When I reflect on my work, I tend to focus on the delta between present (2023) me and potential (future) me, forgetting that I should also celebrate the distance I've traveled from past (2022) me. So in this post, I want to focus on celebrating 2023, recognizing the progress made and lessons learned, and carrying over the momentum into 2024!
What happened with work
Note: I differentiate between my day job, which I call ‘work’, with my personal projects, which I call ‘personal work’.
A large majority of my energy this year was poured into my day job working as a product manager at Microsoft. In 2023, I started to hit my stride in my role as product manager in Azure, leveraging my past startup mindset and customer-facing experience to focus on customer problems and opportunities that need solving. I went as deep as someone could go on the frontend frameworks that our customers are using and that can be hosted on Static Web Apps (the product I work on), identifying trends worth capturing, spec'ing and driving improvements, and using my domain knowledge to best guide our roadmap.
Ships 🛳️ (& more progress)
2023 included some key new features for Azure Static Web Apps and a lot of work under the hood by the whole engineering team and extended product team.
Database connections was the first ship of the year, with work having started many months prior in 2022. This was a large cross-team effort with our Azure Databases product and engineering teams, leading to Database connections and the Data API Builder project being launched in March of 2023. Given this was a feature that required some learning to adopt, we spent a lot of time working on educational content for the feature. Davide Mauri and I even had the chance to speak about it together at MS Build and on an episode of Azure Friday with Scott Hanselman!
Snippets and traffic splitting were the two other key new features in 2023, which allowed greater developer flexibility for adding sitewide scripts and code snippets and allowing AB testing of various versions of the site by splitting the production traffic.
This is just some of the work that happened in 2023. Huge credit goes to the engineering and larger product teams who brought these to life. Behind the scenes, there was also a truckload of incremental improvements to the end-to-end experience of Static Web Apps, and many investments made to launch features coming this year in 2024. Overall, a year of thorough groundwork for Static Web Apps' future.
Product marketing had previously been one of the areas where I had the least experience, having worked in more customer-account-type roles. So I was looking forward to training that muscle in 2023, and I jumped on every opportunity (and created opportunities where needed) to do just that!
In 2023, I presented at MVP Summit and MS Build, talking about Azure Static Web Apps' new features and how the service can be used to build global full-stack serverless web apps. I had a great time discussing with folks in person too about various topics such as Static Web Apps preview environments, usage with content management systems, database connections and hybrid-rendering frameworks such as Next.js. Each of these was an opportunity for me to learn from many folks at once about the different ways Static Web Apps is being used in practice and fueled a series of improvements we drove in the second half of 2023.
2023 was also the year where we started community standups for Static Web Apps, monthly recurring live streams about the newest updates and community contributions for our service. I hadn't had much experience livestreaming previously, but after nearly a year of monthly community standups, I'm finally starting to feel more comfortable talking to a live camera. We also had the chance to get some great guests on from our partner teams at Microsoft and it's always fun to work with new people!
I also created a couple educational videos and blogs about Static Web Apps regarding new features or various architectures that can be created with Static Web Apps for specific use cases to practice that muscle as well.
My year 2023 at work presented itself with a handful of challenges, and each of these allowed me to refine my product management & project management skills. I even had the chance to mentor Explore interns who had joined our team, which was really fun and I learned a lot from them! I also developed my own framework for product management, to help me grasp the scope of my work and explain the role to others, a consolidation of my lessons on product management from working in product building in small to large companies (future blog post?).
What happened with personal work
In addition to my day job, I value working on my own projects outside of work hours, at the very least to own some of what I’m dedicating my time to. This can be challenging at times (with ‘work’ work spanning many time zones), but I do my best to adjust. This year, I worked on a wide range of projects, many of which didn't see the light of day and but a few that did!
