Two years in Review: 2021 and 2020

Let’s reflect on the last two years where I started my on-site code review workshops business – as a mother of two little ones right at the start of a global pandemic.

Indeed, I don’t want to review 2021. Instead, I want to look back at 2020 and 2021. End of 2020, I was too traumatized to find words for all the madness of the pandemic. But now, it’s time to reflect on my first two years as a full-time entrepreneur.

I left my cushy job at Microsoft to follow my dream.

Yes, 2020 was extreme. It was the year l left my cushy job at Microsoft and committed to giving code review workshops full-time. I had a couple of upcoming workshop requests by more prominent corporations with many engineers. We were in the middle of planning my, by then, on-site workshops. 

I was excited. I would travel the world. Texas, Sweden, Bulgaria, England… I was going places. I also had two conference talks coming up.

Yes, traveling the world and building connections was my plan for 2020. It was also my plan for how to grow my business.

Me giving an on-site code review workshop in December 2019.

In March, my dream became a nightmare.

Then, March 2020 changed everything. All workshops were on hold. I started to prepare for remote code review workshops, but my clients were not ready. They started postponing the workshops. They thought that it would be safe to travel again by June or July, and they preferred me to be on-site. 

While at the end of 2019, I had so much work and fun giving code review workshops that I decided to quit my job at Microsoft to go all in, the months around March and April looked very grim. To all the stress and fears of a deadly virus spreading worldwide, I had another immense anxiety: I quit my job right before many people lost theirs. The world economy is about to collapse, all travel is on hold, and I just started an on-site workshop business. What did I do?

Level 1: Kids 24/7. Level 2: Lockdown with kids.

In addition, I kept my kids home from kindergarten–even during the few times, it was open. It did not feel safe for me to send them.

So, I found myself with a business that was in limbo. All the planned workshops seemed to fall through, and almost no time to work as the kids were at home 24/7. Because of lockdown, we could not even go to a playground. Every day I was grateful we had a garden.

Michaela with her kids

Do not give up–prepare for the future.

I used the little time I had to ramp up my remote code review workshops. I bought equipment, learned to work with the right tools, and adjusted the content, so it works well in a remote setting. Then, I gave a couple of free, small workshops to test the waters. I wanted to make sure I could deliver high-quality workshops when my clients were ready too.

This meant working a lot of nights or very early mornings. I was in the same boat as so many working parents in 2020. And it was an extremely rough and unpleasant ride. 

We built a house.

Yet, as if this madness is not enough, 2020 was also when we started to build our house. If I could have, I would have postponed or canceled. But contracts were already signed, so there was just one option: we must get through this. 

Building a house in 2020 means exploding prices, unclear deadlines, shortage of building supplies, lockdowns, and restrictions on who can work when and how. Both my husband and I were exhausted. 

Code review workshops turned around.

Thankfully, people reconsidered their options in May, and the first bookings for remote workshops came in. While I felt better with each booked workshop and each workshop I successfully delivered, the rest of the year was still extremely stressful. The double, triple and quadruple burden of kids, pandemic anxieties, building a house, and the fears of starting or failing a business wore on me.

Only at the end, I realized we might be okay.

It was only at the end of 2020 when I realized I might be okay business-wise. Even though I could not travel as planned and could not be at conferences to talk and spread the word about my workshops, I somehow managed to match my former salary with my revenue. That felt great. 

Also, we wrapped up a large part of the house building, and the stress turned into gratefulness that we could finally realize the dream of our own home. 

Beginning of 2021, the kids also went back to kindergarten. They were missing friends. So, my husband and I sent them. Each day when we picked them up and saw them smile and laugh because of the great time with their friends and the other kids, we felt okay about the decision. Although the doubt about right and wrong choices during a pandemic never went away to this day.   

A new year, bringing the same old, same old: 2021.

At the end of 2020, people were ecstatic because of the hopes that 2021 would be much better. But soon, everyone realized that this was not the case. I felt like “winter is coming” from Games of Thrones. A dark time–full of danger from the virus. 

At that time, I was also EXTREMELY lonely. I haven’t seen my friends for almost a year. I haven’t spent time with my mum or extended family. Also, the time with my husband was minimal. One of us was always watching the kids while the other was working. We were rarely together.

Joining other’s adventures.

This was also one of the reasons why I was thrilled when an opportunity to lead a research project on developer experience and productivity came up. I was highly impressed by the founders, and the idea aligned very well with my experience and interests. In addition, working with others and interacting and talking to other adults sounded like a dream come true. So in February 2021, I deep-dived into this adventure. I led the research and also became an investor of this company. It is still in stealth mode, but as soon as it is public, I’ll share more. 

I burned-out again.

But despite really enjoying working with this team, I felt the afterpains of 2020. End of February, before vaccines were available to our age group, the whole family got COVID despite being locked up most of the time. I felt defeated. I haven’t seen a single friend or family member, and yet, there we were, COVID-positive. After 3 weeks, we were almost okay physically, but not mentally. I poured the rest of my energy into finishing the project on developer experience, and once it was done, I took a two-month-long break.

Stop–The only option left.

In these two months, I did not release any new Software Engineering Unlocked podcast episodes; I did not write any new blog posts. I just did the minimum necessary to keep the business running. I gave a couple of workshops–because they gave me energy. Yet, I stopped everything else that was not part of the bare essentials. Instead, I went to the lake with my kids almost every day. We enjoyed the water, the nature, and my oldest learned to swim. It was the best decision! My energy and motivation came back and the need to reflect on my business with it.

The two biggest realizations are: 

1) The code review workshops are what I should continue to do and mainly focus on.

2) Sometimes, you can’t hit the brake. You have to go through whatever you face. But as soon as you have the chance, hit the brake if it’s too much. Hit it hard, and enjoy life!

Me learning my son to swim,

2021–The Good Parts.

2021 was a good year from a revenue perspective. The revenue exceeded my expectations by far – and makes me even more sure entrepreneurship is a viable option also from a salary perspective. That my code review workshop business also is constantly growing – and that almost exclusively by word of mouth – also tells me I do many things right, even though I felt like failing throughout the entire year. 2021 was even more of a good year because of every single day I spent at the lake with my kids. It was a good year because my husband and I finally finished the house. We are still together. We are still in love. And that’s quite an accomplishment given the last 2 years.

My husband and I are a dream team.

2022–What’s to come

For 2022, I will focus on outsourcing and building a team of people to help me run the business. Already at the beginning of 2021, I realized that I needed help. That the business outgrew what I can handle as a single person. But I lacked the skills and the time to build a team. Letting go of responsibility and control is hard for me. Onboarding and training contractors and employees are time-consuming. Still, this December I made the first step and started to work with 4 people. At least 2 of them will hopefully be part of my business for longer. The most significant change for 2022 is that code review workshops will become their own brand and a separate entity of michaelagreiler.com. I have so many code review business ideas that I hope to see coming to life in 2022. In addition, I’m planning again to use the summer to recharge. I’ll take a lot of time off to be with my kids. I will have three by then 😉 

Dr. Michaela Greiler

I make code reviews your superpower.

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