in Prose

S01 E07

The one where I start to say goodbye

Another week of Russian, which culminated in a brief handwriting lesson. My handwriting is apparently awful, which is oddly reassuring — although I’ve still some way to go before I get to “Russian doctor” level:

Good luck!

There’s not much to share workwise from this week as I’m still on leave, so this will be a very short weeknotes. However, a couple of things have popped out at me that I want to remember.

Firstly: I’m bad at ignoring work emails. As a consequence people are more likely to contact me, and it becomes a destructive circle. I might need to just uninstall emails on my personal devices while I’m away.

Second: before I go on leave, I have to be better at planning. I’m hoping to get my colleagues and the organisation to a place where I’m less and less needed, but while we’re still finding our way it’s unfair of me to act like we’re not. I’ve got to get better at listening to what colleagues need, because colleagues are users too.


Third: I’ve handed in my notice. As of September 1, I won’t be a Civil Servant any more. That realisation hit me harder than I thought it would. From the age of 19, I’ve been interested in serving in politics — I know I’m not good at running for office. I am a person who does things, and I’m never happier than when I can wrestle with the kind of thorny problems visionary people come up with.

I know I’ll be back. My initial contract is for 2 years, with an option to extend. My end goal is to return to the Civil Service, so whether that’s in 2 years or 5 I guarantee you’ve not seen the last of me. There’s still so much to do to get the Service to a properly user-focussed, agile organisation. I’ll be returning when I’ve got the experience to run a directorate in exactly that way. In the meantime I’ll be following the careers of my fellow Digital and Technology Fast Streamers, luminaries like Kit, and of course all of my fellow #weeknotes writers.

Lastly I’ll answer three questions posed by the One Team Gov team, with an eye on my time in the Service.

What was hard? Learning patience and the realisation that everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got. I’ve slipped into the trap of thinking “An idiot wrote this/put this process in place/is directing this programme” many times, because it’s a sop to my ego — “If only everyone were as clever as me!” and turns cultural issues into individual issues. Neither of these things are true: everyone is slogging their guts out and doing the best within their contexts. It’s up to senior leaders to provide the cover for those people to reach across silos or to take up a sledgehammer and get rid of them altogether — a reminder that all difficult problems are cultural.

What was fun? Everything. I’ve got the honour of speaking to the incoming cohort of Fast Streamers in August, and I’ll say now what I’ll say then: this is the most fun I’ve ever had in a job. The people you’ll work with, both Fast Streamers and not, are completely committed to an ideal. That’s hard to find elsewhere. The opportunity to organise a 600-person conference, to explore graphic design and recruit web developers and teach and learn with colleagues who become friends is absolutely awesome. I’ve been behind the scenes at Heathrow Airport; organised an experience day for students that involved a speaker from GCHQ; written submissions about Twitter and watched a hacker demolish something I’d built. This job is a cool job.

What made you proud? Helping other specialisms see the value of user-centric digital services. Building services that people will use. Brokering compromise between absolute security and absolute usability, and keeping everyone excited and committed to the solution. Going to universities up and down the country to talk to students about why they should join. Learning to code. Building things. Building teams. Working with the best people in the world.

Oh, and sometimes your job will involve attaching 800 lanyards to cards. Be okay with that

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