S01 E10

The Dragon and the Wolf

This is the season finale. There are a couple of story arcs budding and some that will be closed off-screen. Those reading the book of my daily life have long since given up yelling at the producer’s additions, subtractions, and poetic license and are instead now enjoying the Easter eggs thrown in as knowing winks to a shared joke.

This season came at a grotesquely perfect moment. I was in the right place professionally, the right job was advertised, the timing came together seamlessly. The whole thing seems engineered in sitcom land. On reflection, I’ve enjoyed other weeknoters’ writing more: their truths resonate all the louder with me because I know they are in the past of my life — or the future.

There’s going to be a short hiatus. Meeting with my fellow weeknoters I realised that for all of us these notes have been an outlet. They’re quasi-private and, for me, have been a sort of passive aggressive means of effecting change. For an introvert like me, unable to come up with a fully-formed idea in the confines of a noisy meeting, it’s an opportunity to talk about change I’d like to make. A rehearsal for the real thing.

But next season I’ll be moving into a role where I’ve got access to all the levers. I can’t grouse that management aren’t fixing things, because that’s me now. I’ve got to put in place a culture of openness such that everyone I work with will be willing and able and feel supported to join this brilliant, vibrant, extelligent[0] community. I hope you’ll continue to join me as I try, fail, and try again. I hope you’ll continue to be supportive, kind, and helpful.

If nothing else, I hope you continue to encourage me to drink four caipirinhas on a school night and talk about Doing Good late into the evening.


Monday was spent in absolutely back to back meetings and concluded with a visit to Monroe, a smallish client with an interesting new proposition. I also lined up further client meetings. Only one item went onto my promise tracker, which probably reflects the frantic nature of my day. As a sidenote, this tracker is turning up some genuinely valuable data. Even though I’m on hiatus next week, I may push something out via twitter.

On Tuesday I took two new starters on a whistlestop tour of our software, both front and back. The new starters work for our sister company, and will be using our software day-to-day. Presenting it to staff gives me an opportunity to see it through fresh eyes and helps again to identify areas we need to work on. It was really nice to meet them and to get a handle on how we’ll manage — remote staff working as account managers is a model I’d like to adopt in the near future.[1] I met Morgan in the afternoon and had an extremely positive discussion with some good pointers for me. We talked about the future, and nihilism, and why it is that us millennials feel entitled to things like nice colleagues, remote working, and a work-life balance.[2]

Wednesday I had giant, hour-long stretches of uninterrupted time and consequently got loads done. I spent an hour analysing and commenting on a shared process document, then reviewed and commented on it with the CEO of the company that supplies our developers. His guidance is really valuable and he’s totally open to trying out new ways of working. My director and I finally booked travel, so we’re going to go out and see the team in late September. I’m hugely excited to get into a room and talk about containerisation, software architecture, and automating deployment into cloud infrastructure.


They’re based in Spain, which means it’ll be unconscionably hot, but as long as there’s air conditioning I’m sure I’ll be fine.

I also got to meet some of the other members of the #weeknotes family, and it was an absolute joy. It’s already been covered everywhere else, but my conclusions were:

  • two and a half drinks is just enough to spark conversations that are deep, connected, witty, reflective, and the best.
  • Three drinks is just enough to make you forget everything that was said half a drink ago but remember it was brilliant[3]
  • There are more ways through the Civil Service than I thought possible, and on reflection I don’t know if I’d do it again the way I did
  • #weeknotes is a glorious community and I’m proud to be part of it

On Thursday I was at a training session where I got to learn how to present confidently. Two things I was told to focus on where time-keeping and snappier titles. This was the original, apparently “unsnappy” title:

I don’t see it personally

So I tweaked it to:


and that got a better reaction. To be fair, the colour is a lot more exciting.

Friday I worked from home as I was throwing a little inner party an I wanted to log off at 5.30 and get cooking. In future, I’d like to be able to work from home without feeling like I need a reason — or, rather, without needing a special reason. S02 character arc sorted.

