9 min read

2023: A Year In Review

2023: A Year In Review

I've always liked the idea of writing and blogging. With more than ten years of professional experience, I've often envisioned having a comprehensive archive of diary entries or "years-in-review". Looking back on years of blog entries and annual reviews seems like it would be incredibly fulfilling. It's a way to trace personal growth, observe the evolution of beliefs and values, and recognize patterns in one's life.

There's a saying (which I am probably paraphrasing incorrectly) that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, but the second best time is now.

So, embracing this wisdom, here is my first-ever 'Year in Review' journal entry.

Learning to code, with a little help from my LLM

In December 2023, I came to a profound realization about the impending shift in the internet, technology, and global society.

With my background in the tech industry, I understood that while conversing with AI through consumer products like ChatGPT offered a user-friendly gateway to AI technology, it was just the tip of the iceberg. Application Programming Interfaces, or "APIs", were rapidly emerging, from OpenAI and other competing AI vendors, as a potent means of harnessing AI's capabilities for those willing to delve a bit deeper and roll up their sleeves with code.

APIs represent a more technical approach to accessing AI. They allow for interactions that are less about human-like chatting and more about efficiently handling tasks like requesting hundreds of responses in parallel, executing programmatically, and operating on autopilot. As I looked to the future, anticipating the sweeping changes that AI would bring in the coming decades, I realized that merely having a "code-adjacent" skillset wasn't sufficient. To fully engage with and influence this AI-dominated future, a deeper understanding and capability in coding would be essential.

On January 1, 2023, I took a significant step in rectifying this deficiency by starting a Web Developer Boot Camp on Udemy. This decision marked the beginning of a deep dive into the world of coding, a realm I had previously only skimmed the surface of. Although I had some experience with code and had even built software products with the help of engineers, fully learning to code always seemed like a distant, albeit achievable, goal.

I could whip up a rock-paper-scissors game or design a landing page in a very controlled environment, but the reality of coding out in the wild entailed navigating a sea of unexpected errors and inexplicable program failures, even when I followed tutorials to the letter.

Learning to code before AI was frustrating and slow, even if you were smart, capable, and inclined to grasp the basic concepts.

My early exposure to web development involved basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript in the 2000s. Since then, the landscape has evolved dramatically, with a plethora of frameworks ("React", "Vue", "Next", "Svelte", "Laravel", etc.) emerging to simplify web development. While I understood these frameworks conceptually, practically applying them was a different story. I was faced with the daunting task of catching up on a decade's worth of advancements in "elegant" web coding.

The combination of the Udemy course and the ability to ask ChatGPT for assistance with any coding problem proved to be a game-changer. ChatGPT became my go-to resource for unraveling error messages, troubleshooting code issues, refining functioning code, and even making verbose code more concise. This AI-enhanced learning approach significantly accelerated my progress, multiplying my learning speed by five.

And it wasn't because I was five times smarter.

What I realized was that the increase in learning speed wasn't just about being smarter or more adept at coding.

It was the emotional and motivational support from being able to quickly overcome frustrating challenges that truly made the difference. The intellectual benefits of AI in learning to code were significant, but the emotional relief of getting unstuck from trivial issues was the real wind beneath my wings.

Reflecting on the past year, I realize it was much more than just a period of acquiring new skills. It was a journey of transformation, where I not only learned to code but also discovered a revolutionary way of learning.

This experience reminded me of various AI companions we've seen in pop culture: the intimate companion from the movie "Her," the iconic droids of "Star Wars," the insightful Data from "Star Trek," the mystical daemons from Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, Tony Stark's ingenious J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Marvel Universe, or the logical but flirty Cortana from "Halo."

In 2024, our real-world AI companions may not yet possess the quirky and unique personalities of these fictional characters, but they are incredibly helpful in their own right, especially in the realm of learning. These AIs have opened up a whole new world for education and skill acquisition.

The magnitude of this shift can only be compared to the historic impact of the printing press and the advent of the Internet — and it may prove to be bigger in retrospect.

