Takeaways from 2020
This was a bizarre year that delivered a mix of stress and opportunities. I found new hobbies, new tricks for remote working, and new ways of managing business. Below are some highlights of 2020:
Metal Toad has switched to a remote-first work culture just a few months prior to the pandemic, and thus we were lucky to have time to ease into the cultural shifts. While we were able to adapt, the experience of being remote-first while serving clients that are office-first was awkward and caused a few hiccups. One notable issue was that we were optimized to be productive and focused during remote meetings, whereas our clients still behaved as if the remote experience was an add-on to the in-person experience. Once the pandemic hit, the entire world moved to remote-first, and new cultural norms began to form. Now that the dust has settled, I find that meetings have become far more productive and action-oriented than in-person meetings; unfortunately, the brainstorming experience has diminished. With the majority of white-collar companies switching permanently to remote-oriented working, I predict many of the norms that arose during the pandemic will stick long-term.
Over the years, I've honed a sense of when we are enjoying the fruits of success too much and growing lazy as a management team. When times are tough, we are laser focused and hyper-vigilant, but when times are good we can easily grow complacent. Metal Toad has done a great job of keeping scrappy and focused, even when times are good, and I sleep better at night because of that priority. However, the pandemic brought a whole new level of lean thinking to our business. We maintained several scenarios of future quarters throughout 2020, and tightly managed every sales lead, production plan, and expense line to ensure that we stayed healthy in each scenario. Overall, we had a great year performance-wise, and I attribute that to the maniacal focus on the numbers and the wellbeing of our talent.
Since my family was stuck at home this year, I found more time to do side projects and experiments. I was able to do more experimentation with machine learning, virtual reality development, and work on our smart home. For machine learning, I build demos for webinars using AWS’s application tier and also built AWS infrastructure to run multi-layer perceptrons against our internal data sets. I also migrated my management data sets and dashboards to Google BigQuery and used some of their timeline ML functions to forecast project budgets. For virtual reality, I built a model of our family room in Unreal Engine 4. Finally, for our smart home, I built an Arduino water sensor for our reverse osmosis water reservoir that waters our animals at home. In addition, I setup our SimpliSafe home security system and added additional outdoor cameras.
What opportunities did you discover from the challenge year of 2020? Did you have any silver lining? If so, what was it?