For those interested I made a steak and ale pie. I made too much of it. I will be eating it for the next week.

Fade to black.

Credits.


Reading/Learning: Docker. Always Docker. But it’s meant I’ve drawn my first logical architecture diagram in a year, which is pleasing.

Listening: to trains not running over the next week, as I work from home to avoid the chaos at the London Terminals


[0] Extelligence is the intelligence that lives outside your head, and means your development can increase exponentially by accessing it.

[1] Remote work means our talent pool expands beyond those who live within the M25, and although London is still the greatest city in the world I am willing to accept there may be excellent candidates outwith its bounds.

[2] There is a connection between these things.

[3] This is widely understood to be the worst feeling in the world.

S01 E09

The one before the season finale

This has been an incredibly difficult week. Everything is happening simultaneously, and I don’t feel like I can keep on top of it. I’m struck by the fact that we limit WIP to reduce waste, and that has a knock-on effect: it forces us to stop promising due dates. That’s a benefit to us, because it means we can deliver quality work that’s ready when it’s ready, but it’s bad for customers who won’t necessarily know when they’ll need to put aside time for training.

There’s also the law of diminishing returns. I would like to track every item of work I’m doing, down to the smallest task, on a board. However, I’d need to include “writing things on the board” on the board. Then I’d need to include ‘writing “writing things on the board”’ on the board, and that level of recursion makes my head ‘splodey.

Pictured: ‘splodey head

In any case — I’m going to try, for the next sprint, to at least scribble down everything I promise to do, explicit or implicit, with customers, colleagues or myself, and track what happens to those promises. Whether I deliver (early, on time or late), deprioritise, or abandon them all together. I’d love to make this open, but some of it will be sensitive, and I don’t want to add an extra step into the workflow of figuring that out before I add it to my list.

I’m going to use a Google form to collect data and Google sheets to do the calculations. I’ll publish the resultant data in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned for that.

Here’s the Google Script code:

https://gist.github.com/jonodrew/7ffbfc977ad08e47c4cf2aff02df4a0b.js

YEAH, SPREADSHEETS

And now: the week

Monday was a day full of frustrations that pulled me this way and that. A day where I didn’t feel like anything really progressed, but I still managed to use up all my time. I hate days like that.

Tuesday we finished up a new client’s instance — Madison[0]. I got to do a tiny bit of graphic design and my usual testing. Automating this is a constant theme of work and something I’m now hoping to get done by the end of this year — the first promise I’ll need to enter into my tracker.

Wednesday I presented two papers to my board and received some good feedback. I can’t talk about the content yet, but I’m really hopeful that with some tweaks we can them policy. Fingers crossed.

Kimmy has my back

I also chatted to someone joining the DaT Fast Stream in September to chat about the scheme and their future plans. I’m leaving, and I know it’s the right thing for me, but seeing other people preparing to start this journey is making me hyper-nostalgic. I hope it dies down, because re-applying in five years is going to look silly.

Thursday I went through some customisations for Munroe[1] and then sat down and tried to plan out how we could make this process less labour intensive.

I appreciate this is now bordering on an obsession

I got out of the office a little early to eat steak at High Timber (recommended) and see Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe (also recommend, with caveats). The production is set in the Mexican revolution, and the actors are all extremely British. I found this quite jarring; had this been set in the Haitian revolution, there would have been no thought of getting a majority-white cast to throw in some patois and appropriate national dress — yet for some reason Mexican culture appears to be far game. This at a time when the US President was elected on a platform of anti-Mexican, wall-building policies. It is beautiful. I’m just not convinced that’s a good enough reason to do it.

Friday is retrospective day, and we had a great conversation about what went well and what didn’t go well. I’ve seen a big improvement in these conversations and we all came away with things to work on for the next sprint. I’m a great advocate for retros and for giving time to them: you can’t knock them out quickly and it’s incredibly important to reflect, as a team, on where things are going wrong — and to do it frequently. If you’re not doing it now, try doing it in two weeks time. Put time in everyone’s diaries and battle through the awkwardness.

