It’s a bit wild thinking about 2022. On one hand, COVID is still here and a good part of the year was dealing with the Omicron wave. This meant more lockdowns with curfews, vaccine passports and other sanitary measures.
As I discussed in last year’s review, the curfews were very rough on my mental health. I was depressed. I dealt with what I described as COVID grief. As you’ll see in the next section, I found a way to help me deal with it all.
Then things began to change a bit. I had a more normal summer. I did a trip to Portugal for WordCamp Europe, there were festivals in Montreal, I saw friends who came from out of town. It felt very cathartic.
That said, COVID isn’t over. Things aren’t the same as they were before COVID started and probably never will be again. I’m still processing how COVID affected me and what I want going forward.
This is why doing these year in reviews is so important. They offer a way for me to process events and reflect. If you’re tired of hearing about it, that’s ok! You can skip ahead.
Psilocybin and COVID
I debated long and hard whether to discuss this. Psilocybin (a.k.a. magic mushrooms) is still illegal in Canada, but it’s in a very grey area. It’s easy to get your hands on them online. There are even stores that openly sell it despite the fact it’s illegal.
The reason I debated about this a lot is that it’s impossible for me to talk about COVID in 2022 without talking about shrooms. (This is what I’ll call psilocybin/magic mushrooms from this point onward.) The experience has been quite profound for me. I’m hoping that sharing it will help remove some stigma around it.
I’ll preface this further by saying that my experience is anecdotal. You shouldn’t take it as any sort of medical recommendation. I am not a doctor or a therapist. I’m simply sharing my experience.
With that said, I bought shrooms in December 2021. This was around the time Quebec announced its second lockdown with a curfew in response to the Omicron wave. This was a pure coincidence.
But, as I discussed in last year’s year in review, this second lockdown was definitely a gut punch. It caused all that COVID grief and sadness to flare back up. I was just not in a good mental space.
I didn’t do my first big shroom trip until New Year’s Eve. Everyone was locked in their home and not doing anything. I played some video games with friends and decided I’d try to have a real shroom trip that night. (I’d only been microdosing at that point.)
I ended up having a really amazing trip. Everyone talks about visual effects with shrooms, but I haven’t had it a lot. What’s been the truly significant aspect of shrooms is music. Music is just so much better on shrooms and that’s all I did on New Year. I lied in bed and listened to music. (I like lofi hip hop a lot for trips.)
The best way to describe the experience was that it was therapeutic. I felt like a weight had been lifted and I could deal with some of the trauma around COVID. Coincidentally, New Year’s Eve was also the same day I published my year in review last year. Looking back on it, I feel like writing and publishing it probably had a part to play in the fact that I felt a weight had been lifted.
Continued use during winter and spring
I continued using shrooms throughout the winter and spring. COVID and isolation were still problems, even if our curfew ended up being short-lived. (It lasted about a month.) Things were still not really open.
I was also very much affected by the war in Ukraine. (I’ll talk more about it later.) But that combined with COVID made the world still felt quite dark to me. Shrooms were useful tool to help me process everything.
It wasn’t all happy trips during that time. I was quite new psychedelics and made some mistakes with set and setting. Never had that issue with other drugs, but definitely an issue with shrooms.
That said, I will say that, even when I’ve had a bad trip (and I’ve had a few now), I felt like I was processing something important.
Thoughts after a year
Ok, so I don’t want to just talk about drugs! I’ve played around a lot with microdosing and not just doing trips. But I want to just wrap up with a few thoughts about things so far.
Since the late spring, my use of shrooms has gone down significantly. While COVID is still around, there’s been some return to normalcy. Specifically for me, I’ve been able to socialize in-person again.
This was the main source of mental health issues over the past few years. And while things aren’t the way they were before COVID (and will never be again if I’m honest), this new normal was good enough for my extroverted self. The result was that it reduced my overall need to use shrooms to deal with isolation.
I still enjoy doing trips. They’re a useful tool to help me process things. But the feeling of distress that was such a powerful motivator to use them isn’t there anymore.
And that’s a good thing! My only wish is that I’d had known about how to get some during 2020 and 2021 when I was really depressed. Who knows how those two years would have played out if I had.
