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2023 year in review

Ned Bellavance
19 min read

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If I’m being honest, 2023 was a mixed bag. There were several factors that lead to a serious drop in revenue (-30%!) for Ned in the Cloud versus 2022. However, I connected with several new vendors and further established my YouTube channel. In this post I would like to look back at 2023 and see what went well, how I did against my goals, and where I fell short.

High-Level Review

If I could sum 2023 up in a word, it was less. I did less work, made less money, but ironically had no less stress. For the year, I really tried to embrace the fact that I make up my own schedule and decide on what projects to do. I don’t have to do something just because someone asked me to. I can say “No” to things. Especially things that are going to make me miserable.

So my main mission in 2023 was to close out existing projects that I was not enjoying and avoid taking on new ones that would make me sad. Why work for yourself if you’re going to make yourself do things you don’t enjoy? That’s the big takeaway, I did less and made less, and I’m okay with that- or at least I’ve come to terms with the latter. Now let’s get down into some details.

Technical Education

The central goal of Ned in the Cloud continues to be providing entertaining and educational content for a technical audience. I do that through a variety of mediums, including YouTube videos, podcasts, Pluralsight courses, and live instruction. By that metric, 2023 was excellent!

YouTube Videos

In 2023, I published 50 videos on my YouTube channel. That’s right, 50!!! That’s an average of one video per week, although I did double up on a few weeks and miss a couple others. Looking at the statistics, I clocked in 178k views and I gained 3k subscribers. Compared to 2022, that’s a increase of 6% over the previous year. My most popular videos from 2023 were Exploring the Import Block in Terraform 1.5 and Terraform Certified Associate - What’s New in Version 003?. That’s not terribly surprising. The updated exam and the new import block were both big news in the Terraform community.

My most popular videos were still Azure DevOps Pipeline with Terraform and Getting Started with GCP and Terraform with 30.8k and 28.1K lifetime views respectively. Both of those video were published in 2021, and they’re starting to look a little dated. Azure DevOps in particular has changed a lot since I published that video. I think in 2024, I need to publish a follow-up to that one.

My goal for 2023 was to publish two videos a month and grow my subscriber base to 25k. I may only have 12k subscribers right now, but I smashed my publishing goal out of the park. An open question for 2024 is whether I lean into Terraform more heavily, or try and diversify. You’ll just have to wait for my 2024 planning post to find out!

Day Two Cloud

In 2023, Day Two Cloud kept up the weekly publishing schedule and I thought we had some fantastic episodes. Here are a few that I really enjoyed:

Despite that, the subscriber base shrunk a little, or at least that’s what the metrics are saying. Our total downloads looks to be around 400k, and I don’t have a subscriber count. Revenue was way down from 2022, dropping by 75%. What happened? I think there are a few factors here.

First off, the economy wasn’t doing super well in the first half of 2023, and talking to other content creators in the tech sphere, marketing dollars basically dried up in the first half of the year. In addition, in-person conferences have made a big comeback in 2023, and marketing dollars that had been diverted to online content during the pandemic returned to fund in-person events. A smaller pie is being sliced up among more events and content creators, which means less money for allocated for podcasts.

Which brings me to the next thing, the proliferation of podcasts. There are so, so many podcasts out there now, and I think it’s harder to stand out. At the same time, podcast growth has been slowing down and there are several other media formats competing for people’s eyes and ears. The very public implosion of the podcast rush at Spotify serves to highlight that the podcast market went through a major boom cycle, possibly even a bubble, and now we’re seeing the fallout.

I’m not trying to blame external factors for the drop in listeners and sponsors for Day Two Cloud. I think we can do better in terms of content, format, and marketing. Packet Pushers, of which Day Two Cloud is a part, just hired a CEO and new sales person in 2023 to help market and promote all the podcasts on the platform. We will be brainstorming new ideas and trying new things in 2024 to help grow the audience and revenue for Day Two Cloud. My primary mission remains the same, to help IT professionals learn and grow in their careers. So while the format and marketing may change, the core of the podcast will remain the same.

Of course, we’re always looking for feedback from the community, so if you have ideas or comments you can submit them here.

