in Prose

S02E18: Mission is go

New mission. New team. New challenges.

My new team at GDS has a smaller focus. I’m excited by this as it means I can focus on learning just one thing, rather than a multitude. I’m sad to be leaving my old team — but Steve Messer, the associate product manager, has just started weeknoting. So I’ll hopefully still get a sense of what’s happening.⁰

This week I’ve been reflecting on:

All models are bad, but some of them are useful. The trigger for this was talking Dan Barrett, who continues to role model for me values of openness, honesty, and kindness. We met up this week and talked about strategy and models. For some people, the direction of an organisation is like this:

Planets orbiting the sun in two dimensions

We’re moving around a fixed centre, and in some number of years we’ll get back to where we started. The point is to maintain the right speed and trajectory so that we’re all aligned at the end.

This is a terrible model, because the reality is more like this:

Planets orbiting the sun in three dimensions

We’re literally never going to get back to where we started. Even the gif above isn’t the whole model; the path of our Sun is not a straight line but a curve as well. Everything, everything, is in motion. We have to aim for where we’re going to be, and we’ve got to accept the world as it is before we can do that.

Security is hard: if you’re interested in cybersecurity you could do much worse than signing up to Michael Brunton-Spall’s newsletter. But in the week that we gained much more detail about the Democratic Party hack, and Apple rolled out 1Password to employees — including enough licenses to secure their personal devices — I’m reminding you to set up 2FA everywhere you can. If you don’t know how but would like to, get in touch with me and I’ll be very happy to help you. And if you’re excited about radical, decentralised internet security then consider donating to the Open Privacy Group. There are stickers in it for you.

What being a good ally looks like: In the week that a group of gross, trans-exclusionary, self-described feminists¹ ambushed Pride, you should watch Nanette. Nanette is Hannah Gadsby’s special on Netflix. It’s visceral and brilliant and has a lot to say about the state of the world. I’ve also been fighting with how to explain it to people without sounding “woke white guy”. It is funny and really important, and drives home a lot of truth about tension and comedy. Here’s a quote, but just — just go and watch it.

Do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from someone who exists, and always has done, in the margins? It isn’t humility. It’s humiliation. . . . I make fun of myself in order to make other people feel more comfortable with my difference. And I decided I don’t want to do that anymore. Not to myself or anybody who may identify with me.

Emotional damage is like waking up to find your world has been seeded with mines: except you have no idea where they are. They just explode in your stomach when you unknowingly step on them. And nobody else can see them. It’s a lot like grieving again, and the only thing you can do with this grief-thing, with its claws in your brain and your heart and a weight that drags you, is just to lumber around with it. It just has to be until one day it falls off. You can numb yourself with alcohol or sex or alcohol-fuelled sex², or you can pour it out and get some brief catharsis from sharing that pain, but you can’t kill it off. More and more I’m finding you can’t kill it off. It’s like a mixed metaphor that started well but really got away from its author.

How do we know when to make a piece of code a commodity? There’s extra work in making a function a separate library. It can be used by other people, but at the same time it’s more complex to upkeep. Overengineering the solution to a problem is definitely a fault of mine — my early code is Rube Goldberg-esque³ in its unnecessary complexity — but saving a few minutes here for the sake of future me’s annoyance seems a good deal.

I’m consuming:

This is a masterclass in telling stories, and why the initial story — the first story — is the one we should avoid telling. Centring systems instead of people as the reason for failures enables us to run blameless retrospectives and frees everyone to be open and honest about what went wrong. This is valuable for everyone, not just devs.

Learning about Simon Wardley’s process of mapping was an epiphany. Conversation with Dan Barrett and Morgan Frodsham have reignited my interest, and I’m busy mapping anything I can lay my hands to. This talk is a great start if you’re interested in writing a strategy that might actually survive the real world.


⁰ They’re also only about 10 metres away, so if I get really desperate I’ll just walk over and ask.

¹ Excluding trans people is not, has never been, radical

² Hello mum, I definitely do not do these things

³ Yes, this is really just an excuse to post this video:

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