I’ve had very little time to do my 10% of time this week, but I am making good progress with my O’Reilly book on Docker. I’ve got slightly stuck on my current chapter — I suspect because it needs more than an hour to properly absorb — so I’m hoping to carve out an afternoon next week to crack through it. (That’s promise number two!)


[0] Madison the president, as opposed to the place in Wisconsin. New clients get US president codenames[1]

[1] Not the codenames of US presidents, because it turns out they’re actually a thing, not made up by the West Wing, and the current POTUS codename is “Mogul”

S01 E08

The one where I go back to work

Hooooo boy

This has been…a week. I’m in a Starbucks by Embankment with a juice, watching the world go by, and trying my best to decompress.

50% tastier when it’s got your name on it. True fact

Monday was almost entirely taken up with briefings from my very little team about what had happened in my absence. As I mentioned last time, not as much of the process I’d put in place survived my leaving. This makes me worry that it’s just me keeping things moving, and that’s absolutely terrible for us because it means we can only scale as far as I can work. I came away with a lot to think about, but the overriding element is automation: it seems to be the least complex answer to at least two problems. One subsequent problem of automation, however, would leap out and surprise me later in the week.

On Tuesday I met up with my peer-mentor. Morgan is a former Fast Streamer and has been mentioned here before. She had some great insights for me, and I’m hopeful I returned the favour. She also mentioned a role in her team she’s hoping to get a DaT Fast Streamer to fill and for a moment I was tempted to head back — the opportunities to do amazing technical work are absolutely there, so don’t let anyone tell you they aren’t. Richard, who heads up the firm we employ for development, was in the office too — so it was an incredibly good opportunity to hash out some problems we’d been having and look at the longer term. We have Big Plans, and some details to work out. They’ll be published soon, because making things open makes them better.

On Wednesday I did my manual testing thing, going through completed tickets. Halfway through I was pulled out to do something else, and consequently a fairly large feature went on to our production servers without our clients getting warning. It’s a great feature, and it’s going to help — and for the most part it was welcomed — but I don’t want that to happen again. So if I can work out how to automate some of our processes, I’ll need to work out how to stop automating others.

I also presented a discussion paper to my boss. I like getting the bare bones of a discussion together, and letting a discussion flow from there. Some people recommend “strong opinions, weakly held” but to me that sounds like a recipe for a strong-minded senior person to bulldoze everyone else with rubbish ideas. What else does it require to make it work? If it’s an office full of extroverts then it might not be for me, a closet introvert.

Thursday I’d put aside half a day for Sprint Planning. It’s one of my favourite agile ceremonies, because there’s literally no better way to communicate to devs — particularly those in a remote team — precisely what you’re trying to achieve. I got some really valuable feedback about my user stories: they’re too vague with no clearly defined outcome. We had an explicit conversation about capacity, about what we expect from each other, and about clarity. We cleared up a lot. I’ve never been so confident about a future sprint.

We also finished in 2 hours. BOOM.

Then, right at the end of the day, I called a new client in the United States. Nothing prepares me for the accents in the Southern United States. They’re glorious, but I’ve only ever heard them in films. At some point I ought to head out there. Probably not soon though.

That day finished with bubbles and old colleagues and a couple of daiquiris that, it turns out, I insisted on shaking because I Am A Hipster Twat.

Friday was absolutely non-stop. New clients, like buses, have all clumped together and jumped on at the same time. I spent half a day collecting everything required to get them onboarded smoothly before leaping sideways into a meeting to talk about, among other things, IT provision and folder hierarchies.

I will always be the cool kid in my head

At the very last minute my US-based colleague and I managed to configure a client’s payment gateway to pay us at point of sale, as opposed to invoicing at the end of a period. It means our cashflow is better, and the client doesn’t need to spend any of their finance department’s time on invoices and the like.

