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2023: The year in lists

Sophie Koonin

Last year's roundup post was good fun, so I decided I'd do another one this year! I feel like I blinked in April and suddenly it was December.

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The year in...


After a bumper conference year in 2022, I decided to rein it in a bit and did four conferences this year. Four is a good number and a lot more doable than seven. I also attended a few on top of that.

  • In April, I spoke about personal websites at the incredible Beyond Tellerand in Düsseldorf. I also wrote about the experience. In fact, I loved it so much, I'm speaking at BTConf Berlin in 2024!
  • In May, I went back to All Day Hey in Leeds. I particularly enjoyed Jack Franklin's talk on Abstractions, complexities and off-ramps.
  • In June I spent my birthday at CSS Day in Amsterdam where I gave my personal website talk and got completely blown away by all the new features in CSS. Later in the month I attended StaffPlus at the Barbican, a very different experience from the usual kinds of conferences I tend to find myself at, but super useful for things I actually do day-to-day.
  • In July I found myself in Middlesbrough, in the North East, for Middlesbrough Frontend – where I gave the final form of my Virtual Piano talk (refined and perfected!) and witnessed the absolute joy of a local, supportive community. I also gained a pair of parmo socks.
  • At the end of August I travelled to Zurich for the first time for Front Conference, which was an absolute joy; onstage I built a website like it's 1999 wearing some very bright orange trousers, and experimented with sort-of live coding using inspire.js. Also a joy: travelling around the lake on a boat in the sunshine.
  • Back at the Barbican in October, for the glorious State of the Browser 2023. This year, Dave made everyone's conference badges out of floppy disks (you're a legend Dave), and I got a special red one as the backup MC in case he was ill.
  • It's not a conference season without going down to Brighton for FFConf in November, and it was excellent as always <3

Attending lots of front-of-the-frontend conferences always makes me a little sad that I don't do much of that for a living – my job is a lot more around back-of-the-frontend, leading teams and building at scale. There's been a lot of talk this year about how React and other frameworks have ruined frontend development, and I don't disagree; but it's also something I use daily at work. The best thing I can do is make sure we're using it in a sensible way and defaulting to native browser capabilities where we can. (I've got a post in me somewhere about all of this.)


My holidays this year took me to Copenhagen with my mum, then later to Norway to visit family. We flew up to Ålesund and drove to Geiranger (our suitcase only made it as far as Oslo, but thankfully joined us the next day) and then flew back down to Oslo for a few days on my cousin's farm. It was wonderful to meet some of my family for the first time!

A view from the harbour of Geiranger in Norway, looking out over shimmering waters into the fjord.

My annual lads' trip with some of my best friends was in the Cotswolds this year, where we stayed in a gorgeous farmhouse and went to WWT Slimbridge to gawp at some excellent waders. We saw a rare goose that had got blown off course and across the Atlantic during its seasonal migration across North America, but it seemed to be happy enough amongst the local geese.

A landscape photo of WWT Slimbridge wetlands. It's bright and sunny with a lovely view over fields and the River Severn estuary, with Wales visible on the other side.
WWT Slimbridge, looking out over the Severn estuary towards Wales
A variety of ducks sit on sunny, green wetlands
Excellent duck action at Slimbridge


I continued to make extensive use of my library's ebook service. I tend to only read in bed, which means I often manage about 3 pages before conking out.


New to me in 2023:

  • If Books Could Kill: Michael Hobbes and Peter Shamshiri take us through some of the biggest "self-help"/pseudoscience books from the last few decades and deservedly tear them apart. I can't recommend this enough.
  • Dungeons and Daddies: a Dungeons and Dragons-but-also-not podcast. I'm working my way through season one, which is about "four dads from our world flung into a land of high fantasy and magic in a quest to rescue their lost sons". It's one of the funniest things I've ever listened to and I'm completely hooked.


According to my Apple Music Replay (aka Spotify Wrapped ripoff) I actually didn't listen to a lot of music this year. It checks out, as I've been mainlining podcasts on my commute, and I don't listen to much while I work apart from the odd bit of lo-fi. Some good things came out this year, though.

