Weeknotes S03E20

What’s the difference between pizza and toast? And what is a sandwich, anyway?

I have had a number of weird conversations this week, and not written a whole lot of code. I’d like a job where I can swing between these two things.

I do not think a job like this exists.

Let’s do the week: retro style!

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Weeknotes S03E19

Groping towards the light

I got this comment on last week’s post:

Every week I am impressed by how much you pack into your life!

And I want to assure you it’s only because I have a constant hovering sense of not being good enough and a crushing fear that people will find out. Every new person who approaches me to suggest I do a thing increases that anxiety, even as I recognise that I’m still upright. I’m starting, slowly, to recognise that I can surf the wave or walk the tightrope or whatever metaphor works best for you. That doesn’t take away the fear, but I’m finding better ways of co-existing with it.

That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always scared.

These weeknotes started out as a giant mess of words and then, like staring at one of those magic eye pictures, came into focus as a single theme with stories to support it. It’s freaked me out a bit to be honest.

This week began — as it always does — with me trying to corral my team into prioritising a bunch of work. It’s a little delivery manager and a little product manager, but since I have neither of those roles in my job title I’m soft skilling the heck out of it. It was easier this week than it’s been before; I think it’s because I’ve been enforcing the format for a couple of weeks and it’s starting to bed in. At the end of the day I had an initial meeting with a new mentor, who posed some hard questions to me. He understands a lot of my frustrations and he’s helping me to be patient where I would otherwise be impetuous. This is Good. He also holds strong opinions about military structures in the Star Wars universe, and this is Also Good. With his help I’m going to look at rounding out my technical skills with some projects in my wider organisation, and we looked at some that seemed interesting.

Tuesday was a weird long day: I did some volunteering in the morning and that sort of wrote off the entire day, as I tried to recover from the emotional black hole that speaking to kids opens inside me. Volunteering is supposed to help you learn things, and in fact I learned three new things:

  1. teenagers in a group are sullen and bored and disinterested and talking to them is like pulling teeth. From a whale. With soapy gloves.
  2. teenagers on their own, hanging around while the rest of the class files out, definitely not queueing up to talk to you but just, like, hanging out in a vaguely ordered curve, yeah: they’re incredible. They absolutely sparkle. They’ve got brilliant questions and probing follow-ups and make you wish they’d asked the question in front of the rest of the class so everyone could have benefited from it. Fuck me, I hate that enthusiasm is uncool.
  3. being escorted around by a teacher I still felt a bit nervous and like I’d got in trouble. I’m almost thirty years old.1Oh god

In the evening I had dinner and a chat with a mentee.2fuck, maybe I do do to much She is going to be giving a talk that’s kind of in my (undergraduate) area, so I’m doing my best to coach her in speech-giving and argument-forming.3I can practically hear the eye rolls of people who know and love me I’m more comfortable with this mentee, and as I write I’m trying to figure out why. I think part of it is that we discussed it formally in the beginning and had some ground rules; we know what we’re aiming for and how we’re approaching it. Maybe I just like structure.4Maybe we all just like structure, apart from my slightly scary friend who’s convinced purging all laws every ten years would do wonders for society It’s also politics, economics, and arguing: areas I know reasonably well.5As opposed to “how to get a career in tech”, an area I know literally fuck all about having faked my way into it in a big way. I’m making a good go of it, but seriously — 2 Bs and a C at A-level and a 6-year long slog at an undergraduate degree in French doesn’t scream “tech sector career”. It meant I missed the weeknotes meetup though, which is a shame. Next time.

I am (still) completely in love with writing code. I track my time, and on Thursday I spent 7 hours (with some breaks) on trying to figure out why an innocent upgrade was causing massive, things-on-fire test breakage.

I should explain — so that a handsome, rugged, naif young coder doesn’t go releasing massive changes to the production environment and breaking everything for everyone everywhere, a whole suite of tests runs against any change I — sorry, he — makes. They take about ten minutes and run through a few hundred scenarios a user might actually carry out. In my case, the phantom user was pretty hacked off as the system kept logging her out.

That was my cue to start pulling my hair out and diving three or four layers deep to try to get to the bottom of the problem.

The problem turned out to be nothing I’d done (hurrah!) and in fact something someone else had done for reasons known only to themselves, god, and people with toys they want to connect to the internet.

Still, thanks to my senior I scratched out a 6 (sorry Sam) Point Plan to solve it and then went immediately on a date. I don’t think that I could have done it with a senior to guide me, so I’m really grateful I’m working somewhere where I can learn from people much cleverer than me.

I think these have been the best weeknotes I’ve ever done. Not for you, the reader — I expect you’re bored silly. But as a reflective practice I think they’ve helped me work out the solution to something I’ve been struggling with all week.