I wrote up technical documentation on how to do it in future and called it a day. I felt absolutely drained, so went on a giant walk that took me from Southwark station to Charing Cross via North Lambeth and Westminster. Long walks — any exercise, really — absolutely relax me. There’s a glorious quote by Pratchett about a policeman’s walk, a sort of easy stroll where the swinging pendulum of the leg propels the body forward. It’s really stupid, but these kinds of mindless things: one foot, then the other, then the other — totally frees your brain from everything else.

So that’s why I wrote these notes now. Because I feel a little bit energised by juice and people walking by and strolling across the city.


What I’m reading: reactions to Google DudeBro’s manifesto, particularly those that have insights into how to avoid hiring them. This is my favourite. Also trying to self-correct my management, and this piece that I literally just read is resonating a lot. Check it out from my favourite CEO Jason Fried.

What I’m listening to: Ear Hustle. An absolutely breathtaking insight into the US prison system. The episode before last talked about solitary confinement. It’s intense. It’s messed up. It’s reminded me a lot of the sterling work MoJ digital do with prisoners: they’re people and pretending they’re not and locking them in circumstances that are deleterious to their mental health is, well, criminal.

What I’m learning: Docker. It might have some valuable applications in my context, and if not it’s very cool right now.

Hansel and Docker. Really hot right now.

Weeknotes S01 E06

The one with Russian

My brain has absolutely melted out of my ears.

Monday was day one of my immersive Russian course. I’m taking it through the Russian Language Centre at Pushkin House, and I have to say it’s incredibly good. There’s no better way to learn anything that to immerse yourself in it, and starting with other absolute beginners permits you to let go of the fear of looking stupid. We all look stupid. Let’s do it together. Looking at my notes I’m genuinely stunned how far I’ve come since this point; on Monday we covered the printed alphabet[1] and by Friday we had conversations that included adjectives, the genitive and locative cases, and numbers. More on that as we get to it.

So that’s A, B, wait B again, half a T, don’t know, E maybe, E again, okay I give up

Tuesday we covered gender, of which there are three. I am curious about how long the concept of gender will last in language — it is problematic and forces a culture where non-binary people don’t exist, because there isn’t language to describe them. You could just call feminine “Type 1” nouns, masculine “Type 2”, neuter “Type 3” and avoid the problem — but considering that these linguistic institutions have been around for a long time, I’m not hopeful.

Today I mastered the ы sound, which Wikipedia reckons is like the i in hit. If so, I recant my previous statement, because mine sounds nothing like that.

I also got to speak to Morgan B, who’s a former Fast Streamer-turned-Product Owner. She’s completely brilliant and gave me a great reading recommendation — Radical Candor by Kim Scott. We’ve set up fortnightly chats where I’m hoping we can support each other — she’s learning to code (also Ruby) and has some cracking insights about leadership. More than anything else it’s valuable to have someone to bounce ideas around with who’s not immediately in your context.

Radical candor is a new concept to me, and I’ve already got some hard truths. Highly recommend.

Wednesday and we’re halfway through the week and a quarter of the way through the course. We talked about what we have and don’t have, which introduced the genitive case: the case you use where (generally) you’d use ‘of’ in English. It’s absolutely brain melty, but two of my classmates — undergrads reading classics — are absolutely in their element. One of them has mentioned that they can’t wait for the locative case.

[This gif may have been stolen from another weeknoter]

On Thursday I found out I got the job that has been the main story arc for this season. With another four episodes to go before I start, there’ll be an “emotional review of the season” episode in the pipeline if I know the writers. Now comes the difficult bit: actually doing the job. There are going to be some huge challenges ahead, and I’m so excited to get started.