The big, unmissable trend in 2023 was ChatGPT and LLMs. I had previously dabbled in LLMs, trying to use and self-host open-source models that I would find on GitHub. But in 2023, the leap was astounding: LLMs got impressively good at generating text, and using these became trivial through OpenAI's APIs. Better yet, many creative uses of these LLMs pushed the boundaries of what could be accomplished with them. LLMs could not only generate text but also code, data structures, patterns, etc.
In the first couple of months of the year, I started working on an AI website designer to help developers write their HTML/CSS landing pages. I ended up not shuttering the effort due to potential conflicts with work, and over the year, many compelling projects such as v0.dev came out to provide similar functionality, with a much better experience. Overall, a great experience to learn the potential of these AI models and fun too!
I also had the chance to work with some friends from University building proof-of-concepts with AI, especially as it pertains to multimodal interactions with these LLMs.
My other big focus in the past year was launching Penmark. I got the idea for an embeddable content management system for Markdown-based blogs after trying out Forestry.io and similar tools but wanting something integrated within my blog itself. So I built Penmark over the first 6 months of 2023 and launched in July publicly as an open-source project.
Sharing on socials and Hacker News, the GitHub repository for the site got 30+ stars, 20+ daily active users and 10,000+ site hits. To this day, I still use Penmark for my personal website and work on improving it, and am happy with the traction it got considering it's my first 'real' open-source project. I also think there's a lot of value in unbundling a lot of what's included in Penmark into smaller projects, so I'm looking forward to spending some time on that in 2024.
All in all, I'm proud of my work on personal projects, especially considering that I accomplished my objective of shipping Penmark. Of course, learning to ship is a process, and I didn't end up shipping all my 2023 projects, but I'm celebrating the win of Penmark as a step in the right direction. I also redesigned my personal website and implemented various sample apps for my blog posts.
In 2024, my objective will be to release my own paid product, to ensure that the problems I'm solving are important enough for someone to want to pay for it. After all, we all have 24 hours in the day and I want to make sure I'm working on the most important problems I can.
Key learnings of 2023
2023 brought along a lot of deep technical learning, along with tough lessons for career and work. I'm noting them here mostly for myself, to remember what I've grappled with over the past year and for future reference.
Lots of my learning this year centered on the evolution of the JAMStack pattern, into server-hosted-yet-serverless frontend web apps. It's been great to see the rise of server-side rendering and other important features of frameworks such as SvelteKit, Next.js, Remix, Nuxt.js, and Angular, especially because these have grown to offer lots of productivity while retaining the ability to be hosted on serverless platforms for scale and efficiency. As such, going deep on these frameworks, as well as deployment and hosting methods for these has been a great learning experience, directly applicable for my ‘work’ work but also for the architecture of my own projects.
Along this topic, I've also learned a lot about how to discuss product vision within the larger organization (assisted by my coincidental reading of The Innovator's Dilemma), something that was new to me given my previous high level of ownership of my startup roles.
Difficult lessons for me this year were centered around the level of ownership you have over the product in a large company, compared to the ownership in a startup. Getting decisions approved about features to launch requires the approval of many other stakeholders. It’s a question of picking the right hills to die on and knowing when to push back versus when to let go.
Finally, I much prefer working in person, or at least some type of hybrid! There’s just something about the energy that’s different every time I’m in Seattle with the team!
Closing out the year
Overall, when I look back on 2023, I'm grateful for the opportunities that presented themselves to me, but also proud of the opportunities I pushed for and created.
I learned immensely about product marketing and how to jump on company initiatives to get visibility for the Static Web Apps product, and went deep into the frontend ecosystem, digging into open-source projects for deploying frontend frameworks to serverless providers and learning from open-source contributors.
I’m also proud I demonstrated my ability to launch new products and features end-to-end, as there were significant feature ships this year, both in work and personal work. I look forward to carrying this momentum and these skills into 2024 to work on larger projects.
A big thanks to everyone I've had the chance to work with, and everyone who assisted or provided feedback across these projects. Work is always a team sport and we accomplished some great work this year. I'm grateful for the continued opportunity to work with you all.