For the most part of 2020, I’m happy about my career trajectory. At my full-time job at Somnox, we have achieved many amazing milestones. Also, my personal business (Kin-Yee) has made big progress in terms of personal products.
Let’s start with my thoughts on Kin-Yee which is the company that operates all my side-products and freelance projects. Then I will talk about my full-time job within Somnox where I was the sole-iOS developer and software lead of all products. There are many things on a NDA with Somnox, but I will give my perspective without giving their plans away and development in detail.
Next to my full-time job, I’m usually doing some freelance work for old colleagues or companies. This year however, probably due the pandemic and economy, I haven’t had many requests. So within my freelance work, there hasn’t been much progress. At the start of the year, I did two freelance projects which took around two weeks of work each. Nothing big, which means there aren’t updates surrounding about my freelancing career. I’m not particularly sad about it, but it is a fun trivia fact I think for this year.
Other aspects though are quite good. Usually, I build a side mobile app each year. In 2018 it was Esports Calendar (dead), and in 2019 Think Drop. This year however I build two, Kowa and Growrilla!
The first one was Kowa. I started building Kowa around the end of March cause I was mainly bored. I started learning SwiftUI for the first time and thought to build something with the technology. The best idea I had back then was a wishlist-organizer, cause I was searching for presents. Then I realised that I had to put every idea on a note and thought this could be a better experience.
A funny story is that Kowa was originally called Mong. Mong in Cantonese means 'wish'. But I found out later that it was used as derogatory term in some parts of the world, thus I changed it to Kowa. 😄
So I spend roughly 30-60 minutes a day designing, building, and thinking about Kowa. The biggest moment during the development of Kowa was gaining traction through Twitter. More specifically this tweet
It gained lots of traction and excitement and I was very happy about it. I released Kowa around the end of June. Then I build three extra features which was the ’Screen Wishlist function’, iCloud sync and macOS release. So far there has been 368 downloads.
I was happy about the development until I realised I wasn’t the right builder for it. In the startup world there is a term called ‘Product Founder Fit’ which means how well you are suited to build the product. For Kowa, I definitely wasn’t suited to build it. I rarely use it myself and if I do, I only use it once a month.
This meant I lost motivation to build and maintain Kowa. There are no new features planned for Kowa for now. I do think that in terms of design, this has been one of my better looking and user-friendly mobile apps. But since I realised that I’m not fit to build it, I’m not going to put much time into it again. This was a big learning for me.
Do not build anything for consumers if I’m not a fan of it myself.
The building of Kowa though, has allowed me to learn and improve my Swift development skills. Next to learning SwiftUI, I learned other Swift technologies this year. For example, I’ve learned GRDB similar to SQLite that replaces Core Data or Realm. Then I’ve also learned to make use of CloudKit. The biggest challenge was creating synchronisation logic, but it was doable after drawing the whole system out. There were many more, but these were very useful for building Growrilla.
So, I stopped the development of new features for Kowa around the end of July. With the latest learning that I need to build something where I’m a fan of, I brainstormed on what I could build. Then I came across the one app that I sometimes used which was the Streaks app. Most habits mobile applications advocate for a daily event to do. I don't like this fact cause I don’t believe you have to practice something every day to become competent at it.
Another fault I saw, was that these apps require high engagement, when in reality it doesn’t have to. If I want to track how many times I travelled abroad, I don’t want to feel pressured to travel every day. That’s unrealistic and stupid.
Thus I thought of one subtitle which was ‘Count Anything and Everything’. From there, I started to prototype and build the idea and it became Growrilla - the app to Count Anything and Everything. The counting was mainly due cause I like to count things myself. For example, this year I began writing a daily blog and counted how posts I’ve posted.
I began the development of Growrilla in August. This started out for 60 minutes of development a day but quickly grew into 90-120 minutes. I was so invested in it, cause I liked the thing I was building. When I had a prototype available, I even used it myself every day. The development went on and on and on December 3rd I put up a beta-test program for it. Ten people (from Twitter and Real Life) tested it for me, and with some additional feedback and fixes, I launched it on December 16th.
The launch wasn’t that great, to be honest, compared to Kowa. For comparison, Kowa had 80~ installs and Growrilla 65~ within the first roughly 12 hours. Also, Kowa had roughly 45~ upvotes on Product Hunt while Growrilla had 20~. The first day wasn’t smooth at all but was just a starting point.
Then I contacted some journalists from the press and then the next day @OliverJHaslam featured me on iMore. He was the only journalist that replied back to me and made Growrilla booming. The same day Growrilla had 250+ downloads and two customers subscribed for the premium version. I was so happy and that would even be an understatement. I was, even more, happier than the Kowa sales for the macOS version.
Then I got featured on many websites on the days after like iCulture, iDownloadBlog, and iPhone. There may be more but these are the ones I found. I couldn’t be more happier for the launch week/month of Growrilla.