Just like these monumental developments, the rise of AI in learning is reshaping our approach to acquiring knowledge and skills in profound ways.

Indie Makers: Renaissance of the Digital Craftsmen

The year marked a significant rise in independent creators and entrepreneurs, reminiscent of a digital renaissance. Globally, these 'indie makers'—encompassing developers, artists, and innovators—are utilizing affordable internet tools to establish unique realms of creativity and commerce. This trend extends beyond mere product creation; it embodies a deeper philosophy of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Indie makers are challenging traditional norms. They aren't just building internet businesses inexpensively; they're defying the traditional valuation of founder status based on venture capital investment. Success metrics are shifting towards tangible indicators like profitable monthly recurring revenue (MRR) and personal freedom.

In the past, launching an internet business involved multiple domains: server management, front-end design for aesthetic appeal, back-end coding for functionality, and marketing and sales strategies. Venture capital-backed teams often divided these responsibilities between a 'sales founder' and a 'tech founder,' as building a significant tech enterprise solo seemed implausible.

However, indie makers are rewriting this playbook. They are embracing the challenge of managing all aspects single-handedly—development, design, marketing, sales, and even the less glamorous yet crucial tasks of corporate administration, finance, and accounting. They eliminate traditional corporate components such as HR, office operations, and company culture meetings in favor of streamlined, one-person operations. Public relations and communications are often handled through direct channels like X.

In my experience working with Lemon Squeezy, a platform that supports indie makers in scaling their businesses, I've observed these trends first-hand. As we move into 2024, there's an anticipation that indie makers, who pride themselves on being solo operators, might face challenges that compel them to consider hiring, delegating, and outsourcing.

Building companies with employees and contractors offers more leverage. I predict that 2024 will be a pivotal year for indie makers, leading many to recognize the value of engaging their first contractors.

Remote Work: The Great Decentralization

Remote work, which gained significant momentum in recent years, continued its upward trajectory, profoundly altering not just the nature of workplaces but entire lifestyles. This change was evident across companies of all sizes, with many embracing the new norm while others struggled to adapt. The impact of this shift was starkly visible in major cities, where once bustling office towers stood noticeably quieter. Homes, in contrast, transformed into multi-functional spaces, blending the boundaries between living and working.

This widespread adoption of remote work led to a significant redistribution of the workforce. People increasingly moved away from densely populated urban centers, opting for areas that offered a better quality of life rather than proximity to traditional office locations. This migration had far-reaching implications. It significantly influenced real estate markets, as demand in urban areas softened while suburban and rural areas saw a surge in interest. This trend also prompted a reevaluation in urban planning, as cities began to rethink public space, transportation needs, and infrastructure development to suit a changing population dynamic.

The transformation brought about by the rise of remote work extended beyond mere changes in work location. It represented a fundamental shift in how people balanced their professional and personal lives, reshaped community structures, and even contributed to a more sustainable way of living. As we look forward, it's clear that the effects of this shift will continue to evolve and influence various aspects of society in significant ways.

In 2023, there was a counter-reformation in the world of remote work. Some of the dizzying proclamations of 2021 ("everyone will go remote soon") are being tested by widespread "back-to-office" sentiment and higher employer leverage in a shifting labor market.

I launched a podcast: "Remotely Serious", and recently celebrated over 1,000 downloads. My goal for 2024 is 20,000 downloads, so I have work to do.

The Sovereign Individual Movement

I recently explored an emerging subculture that delves into innovative forms of governance and new concepts of citizenship, distinct yet intertwined with the remote work phenomenon. My exploration led me to investigate Próspera in Honduras and engage in a conversation with the CEO and co-founder of SafetyWing about Plumia.

Próspera represents an intriguing experiment in new governance models, operating beyond the traditional nation-state framework. It's an initiative that's redefining the concept of a community, blending physical and digital realms to create a unique socio-political entity. Unlike conventional states bound by geography and centralized governments, Próspera is designed as a semi-autonomous region, leveraging technology to create a more flexible and responsive governance structure.

