As the decade comes to a close, I thought it would be interesting to look back on the past 10 years. So, rather than posting my regular year in review, here’s an abbreviated trip through the past 10 years of my life, both personal and professional.
The decade started for me in an almost poetic way with the end of one life and the beginning of another. I’d been working in live TV production from 2004, but my last job as the one-man production crew for one of those talk-radio-on-TV shows had abruptly been terminated as the result of a corporate takeover of the radio station in November 2009. Left on my TV plate was One Last Job: The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.
For three weeks, while the city reveled in endless parties, mild weather, and the discovery that the rest of the world care more about cross country skiing than hockey, I sat in a production studio in the International Broadcasting Center (now Vancouver Convention Center) doing graphics for sliding sports and biathlon. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the last time I found myself behind the graphics desk in a TV studio. Some of the most important lessons in life involve figuring out that something is not for you.
In September, the work that would come to define the decade for me began. I found myself in Ventura, California recording a course called “WordPress Essential Training” for lynda.com. It was an experiment to see if video training was a better fit than writing books, and at the time everyone figured it would be a one-off thing. That all changed a month after the course went live when it climbed to the top of the most viewed list and the content manager called me asking if I’d like to make some more courses.
One of the defining elements of the 2010s for me was dancing. Angela and I went to a ballroom dancing class on a whim some years earlier, and by 2011 it had pretty much become our “thing.” As I settled into my new career as a self-employed web developer and sometimes (quite often actually) lynda.com instructor, dancing was a thing that filled much of our lives. We danced two or three nights a week, and rapidly expanded our repertoire. Our dance instructor Elaine said to me at one point “If you’re always learning new things, you’ll always be a student, never a dancer,” and we took that to heart by bringing dance outside the studio and into any space where music was playing. Toward the end of the year I successfully danced my first pair of shoes to destruction and had to buy a new pair, which to me was a major milestone.
While our business grew and my course production with Lynda.com really started to ramp up, Angela and I realized we could no longer stay in our small apartment. We needed to invest in either a small house and a separate office or a larger house with room for an office. We’d been hunting for a house for 4 years but kept getting squeezed out of the red-hot market by builders willing to buy anything, tear it down, and build a crappy duplex on top of it.
We’d all but given up when chance had us crashing a private showing of a house in our area. Two days later and we were suddenly homeowners! The house needed extensive renovations and much of the latter half of 2012 was spent first going through the various stages of “we’ve made a HUGE mistake” followed by “all these contractors are trying to scam us” followed by “hey, at least we got one that isn’t half bad” to “OMG they opened up all the walls and we have no plumbing or electricity” all the way to “Can you believe this is the same house we bought?!?”
Between 2012 and the first half of 2013 I found myself flying back and forth between Vancouver, Canada and Caprinteria, California pretty much on a monthly basis to produce courses for lynda.com. At one point a Starbucks barista at LAX called me over as I walked past on my way out of the terminal. “Morten! I have your drink for you!” I had no idea what she was talking about. Turns out I was so regular in my flying – always flying on a Sunday morning, always the third week of the month, etc – that she had taken down my regular order and decided to make one on the assumption I’d arrive as usual. A big tip was in order, followed by a conversation with my content manager.
Little beknown to me my content manager also had some thoughts, and one day I found myself discussing salary and benefits for a new job as a Staff Author at Lynda.com. And just like that the experiment from 2010 had turned into a full-time job!
To find proof the world has become more multicultural and borders and distances mean less and less, look no further than my extended family. I, a Norwegian, live in Canada with my Tawianese wife. In 2014 we traveled to Romania to attend the wedding of my youngest brother and his wife. If anyone had told us this would be our future when we grew up on Nesodden, nobody would have believed us. How much things change.
The wedding comprised three ceremonies: A Viking ceremony (pictured), a secular ceremony, and an orthodox ceremony in a very small church with beautiful singing, cake, wine, and a lot of laughter as Romanian priests tried to pronounce Norwegian names.
My father’s aunt always said “life comes in lumps.” 2015 was for me yet another example of this being the truth.
The year started with the passing of my paternal grandmother and a sudden trip to Denmark and Norway for her funeral. It was a somber but wonderful time of reacquaintances with family and friends and the celebration of a long and eventful life.
In April I was woken at 6am by my phone ringing non-stop. It was friends from the east coast telling me LinkedIn had bought Lynda.com, so now I suddenly worked for one of the largest social media companies in the world.