I dropped into the office to look at paperwork and negotiate my salary, which I hope will be the last time anyone has to do so in the company. I’ve been inspired by Basecamp and the Fast Stream to offer the same salary to everyone doing the same job. It’ll probably drive away high performers who are totally driven by money, but maybe it’ll open the door to people who don’t like the aggressive approach required in negotiating and are worried they’d be underselling themselves. It’ll be a significant shift. Tune in next season to see how it works out!

Friday and my brain, now entirely fluid, got one last stir before serving. Despite being on leave we had a minor crisis at work, and so I had to take calls before and after class. It’s not ideal, but we’re still so very small that this will happen from time to time. My absolute goal is that it won’t keep happening, and it won’t happen to anyone working for me

That was my week.


[1] Russian handwritten alphabet looks, by turns, exactly the same and then wildly different.

Reading/learning/listening

  • Radical Candor, by Kim Scott
  • Russian (obviously)
  • The West Wing Weekly podcast — watching along with someone else, even if they’re in your ear, is lovely. Like a bookclub, but for your eyes.

Weeknotes S01 E05

The one where I’m doing way too much

I’m going to try pulling out themes this time, rather than going day by day. Let’s see how it works out.

Jobs: I interviewed for the CTO position at work. The board organised a number of interviews, some of them with significantly more technically savvy people than me. I’ve got my fingers crossed; hopefully I’ll find out in the next couple of weeks. Time’s now running out, because on Friday I got high-level details of my next role in the service if I do stay. I’ve got to hand in my notice in the next two weeks — otherwise I’ll be letting down a department, and I just don’t think that’s fair.

My belief in fairness is what got me into the Civil Service, and it may turn out to be the thing that prevents me ever leaving. I can’t work out if that’s ironic or not.

I also refuse to spend any time arguing about it

Retro: The delivery manager for our dev team returned from a well earned vacation and was thrown immediately into a retro. We had a really good discussion and reflected on what had happened while he’s been away. A couple of important things fell through gaps that we hadn’t noticed he’d been plugging, so we discussed what we’d need to do to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. I talked about organisational change, because I bloody love organisational change, and we agreed a draft timetable for future sprints. The devs will spend more time researching and reflecting and less time actually coding, which I’m hopeful will result in less code being shipped with bugs in it.

Culture: Tied to my disruptive love of organisational change is my singular belief that people are really all that matters, and that people make culture. So I spent a solid afternoon making our culture more explicit, sticking things on walls, and turning our processes into visual aids to help new starters. And me. I love a map.

This is an inverted Gall-Peters projection map AND I LOVE IT

I’ve also written a job advert that reflects the new culture. All of this is incredibly presumptuous, because I may not actually have the job — but if I don’t, I’m hopeful that whoever comes in next will take it and run with it.

My culture obsession was further fed with a great training session on Friday. Although I felt terrible leaving the office, because it left my boss running the show solo, it did me good. The group and facilitator were great, and we all seemed to come together well: not too much talking over each other, space given to expand on ideas, and short detours into whether UBI means pure communism or capitalism, whether nuclear submarines are more complicated than the Department for Work and Pensions, and how we can make our culture more explicit, especially for people who (for example) get parachuted in for six months and then have to move on. I suggested people started writing a list. Like this one:

Making your culture explicit makes your employees more comfortable and you more accountable. SO JUST DO IT.

Learning:

Intent-based leadership, which requires the team to have technical competence and organisational clarity. Oh, and absolute trust.

Ruby (The Hard Way) in part because it’s the language my company uses, but also because it looks like I’ll be learning Scala in January as part of my MSc. Scala is close enough to Ruby that I think Ruby will help in both work and study. If you want to learn to code get The Hard Way books — they’re free online and the minute I’ve got spare cash I’m throwing it at Zed, because I only know how to code because of him.

The Russian alphabet, ahead of my two-week immersive Russian course. I’ve also learned that when, as a civil servant, you say “I’m doing a Russian immersion course” people will immediately assure you’re a spy. To be clear: I’m not a spy, I’m just a terrible person who’s only just got round to learning his partner’s first language.

So until next week: До скорого !