S02E07: HECKING EXCITED

Short days, long week. Go figure.

Remember how last week I talked about how I was using Toggl to track my time?

Here’s this week’s approximate shape:

What is this, a graph for ants?

If you can’t see, it basically shakes out to about 25% each for sales, CTO stuff, and Product Owner-y stuff, with the rest given over to admin, customer operations, and eating lunch.

Eating lunch is important team. Protect your lunchtime like a mother bear protecting her cubs.

The sales part is because my boss is taking a well-deserved break, so I’m managing that part as best I can while he’s away. It’s a massive gear shift from CTO work and I can’t say I love it, but speaking to customers is always positive because sometimes they’ll have a brilliant feature idea that I hadn’t had.

I spent most of Monday on the strategy and budget for the next couple of years, as well as writing up a training agenda for a new customer that I’m going to see very soon. I wrote code for ten minutes, and as you’d expect it didn’t work.

I got a ticket to #ukgc18, which is SUPER HECKING EXCITING

This guy knows what I’m talking about

And in the evening I went to university, and I think I’ve started to get Java.

On Tuesday I spent half the day on a new guide for customers using our new, fabulous, mostly-automated, product-generating-machine. The rest of the day was a struggle, because my esteemed colleague Felix had secured himself a couple of days of user research training. I answered emails and fixed a particularly difficult customer issue, and since I was feeling pretty pleased with myself I reopened my pet project: software to organise the shuffling of people, when there’s people to be shuffled.⁰

And I got weirdly annoyed that you can’t specify the type of arguments you pass to functions, so I googled it and it turns out you can¹. So now my code looks b-e-a-utiful:

I’m using the Civil Service as a use case, but it would probably work anywhere

It’s good brain exercise, and maybe one day someone will find some use for it.

Wednesday is retro day, and I think this has been the most successful one yet. We came out with some really great metrics for things we could do better, gave each other meaningful praise, and generally came out as a better team.³ It was a good feeling. I love retros, but to be fair I’ve said that a lot before. I do. Continuous improvement forever. Continuously.

In the evening I developed my software’s logic a bit more. There are a lot of things to check. I suspect I may need a data scientist before long.

On Thursday I went to uni, finished my coursework, discovered the administration office for my program and had my first Computer Systems lecture, where I learned that the average mark was 49% and a pass is 50%.

https://media.giphy.com/media/F8deaO3psSKiY/giphy.gif

It’s a day that starts at 1330 and ends at 2100, which is just incredibly unfair. All the same, what I’m learning is incredibly cool — although I’m still struggling to link it back to my day-to-day.

If I’ve made a mistake, it will at least hold the record for the most expensive mistake of my life to date.

Friday was an office day, and Felix and I finally got to check in. I had a preliminary chat in the morning with a potential new employee — my first in this new role — and in the afternoon did some pairing with Felix. We did sprint planning just before we went home, and the team talked me through what they’re going to be doing next to meet the sprint goal. It was non-stop, and a couple of my meetings ran over. They ran over because there were important things to discuss — is there any way to make that kind of meeting run to time? Help please.

If you’re going to be at #ukgc18 tomorrow, give me a wave. Some of us weeknoters may be pitching on this very subject, so…watch this space?


⁰ Okay, this is a weird obsession of mine, but: a number of graduate programs rotate their grads around departments, business areas, planetary moons, that sort of thing. They do this with the aim of turning out all-rounders. Unfortunately it’s a thing that seems simple and turns out to get trickier quickly, and I’ve been trying to convince HR teams to use computers to do it. I have been doing this approximately forever. I’ve now given up now, and it’s turned into an exercise to see how pretty/artful/efficient I can make my code. I’m now down to 23s to match 500 candidates to roles, with each candidate getting a match 80% suitable or better.

¹ Java man, it creeps up on you. It’s a gateway language, before you know it I’ll be functional programming and ranting about monads.²

² Wow, that is a specific joke

³ Metrics are important, as long as they can be linked to an actual outcome. When faced with a meaningless metric ask why until it goes away or you understand it.

S02E06:

Feeling of the week: non-stop

To counter this feeling, or just to get to grips with where I’m spending my time, I’ve started using Toggl to track my time. I’m trying to keep it high level for the moment: just whether it’s product work, strategic work, or customer operations. All of these have value, but I think with my new role I should be skewing towards the strategic.⁰

Song of the week: non-stop

Monday I spent the morning training a new team on our flagship product, filmapp. There were a couple of minor things that I should have set up beforehand that I’m absolutely kicking myself about, but they were fixable in the moment and the rest of the presentation went smoothly. One bit of feedback was that the system was “intuitive” — which is absolutely my favourite kind of feedback.