Similarly, Plumia, an initiative by SafetyWing, is at the forefront of reimagining citizenship in a digital age. It's an ambitious project aiming to create a "country on the internet," offering a form of digital citizenship that transcends traditional geographical boundaries. This concept is particularly appealing to digital nomads and remote workers who seek a sense of belonging and community that aligns with their mobile lifestyle.

These initiatives resonate with the ethos of the Sovereign Individual Movement, which champions personal autonomy and self-reliance amidst rapidly changing socio-economic landscapes. This movement is propelled by the belief that modern technologies, like the internet and digital finance, enable individuals to step away from conventional state systems and economic dependencies. It advocates for a life where personal sovereignty is paramount, encompassing finance, education, and work, and often includes embracing digital nomadism and cryptocurrencies.

While remote work is a component of these movements, it's just one piece of a much larger puzzle. Remote work allows individuals to be part of global communities and maintain autonomy over their work environment, but these new governance models and concepts of citizenship are about a more fundamental rethinking of societal structures and individual roles within them.

Próspera and Plumia stand at the forefront of a significant shift, demonstrating how technology is reshaping community, governance, and identity. Próspera is a tangible real estate and governance initiative, actively constructing buildings and navigating the complexities of political dynamics with local leaders. In contrast, Plumia is currently more conceptual, a research project still some years away from realization. Yet, both offer intriguing insights into an evolving movement that is redefining traditional notions of societal organization.

AI Disrupting Service Businesses: The Automation Wave

This is something I'm getting more and more interested in.

As artificial intelligence continues to permeate various sectors, its influence on physical service industries is not yet realized relative to the latent opportunity.

In the midst of this technological upheaval, a new breed of tech entrepreneurs will emerge, focusing on bringing AI-enabled technology to the masses of service business owners. These are the individuals who are typically more engrossed in hands-on tasks like cleaning carpets, repairing broken pipes, and managing fleets of trucks and technicians than in keeping up with the latest tech trends.

These new tech founders are poised to bridge the gap between advanced technology and everyday service operations. They understand that while these business owners may not have the time or expertise to delve into AI, they can greatly benefit from its applications. By creating user-friendly, AI-driven solutions tailored to the needs of service businesses, these innovators can revolutionize how these businesses operate, making them more efficient, responsive, and competitive.

This integration of AI into service industries is not just about automation for efficiency's sake. It's about enhancing human labor with smart technology. AI can handle repetitive, time-consuming tasks, allowing business owners and their employees to focus on more complex, creative, and customer-centric aspects of their work. This synergy of human and artificial intelligence holds the potential to elevate the quality of services and customer satisfaction.

However, this transition also comes with its challenges. Businesses are finding themselves in a delicate balancing act, striving to integrate cutting-edge technology while preserving the indispensable human touch that is often at the heart of service-oriented businesses. This disruption is as much cultural as it is technological, prompting a reassessment of the value of human work in a world where machines are capable of performing an ever-expanding array of tasks.

As we move forward, this new wave of AI-enabled service business tech will likely reshape the landscape of service industries. It will redefine job roles, spur new business models, and potentially lead to a more efficient and customer-focused service sector. The key will be ensuring that this technological integration complements rather than supplants the human elements that remain critical to the success of service businesses.

Personal Travels: Mexico, Portugal, Costa Rica

I'll be brief on this. Finding wonderful places to work remotely has been a big part of my life in the last couple of years.

To be semantic and pedantic, I am more of a remote worker than a digital nomad. I seek out bases that offer comfortable locales that offer professional workspaces (within accommodations or at coworking spaces) for relatively long periods (not just a few days or a week).

In 2023, I got to spend time in the Nayarit area in Mexico, the Lisbon area, and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica — in addition to my home country of Canada.

I plan to write more and podcast more about these personal experiences on remotelyserious.com in 2024.

Top 5 films of the year (so far)

  • May December
  • Anatomy of a Fall
  • Oppenheimer
  • Air
  • Maestro

(Caveat: I haven't yet seen many or most of 2023's most highly regarded films)