In May, Angela and I embarked on a trip criss-crossing the United States to attend and speak at conferences in Boston, New York City, Carpinteria, and Miami. By the end of the month-long trek I had acquired what my doctor described as “stress-induced shingles.” All I’ll say is the Norwegian word for this disease, helvetesild or “hell’s fire” is an accurate description.
My official enrollment as a LinkedIn employee happened on the 30th of August, and life went on as normal.
I don’t think anything changes a person as much as having a child. In 2016 our son Leo arrived, 6 weeks prematurely, and the first three weeks of his life were spent at the hospital neonatal intensive care unit. Angela and I had been on an extended trip to Vienna, Austria for a conference just weeks earlier and after an extremely stressful day involving two different car accidents caused by first a careless driver and then a careless bicyclist, her water broke. The next week was spent at the hospital before Leo arrived screaming out in objection to the lack of “fast music” in the birthing suite on a sunny Saturday morning. We were lucky: The Canadian health care system is impeccable when it comes to treating mothers and babies, and our every need in this difficult time was met and exceeded. We lived in a cocoon as our son gathered strength and checked more and more of the boxes for early release, and after 3 weeks, still 3 weeks before his due date, we suddenly had him in our car and were driving home.
To say it was the most intense time of our lives is a gross understatement. But everything worked the way it should and moments ago I played penguin with Leo while we waited for Angela to rush him through the rain, into the car, and off to preschool which he loves.
2017 was also the first time I was approached by an international conference to come speak. Which is how I found myself in a cave in Zagreb, Croatia, in October as part of the speaker tour / dinner for WebCamp Zagreb. It was an amazing conference for an amazing community, and I hope I’ll be able to return at some point in the future.
Back in 2015 the same Shira had asked me to define what success looked like and what I strived for professionally. I stated two main goals: Get published in a recognized online magazine like Smashing Magazine or A List Apart, and eventually speak at their respective conferences Smashing Conf and An Event Apart.
I got two articles published in Smashing Magazine in 2016 and 2017, and in 2018 Vitaly Friedman invited me to come speak at Smashing Conf Freiburg. This was the first time I got to bring my tech and design ethics talk to the main stage at a web conference and I am eternally grateful to Vitaly and his team for taking a chance on me. Side note: If you find yourself in Germany, I recommend visiting Freiburg. What an amazing town!
Back in 2011, right after the recording of my 2nd course for Lynda.com, I told my then content manager Cynthia Scott that I eventually wanted to do a full-on philosophy course. “I’ll somehow camouflage it as a tech course, but it will really just be philosophy” I said, and she nodded and with a knowing smile responded “I’m sure you’ll make that happen.” And it did.
This summer my two content managers Simon St. Laurent and Stephanie Evans granted me the extraordinary opportunity to develop what would become “Technology and Design Ethics.” The course is the culmination and condensation of my academic work from two decades ago, my 17 years in the web industry, and my 10 years as an instructor with Lynda.com/LinkedIn Learning. If I may say so myself it both the best and most important work I have done, and I am eternally grateful to everyone who helped me along the way and made this course possible.
People always ask me what’s next, and I can go on in great detail about what I think my murky crystal ball is showing for the web community. As for myself, I am far less certain. So far, my 2020 calendar tells me I have major plans for courses at LinkedIn Learning, and I am speaking about design and tech ethics at An Event Apart in Washington D.C. and in Orlando. I’m hoping to get some more conferences booked, and I am working on three new talks to make that happen.
Personally, I’ve committed myself to spending more time playing guitar, honing my craft at table tennis, and Angela and I have high hopes of getting Leo settled in a sleeping routine which makes it possible for us to go back to dancing 2 days a week. Without lofty goals, you have nothing to strive for.
The past decade has been a trip, with huge changes, huger obstacles, and tremendous personal and professional successes. Looking back on it all, I realize how important it is to celebrate and document your achievements and I’m committing myself to doing a better job at it so my 2029 decade in review is a little less complicated to research.
That was a small peek into my chaotic life, and if you’ve read this far, I thank you for indulging me in this introspective exploration. I also encourage you to do your own review, in private or in public, and find highlights worth looking back on. Remember the good things and let them drive you forward as we start writing 2020 everywhere.
Hope is a catalyst.