Rice paddies in Bali

2019 Retrospective

In Updates by MatthiasLeave a Comment

This is it, the last retrospective of the decade.

I set two ambitious goals to kick off the 20s and planned on using 2019 to prepare myself.

Let’s take a look at what I managed to accomplish.

Objectives Overview

Objective 1: Work at a top product company in 2020

Key Results

  • Make a list of top product companies ✔️
  • Publish a case-study for 3 of these companies ❌
  • Complete Khan Academy’s Statistics & Probability course ❌

Objective 2: Take some time off to travel before starting another job

Key Results

  • Go on a long solo trip ✔️
  • Learn how to scuba dive ✔️

Luck is when opportunity meets preparation

At first glance, it seems like I didn’t do so well on my career-focused objective. I only managed to complete one out of three key results, and it was by far the simplest to do.

I had originally planned to make a career move some time in 2020. I felt that I needed to learn more about certain areas and have a more public showcase of my skills before applying anywhere.

But things moved a little faster than that.

After making the list of companies I wanted to work for, I checked their career sites to prepare myself for creating the case-studies. As ‘luck’ would have it, many of the companies had open product management positions.

I was faced with a dilemma.

On the one hand, I worried that if I applied straight away, without any portfolio, I would be immediately rejected. On the other hand, I thought that if I waited until I did have a portfolio, these companies might have already filled all open positions.

I realised that I had nothing to lose really. If I applied and got rejected, I could just apply again once I was better prepared. This was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, and based on the job listings’ requirements, I was already quite prepared. I actually had a decent shot of landing one of these jobs.

And I did.

After several interviews, case-studies, some rejections, and some offers, I picked the company I thought would be the best fit.

In October 2019, I started the next exciting chapter in my life — I moved to Barcelona and joined Typeform as the Product Manager for the Results section of the Core Experience.

Product-Person Fit

So why did I choose Typeform?

The main reason — how natural it felt. It felt natural to identify myself with the company, the product, and the people here. I see a lot of future potential for this company, and I see myself as being part of that future.

Typeform’s mission to “make things a little more human” resonated with me. Their forms are loved because they are so natural and conversational. But a conversation can be so much more than a form — it can be adapted to take many shapes, be it text, video, audio, glyphs, or even a combination of these things.

One of humanity’s most defining traits is our ability to converse and communicate with each other.

And the world is in dire need of more humanity.

That’s why I believe in Typeform’s mission of “making things a little more human”. I saw an opportunity here to make the mission become reality, and after flying in to meet my future colleagues for my interviews, I was convinced that they saw it too.

Living the dream

Even though I moved specifically to work at Typeform, Barcelona was a very nice bonus.

I had been to Barcelona twice before. It was actually the first city that I visited where I thought “I could live here”. I have zero regrets about moving to Berlin in 2017, but it’s nice to finally achieve the dream I had so many years ago.

So far, it’s very much what I was hoping for. Barcelona has got it all.

It’s got sea, sun, and mountains — allowing me to enjoy the outdoors all year round. It’s easy to travel to-and-from — allowing me to visit friends, family, and far away places whenever I like. And it’s also beautiful and charming — everywhere you turn there’s great food, historic architecture, and a bunch of classical and contemporary art, music, and traditions.

The German in me also appreciates the efficient (and cheap!) public transport.

Most of all, I appreciate the laid-back, friendly Mediterranean culture which allows me to take advantage of all of the above.

It’s the perfect balance of living the right life versus living life right.

A record year for travel

Of course, I didn’t just spend all of 2019 in Berlin and Barcelona. After all, taking some time off between jobs was one of my big objectives.

2019 was actually a record year for travel — I logged thirty flights, more than ever before. I also travelled by long-distance bus, train, ferry, and even scooter!

Here are all the new places I visited in 2019:

  • Madrid
  • Bulgaria (Bansko and Sofia)
  • Indonesia (Ubud, Amed, Canggu Nusa Penida, Bromo, Yogyakarta)
  • Turkey (Istanbul)
  • Peru (Lima, Paracas, Huacachina, Arequipa, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, Iquitos)

I started the year off by visiting a friend in Madrid. We had a great time catching up and eating our way through food markets and xurrerias. At the time I didn’t know that I would end up in Spain, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t at least some subconscious influence on the decision still to come.

Next stop was skiing in Bulgaria with two friends from Berlin. It was actually my first time skiing and the first few days were pretty rough. I probably fell on my ass more times during that weekend than in my entire life leading up to it. But by the end, I could do the blue slopes without falling and was having a blast. It’s definitely a hobby I want to keep up in Barcelona.

Then came the big one for the year, or at least, what I thought would be the big one. In April, I went on a 24-day solo backpacking trip to Indonesia, visiting the islands of Bali, Nusa Penida, and Jakarta. It was my first time in Asia and my longest trip abroad alone by a mile. Some of the highlights include:

  • Having monkeys jump around on my head
  • Randomly running into a colleague on the first day of my trip
  • The outdoor activities: rafting, snorkeling, surfing, hiking active volcanoes
  • Getting my Open Water Diver certification and seeing 4(!) sea turtles
  • Learning how to ride a scooter and subsequently exploring Nusa Penida on it
  • Cremation ceremony of Ubud’s queen
  • Friendliness of the locals
  • The beaches, coconuts, and happy hour

On the way back I stopped in Istanbul for a few days, where the standout moment was experiencing a Hammam for the first time.

