What a year, huh? (2023 Recap)

Hey there!

It’s been a while since I haven’t posted anything on here. A couple of years actually. This time, though, I’m not writing about something techy (well, mostly), or a project. This time, it’s more of a personal update. 2023 has been a pretty eventful year for me, and even though I haven’t really done that in the past, and I’m not sure how interesting this will be for anyone except myself, I thought it was worth commemorating the milestones that happened in the past year on my own little corner of the World Wide Web.

Also, yes, I know, we’re already almost a month into 2024. But some say it’s still fine to wish someone a happy new year as long as it’s still January, so surely this is also fine 🙂

A rough start

2023 didn’t exactly start on a positive note. Around mid-December 2022, I learned that I had lost my job at Element following a round of redundancies. Although I’m not going to publicly blame anyone responsible for this decision, it would be wrong to pretend this did not come as a huge shock for me.

Element had been part of my life for over 4 years (over 5 if you start counting from when I was still an intern), and had been the only company I worked for since I decided to emigrate from my hometown in France to the UK. This meant I needed to rethink my life as a British resident, now that a significant part of it had been ripped away. Worry also quickly settled in, as even though I left with a comfortable severance package, money can flow pretty fast in the 2nd most expensive city in the world.

This meant job hunting could not wait. However, within a few weeks, it quickly became obvious that what I got myself caught into was one of the most brutal crisis this industry had seen in a while, with big corporations laying off employees left and right, rendering the job market overcrowded with more and more people looking for work, but also more and more companies taking the cautious approach and leveling down their hiring.

So things went on for a while without much success. Some times it became tricky to prevent the Baserow table I was tracking my applications into from being filled with red.

A redacted partial screenshot of a Baserow table with all visible rows labeled “Dead”

But still, I trudged forward, exploring ways in which I could find my next step. I did some freelancing to help Unwired Networks improve their X509 certificate verification and handling tooling (while writing open source!), and even worked a bit for a credit card company. There have been several crossroads that could have taken me to a completely different outcome than the one I ended up with (which we’ll get to in a minute), and although I don’t really want to share too many details here, I’m immensely grateful to everyone who has followed me throughout that journey, even if just part of it.

The big 60

At the same time, my love for cycling was picking up. I’ve already shared bits of it online, and lots of it privately: cycling has been something I’ve loved doing for a very long time now. As I suddenly found myself with some free time on my hands, and I was coming off a year or two during which I’ve slowly but surely been improving on taking care of myself and getting in a better shape, I thoroughly enjoyed spending time on my bike.

Towards the start of the year, I finally did something I had been pondering for a while: signing up for a cycling event. RideLondon had been happening close to me for quite a while at that point, and I thought it would be a nice challenge to take on one of their rides, signing up for 60 miles (even though I had initially settled on 30). This gave me extra motivation to cycle again, and to start doing longer and longer distances. I spent some amazing weekends cycling through the British countryside alongside a fellow cyclist friend (thanks a lot, Michael!), smashing pretty long distances in the process.

The event itself arrived in a timely fashion. Due to some personal events I won’t get into here, the month of May 2023 for me started with one of the worst mental health breakdowns I had ever experienced. While I spent most of the first half of the month barely leaving my flat, this upcoming deadling was what I needed to get out and train.

The ride was honestly one of the best events I’ve ever attended. While it was challenging, I surprised myself with how much fun I was having, crossing milestones while enjoying parts of the countryside I had never been through.

Me cycling on a paved road surrounded by Epping Forest on each side

Crossing the finish line on Tower Bridge was probably one of the most memorable moments of my life. It’s difficult to put emotions into words, and I’m aware that a lot of people cycle longer distances during those events. But when I was cycling down Tower Bridge after almost spending close to 5 hours on my bike, I couldn’t help but think back to a time that wasn’t even that far away, barely 3 years back, when I was struggling with anxiety, had a very low self-esteem, and in no way could be motivated to take much care of myself, let alone exercise. And that same me had just smashed 60 miles, 100 kilometres, of cycling in one day.

Me on a bike, smiling, with London’s Tower Bridge behind me

Spoiler alert: I’ve already signed up for RideLondon 2024, for 100 miles this time. And I’m so looking forward to it.

A new beginning

As a number of readers might be aware by this point, I joined the Thunderbird team at Mozilla in June 2023. This came after months of applying to job after job and getting rejection after rejection, which was slowly eating away at my confidence and mental health. In total, I applied to 76 positions, leading to over 50 rejections, and I’m not counting applications I never heard back from (though those statistics are still paling in comparison to the ones my sister once shared with me about her job hunting in the marketing sector). So this news felt like a ray of sunlight in the middle of a storm: not only did I find a role that I was happy and interested in, but it’s also to work on software I’ve been using for well over a decade, as part of an organisation I had been looking up to for so long.

While getting used to Thunderbird was challenging, it was a welcome challenge. It felt like the first time in a while that I was able to put my skills to use to not only improve a project that I feel personally attached to, but also have a positive impact in areas that matter to me. And to be part of a global community that I share common values and interests with.

A few months in, the focus of my work started shifting from fixing regressions (which was a great way to get more familiar with the project) to more feature-oriented work. I helped research existing code architecture, and design part of the project’s future. As the work to integrate Rust into the code base (led by Ikey) started to come to a close, and my own work started to gravitate around it, I got to build on top of it to create some documentation and code infrastructure that will help Thunderbird developers for year to come. Being able to have this kind of impact on a project that matters so much to me, within barely more than 6 months on the job, is something I’m immensely proud of.

(pssst, if you want to hear more about this, we’re giving a talk on this at FOSDEM this weekend 👀)

This section of the post is probably a bit shorter than the others. To be honest, I’m still struggling to figure out where the last 6 months have gone, because I don’t feel like it’s been that long. And it’s still just the beginning. Although I’m approaching my professional life with more caution than I used to, thanks to past experiences, it feels good to be doing something I enjoy again.

To 2024

I think it’s fair to say 2023 has included some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows of my life (some I haven’t included here). If you’d asked me a year from now where I’d be now, I very likely wouldn’t have been able to guess where the year took me, and all of the hurdles and joys I encountered along the way. I want to reiterate how grateful I am to everyone who’s been with me throughout the whole journey, or just part of it.

If 2024 is as eventful as 2023 was, maybe I’ll make another one of these in a year. Though frankly I kinda hope it isn’t. But maybe I’ll write something up regardless; who knows 🙂

In the meantime, I hope everyone reading this has a smashing 2024. I’m specifically wishing all the best to everyone I know who’s looking for work at the moment, whether due to layoffs (public and not) or unhappiness with what you have right now. It’s still rough out there, but I know you’ll pull through.

See ya!