  • Carly Rae Jepsen - The Loveliest Time: CRJ has a tradition of releasing a companion album for every album she releases, and this is a great one. Standout tracks include the Daft Punk-esque Psychedelic Switch, and Kamikaze.
  • Speak Now - Taylor's Version: I was honestly surprised how much I liked this album, given that Speak Now was always my second least favourite TS album (least favourite is the self-titled one). The maturity of her voice suits the songs so well, and I love the one she did with Hayley Williams (Castles Crumbling). Haunted is one of my favourite Taylor Swift songs, as well, so it was great to hear the re-record. I had high hopes for the 1989 re-record because that was always my favourite, but I think I actually liked this one more.
  • GUTS - Olivia Rodrigo: This would have completely passed me by had I not listened to an episode of Switched On Pop where they talked about two tracks from this album, vampire and bad idea right?. Boy, are these fucking great pop songs, and I can't resist a great pop song.
  • Evanescence - Fallen 20th Anniversary Edition – after spending years embarrassed that I was really into Evanescence as a teenager, I've come out the other side and you know what, this album slaps. It's just excellent. Now I'm at the age where 20th anniversary editions start coming out for some of the albums that shaped my teenage years, which is utterly ridiculous, but the good news is that they sound great because a lot of the mastering was a bit trash in the early 00s.
  • the record - boygenius: Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers come up with some really glorious harmonies which is a sure way to get me on board. I'm not so much of a fan of sad girl music so I don't tend to listen to their solo stuff or anything but I really loved some of the tracks off this album. Not Strong Enough is a standout.

Regretfully (especially after last year's glowing recommendation) I cleared any trace of Rammstein and associated acts out of my music library following some really dreadful accusations. I really enjoyed their music, but I couldn't really justify listening to it any more given how fucking creepy and problematic the singer is. The investigation was dropped due to lack of evidence, but there have been enough stories that came out to make me feel uncomfortable about the whole thing regardless.

...video games

Another great year for games! I also wrote up a list of my favourite games, some of which were new to me this year.

The standout for me and basically everyone else was Baldur's Gate 3. I'm 2/3 through my second playthrough; first run I played a Druid, second time is a Dark Urge playthrough. I thought I'd be evil but it turns out I'm incapable of making questionably moral decisions even in video games. I still got to romance Astarion, though – and it's extra fun as the Dark Urge. I've sunk so many hours into this game and yet I always discover something I missed.

Other highlights from 2023:

  • Chants of Sennaar: It's a linguist's dream, a puzzle game where you have to decipher the languages of the civilisations around you through context and environmental clues. It's also really beautiful. One of the most unique puzzle games I've played - I actually played this with my husband, solving puzzles together, and it was very wholesome.
  • Alba: A Wildlife Adventure: you play a young girl visiting her grandparents on a Spanish island, who gets together with her friend to start a campaign to save the island's wildlife. It's so wholesome and the fauna is very accurate — I spent far too long running around the island looking for teals and kestrels. It's a great gateway to real life birdwatching!
  • Disney Dreamlight Valley. Yes, really. I don't even like Disney that much, it wasn't a huge part of my life growing up and I haven't seen half of the films (not even the Lion King, which always shocks people when I say that) but the game is basically Animal Crossing with more expensive intellectual property, and it's been a lovely way to unwind. I'm currently in bed with sinusitis as I write this and I've absolutely been rinsing the game. Though it's firmly in the category of "games that make you wonder why the residents of this town don't ever fucking contribute". If you have Apple Arcade, it's just become available on there (though no cross save); I have it on Switch and the framerate is not great, so other platforms are probably better.
  • Pistol Whip. I got a PS VR 2 for my birthday and it's a super fun rhythm game but with shooting.
  • Horizon: Call Of The Mountain (PS VR 2). I nearly didn't include this because it is bascially just a climbing simulator with a bit of combat, but it's a beautiful game, VR archery is so much fun and the environments you go through are so cool. I struggled a lot with this game at first because I'm actually terrified of heights, so I got quite anxious climbing some of the rusty metal structures hanging over massive drops!
  • No Man's Sky. Very much new to me, not new game – I got it on offer originally to try out with PS VR, but found I actually preferred playing it normally. I wasn't expecting to enjoy this game as much as I did, but it's a great combination of exploration, crafting and weird little space animals.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 gets an honourable mention because the DLC was excellent and the new patch balanced a lot of the annoying things about the game. If you've been holding off, give it a go – this game rules.