Back in the office I caught up on emails. Since logging my time I’ve noticed I spend at least an hour a day on emails, so I’m going to make a concerted effort to do that in blocks rather than in blobs. One of those emails was confirmation that we’ve secured two more Fast Streamers starting in March, and I’m absolutely over the moon. We’ve got a number of juicy opportunities for them and I absolutely cannot wait to meet them.¹

Tuesday I got to do some coding!

I was digging out some numbers about users and applications to support a decision about scaling. That meant writing database queries, and man alive there’s no better feeling than just getting stuck into a couple of hours of data munging.²

Who’s with me?

We had our monthly SMT meeting and everything appears to be going well. I’m aiming to increase our staff by two in the next three months: one junior developer and one customer operations team member. “Customer operations team member” is a horrible mouthful, so they’re going to be COps. Specifically a COps practitioner, who’ll eventually lead a team of COps. Hard-bitten, user-focussed, problem-solving COps. They’ll drink tea like it’s water. They’ll get to the root of a problem like armillaria ostoyae that feed exclusively on problem trees.

I said armillaria ostoyae. *taps mic* is this thing on?

We closed out the day with backlog grooming. More hard challenges from my colleagues that ended in really fruitful discussions and a rejigging of future priorities.

Wednesday a big meeting was canceled, which on the one hand was a massive bummer — we’ve been gearing up for it for a couple of weeks — but on the other gave me an opportunity to talk to the dev team about upcoming work. They’ve started to limit their WIP at my gentle prompting⁴ and have had real success. Among other things there’s been an increase in team communication, since if WIP is full you have no choice but to go unblock it before starting anything new.

Yay for WIP limits!

I had a great check-in with another new client, who’s expecting to go live very soon. There are a few tweaks to be made — local by-laws that applicants need to be aware of, for example — but they’re otherwise ready to go.

We also tried out our totally new, totally awesome automated instance generator. It works in a totally boring, plain English, exactly how-it’s-supposed-to-work way.


Boring is brilliant when you launch a new product for the first time. It’s exactly what you want. I am very nervous of people who like being in chaotic situations.

Thursday back to uni, and an in-class test. But time for a coffee with one of my oldest mentors⁵ first and a discussion about an MBA. She’s set me some challenges for our next meeting. If anyone has recommendations of finance books for manager types, please put them in the comments!

Friday I worked from home on the technology strategy. Coincidentally, the Government’s Shared Services strategy was launched at the same time. It’s a joke of a document that literally puts user needs last…


…tries to plan the next ten years, and is rammed with nonsense jargon that sounds like it came directly from a consultancy.

Still, it was helpful in showing me what not to do, so there’s a silver lining there. It also hints at what systems government might be buying in the future, so that’s a good market signal to build in to analysis.

As the afternoon rolled around I got a chance to preview some technical debt. It’s some really great work that improves the speed of our service, and I’m very excited to get it rolled out next week.

I ended the week on a massive high: I headed to see my sister’s new flat, and took along an enormous tiramisu made by Antonio, who owns an Italian store in Lewisham. It was decadent. Go there. Buy some. Tell him I sent you.


⁰ I’m absolutely willing to be proven wrong on this

¹ Full disclosure: I was a Fast Streamer and I had my issues with the programme. But I can say with honesty that it consistently turns out thoughtful, curious, eager people who learn quickly and get stuff done. If you’re interested in offering a secondment leave me a comment and I’ll dig out the email address for you.

² I looked up “munging” out of idle curiosity. I do not recommend you do the same. The definition starts “Go to a graveyard” and let’s face it, there’s no way it’s going to get better after that.³

³ How on earth munging can be associated with data and the definition above, of which we will not speak, is totally beyond me.

⁴ Read: me furiously limiting my own WIP and suggesting it as an experiment in retros.

Spectre and Meltdown

You are probably aware of two high-severity bugs that have recently been made public. We want to reassure our users that we are following instructions from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and our suppliers.

What we’re doing

We will be patching our servers over the coming weeks. These patches will require reboots, which we’ll carry out between 0400 and 0500 UTC. For our US clients, that’s between 8pm and 9pm Pacific, 9pm and 10pm Mountain, 10pm and 11pm Central, and 11pm and 12 midnight Eastern. We hope that this will ensure that the impact is as low as possible on your business.

Early reports indicate that there may be performance issues once these patches are rolled out. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the system’s speed following the patch: if it is severely hit, we’ll be prioritising work to decrease that impact in the next couple of months.

What you should do

There’s nothing you need to do at the moment with regards to Apply4. However, we highly recommend installing updates to your browsers and machines when they come.

For further information, please take a look at the NCSC’s webpage: https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/