The current statistics are as followed for Growrilla.
- ⭐ 4.6 rating on the App Store (9 reviews)
- 527~ downloads as of writing this
- 97 upvotes on Product Hunt
- 3 active premium subscription
- 1 lifetime premium purchase
- featured on iMore, iCulture, iDownloadBlog and iPhoned
I’m happy that I can help people count the amazing events of their lives and also that I’ve done this next to my full-time job during the pandemic.
Full-time job Somnox
This year, I took on the role of the software lead. This replaced my responsibilities as the project lead last year. This meant that my role within Somnox are iOS Developer and software lead.
At the start, I was excited about the new role and had many ideas to improve the overall software quality and development process of the teams. For context, Somnox has a Mobile Development, Embedded, and Web development team. I quickly realized that the ideas didn’t work on every development team.
The teams had their own ideas of what a good development process is. They understood better what they needed cause it was their job and domain. When it comes to the iOS domain, I know what is good and what is not. However, when it comes to the other domains, I had a basic view or even the wrong ones. I quickly realized that I shouldn’t implement my ideas, but let them flourish organically within the teams.
I decided to let the teams experiment on their own and see what fits. Then if they needed help or another perspective, they could ask me. For the rest, I analyzed what the teams needed and tried to provide those needs for them while pointing them into the right direction on what they should focus on. My style of managing quickly turned into a loose style where I try to get the best out of the teams instead of telling them what to do.
Next to this, HR came on top of it. This meant making hiring and retention plans. Without going into too many details, I think we build a good software team as a whole (extremely biased). This software lead role thus went well enough even though I’m inexperienced in it. But there were also points where I could improve A LOT on.
I realised that when it came to personal matters with employees, I lacked the power to improve the situation. Luckily nothing major came up, but all I could have done was lend them an ear and let them vent. When it came to improving it though, I had limited control or wasn’t even sure if I should. Even with non-major events, I had trouble understanding my role in it. Is it something I should solve or let it play out? These questions and similar ones always came up to me. In the middle of the year, I came to a better understanding that human relations are much more complex than projects.
Then due to time limitations, I didn’t (maybe even couldn’t) perform my responsibilities the best I could. I was the sole iOS Developer in the company and there were still many things that needed to be build. Thus during the whole year, I lacked focus and was occupied with multiple responsibilities.
Within the iOS Developer role, I think we made big strides with the resources we had. I can’t go into much detail on what we have done and build, but the achievements are quite nice. My problem that I’ve encountered this year is stagnation though.
Being the sole iOS Developer of a company can be great. I’ve done it multiple times by now. But it also means that there are limitations to working with better people. For the past years, I don’t think I hit a wall when it came to my programming skills. This year though, I did. Even though I learned new programming paradigms and tools (like SwiftUI), I had to do them in my own private-time or with my side-projects. Within my full-time job, I was limited to experimentation mainly due to the many responsibilities I had.
Yes, I agreed to those roles and responsibilities. But I also realised that I couldn’t do a great job on both of them. I take full responsibility for it. This is something I need to improve on for next year. Gaining a better focus, cause I can’t do multiple things great at the same time when they are very different.
I’ve also realised that I need changes in my working environment. Thus, I made the choice to leave Somnox as of 1st February. Reasons are mainly cause I want these changes myself. I will maybe write down further details about it next year. But for now, stay tuned for my goals and plans 2021 section on the 31st December 2020.
All in all, I’m glad about my career trajectory and achievements in 2020. With my full-time job, I got to experience software lead responsibilities while building ‘things’ in my iOS development role. Next to this, I’ve build two side-products in the form of Growrilla and Kowa, completed freelance projects, grew my Twitter, and written 100+ blog posts back to back (more about this next blog post).
🟢 = Satisfied
🔴 = Dissatisfied
🔶 = Average
- 🟢🟢 Product Growth: 2 new releases (Kowa, Growrilla)
- 🔶 Freelance projects completed: 2
- 🟢🟢 Blog: 100+ blogposts
- 🟢 Twitter: 100~ followers
- 🔴 Job Satisfaction: 6/10
- 🟢 Job Achievements: 9/10
- 🔶 Job Growth: 7/10
- 🟢 New/Re-learned Tech Skills:
SwiftUI, Figma, GRDB (SQLite), In-App Purchases and Subscriptions, RevenueCat, CloudKit, Web-Analytics, Ghost
- 🟢 Improvement Existing Skills: Swift, Writing, Design, HR,
- Learning SwiftUI, CloudKit
- Kowa getting traction on Twitter
- Building and releasing Kowa
- Software Lead role experience and learnings within Somnox
- Building and releasing Growrilla
- Growrilla being featured on iMore
- Growrilla subscription sales
- Daily Blogging on Ghost