...learning things

Some of the things I learned this year:

  • I did some really complex backend work, complained the whole way through, and begrudgingly learned a lot from it.
  • I was thrown into a new situation at work which required a lot of disambiguation and interviewing lots of people to get enough information to solve a problem and make a decision on how to proceed. It was exhausting, but interesting, and great experience.
  • I did a couple of painting and drawing courses and discovered that I really liked painting. Unfortunately I don't have a lot of space for the hobby right now, but you can be sure I bought all the things for it and they're in a drawer now.
  • My work held a Security Awareness Week and ran a Capture the Flag competition which I got completely hooked on (and won!). As a fiend for puzzles, it ticked every box for me. I absolutely loved diving through the problems and trying to reverse engineer things. I'd really like to learn more about that stuff.

I came away from the various frontend conferences this year intending to learn some cool new CSS stuff, but honestly my appetite for building things outside of work was so minimal that I just didn't get around to it. I did play with :has on the way home from CSS Day, though.


The best things I bought this year:

  • a second-hand soda stream. £40 off ebay, and I get sparkling water whenever I want.
  • a moth-patterned dress from Disturbia. I've enjoyed indulging my ~inner~ outer goth this year.
  • a Meaco fan, which is wonderfully quiet and has about 954 different speeds, all of which feel like some kind of deity is blowing on your face.
  • two gorgeous prints of the Barbican Conservatory by Cat Sims
  • "haha business" t-shirt from dogecore
  • Beautiful moon earrings from my favourite jewellery designer Rosa Pietsch

...apps and programs

  • In Your Face means I'll never be late to a meeting again
  • BetterSnapTool lets you drag windows to the side of the screen and instantly snap them to half or a quarter of the desktop. For work that requires a lot of side-by-side comparison it's a godsend.
  • Boop is a great little tool for doing a lot of common dev tasks like decoding URI-encoded text, converting CSV to JSON, and so on.
  • Obsidian: I decided it was time to get organised and put all my notes and docs in one place so I'd actually know where they were. I'm hoping that over time it'll become a really useful reference for my own brain, which is a swirling vortex of smaller, swirlier vortexes.

...blog posts

I did even better than last year and wrote 10 posts, shared 2 recipes and talked about one podcast. Some of my favourite posts from this year:

...the web

  • Mastodon continued to grow on me. I still miss the old Twitter, and the reach I used to get on there, but I've kind of embraced the slowness of Mastodon now. I don't even check it every day, which seems like a depressing thing to be surprised about, but I was so hooked on Twitter.
  • I subscribed to the Garbage Day newsletter, and it's very good if you're an Internet Person.
  • Robin Rendle and Matthias Ott started newsletters, and you should absolutely subscribe (either via RSS or email). Robin's is called The Cascade and it's about CSS; Matthias's is Own Your Web, about designing, building and publishing on the web. They are both Very Good.

And so we're at the end

It's been a whirlwind year and I've ended it pretty shattered, but I'm pleased with what I achieved (and by that I mean saving the world in Baldur's Gate 3, obviously).

I used a fair bit of my time off this year on conferences which, although fun, are not restful in the slightest. That on top of a stressful few months towards the end of the year mean I've ended it a bit burnt out again. Not as bad as last year, but still not great. The plus side: I get a 3-month paid sabbatical next year (!) so I'm going to make sure I get more of a rest. I'm thinking of doing some volunteering/conservation work with a wildlife trust or something similar, and we're hoping to finally go to Japan later in 2024.

Wishing you all a lovely Christmas, a happy new year, and a 2024 that's exactly what you are hoping for!


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