Chaos Lever

In 2023, Chris and I worked to refine the format of Chaos Lever. It started out as a Buffer Overflow clone- a podcast we had been doing together for our former employer. But one thing we noticed is how we enjoy looking at the history behind emerging tech to provide context for what’s happening now. With that in mind, we changed the main episode and tag line to promote the historical lens of the podcast. We also split out the lightning round at the end of each show into it’s own show called Tech News of the Week. As it stands now, Tech News of the Week drops every Tuesday and the main Chaos Lever episode releases on Thursdays.

Remember how I said that I didn’t have a reliable way to track subscribers and downloads for Chaos Lever? Well, in December I set up PodTrac to track downloads and subscribers. With these more reliable numbers, it looks like Chaos Lever is getting about 450 downloads a month with a 216 subscriber count. That’s… a lot less that what I was tracking before. It also doesn’t mesh with the stats I’m culling from Azure directly. According to my custom Azure report, we’re seeing closer to 750 downloads a week. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think Chaos Lever has been growing, but I’m not sure. That’s okay though, it’s given us a chance to experiment with the podcast and find our voice.

Speaking of which, at the end of the year I brought on HumblePod to handle the editing, publishing, and promotion of Chaos Lever. That has freed me up to focus on the content of Chaos Lever, and also work on other projects. I’m really excited to see what we can do with Chaos Lever in 2024.

HashiCorp Academy

In 2022, I started delivering live training for River Point Technology and HashiCorp Academy. Fifteen classes in fact! That was… too much. In 2023, I planned to scale it back to one training a month. I ended up teaching only eight classes in 2023, and that was fine! I was signed up to teach a few more, but they ended up getting cancelled due to low enrollment. I did not meet my goal of one class a month. However, that was an upper limit to keep me from over committing. I’m happy with the amount of live instruction I did in 2023.

Pluralsight Courses

At the beginning of 2023, I was very much still in weeds with the Azure Virtual Desktop courses. What was supposed to be done by the end of 2022, was dragging on into 2023 and I was feeling kinda miserable about it. With three courses still to complete, I was also dealing with patching the completed courses due to changes in the AVD exam objectives. I finished patching those courses in January, and we decided to publish them before the rest of the learning path.

By the end of March, I finished the Azure Virtual Desktop learning path courses and breathed a deep sigh of relief. Was it worth it? From a financial standpoint, those six courses have garnered me about $20k. That’s an okay return and what’s nice is that this is passive income from here on out. Sure, I’ll need to patch the courses occasionally, but for the most part I can just let them sit there and earn money. From a personal standpoint, I’ve received several comments on LinkedIn about how the courses helped people pass the AVD exam. That’s really rewarding to hear, and I’m glad I was able to help them.

For the rest of 2023, I went on to refresh the Terraform Getting Started, Deep Dive and Terraform Cloud courses. So it looks like I published 9 courses in 2023, although a few of them were basically done in 2022. I did not create a course for Open Policy Agent or HashiCorp Boundary like I had originally planned. Those are both on the table for 2024, although first I am focusing on redoing my Terraform on Azure and AWS courses on the CloudSkills platform (formerly A Cloud Guru).

There’s a bit more to the story though. I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this publicly before, but at the end of 2022, Pluralsight told their authors that effective immediately, all author payouts would be cut by 25%. To say I was stunned would be an understatement, and the author community as a whole was pretty pissed. The reason given for the cut was that Pluralsight had been incorrectly calculating video revenue and they had “fixed the glitch.” Since we as authors have no visibility into their internal accounting and they are no longer a publicly traded company, we have no way of verifying that claim. Had they been incorrectly calculating revenue share for years? Or was this due to their acquisition by a private equity company that is trying to squeeze more profit out of the company? I’m not in a position to say for sure.

What I can say is that Pluralsight had two rounds of layoffs over 2022 and 2023, and it’s clear they’ve been trying to cut costs across the board. We also went into 2023 with a fairly bleak outlook on the economy and a possible recession on the horizon. I understand why Pluralsight had to reign in costs, but I also know that the author payouts were based on revenue generated by the videos. So if revenue is down overall, we as authors would be making less money. That’s not what happened. Pluralsight simply cut the revenue share by 25% and blamed it on bad accounting. I’m not sure I buy that.

What does this mean for me and my future as an author at Pluralsight? To be frank, Pluralsight represents about 70% of my revenue. That’s not something I can just walk away from. Plus, I still think Pluralsight as a platform is a really great place packed with amazing authors! Is this cut going to be a one time correction? Or is it a harbinger of things to come? I’m adopting a wait and see approach. I’ll continue to create new courses and refresh existing ones, while at the same time expanding other areas of my business.