Russian invasion of Ukraine
While the Russia-Ukraine War has been going on since 2014, the lead up and subsequent invasion this year still hit me like a ton of bricks. I was too young to really process the fall of the Berlin Wall, but this feels like such a moment. I think the invasion marked the end of Post–Cold War era and we’re entering a new era.
Up until the invasion, I’d been a pretty staunch pacifist. I always felt there was a way to deal with all situations without coming to arms. But I think this was an innocent view that came from the peace of the Post-Cold War era.
I don’t think the invasion turned me into a war hawk. But it’s made me appreciate the need for military power in foreign policy. You can’t stand up to a bully if you’re not strong yourself. This is the essence of deterrence. (It doesn’t just apply to nuclear weapons.)
The other fascinating thing with invasion is how everything is almost in real time. This was terrible for my overall news and Twitter addiction! There are so many accounts sharing footage, tracking army movement, analyzing everything. (There was a lot of information warfare going on as well!)
I’ve never learned so much about how armies work. I think I never truly grasped how much logistics played a part in war and the scale of it. Now, I probably know too much about army trucks and tires as well as rail system and the russian gauge. 🤣
LOTS of video games
As I wrote this year in review, I struggled a lot to remember what happened in the first half of the year. Thankfully, Steam has a retrospective feature like Spotify. Well, apparently, I played a lot of video games between January and April!
Honestly, I can’t remember that period that well even though I spent 600 hours playing a game! Everything during COVID is pretty hazy now that things are more normal. I have a very clear mental break between my memories before June and after. I’m actually curious about why that is. Is it how I’m dealing with the trauma? I’m not sure.
Anyhow, I assume I was just trying to cope with COVID. There still wasn’t much to do. But it’s weird how I can’t remember that period super well!
Birthday surprise: COVID!
As the main omicron wave subsided, things opened up again. We had a vaccine passport requirement to go to bars and restaurants. This was great for my mental health, as I could start doing some social events with friends and go to the gym again.
As we know, vaccine passport wasn’t a perfect solution to prevent the spread of COVID. And, for a while, I managed to avoid catching COVID. But that luck streak ended in May for my birthday when I finally caught COVID from going to a fancy bar with a friend.
I was actually really shocked when I tested positive because all I had was a really runny nose. I thought I’d just caught something else. All the old respiratory viruses were roaming around again with things opening up. (They still are right now too.)
But, apparently, this is a way that COVID can present itself. Everyone who I knew who’d had it reported being very tired and respiratory symptoms. (My friend caught it too and had it a lot worse than me.) I had none of that. I stayed isolated at home until I tested negative. But I worked the whole time.
I want to point out that I don’t mean to make COVID sound insignificant. I was just lucky and had an extremely mild version of it. And even then, I will say that, even if I had it extremely mildly, I don’t feel the same since I caught COVID.
I don’t know if it’s just in my head. It doesn’t feel like long COVID as far as I can tell. It’s just a weird subjective experience I can’t explain. The problem is that there are so many confounding factors that can play into it, such as:
- I forgot what it’s like to be sick regularly because I lived in a bubble for two years.
- I’m almost 40 and I just didn’t get to experience the degradation of my ability to recuperate and do things (a.k.a. party) because we were locked in for two years.
- I’m working too much and that’s what’s affecting my health. (I’ll talk more about that one later.)
I just know I don’t feel that great and I can’t explain it. It seems to have started when I caught COVID. It could also be unrelated and I’m just using COVID as a scapegoat. But those are my thoughts about it right now.
Return to conferences and travelling
In June, I started travelling again. I did three trips this year.
Portugal and WordCamp Europe
My first trip was to Portugal for WordCamp Europe. This was my first in-person event since COVID started in 2020. The overall experience was mixed.
WordCamp Europe itself was amazing. It continues to be the best (and, in my opinion, must-attend) WordCamp. Seeing friends and interacting with the WordPress community in person again was also very cathartic. This was really the moment where I felt my mental health got a lot better.
Travelling itself was ok. Europe was ridiculously busy and expensive even in May. (I called it “Hot COVID Summer” lol.) I was planning to stay a month or more. I ended up staying two weeks and going home right after WordCamp Europe.
I also found travelling to be quite gruelling physically and mentally. As I discussed in the previous section, I think COVID left me weaker even if I had it mildly. I was sick again during the trip and suffered various weird physical ailments which I’ve never had before.
