I know enough to be dangerous, but I’d like to really dig into them. I went so far as to buy a course on Udemy on Consul by Bryan Krausen. It has languished in my email hoping and praying for a day I make time to take it. Hold strong buddy, maybe 2022 will be your year?
  • Patreon: I started a Patreon b/c it’s what all the cool kids were doing. I am not a cool kid, and now I don’t have a Patreon. Lessons were learned.
  • Being an analyst: This wasn’t something I failed at, quite the contrary it turns out I am quite good at being an analyst and benchmark tester. But I don’t enjoy doing it. So I stopped. How about that?

Appearances

Over the course of 2021 I appeared on a decent amount of things. This probably won’t be an exhaustive list, but I figured it was worth writing it down.

Tech Field Day

Stephen Foskett and the folks over at Gestalt IT continued to put together awesome events with amazing people. In 2021 I participated in the following events:

While the first three were virtual events, Cloud Field Day 12 was a hybrid event with some presenters and delegates attending in-person and others joining remotely. I was extremely excited to attend in-person, and it was one of the highlights of my year, although it did leave me feeling drained and ready to be a hermit for a bit.

There really is no replacement for in-person events. My favorite events are smaller and more intimate, and Tech Field Day gives me that in spades. I can’t wait to attend another event, assuming Omicron doesn’t cancel in-person stuff for 2022.

Other Events

  • Critical Conversations with Bluecat: A great discussion with people I am completely unqualified to share a stage with.
  • HashiTalks 2021: Not only did I present a sessions, I also got to MC a portion of HashiTalks! I think I enjoyed that more that presenting.
  • ActualTech Media events: I’ve been doing short 5-10 minute videos for ActualTech’s various events. They are fun to do and sometimes I repost them on YouTube as well.
  • Microsoft’s DevOps Labs YouTube channel: I did one video on Getting Started with Terraform and GitHub Actions at the end of 2021. It is the first in a series of presentations I have planned for 2022.
  • Apps On Cloud Summit: This was an excellent event put on by the folks at Turbonomic (now an IBM company). I presented one session, and also did a panel with Kenneth Hui and Eric Wright.
  • CTO Advisor: I was a guest on the CTO Advisor podcast, and also did a video with Keith when he came to visit me on his Road Trip!
  • C.R.E.A.M.: Cloud Rules Everything Around Me! This was a Pluralsight and A Cloud Guru event to celebrate acknowledge and celebrate the acquisition of ACG by PS.

Random and Sundry

There’s a few other notable things that don’t fit nicely into a category, so in no particular order:

  • New website! - With the help of BluePixel, I migrated to a completely new website. It’s still Wordpress-based, but now it looks like someone actually designed this thing instead of selecting a default theme and customizing it badly.
  • Private training videos - During 2021 I created a series of videos intended for an internal training site at a major insurance company. It was fun to do and made me think deeply about some of the fundamentals of cloud, DevOps, and Infrastructure as Code.
  • Core Contributor to Boundary - When HashiCorp released Boundary back in 2020, I got excited about engaging with a new product. They put up a reference architecture for AWS, but not one for Azure. So I made one and submitted it. It was merged into their main branch and I became a contributor!
  • AWS Solution Architect Professional - My AWS SA-Pro cert was about to expire, so I decided to renew it. After two weeks of studying, I sat the exam and passed! Turns out I retained more from the first time around than I thought.
  • HashiCorp Ambassador and Microsoft MVP - I was re-awarded both the Microsoft MVP award for Azure and HashiCorp Ambassador for 2021. The MVP award was automatically renewed due to the pandemic, and I hope I’ve done enough this year to warrant being renewed next year!

Personal Stuff

On a more personal note, there were a few exciting things throughout the year.

  • Trail running - I took up trail running this year and I freakin’ love it. Trail running forces you to be present in a way that regular road running doesn’t. Trails are uneven, obstacle-laden, and occasionally slippery. If you stop paying attention you’re likely to get hurt. I ran in my first trail run race in September and finished first in my age group and sixth overall. It was an 18 mile run in the Poconos and I finished it in just under three hours.
  • Broke my toe - Speaking of getting injured, turns out that I let my attention slip while trail running in early October and managed to break my pinkie toe and badly bruise the toe next to it. Of course I was still two miles from my car, so I ran the last couple of miles on a broken toe. It took eight weeks to heal and completely ruined my autumn running plans. Que sera, sera.
  • Went to Nashville - My wife and I went away to Nashville for four days without the kids. This is the longest trip we have taken since our first child was born (over a decade ago) and it was amazing. Now that the kids are all 5 and up, I expect we’ll make this a more regular thing.

Conclusion

2021 was a helluva year. Professionally, I was able to narrow my focus on what I truly care about. That increased focus led to an increase in earnings and an increase in satisfaction. Moving into 2022, I plan to continue creating educational technical content. I also plan to keep experimenting with new mediums and pursue new opportunities. The status quo is something I will never accept. There’s a drive deep within me to continue exploring and changing, which serves me well in an industry that seems to have the same restless and relentless drive.

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