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New year, new challenges

Vladimír Záhradník
January 1st, 2021 · 13 min read

For me, the new year usually begins with my birthday. Whenever I’m a year older, I evaluate where I’ve moved over the past year and think about what to do next. However, 2020 was very different. So much has happened that I have decided to evaluate the calendar new year as well.

Work projects

Apart from COVID, the year 2020 was extremely successful for me. After two years, I see how my business is starting to grow. I already have several projects on my waiting list, where people are willing to wait a few months for me. You may have noticed that I haven’t written a single new post since August. Not that I don’t want to. I even realized how much I missed writing. However, I was so busy that there was no time left for other things. Blogging is not paying my bills yet.

Home Assistant

At the beginning of last year, I collaborated on a project that was very similar to a smart home. Except it was only intended for an industry segment. We had two options: build a solution for the customer from scratch or use our time by adapting an existing solution to our needs. We decided on the second option and chose open-source software for home automation, Home Assistant. I had to study its architecture, understand the code, study Python, and finally learn to work with other developers. My little dream came true. I’ve always wanted to work on something that makes sense. Something I can brag about to friends. I’ve done many things over the years, but these projects remain hidden behind my employers’ gates. Often with an NDA agreement.

Custom Home-Assistant dashboard

By securing funding for development from my customer, I was paid for the first time to develop open-source software, and I could do it intensively, not just on weekends. The project has slowed down due to COVID, and at the moment, we are waiting for what to do next. However, I continue to develop Home Assistant as a volunteer. I’m slowly improving the integration for Modbus in it. And I gradually started to automate things at my home. If I miss some feature in this product, I’ll add it. It’s a great skill.

Production line automation

At the beginning of August, I moved to the Czech Republic for three weeks partly due to my work. I collaborated on the automation of the production line for e-cigarettes. The first days in the production hall were like a holiday for me. As a small child, I would look forward to seeing places I wouldn’t normally get to. But over time, it will start to creep into your brain. We worked more than 12 hours a day, traveling hundreds of miles back and forth. In addition to the work, I managed to take only about two completely free days off. I was laughing as people wrote to me based on a few photos: “Vlado, enjoy your vacation.” But I still had many unique experiences, and it was worth it.

Lake
During my short holiday...

It turned out that automating the production line is more challenging than we thought. The project is still active, only without my onboard. I’m already in Slovakia, and I can’t be highly productive as when I was there on the spot.

Mobile electrical box with GPS

I shouldn’t have worked on this project at all. But the work on the production line fully occupied my colleagues. And since contracts for other clients won’t wait either, I took on this role.

M5Stack
GPS tracking device built on M5Stack Grey

Without going into details, my task was to program a device that monitors the state of electricity and at the same time monitors its location. We chose the M5Stack Grey platform. Gradually, I integrated GPS, GSM module, accelerometer, battery, and relay control into it. At the same time, I ensured that the device could send SMS messages, emails, send the location to the server, and receive commands. I didn’t expect it, but I’ve run into several hardware limits. But in the end, everything worked out. These days, colleagues are assembling and testing the final kits.

Android application for cashiers

Sometime in late October, a friend contacted me. He asked if I knew anyone who would help out on a project in his company. They were falling behind on the development and needed to find an external contractor. At that time, my workload was smaller. So I agreed.

For a while, I had to switch from embedded development to Android. And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy for me. Not only did I code in Android after a long time, but it was a finance app, where I had zero experience so far. I needed to get acquainted with the project very quickly and bring value to the company. In my beginnings, however, I wasn’t good at it. For the first time in my life, I hit a wall, and I couldn’t get into the project. After about two weeks, we had an unpleasant phone call together, where we clarified things and gave ourselves a second chance. To this day, I have not seen the people I work with in person, and only here have I realized how important this is. When you don’t have direct contact and don’t get to know each other well, you start to presume instead of communicating. We have hopefully managed to resolve this problem, and yesterday, on New Year’s Eve, we handed over the application to the customer.

Although I did not enjoy this project, my professional honor code helped me finish it. I could admit that I can’t handle this, and cowardly quit. But since I started, I said to myself that I’d do everything in my power to finish everything they wanted from me. We started working on a schedule where the project manager told me on Monday what they wanted to do from me in a week, and I planned the work according to myself. I often did it over the weekend. Once I even spent the whole night working, but on Monday, I delivered what I promised.

I am glad that I passed this difficult test. My friends helped me a lot in this. Although they couldn’t do the work for me and I had to do it all by myself, I received words of encouragement from them that I could do it. I appreciate that and thank you for that.