USA tour and WordCamp US
I came home and enjoyed the summer in Montreal. It was actually my favourite summer at home in a long time. I actually had two WordPress friends from out-of-town visit for a few weeks.
WordCamp US was in early September. I planned a month-long trip around it to go see friends I hadn’t seen all pandemic. I visited friends in Tulsa, Phoenix and Portland.
To get to Portland, I took the train from San Diego. It took about 36h to get there and it was one of the best travel experiences of my life. I met so many interesting people from different backgrounds. Here is a small slice of them:
- Austin, who was going back for his last week of work before embarking on a trip around the world without flying.
- Billy, a 90-year-old Korean War veteran, going to see his daughter and grandkids in Portland.
- Jim who sold jewelry that he made on the train where he lived because he was homeless.
- Kira, a tech manager, going home for the funeral of her friend.
- Dan, who’s looking to become a real estate agent, but enjoys writing short stories. We debated life and philosophy.
We were so mean to each other during the last two years. It was wholesome to just hang out with other people and just talk and learn from each other. It was another healing moment for me.
I didn’t talk much about WordCamp US, but it was also really great. Similarly to WordCamp Europe, it felt good to hang out with friends again. The vibe of WordCamp US changed a lot, and it definitely felt more like a business conference in some ways. (It was even in a resort!)
That said, I talked with so many WordPress executives and founders. It was a really great conference for Ymir. I’ll talk more about it later, but I feel WordCamps have helped me a lot with Ymir, so I’m glad they’re back!
Austin and LonghornPHP
Like I was doing before COVID, I want to continue to do a PHP conference each year. It was really nice meeting people from the PHP community in person. Before, I’d only seen them on Twitter.
Otherwise, I saw some friends who lived in Austin. But I was sick during this trip as well. So I mainly stayed at the conference hotel.
Thoughts on travel
Throughout COVID, I kept wanting to travel again. I felt things would be ok if I could travel like I used to. In 2022, I got to put that theory to the test and, if I’m honest, it hasn’t played out like I’d hoped.
Like I mentioned a few times already, I was sick a lot travelling. It’s not a great feeling to always get sick whenever you go somewhere else. (Three trips is a small sample size, but it still sets the tone.) I also had a decent amount of anxiety whenever I travelled and didn’t sleep very well because of it.
My current theory is that, pre-COVID, what was abnormal was me being home, and that’s what I didn’t like. Now, that I haven’t left in two years, travelling is what feels anormal. It’s making me anxious to get out of my comfort zone.
I also work a lot more than I used to. Before COVID, I did a bit of consulting, wrote articles and spoke at conferences. It was easy to do that and travel. It wasn’t a huge amount of hours so I could appreciate my time travelling.
Now, with Ymir, I’m constantly working. I feel guilty whenever I’m not because it’s not making enough to support me yet. (I also realize this isn’t a healthy mindset.) This causes a lot of stress when travelling because I should enjoy my travels and not just trying to do as much work as possible.
There’s also a different vibe when travelling and at conferences. I think people are still dealing with the trauma of the last two years. Travelling, interacting with strangers, etc. isn’t something that’s back to what it was.
I’m not sure how I feel about it. Travelling was such a huge part of my motivation in life. I don’t know what could replace it right now, but I really don’t want it to be just work.
2023 travels and slowing down
Now, you’d think with all this that I might try to travel less next year. But it’s not playing out that way! I’m speaking at the inaugural WordCamp Asia next February.
I’m also turning 40 next year. And, as a gift to myself, I rented an apartment in Tokyo for the month of March and early April. (I’ll be there for the cherry blossom season.) I’ll head there after WordCamp Asia. If you live in Tokyo, I’d love to meet up!
This is a test to try to adapt travelling to where I’m at mentally. When I travelled before COVID, I moved constantly. I’d often switch cities every day. This is too much for me now, but also doesn’t have the same appeal it used to have.
So, instead, I’ll try to slow down and live somewhere for a bit. I’m hoping it’ll help me find a healthy balance between travelling and working. I’m not sure if it’ll work, but I figure it’s worth trying out. I wanted to do the same thing in 2020 (rent an apartment in Berlin), but wasn’t able to, for obvious reasons.