Books

Just like 2022, I did not write any books in 2023. I did have a few offers, but I turned them down. The juice is just not worth the squeeze when it comes to writing technology books. I updated the Terraform Associate certification guide to coincide with the release of version 003 of the exam. Seems like certification guides are the exception when it comes to books. They’re short, they’re useful, and people actually buy them. I’ll keep my certification guides up to date, and maybe even write a new one in 2024 for the HashiCorp Vault Operator exam. I’m not totally sold on that, since it isn’t nearly as popular of an exam as the Terraform Associate.

I did contribute to a book in 2023, The Best Kept Secrets Of HashiCorp Vault, compiled by fellow HashiCorp Ambassador Bryan Krausen. He polled the community to see who would be interested in contributing a chapter to the book, and many of the Ambassadors raised their hand, including me. The profits from the book are going to charity, which I think is awesome. If you’re a Vault admin, you should definitely check out the book!

Other Appearances

Beyond the podcasts, YouTube videos, and courses, I did appear a few other places in 2023. Here is a short list of items if you’re interested in checking them out:

  • Cloud Field Day 17 - This one was in Boston! It was so nice to stay on the east coast for a change and not have to deal with time zone changes or airports. I took the train to Boston and loved it!
  • Edge Field Day 2 - Edge is big area of interest for me, so I was excited to attend this event even if I couldn’t be there in person.
  • HashiTalks 2023 - This was my fifth time speaking at HashiTalks. My topic was Autoscaling Workers for Boundary. Good stuff.
  • HashiConf 2023 - For HashiConf 2023 I was a speaker on both the main stage and the hallway track. It was an incredibly busy week for me, and I had a fantastic time! This is exactly the size conference I like to attend.
  • Firefly Webinar - Firefly became a sponsor of my YouTube channel in 2023 and also had me on for a webinar. I’m really excited about the work they’re doing in the IaC space.
  • Imposter Syndrome Network Podcast - This is a great podcast hosted by Chris Grundemann and Zoe Rose. I got to let my hair down a little on this show and talk about some more personal stuff and not just Terraform.
  • Screaming in the Cloud podcast - Corey Quinn invited me to be on his podcast while we were chatting at HashiConf, and so I did! We talked about Terraform and teaching tech.

There may have been some other appearances, but I didn’t write them all down in one place. So if I missed your thing, I’m sorry! Maybe in 2024 I’ll keep a better list, but probably not.

Deprecations and Failures

I set some modest goals for myself in my 2023 Goals post. Did I accomplish all of them? No, and that’s okay. Still it’s good to reflect.

  • Certification Guides - I had planned to update both the Terraform and Vault certification guides in 2023. The Vault Associate certification guide hasn’t been updated, but then again neither has the exam.
  • Live Instruction - I had planned to do one live class a month. I ended up doing eight classes in 2023, which is still a lot. I’m okay with that.
  • Website and Blog - I did not publish a blog post after March, and I did not update the website. At least I didn’t update it publicly. Behind the scenes, I worked with someone from Fiverr to port the site over to Hugo and streamline it. My first post of 2024 was about exactly that!
  • Universal Object Reference Project - I made some contributions to the project in Q1 of 2023, but then I got pulled away on other projects and didn’t make any further contributions.
  • Conferences - I attended two conferences in 2023, HashiConf and KubeCon. I also attended Cloud Field Day in Boston, but that’s not really a conference. I failed in my goal of one conference a quarter.

The primary goal of 2023 was to say “No” to more things. I wanted to limit my level of commitment after severely over-committing in 2022. Did I say “No” to projects and opportunities? Yes, I did! There were several offers to create a course, write a book, or do some other project that I turned down. And like I planned at the beginning of 2023, I did my best to redirect opportunities to existing projects. For that reason, I ended up with several sponsored YouTube videos.

The two failures I want to reflect on are the lack of blog posts and my failure to keep up with the UOR project (now called Emporous.)

Blog Posts

I wrote a grand total of three posts in 2023 and then promptly abandoned my blog. Why? What happened? It’s not like I stopped writing! On any given week, I probably end up writing 10k words or more. I write scripts for my YouTube channel, Pluralsight courses, and podcasts. The amount of words I type into a browser or VS Code is frankly embarrassing. Where’s the disconnect? Why am I not blogging?

