2021: year in review

It’s the end of the year already? When did that happen?

Harry Keller
Dec 30, 2021 · 7 min read

Hello! I’ve written quite a few of these yearly recaps (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) over the company’s lifespan, but this year was harder than any of those others before. The last 12 months went by in the blink of an eye, yet 2020 feels long ago. We did a hack day at the start of the year, then I can’t really remember much for several months. We got vaccinated. Some of us met in summer for drinks. We launched projects. Then it’s suddenly December. Maybe that’s because so many days felt same-y for me … wake up, shower, walk the dog, make coffee, sit down at the desk, work, be energetic and uplifting in zoom calls, walk the dog, make dinner, watch a movie, read a book, sleep, repeat. Apparently I’m not the only one who has trouble remembering this year:

Some people will blame this on remote work, but I don’t think that’s fair. Sure, the pandemic-induced remote setup meant we created fewer lasting work memories, but maybe that’s a healthy development actually, untangling work from identity and circle of friends, making work a bit more about, you know, the actual work. More transactional if you will. Outside of work the ongoing pandemic meant going to fewer places, fewer social interactions and that lingering feeling of “we shouldn’t actually be doing this” whenever I did meet someone in person. That doesn’t mean nothing good happened this year … I had several wonderful recurring Zoom calls reconnecting with old friends, grew chilis on the balcony, continued to organize a book club and thoroughly enjoyed working remotely most of the time. I can’t begin to imagine what this pandemic feels like in a less secure and privileged work situation.

Still, the “I wish we were in the office together” sentiment was strong in our team this year and we definitely felt more disconnected than even in 2020. On the upside some team members are using the flexibility enabled by being distributed and are taking workations early next year: In January we might have people working in Germany (duh!), in the UK, in Portugal, in Mexico, in Brazil, in New Zealand and Australia, all at once. That’s mindblowing and I love that that’s possible! It’s a bit of an experiment, but if we can effectively pass the baton across timezones, then this enables so many new possibilities. I’m excited to see how it works out!

So what did happen for us in 2021? Let me scrape together a few things. For starters we hired a bunch of honestly incredible people: Ella came aboard as our engineering manager, moving from Bristol to Berlin. Patricia joined to level up our office management. Tinka is now heading our People + Culture efforts. Macario joined our dev team as a senior developer, alongside Martin and Tom (who had been long-time freelancers, but are now also full-time engineers). Niklas and Tal joined our design team. Sophia joined as a full-time project manager. Some people also assumed new roles: Tal recently became our design lead, Lars is now heading the project management, Lorenz assumed the title of CEO, Nicolàs went back to development after being a technical project manager for a while and Maria took over our communications + social media. I’m so happy to be working with each and everyone on this team and we’re more than 30 people now. Wow, mind blown, again!

Unfortunately we also had to say good-bye to four people: Brent, Kai, Kyrsten and Martina. We hope you’ve all found excellent jobs elsewhere and we’re glad you were part of the diesdas journey! Thank you for everything you contributed! 🙇‍♂️

In terms of projects it’s hard for me to give a comprehensive overview, because we still haven’t found a good way to share project progress remotely across teams … nonetheless so much stuff happened! We worked with a large-client-who-shall-not-be-named on many of their global web properties, including an AI support chatbot which is now rolled out into dozens of countries/languages and also built several new browser games. We worked with NLX on their brand and website. Same for PPE Germany. Our partnership with ZEIT ONLINE meant many ongoing projects, such as building out their audio infrastructure. We kept evolving Z2X with new community features. My Country Talks also had a great year, with loads of new functionality and many large events all over the world. We kept working with PSW, axxum and HvD Fonts, refining their websites + online shop. Bio Planète came aboard as a new client, as did Charlotte Meentzen. Shout-out to our lovely lawyers over at KUHLEN who also got a new website this year!

This list would probably be thrice as long if I could mention every project we worked on, but I’m not sure about NDAs, so I’ll leave it at that. For next year we’ve already lined up many larger and challenging projects, so 2022 is looking good already. Finally, we are currently also refreshing our own brand and website, which is always the hardest job.

Projects aside we also continued to evolve how we work, transferring more projects into an agile setup, switching to JIRA for all project management (which, predictably, is a blessing and a curse), switched to Moco for budgeting, and tried a four day work week at full pay for three months with great success. Financially we had a decent but not the best year, investing a lot of time into refining our processes and creating new internal roles which have yet to pay off financially.

One of these initiatives is around forming fixed teams within our team, a major structural change we introduced towards the end of the year: We created smaller teams around our core technologies and clients, of five-six people each. The plan is that these sub-teams will stay together across projects, growing and learning together. We’re currently still in a transition phase in which not all projects exactly match the new teams structure, but we hope to get there in Q1, minimizing project hopping, creating more autonomy within these teams and letting everyone focus on what they do best.

Shortly before our Christmas party we sent our team a short questionnaire, asking for their 2021 highlights. Some quotes:

  • moved to a new flat, played a few shows with my band, growing my plant family, getting back into books, visiting Budapest, Hamburg and finally spending some time in Berlin again
  • coming back after one year of parental leave, meeting all the great new people who joined diesdas during my break
  • 4 day work week in the summer!; I built a new bike; I learnt Blender; ███ launched in (I guess) 170 countries, NLX were so happy with their new identity that they launched a fashion collection with their new logo
  • Getting married, finding a new flat, talking to so many interesting people (Dubai, Afghanistan, India) to make Educast happen
  • spent almost every break outside
  • Many excellent new hires, generally the feeling of growing as a team. many nice moments shared with the team — even remotely
  • So many things changed for me: Finished my studying and started working 🎉 Had a really great summer (specially the 4-day workweek made it amazing)

We also asked which emoji summed up 2021’s vibe best and these are the results: 😶‍🌫️, 🪂, 🥴, ☠️🕺☠️, 🥲, 😵‍💫, 😅, 😰, 🙊, 🐜, 🤓. I’ll leave the interpretation up to you.

And that’s it, not very comprehensive, rather a collection of bits and bobs. Anyhow, bye 2021! Thank you for reading, hope you’re all healthy, hope you’re having a calm break from work, hope you have something to look forward to in 2022! See you around, I shall now escape to the scorching desert of Arrakis for a few days. ☀️

diesdas.digital is a studio for strategy, design and code in Berlin, featuring a multidisciplinary team of designers, developers and strategists. We create tailor-made digital solutions with an agile mindset and a smile on our faces. Let’s work together!

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