Ymir’s second year
I mentioned Ymir a few times already. If you’re not aware of Ymir, it’s a serverless WordPress DevOps platform that I announced in 2020. It’s what I spend most of my time working on and thinking about these days.
In this review, I’m just going to talk about Ymir at a high level. That’s because I’m building Ymir in public, so it’s easy to follow my journey with the company. I send a report every two weeks discussing the business and what I’ve been working on. There’s also an open dashboard where you can see live stats on how the business is doing.
Ymir continues to grow! I finally hit an important milestone of $1,000/month in revenue last month. (Also known as 1k MRR.) This isn’t a practical milestone per se. Ymir doesn’t pay me a salary still. I still rely on other revenue streams to survive.
Reaching $1,000/month was a lot tougher than I expected. (I thought I’d reach it last year!) The economic landscape isn’t pretty right now, and I had a lot of flat months this year. That said, economic times like these are great times to start a business usually!
I will say that, compared to last year, revenue growth hasn’t affected me that much. Last year, every cancellation was a gut punch. Now, it’s just disappointing.
The reason for that is because it pushes back my objective to be able to work on Ymir full time. I think I need to make $4000/month for that to happen. (I’ll confirm with my accountant when I’m making more.) But right now, this just feels years away.
Marketing is still hard, but WordCamps help
Marketing is still a challenge. I’ve resigned myself that it might always be one. I try to have a consistent habit to do it, but I haven’t been the best at it.
A lot of my marketing effort is still writing blog posts for the Ymir blog. That said, I’m trying to do a lot more video on the Ymir YouTube channel now. I discovered this amazing tool, Descript, which lets me edit and fix up videos so much more easily. It’s helped me make videos much more quickly.
Another positive development for Ymir marketing is the return of the big WordCamps. Even if I’m better at selling other people’s products (it’s becoming a joke at this point lol), I still found WordCamps to be great networking and marketing events for Ymir. I’m on many people’s radars and I’ve managed to get my first Carl-as-a-Service (I started a trend with that!) customer because of WordCamps.
The other aspect of WordCamps is that it has helped me validate the needs for serverless technology. I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of hosting company executives. We all have a similar idea of where the WordPress hosting market is going in the next decade.
I left both WordCamps super energized and convinced that Ymir was a legitimate product. I’m just very early for the WordPress space. That’s only a problem because I can’t pay myself to work on it full time.
Balancing Ymir and consulting is harder than ever
I think a lot about working on Ymir full time because balancing consulting and Ymir got a lot worse this year. Due to the overall economic situation (a.k.a. budget cuts), I lost a great consulting retainer. I’ve had to replace it with various non-retainer contracts.
I’ll talk more about it later in the income section. That said, the main issue this caused is that I’m now context switching more than ever. A lot of the work for Ymir is complex and requires focus time that all this extra consulting has made rarer.
However, if I didn’t have consulting, I’m not sure I wouldn’t be struggling with context switching anyway. Running a business requires switching between different roles constantly. It’s a thing I like, but it hasn’t been great coding productivity.
I think I will have to think of a way to structure my days (maybe even weeks) so that I can have more of that focus time. Right now, I’m letting myself get pulled in a lot of directions. And that hasn’t been good for me.
Thoughts about Ymir and serverless
I have a lot of thoughts around Ymir and serverless technology swirling in my head. I’ve tried to lay them out in some sort of coherent way.
Thinking in decades
First, being able to talk about Ymir in person has made an enormous difference about how I feel about the product. I’m more convinced than ever that it needs to exist. This doesn’t mean that I’ll have a lot of success immediately.
As I explained last year, Ymir is in the “dilemma zone” (see graph below) of the Innovator’s Dilemma. The current story I like to say is that I’m basically the person talking about “The Cloud” in the early 2000s. They seemed crazy then, but most companies don’t run their own data centers anymore!
Adoption curves for technology infrastructure span decades and not years. This is especially true for large companies. For example, older WordPress hosting companies (e.g. GoDaddy) still largely run their own data centers while the newer ones use the cloud.
Simon Wardley, a British tech executive, has been really helpful in framing a lot of these thoughts for me. He’s done some amazing Twitter threads like this one. He talks a lot about how technology can take a while to diffuse in the market.