Wordpress. The problem is Wordpress.

This is hard to describe, but I’ll do my best. I prefer low friction interactions that feel snappy. If a process feels like a slog, I’m going to avoid it. Even if the actual time it takes to accomplish something is minimal, in my mind it feels like an overwhelming burden, so I put it to the side and focus on other tasks that don’t require as much mental overhead.

The Wordpress version of my website felt that way to me. The interface was slow. Logging in alone felt like a chore. Interacting with the editor was like walking through molasses. I didn’t know what half the plugins were doing, whether they were necessary, and why my disk space kept filling up even though I wasn’t posting anything. The CSS would randomly break when I wasn’t looking, and sometimes images just wouldn’t load. Why? No idea.

What’s nice about Wordpress is that it has plugins to do everything and it abstracts a bunch of stuff away from you. However, it’s really hard to figure out why things are going wrong. The whole setup feels deliberately opaque. I feel like I’m fighting with Microsoft Word in 2003. And I’m losing.

Additionally, I wanted to update a bunch of pages and reorganize the site, but I struggled to do it in Wordpress. The theme and layout seemed inscrutable to me. Even a minor change took me hours to figure out. Wow, again, getting some really strong MS Word 2003 vibes here. Why did that line suddenly format itself as bold and 8pt Arial? Because you forgot to burn the correct incense at the last midnight mass to Steve Ballmer. Oh and all the formatting marks are hidden and showing them is arcane magic reserved for only the high priest class.

Not to go on too deep of a tangent, but this is my blog afterall. One of the reasons I love writing in Markdown so much is that none of this shit is hidden. All the formatting is right there in the text. Sure, you have to learn some basic Markdown syntax, but after that, writing in Markdown is a breeze. I’m writing this in Markdown right now. And my two certification guides were entirely written in Markdown and VS Code. Suck it Word.

The net result was that I didn’t like interacting with my website, so I simply avoided it. I didn’t write blog posts, I didn’t update the site, and I cringed every time I had to visit it. My own website made me cringe. That’s bad. In summer of 2023, I decided that had to change, and moreover that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Time to bring in some help!

I contracted with a person on Fiverr to migrate my site to Hugo and help me with the layout. We made some decent progress, but ultimately he wasn’t able to finish the design or do the migration. I suppose that’s the way of Fiverr. So I hired someone else to finish the job. It took a few months, but he got everything migrated over, streamlined the design as I requested, and helped me make a few tweaks that were probably out of scope. I’m really happy with the result!

The website is now hosted on Netlify and I can write and publish posts using Markdown. VS Code, and GitHub. I understand how the site is compiled and published, and I can make changes without spending hours fighting with weird plugins. The process is now low friction, git-based, and fast. I truly believe I’ll end up posting a lot more in 2024 as a result.

Emporous

I wanted to contribute to an open-source project in 2023, and I was inspired by an episode of the now retired Full Stack Journey podcast to reach out to one of the maintainers of the Universal Object Reference project. I spoke to her and she brought me up to speed on the current status of the project and how I might get involved. The project was changing its name to Emporous and they were in the process of renaming the GitHub repo and rewriting the documentation. Writing docs is something I’m good at, so I offered to help with that.

The group maintaining Emporous was meeting every other week, and I attended some of those meetings and helped write some of the docs on the GitHub repo. But soon I got busy working on other projects and delivering live training, so I had to skip a few meetings. Then I missed a few more. Then I found out the project was being moved to be part of Ortelius, an open-source, supply chain catalog solution. There were some politics involved, and I didn’t really understand what the future looked like for Emporous. So I stopped attending the meetings and contributing to the project.

Not every project is going to be a home run. And while the people involved were great, I just didn’t have the time or motivation to stay involved. I wish I had been more upfront about that, instead of just fading away. My failure was not stopping contributions, but rather not communicating that I was leaving the project.

Looking Forward

I’m going to be writing a full post about plans for 2024, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here. This post is already pushing 3900 words! (Told you I write a lot) If you’ve stuck around till the end, thanks! The theme for 2024 will be focus. I need to focus on less things and do better to promote them. My primary drivers will be increasing revenue and engaging with stuff I actually like doing. Wild, I know.

Anyhow, thanks for reading the post and I hope you have a great 2024!

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