2020 was a tough year for many. Some People lost some of their loved ones, lost their jobs, couldn't see other people important to them and had their dreams and hopes crushed. We experienced the beginning of the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flue, saw terrible Wildfires in Australia, Oregon and other places, earthquakes, economic hits etc. But 2020 also was a year that taught me a lot, leading me, ultimately, to use this final hour of the year (CET) to share them with you.
2020 forced me to make a good decision
When the pandemic hit, my company Neuralfinity, as I had planned it to be, was no longer viable. The initial idea was to be a private AI research lab using our skills and expertise together with the R&D funds of large enterprise customers to create efficient, useful and above all, fun solutions to their problems with technology I am very passionate about. I love interacting with technology in many ways and getting paid to solve problems is always fun for me.
Sadly, due to the COVID pandemic a lot of our early customers were affected very strongly or became very cautious about their investments in big projects with only longer term impact on their business (or the business case itself shifted significantly) so I found myself in a position, where I had to make a decision.
Initially, Neuralfinity was meant to be a fun project I could engage in without interfering too much with my studies and was meant to become a full time job after I would conclude my degree in 2021. However, the events in 2020 lead me to change the company down to its core, to become a product focused tech-startup with everything this entails. Product development, changes to the entire structure, different sales tactics, different marketing (well, not enough of it yet) etc.
Ultimately, I am happy I made this decision. Despite all the stress, the time conflict with my studies resulting out of it, I realised how much I missed the buzz and thrill of running a proper tech startup and it truly makes me happy.
Remote Work is here to stay
The second big takeaway is all about remote work. For many it initially was a shock-reaction to the pandemic, trying to achieve continuity. I noticed my team had already been distributed everywhere around the world, and whilst my initial plan was to open multiple offices in different locations and use them as "hubs", the pandemic became the much needed break to make me take a step back and look at that idea from a new perspective; and I realised I had been kind of building a remote startup already and made me aware of the fact that I wouldn't actually need office locations anymore.
Neuralfinity was born in a co-working space in London, but I realised it might never have to move into its own space, ever. Following the initial adjustments I spend a lot of my fourth semester in my studies analysing and considering all aspects of remote work to understand what made all-remote companies like Gitlab tick and the more I learned, the more I realised it might be a good way forward, maybe even a better way. Ultimately, at least for now, Neuralfinity became a remote company and I am very happy with that decision.
Tying in with the previous point, this also helped me to evaluate many personal priorities. For a long time, it was a dream of mine to build a tech company with campuses around the world that would house labs and offer resources for some of the brightest minds to create new and innovative solutions to major problems. But I realised we could do all this, from a home office, without coming together for most things in person at all, from wherever every single person wanted to be. And I realised maybe there was a good reason the likes of Stephen Wolfram and Linus Torvalds made their decisions from the comfort of their home offices. And slowly, the wish for cool office spaces and a vibrant, buzzing startup office made way for the wish to make more time for my main hobby outside of work (cycling); as well as thinking about how I could centre my life outside of work around that, not just making it exist next to each other, but in a neat package.
The last act happened since I initially waited for COVID infections to fall further in the UK before I'd move back, but then they rose and rose, up to the discovery of the new variant that put a final end to my moving plans in December.
Suddenly, there is an international border with visa restrictions between me and the place I still consider my home (London) - but this also made me think about the fact, that London might not be the ideal place for the new life goals I had set during 2020 anyway. Space is expensive, cycling isn't the nicest thing in a massive city either. Where 2021 will take me? No idea yet, but I have to admit to being at least slightly bored of Bremen by now… so the search begins.
2020 also taught me, how much I value "me time"… and that it has been a pleasure to spend most of it at my home office desk, pictured above, without the tones of social events of previous years.
As much as Brexit will draw a border in 2021 that will be very significant for me, personally, 2020 showed me that the shift to remote work made borders less relevant overall.
I had the pleasure to work with so many brilliant people in so many parts of the world. It doesn't matter if they are 10 km or 10,000 km away from me when working remotely, so in a way 2020 made one of my dreams really become true: The dream of an open world, with diverse teams collaborating and everyone sprinkling in their own accents of culture, ideas and values.