My progress (regress) in speaking

I’ve found that when it comes to public-speaking, my skills fluctuate rapidly. From the feedback I regularly get, I can tell that my skills got back to the level I was at least a year ago. It didn’t help that I stopped performing in front of a real audience, and I moved in front of the camera. But I am becoming more and more suspicious that my psyche is likely responsible for my fluctuations. I want to focus more on it next year. I’ll start reading more about it and start working on it. I would like to get to the point in 2021 that I will no longer wave such fluctuations.

Achievements of my blog

Although I haven’t actively posted anything since August, I managed to write three posts that interested people, and suddenly thousands of people come to my site every month.

An accompanying video to my post about downloading videos from Facebook

I gladly discuss with my readers, and I am impressed that my readers are starting to answer the questions themselves. It is a small glimpse of a community. I don’t want to rush things with my blog. But I can see that it’s starting to take off, which makes me very happy. I would love to work on the new functionality of my website next year. I really need my own mailing list, and I would like the site to be bilingual. All my posts are already in two languages, but so far, you only see the English version publicly. I want to change that.

Ear surgery

As many of you know, my ears have been protruding since I was a child. I never dealt with it, and I didn’t suffer from complexes because of it. When I was stuck somewhere in the office cubicle where no one but my colleagues saw me, I didn’t pay much attention to it. But naturally, as I started shooting videos, I decided to eliminate my shortcoming. Several of you have told me that I am removing “my brand.” I don’t see it that way. I think that if people find one imperfection in me, they will find others over time.

At the same time, I began thinking that even though I didn’t consciously suffer from complexes, it may have affected my subconscious. I think it affected my psyche, at least in part.

I had surgery quite late. The doctor told me it would hurt. Let me tell you, the feeling of hearing a needle with thread pulling through your ears without feeling anything is strange.

After my ear surgery
After my ear surgery

The operation went well, and even the subsequent pain was not as bad as I expected. Still, it caused me not to sleep well for the first four days. It’s not easy to suddenly starting to sleep on my back, and also my ears hurt.

So I had time to think and believe me, when you’re awake at 3 AM morning, you look at many things differently. These nightly thoughts helped me gain some distance. Before the operation, I focused on work and what I want to achieve. After the operation, I reconsidered where I wanted to go. And I found a girlfriend.

New girlfriend

Nely and I have known each other for about a year and a half from the Toastmasters Košice club. Only recently did I learn that in the beginning, she was consciously avoiding me because of my directive communication style. Later we started collaborating in the management of the club and we became good friends. Just when I couldn’t sleep properly due to the pain after my operation, I suddenly found out that I think of her somehow often. Until then, I didn’t realize it, because my mind was focused on entrepreneurship and nothing else for years to come.

I was not actively looking for a girlfriend. I realize that I don’t have free time and I’ll not have as much as I’d like to give her. But I decided that this decision was not up to me. I told myself that I would contact my friend at the time and let her decide if such a relationship is worth it for her. Our relationship began a week after my ear surgery. I went to see the doctor for a check-up and we also used that time for a pleasant walk in the park. Since then, things have progressed fast. I can’t believe it’s only been about six weeks. Nely teases me, “Vlado, why didn’t you go to the operation sooner?” Everything has its time, and this came in cold November during the lockdown. Our relationship began two weeks after my ear surgery. It evolves at a time when all restaurants are closed and people are being isolated in small communities.

Love
Image by Gabriel Ferraz from Pixabay

It’s a difficult test, but I think that if we go through this, the bond between us will be stronger. Let me tell you, I haven’t realized until now how different it is when you talk to someone over the camera to meeting in person.

Update 01-13-2021: We ultimately failed at this test. In the upcoming days, nationwide testing of the population for COVID will take place in our country using inefficient Ag tests. Even our scientific community criticizes this approach as not the right one to deal with this crisis. I don’t endorse this government’s step, and I refuse to bend my back in these difficult times. What is a question of fundamental principles for me, my ex-girlfriend perceived as an act of selfishness. However, I still stand by the decision.

My relationship with God

Nely is a deeply religious Catholic, I am a seeking Protestant. I had to regularly go to church in high school, and in retrospect, I realize that I dislike religion because of that. We had quite a lot of religion lessons, and we went to church once a week every Wednesday. From a talk with my former classmate, I know that I am not the only student with such feelings. Ever since I went to college, I entered the church only exceptionally. It never occurred to me that one day I would find a girlfriend who would be a deep believer and that I somehow return to these things.

Cross
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

It has been many years since high school and I am open to giving my relationship with God a chance. However, I’m a man of reason, so it will be a challenge. I have been thinking for a long time about starting to study the Bible. At least once in life, I think every Christian should do it. I want to find out what’s really in that book and not just what the priest had told me taken out of context. If I decide to do it, I will study the Bible over several years at my own pace. The other things regarding faith will either come or not. However, I am open to it.