Anyone can build a WordPress application
I think Ymir and serverless will allow something similar to happen to WordPress ecosystem. What applications or products could developers build on top of WordPress if they could just run it without thinking about hosting or scaling it? With Ymir, I’ve started getting a glimpse of it.
I have a customer building a product to create and host landing pages using the WordPress full site editor. That’s using WordPress as a foundation for a product. But what about just a hosted version of a plugin?
For example, Gravity Forms could let you just create forms without you even knowing WordPress was behind it. They wouldn’t be just a form plugin, but a form product. They could compete against companies like Typeform.
Before, they wouldn’t necessarily consider it. You need a large operations team to manage that product, and it’s most likely outside of your area of expertise. To be fair, Gravity Forms makes enough money that they could afford an operations team if they wanted to or they might already have one. I don’t know them that well.
But what if you’re just a small team or a single WordPress developer? Before, you definitely wouldn’t have thought it was possible to build a hosted WordPress product because you lacked so much knowledge and expertise. With serverless, you need so much less that it makes it accessible to almost anyone.
The example I always go back to in my head is Fathom. Essentially, two people were able to build to build an analytics product and take on Google Analytics. That was only possible because of Laravel Vapor and serverless.
I’m still not sure if I’m articulating this very well. It’s a real whirlwind in my head to think of all the innovation and products that anyone could build on top of WordPress because of serverless and Ymir. (It’s kept me up at night!) I plan to write more about it next year.
Scaling WordPress applications is still an unsolved problem
At WordCamp US (and throughout the year), I got to speak with a lot of WordPress hosting executives. They’re all thinking about how to increase revenue by diversifying their revenue streams. That’s why a lot of them are coming out with managed offerings for specific plugins like WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads and LearnDash.
These plugins turn WordPress much more into an application than a content site. The architecture used to host WordPress content sites hasn’t changed much since I wrote about it years ago. I consider it a largely solved problem.
On the other hand, hosting and scaling WordPress applications isn’t. All the hosting companies are struggling with it because most still host WordPress on a single server. But they’ve reached the limit of what they can do there because the scaling needs are outpacing Moore’s Law. (If you can’t host a WooCommerce store on a 96 core server, waiting for a 128 core server won’t make a difference.)
Once you move away from single server architecture, how you handle scaling becomes an enormous challenge challenge. You’ll probably have to look at Kubernetes. But it’s complex and also doesn’t handle scaling at the speed that you need for some of these scenarios.
I think Ymir has an opportunity there. It can be an API tool that smaller hosting companies can leverage to offer a scalable WordPress application offering. The only product that does something similar is WP Cloud.
Traffic in decline
There’s no hiding it. Blog traffic had a pretty significant decline this year. I went from 127,000 visitors to 84,000. Page views went 168,000 to 112,000.
I’m using Fathom Analytics (rare referral link because it gives you $10 off) for analytics instead of Google Analytics now. Their UI doesn’t compare stats between time periods, so disregard the huge numbers below the stats. They’re just comparing to the previous month.
This site isn’t my primary focus anymore, so the decline makes sense. I’m happy people still find it useful. That’s all I care about.
Top articles of 2022
Every year I look at the top performing articles. The list is usually pretty static, but there was a lot of movement this year. Let’s look!
- PHP strings and how to format them (8,158 pageviews)
- What is software complexity and how can you manage it? (7,292 pageviews)
- Designing a system: WordPress routing (4,116 pageviews)
- Using static factory methods with Laravel models (4,072 pageviews)
- Beginner’s guide to regular expressions (3,947 pageviews)
We have two new articles on the list! The WordPress continuous integration article dropped off and was replaced with the routing article. The other article is regular expression one. This one replaced the one on arrays and loops.
While the blog traffic is declining, the newsletter is doing well still! I send a few emails once in a while, but, otherwise, it’s on auto-pilot. The fact I automated so many emails is really one of my big wins in retrospect.
I’ve added maybe around 150 new subscribers this year. Again not bad considering, I do no promotion for the site or anything! I’m not sure how many are cold compared to before, but I ignore that metric now. You never know who’s using a tracker blocking email client now. (I know I do!)
As always, I leave the financials for last. A lot more to talk about compared to the last two years. There’s travel again and expenses have gone up a fair amount with Ymir.
