2020 in review


Tech workers

I know what you’re thinking - 2020 sucked! Worst year ever! The COVID-19 pandemic, no social gatherings, no dine-in restaurants, no gyms, the US Trumpster fire, and most importantly to those of us in the tech world: Red Hat terminating CentOS development.

Of course, most people will remember 2020 for the pandemic, and that’s completely understandable. None of us have experienced a pandemic in our lifetime, and both our society and economy were not prepared to deal with it gracefully. Many businesses folded or downsized, and the lack of social contact caused mental health issues for many people of all ages.

To be honest, as a tech worker the pandemic really didn’t phase me too much. After all, working on a computer is the same at work and at home, or even in a coworking space or coffee shop. And while I love serendipitous hallway conversations and getting to know my coworkers, I actually prefer to work from home. Not only is the coffee at home far better, but the barista is far better looking too. As for the social isolation part… like most tech workers, I was a pro at that long before the pandemic started ;-)

Dilbert comic

On the academic side, 2020 was actually a very exciting year for me! Earlier in the year I finished authoring my Hands-On Windows Server 2019 book for Cengage. This was the first book I wrote about the Windows operating system in over a decade, and I’m incredibly pleased with how it turned out. Although it is the third edition (the previous two editions were created for earlier versions of Windows Server by another author), I wrote the entire book from scratch in much the same way that I teach my classes. As I was finishing up this book earlier this year, Microsoft decided to get out of product-based certification altogether (outside of Win10 and Azure), leaving publishers and colleges scrambling to find a suitable path for upgrading their Windows Server 2016 certification-focused courses to Windows Server 2019. My book fit that need exactly, and hit the academic market at the perfect time with no competition! And no, I didn’t slip Microsoft $50 to make that happen.

Cengage textbook for Windows Server 2019

I’m sure that many of you will also be pleased that my new book is dedicated to you:

Cengage textbook dedication

The pandemic meant that colleges had to transition to online classes after March Break. And while teaching online is different than in the physical classroom, it’s well suited to technology courses, and most of my students enjoy the flexibility that online classes afford (no commute to the campus, easier to catch up if you fall behind, can watch classes again after, and so on.). The comments below are from my students at the end of our first online class back in March (names and faces redacted to maintain privacy). Online class feedback

At the beginning of the pandemic I managed to score some fancy new home office furniture from a few local tech startups that decided ditch their physical office space, including a massive whiteboard table that I plan all of my work on. Thanks to the functionality of Microsoft Teams, I’ve enjoyed teaching from home, and so has my dog. In fact, Microsoft Teams is now the #1 productivity app that my organization uses for all communication, meetings and file sharing. Microsoft Outlook has been bumped down to #2 after almost 25 years (something that I never thought would happen).

I’ve also noticed that our organization now engages in far more meaningful collaboration as a result of our move to Microsoft Teams. From brief face-to-face online meetings instead of emails, to fun lunchtime sessions where we can hear some live music or be guided through mindfulness meditation, and even after-hours online socials. There have also been many amazing staff sessions run by people from different campuses and departments on a wide variety of different topics (how to achieve a healthy work-life balance, tips for creating engaging short educational videos, and much more). Not only has working online enriched our corporate culture, I’ve noticed that it has increased our productivity, dramatically.

Unlike the previous 5 years, I’ve performed a large amount of program review and development this year, including designing a new Cybersecurity program for Sault College via our inter-college partnership. It feels great to see my skills in those areas being put to good use again!

Like last year, I also worked on tech editing several different Linux textbooks for various publishers outside of college time. Since most of my other textbooks are Linux-related, this is easy for me to do, and our closely acquainted Linux authoring community always loves my recommendations.

Winning the Instructor of the Year award this month was also a nice way to end the year:

Instructor of the Year UNIXGURU license plate

On the computing side, this year has actually been busier than last year. Cloud infrastructures and cloud development projects have been accelerating at an incredible pace these past few years, and since the cloud is almost entirely UNIX (e.g. Linux) alongside automation and open source Web frameworks that evolved on the UNIX platform, UNIX gurus like myself are in extremely hot demand. I take on one or two projects each year outside of the college to keep my tech skills sharp, and I was already working on two projects before the pandemic started. Those two projects were cut short a few months into the pandemic, but by the beginning of October the number of new project requests I received has been insane! I’ve turned down 9 out of every 10 opportunities I’ve been offered, and each offer has actually been something that I wanted to do. I guess it doesn’t help that I’m technically the only licensed UNIX guru in Ontario. Hiking pic

Like last year, I wrote plenty of blog posts for CompTIA again this year (mostly Linux-focused), as well as attended a large number of online tech conferences that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to attend:

  • KubeCon
  • CloudNativeCon
  • GitHub Universe
  • Vintage Computer Festival
  • Red Hat Summit
  • IBM Think
  • Microsoft Build
  • Microsoft Ignite
  • BSDCan
  • LibrePlanet

Not only did I learn many new things from each conference, I also obtained my wardrobe for 2021. I now have a logo t-shirt for each day of the month and a dozen more pairs of socks.

The KW Linux Users Group (KW-LUG) and LibreOffice Users Group meetups that were previously held in the campus quickly moved online after the pandemic started using open source video conferencing software (Big Blue Button). The fact that these meetups maintained their momentum in the pandemic truly reflects their dedication.

On the personal side, I still eat well and get plenty of exercise. I walk everywhere and count calories. I couldn’t compete in the Toronto Marathon this year because it was cancelled, but made up for it with some amazing hikes with my dog!

Overall, 2020 wasn’t as awesome as 2019. But I guess you could say that it was “Fairlee” awesome ;-) Here’s to a healthy 2021 for everyone!

Fairlee awesome pic