All in all it was fantastic.

But I didn’t go travelling alone just for fun. This trip was meant to be a test. A test to see whether I would enjoy travelling alone for an extended period of time, in order to decide whether I wanted to take such a break between jobs.

In the end, I decided that long-term travel was not for me. At least, not for now. As fun as it was, I did feel a lack of purpose in the final days, and was getting tired of the constant moving around.

I also missed clean, running water and my own bed.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t take any time off between jobs. I negotiated on my notice period a bit, and managed to score a month off before moving to Spain. I used that time to practice my Spanish by going on another solo 21-day backpacking trip in September — this time to Peru.

Peru was also another first, my first time in South America. That brings the count to five out of seven continents (still missing Antarctica and Australia). It was intense, I was moving from one place to another almost every day. But I loved every minute of it. Some of the highlights include:

  • Trekking the Colca Canyon and seeing condors
  • Dune buggying in a desert oasis
  • Running into Maltese friends from school whilst trekking up Rainbow mountain and the Red Valley (I ran into some Maltese people in Indonesia too and pretty much everywhere else I’ve been. Illuminati confirmed!)
  • The Salkantay Trek to Macchu Picchu
  • Camping in the Amazon — seeing river dolphins, catching a piranha, and even being stung by an unknown creature whilst canoeing in the middle of the night searching for caiman
  • The amazing people I met, and kept bumping into, on the Peru Hop buses

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. There were two downsides to all this travelling around. Firstly, I got sick a lot. Nothing too bad, but by the end of the year I had gotten food poisoning twice, and the flu a bunch of other times. All in all I spent about two months locked inside recovering.

The second downside was that I didn’t spend enough time being present in Berlin.

Berlin du Perle

It took me a long time to warm up to Berlin. Mainly, because I arrived in February and it was freezing.

Eventually though, the weather got better and I learned to take the good with the bad. Over time I really started to appreciate what a wonderful city it is, and why so many people want to live there.

Here are some of the things I’ll miss about Berlin:

  • The club scene — even though I’m not into techno, the quantity and variety of interesting events and locations is unmatched
  • The tech scene — conferences, meetups, and new startups every week. During my stay you could see the growth year after year
  • Döner kebab at any hour of the day, cheap Vietnamese food, and discovering good Schnitzel
  • The warm interiors and great cakes on cold winter days
  • Lazy afternoons in the Volkspark, next to the Spree, or a Biergarten
  • The random nights out and the people I met along the way

Berlin helped me grow tremendously, both professionally and personally. It was the first time I lived away from home, the first time I lived alone, and the first time I worked at a startup.

Thankfully, I made some great friends who made it feel like home and I’m grateful to have spent my last few months mostly with them.

Other Highlights

  • I read a total of 8 books in 2019:
    • Creativity Inc.
    • Product Leadership
    • Lean Analytics
    • The Four
    • Naked statistics
    • The Growth Handbook by Intercom
    • The Mom Test
    • Hacking growth
  • Even though I haven’t really published any writing, my personal Product Management Toolkit is now at 100+ pages
  • I gave my second public talk at a meetup
  • I regularly met up with my personal network of product managers to spar and exchange ideas
  • Dockville Festival in Hamburg
  • Lukas’ 30th Birthday

Room for Improvement

Even though I did manage to land my dream job, I still wish I had spent more time on publishing case-studies. They would have helped me gain and showcase some product management skills.

After reading Naked Statistics and some other resources about Machine Learning I do feel more confident in my understanding of both of these topics. But I am still far from the expert I hope to be.

The frequent travelling, job hunt, and early departure from Project A also meant that I did not make use of my learning budget to attend any conferences or training. I’ve learned so much from such events, such as the Mind The Product conference in 2018, that their lack was definitely felt.

And finally, I was not as productive as I had hoped to be. Between the traveling, the job search, and being sick all the time, I lost a lot of the routine and self-discipline that made 2018 my best in terms of personal development.

Closing Thoughts

2019 was the year of movement. At times it felt rushed and there were days when I did long for a more stable routine. I continuously had to adapt my plans, and often didn’t manage to accomplish what I had set out to do. That doesn’t mean that I accomplished less, I just accomplished different things.

Fittingly, I managed to develop a sense of opportunism and spontaneity — qualities that I’ve been sorely lacking. This allowed me to seize the chance to make another leap in my personal and professional life when it presented itself. I couldn’t have planned for that to happen even if I tried.

2019 left me with a new perspective, a new home, and new challenges. Now, I’m entering the new decade (and my late twenties!) filled with more drive to keep pushing my boundaries, learn, and explore, than ever before.

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