This section has gotten a lot more complicated. My revenue sources have diversified a lot this past year. I’m trying to find ways to have more recurring income so I can focus on Ymir.
I used to only consult for Global Voices. That’s been declining over the years and it’s down to $5,600 CAD. I’ve had to do other consulting engagements to supplement my income.
For the first six months, I had a really great retainer that paid me $24,000 USD. It was fun and interesting work. Unfortunately, they didn’t renew the contract because of the current financial climate.
Everyone else has been one off contracts. If you’re curious what I do for consulting, it’s mainly WordPress adjacent things such as cloud infrastructure auditing and architecture, disaster recovery, code auditing, product prototyping, etc. (Part time CTO stuff basically) Those contracts netted me about $19,000 USD.
Ymir’s Carl-as-a-Service also falls under consulting income. I don’t invoice as Ymir for it. I have one customer paying for it. If I could get 3-5 customers, I’d probably be able to drop consulting completely.
My book still continues to sell well despite the lack of active marketing. It made another $3,117 USD. It’s very close to $30,000 USD in lifetime sales.
I also had another WordPress plugin product: ProductPress. It used to make me a few hundred dollars a year. However, someone reached out to me this year interested in buying the plugin! I sold it for $3,000 USD which is a pretty good exit all things considered.
A new source of revenue this year is donations. I set up a GitHub sponsor so that people could send me a bit of money each month. I’m up to about $319 USD each month.
I haven’t really done any promotion about it. There’s a large thread I wrote on Twitter. (You can read it here if you don’t like Twitter!) But that’s about it, I should probably set up something on this site as well.
Why did I set up donations? The gist is that Ymir was supposed to be the way for me to sustain the work I do in the WordPress community. This hasn’t worked out. Ymir just makes a $1,000/month. I only make $3,000 from my book, so I’ve had to do more consulting than ever this past year to pay the bills.
As I’ve mentioned a few times, it’s a lot of context switching. This has made it very challenging to find focus time to work. I set up donations to help me pay for trips to WordCamp (like the one in Asia) and to support my work on serverless WordPress.
Expenses have picked back up now that I’m travelling again. Most of these expenses are in three major categories which are:
- Rent: ~$10,000 CAD
- Software (with phone): ~$14,600 CAD
- Travel: ~$17,000 CAD
Travelling expenses are quite high, but it includes some expenses for WordCamp Asia next year which isn’t a cheap WordCamp for me to go to. It’s also more expensive to travel than prior to COVID in my experience. Hostels aren’t as cheap as they used to be, same with AirBnBs.
Software cost is still ridiculously high. Some of it is just AWS costs for developing and supporting Ymir, which is a lot more than the $5/month I used to pay for DigitalOcean. But that’s not enough to explain everything.
I’m going to try to be a bit more careful next year. It’ll never go back to the ~$4,000 CAD I was at in 2020. Hoping I can bring it down below $10,000 CAD.
A new beginning?
Honestly, I’m exhausted. I took time off during the holidays and it hasn’t helped that much. (It’s also why I took some time to publish this review.) I feel I had a better work life balance prior to COVID.
Ymir has a lot to do with it. (It’s my COVID baby in a way.) I’m basically working two jobs seven days a week right now since Ymir doesn’t pay me anything. Before COVID, I didn’t even do 40 hours of consulting each month.
Although I enjoy working on Ymir a lot, I do miss that simpler life. That’s really my north star at the moment. I want to get to a point where I can work a lot less. I just don’t see how it’ll happen until I can cut consulting completely out.
I think the trauma of COVID also adds to my overall feeling of exhaustion. A lot of us (including myself) have some PTSD around the last two years. That’ll take time to heal although I’m not sure we’ll ever heal completely. But being able to travel and see friends again has helped with the healing process though.
With all that said, I think 2022 turned out to be a good year on multiple fronts. Personally, Ymir is still growing, albeit too slowly. I’m doing well financially, although I’m overworked. And while there’s still COVID, the war in Ukraine and tension around Taiwan, the world looks a bit brighter than it was at the end of 2021 or during the first half of 2022.
I only hope that 2022 was the beginning of a new normal and that these positive trends continue in 2023. 🤞