Debates

The year 2020 was also a turning point for me in how I intensified my relationship with my friends. Ever since we all moved into the online environment and started working through video calls, I’ve realized that I spend a lot more time with my friends than when we met in person before. I’ve been chatting regularly with about five people for almost a year, and occasionally with many others. Sometimes we debate for half an hour, other times for an hour, and with one of my friends, Havran, we regularly discuss for over four hours, and most of the time we stop only to get some sleep.

We have various conversations. Some are about work, some are partially work-related, and most are private and cover everything you can think of. These conversations take me a couple of hours a week, but I don’t regret a second. I think that as they bring value to me, they bring it to others, too. And I’ve also found that spending time like this is much better than watching Netflix.

In addition to video calls, I also started meeting friends from the area in person. What started as a one-off activity is suddenly a regular Thursday “round.” Once a friend of mine Erik called me: “I have things I would like to talk over and I don’t want to write about them.”

I’ve been meeting with Erik irregularly for over two years. We go hiking in the woods together, but in winter our options are limited.

Woods
One of our latest hiking trips

We missed these conversations and decided to continue them with walks in the night city. It didn’t take long and my high-school classmate, Igor, joined us. And he fit in perfectly. We always meet at about the same time in the same place and only then do we argue about where we will go and what we will talk about.

Private English lessons

One of my friends, Ján, speaks English at a very high level. He lived abroad for years and also worked at a linguistic institute. Because we were in touch regularly, he suggested that we speak English. He wanted to help me with this, for which I thank him. I didn’t speak English for a long time and I was rusty. Now that I had to actually speak, I couldn’t do it fluently. I understand everything, I can also write, but there is no time to think about sentences when talking. These conversations helped. I realized that I am not looking for perfection, but I can already express myself in English in front of the camera. Over time, it will only get better.

Comenio and educational courses

As the year drew to an end, my friend and I realized that after a year, with our educational platform, we were at square one. Just like we were one year before. My friend Marcel has set a goal that we must finally launch it by the end of the year. We didn’t make it, but at least we moved forward.

My thinking has also changed. I wanted to start by making videos on YouTube, where I will improve my English skills in the first place. But when Marcel said we had to launch the platform now or never, I started thinking. If we start with an educational platform with no content from the beginning, what can we do about that? Then I realized: I’m going to start creating content.

I decided to make a course about the git versioning system. I realize that this will not be an interesting topic for many, but I have to start somewhere. And I decided to make this course as best I could, even if it meant re-shooting those videos over and over again. I have already talked about it with several of you and received valuable feedback. For example, you told me what is not clear to you when working with git. I also talk to people who have heard this term for the first time. If I can explain the concepts to them as well, I think I have a valuable product. We will find out later this year.

What will the year 2021 bring me?

For me, 2020 was a lot about thinking and reflecting. Now that I know what I want, it’s time to make it real. Dreams are not just for dreaming. If you dream and work hard, they will start to come true.

Compass
Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

I realized that even though I enjoy coding, I don’t want to make a living out of it. I like to work on projects that are a challenge for me intellectually. However, most tasks are boring and take me tens of hours. I like to stay being a software developer, but only as a hobby. I will choose what project I will work on and I will keep working on it as much as I want. The year 2021 will be a transitional year for me. I’m taking coding gigs for now, but I’ll start taking less of them. I have saved up some money and thanks to that I can work for about half a year to a year without income. Nevertheless, I will gladly accept new gigs. I’ll just be careful about how much time they take me to complete. Sometimes, I don’t estimate my work correctly, but at least I’ll try. With the experience from the past, my estimates are going quite well.

However, even if the projects turn out to be bigger, I will try to negotiate to work on them only part-time, say 5 hours a day. When we don’t agree, I will probably reject the contract. It won’t do it for me otherwise. As a software developer, I have as much work as I want, and it is well paid, but with that workload, I will never become yet another Elon Musk. I want to work on my products; now is the time.

Now, in January, I will start working on a git video course and, in parallel, I will continue creating our Comenio platform. I also have ideas for other courses. Over the years, I have gained valuable development experience for Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and other platforms. I’ll start with that. More ideas will come later.

In addition to these two things, I want to focus more on books that will help me in my personal development. I haven’t read them much so far, but I’ve become aware of their importance. The time I spend on them will return to me many times over.

I am also looking forward to the successess of my friend, Havran. I am glad that the two of us have met and that there is someone who has similar goals as me and with whom I can talk about them. I help him, he helps me. We go forward together and sky is the limit.

I’m also looking forward to how my relationship with my girlfriend will develop. Sometimes I feel like we’ve known each other for years. We talk completely openly and about everything.

For 2021, I have high hopes. The new decade has just begun and I want to start it differently, better. I want to be the best version of myself and I want to learn how to achieve it. And I would like the people around me to grow too. They say that the goal is not important, the journey is. I enjoy mine more and more every day.

I wish you a happy and successful year of 2021.

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