How I approach personal development

The holidays are a great time of year to reflect and look forward. There have been a couple of great blog posts about how others have approached their reflection and goals for next year. I personally don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I set half-yearly targets and goals. Goals work better for me than resolutions, as the outcome can be measured.

I actually wrote the draft of this blog post last year – but ended up not hitting the publish button. If you’re reading this now, you’ll know I found the courage to share my process.

Different categories of goals

I subdivide my goals in a couple of different categories. One of them is purely business – which today means what I want to achieve as a Cloud Solution Architect for Microsoft. This contains both goals for the state of the business (on which projects I want to focus in the coming 6 months) and how I want to interact with colleagues and customers and which initiatives I want to drive.

Another area is personal development. This entails how often I want to attend meetups this half year, how often I aim to do public speaking, which technology area I want to focus on and it even contained my plan to move to the US 2 years ago. This personal development category for me also contains potential certifications I want to achieve.

The last category for me is the personal bucket. This contains purely personal goals, such at athletic targets, reading goals and even plans to travel.

Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals

I like setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. Rather than having a goal of “Learn about Kubernetes”, a SMART goal for this would be: “Spend 1 hour a week writing an app that runs on Kubernetes for the next six months”; or (depending on how you measure the value of certification): “study 1 hour a week to achieve the CKA certification before June 30th” (that last one was a goal I had in H1 2018).

I try to make all my goals SMART. The T comes easy, as I set the bi-yearly goals so each goal has an end date of 6 months from now. The SMAR part I try to weave in by setting numeric values to goals and specifying activities (rather than ‘help new members in team with onboarding’, I’ve written ‘organize 2 hackathons for the team’).

Looking back

A personal development plan is a great asset. It gives you a goal to work towards. However, the plan in itself requires you to look at it from time to time and to evaluate your achievement by the end of the plan. This is an accountability you have towards yourself. As I’m updating this post for 2020, it’s even more fun to see my reflection from past half years and discover trends. I actually write down my reflections before I start planning the next 6 months. This way, when I start my next reflection, I can see my previous reflection as well and maybe identify a trend.

Looking back at the past 6 months, my achievement of my plan has been mediocre. From a business perspective I wanted to make sure that my team was successful. We had a small re-org internally over the summer, and I wanted to make sure not only myself but also my team mates would be successful. I feel like – given the circumstances – this goal was achieved medium-well. Things could have gone better, but I feel like I did the right things at the right time to work for the team.

In terms of personal development, I again have mixed feelings. My goals were the followings:

  • Build on brand / leadership skills / thought leadership
    • Write 1 blog per week
    • Work on talk proposals
    • Speak at 1 meetup
    • Get accepted to speak at public event
    • Build plan on community engagement in Bay Area.
  • Grow technically
    • Achieve CKAD certification during summer

I achieved about half of those. I managed to blog once per week, I spoke at a meetup (and even at Black Hat in Barracuda’s booth) and I achieved my CKAD certification. However, I missed working on my talk proposals and to even submit talks to any CFPs, let alone get accepted.

On the personal side, I achieved 1 out 3 goals – but with an excuse for 1. I have read (over) 3 non-fiction books, which was one of the goals. However, I did not run my 50k trail race and I did not visit 2 new national parks (not even 1…). I have an excuse for the trail race, as I suffered a major injury over the summer. The national park visits have no excuse, Kelly and I simply didn’t take the time to plan these visits. However, we did visit Italy in December, and are spent some time away from home for Christmas with a good friend. So, let’s call it a half-win in the personal category.

Looking forward

Now comes the fun part, setting goals! As business goals are a tad Microsoft-specific I don’t want to share too much here. But I don’t mind sharing my other goals for the coming 6 months:

  • Personal development
    • Keep blogging at 1 blog per week
    • Work on at least 1 talk proposal per month
    • Submit 1 CFP per month
    • Attend 1 meetup per month
    • Do 3 (meaningful) open source contributions
    • Achieve DP-200 certification
  • Personal
    • Run 50k trail race
    • Run half marathon in 1:45
    • Read 6 non-fiction books


I hope this post is useful for you, and might empower you to set goals for the new year. I personally enjoy setting this time aside to focus on what I want to achieve. Looking back over the past 6 months is even more fun, as it can ground me in showing me where I achieved goals and where I missed them.

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