Go weeknotes. You rock.

Weeknotes S03E18

Trying to find my groove

This week has felt long. January is a month that is infinitely long, while the last week of that month is itself infinite.⁰

I have done a few things this week, but all of them feel fretful. I am still struggling to find my space, and I’m starting to get frustrated with myself at my inability to settle into a thing and just do it. Maybe I’ve not found the right fit. Or maybe I’m just incapable of doing one thing for any duration.

On that cheery note: here is the week that was:

On Monday I caught up with a mentee. She’s coming off a coding bootcamp and is trying to work out what she wants to do next. I’m still trying to find the right balance with mentoring between giving advice and letting mentees work out their own path. I think I leaned too heavily in the latter direction and may have come across as sharp or stand-offish by repeating her questions back to her. I feel like I need a mentor in mentoring. A grand-mentor?

I also offered to use my connections to try to secure shadowing. I think this is the right thing, but I’m also anxious about it because it privileges her above other (equally deserving) individuals. On the other hand, my wider organisation could do with more people from her background, so…

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Look, Monday was essentially a mess of me wondering whether I was doing the right thing.

All the way through this week I’ve been doing Russian homework during my lunch. I’ve needed to do this because I’m a massive keener who’s taken a homework that involves writing about 50 words and turned it into two pages of both printed and cursive writing. I’ve also started watching Trotsky on Netflix, a Russian-made biopic of the revolutionary. It pulls no punches as to the homophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism rife in Russia at the time.


I’m concerned I’ve overstretched myself on this: it smacks of “ooh! Shiny! New!” enthusiasm that I fear will fade over time. I’m slightly buoyed that my Duolingo streak is at 70 days: maybe it’s not just a flash in the pan. Maybe.

I was supposed to go and mentor on Wednesday, or go to the leaving drinks of Kit Collingwood. Instead I found myself spoon-less by the end of the day and crashed home. I’ve noticed a massive dip in my energy levels recently: is it something to do with the weather? Am I not eating enough fruit and veg?¹

Still, it gave me an opportunity to make a butt-load of spicy carrot and lentil soup. It’s my favourite reviver in weather like this: warming, thick, and enough spice to make your tongue and nostrils tingle without being painful. Paired with thick bread and a thick book — this week it’s Ha Joon Chang’s Economics: The User’s Guide — it’s a corpse reviver.²

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Thursday was a day that was half running around and half sitting down and doing thoughtful programming, and really hit the sweet spot of things I like doing. In the morning I ran over to Whitehall to talk to other unsuccessful Future Leaders Scheme candidates about what we could do to advance our learning and development before the next application window opens later this year. We didn’t get much insight into the process or scoring system, which is a shame: I am continually banging on about openness because it makes things better. I still offered to help in any way I can, and made a few valuable contacts. My organisation covers so much that the opportunity to go and shadow someone doing something wildly different — whether that’s the Privy Council or the Queen’s Honours list — seems like too good an opportunity to pass up.

In the afternoon I sat down with my senior dev and paired for a solid hour and a half on a new-ish feature. It’s really enjoyable because she’s a really good pair: thoughtful, patient, and doesn’t obviously flinch when I ask questions that I then answer myself almost before I’ve finished asking them.³

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Friday was a full day of training. I bumped into some old Fast Stream colleagues and talked to them about my eternal, unchanging bugbear and my plans to stop whining about it and turn it into a scoped piece of work for a corporate objective. They agreed this would be a good idea.⁴ So I’m going to write that up over February and start shopping it round and see if I can get a little team of volunteers on it.

The training itself was interesting: it was an introduction to Service Design. I’m personally very nervous about tech architects and service designers, because in my experience they tend to want to architect and design. Agile development doesn’t fit easily with this approach, but I think perhaps I’m still struggling to see the bigger picture. I’m also probably being hyper sensitive. There is value to seeing the bigger picture: where your little transactional service fits into massive, wider user journeys. I’m just…I’m not yet convinced that you can design that journey up-front.

Now it’s the weekend. I had an extremely good date last night, and I’ve got a few hours before I go to Russian class and am crowned “Hideous teacher’s pet”. So I’m off to have breakfast with good coffee and even better company.

And look — it’s February. We made it. Well done team.


⁰ For more on infinities that contain infinities, I recommend you start with Hilbert’s Infinite Hotel
¹ I am almost certainly not eating enough fruit and veg
² In actual fact, a corpse reviver is a cocktail that combines gin, absinthe, chartreuse, lemon and Lillet Blanc. It’s said that one will revive a corpse; another three will un-revive it.
³ “But how would I add this permission to — oh, yeah, I think I’d do that”
⁴ Hang on, I should have asked which bit they felt would be a good idea.