Workweek 03×01: Craft Vader

Workweek 03×01

Back from holiday. A tent that survived the wind, and dinosaurs that didn’t survive a planetary collision. Flying a kite over an ice age forest. Board games until midnight. A miniature steam train to a nuclear power station. All just memories now.

So much to tidy up before you go away. But returning, something of a blank slate, a chance to pick and choose.

Monday.

Back to headquarters, the weekly catchup takes on new heights when you’ve been away for a while – a reflection not on what you’ve been doing, but on how things have been when you leave a hole. Culture is what happens when you leave the room. We have a great culture, I think. How do you know though, if it’s what happens when you’re not there? Instinct? Or metrics? There’s a lot of talk of measurable success these days. But instinct still counts for what’s important.

No time to delve in too deeply though – I’m on a morning train to Worthing to catch up with a few people there. After so much physical travelling on holiday, it’s weird to get back to my ‘usual’ environment. Maybe a fresh train trip is in my blood at the moment. I’m hitting series 3 of these weeknotes, and the more I think about it, the more I want to run them as a travel journal instead of just as a work diary. I don’t need to list everything I see and do, just the interesting bits, the tourist parts, the things that make me think, that I want to remember. A scrapbook of insights yanked from navigating the workday tides. A soulful documentary, curated from the surprises that stream, steadily and naturally, from the fact that I work.

This will be series 3. A road trip. And I feel like I’m not even out the door yet, just planning the destination. One series, six episodes, a month and a half, end of September. Where will I be at the end of that?

Fortunately this isn’t an audience-grabbing blockbuster. I don’t need cliffhangers or celebrities (I think?) – I can lay out some script now, to try and stick to. Here’s what would be great to have happen by series end:

  1. We have direction for the company. Will this be feasible? Will it have buy-in from everyone? Will it be clear enough to be referenced and used practically? It’s something I’ve been trying to improve for over a year now – the last major attempt was last September, so the time feels right to address it properly again.
  2. I feel like the Head of the Tech Team again. My role has wandered since the start of the year and this has lost focus a bit. The team do an excellent job, but this is something I feel like is my forte, and where my experience lies. I can take on a mentoring role here, and feed directly in to what’s important to the company. I would like to spend more time back here again.
  3. I feel more… I’m not sure. Happier? Relaxed? Confident? There’s a way of life here, a Tao that I can’t describe yet. I’m not unhappy. I’m not super stressed. I just feel like I could be better at tying everything together a bit – whether that’s better ways of organising things, or better ways of coping with it, I’m not quite sure. I want to take my lead from great craftsmen – excellent techne, focused attention, calm performance, pride. Maybe “craft” is the right word here. And ideally, I’d like that to permeate into the rest of the company too.

There are other things I’d love, of course. Details, ambitions, projects, etc. But the above three feel like they underpin a lot of those. And they’re the things which affect me as a person. So I’m perhaps more likely to pay attention to them.

Anyway, here’s my stop.

I have a certain love for reception desks. The welcome that is so symbolic for everything else. The swift coming and going of meetings and handshakes and smiles. The security measures keeping track of personal signatures like a revolving for four celebrities. Like a train station concourse, or a temporary party.

Strange, calm anxiety after my meeting. I think it comes from it going quite well, and I’m still not used to just being able to talk about things on my own – like my expectations of myself are catching up with me. Less pressure due to the excuse of coming back from holiday? Or just… Am I getting used to just “saying stuff”? Is this what people mean by “imposter syndrome”? Anyway, it’s good to talk to people. This is the fun side of the hard work – actually making a difference and helping people to do what they want to do.

Wednesday.

Full on project takeover mode, with flow diagrams and everything. Everyone is in the thick of updating our Australian work to use new administrative geographies brought in recently. Everyone is also in and out on holiday. There’s lots of activity and it’s a great team effort, so my main role is to make sure everything is being caught up front, and everyone knows what’s going on. Kind of the counterbalance to Alex as scrum master – a mini, on the ground project admin on hand to answer questions and keep the direction focused. The challenge is to do it without getting too sucked into the detail, and without going mad because everything else is happening. Same as usual then. Remind me I said that halfway through tomorrow.

I don’t really know how people do anything without flow diagrams though. Lines run my life. It’s frustrating how bad computers are at drawing lines, generally, given that we now live in a networked age.

I get to see some technical work that Lawrence has been doing in his personal time. I’m a bit afraid I find across a bit harsh – I’ve grown to see “research” from a business perspective, and sometimes I get scared by new things, I totally admit. It’s true though, sometimes the river runs too quickly and houses are unnecessarily swept away without thinking about the people in them. Happens all the time in the tech world.

But I’m reminded that there are good ways to foster progress and take new things and give them a better life, like moving the fire from kindling to the logs. We have a city building things here, with infrastructure that focuses on excellence of all sorts – technical, but also business value, shared communications, etc. Innovation is about that route to join up things to infrastructures, to allow a seed to grow up in the forest. That’s a good thing to try to do. Same aim. Just not as harsh.

I take a good, solid lunch break. This is part of the “craftsmanship” thing I’m aiming for. Browsing through the remaining emails from holiday though, I realise I still need this sense of craft when it comes to balancing projects, and relating to clients. There are not enough hours in the day.

Thursday.

A morning itinerary session. We continue to punch holes between everyone’s holidays, so today is the most opportune time to gather our collective conscious for the road ahead over the next two weeks. There’s an ambience to our sprint planning planning meeting (meta-planning? Context setting?) that I find comfortable and refreshing – if it’s allowed to happen. Today feels like drums beating at the city gates though, with external pressures bringing themselves into the room like uncomfortable guests.

Everyone talks about agendas and aims for meetings. What if ambience was a thing? Something about the culture of a particular meeting?

One thing I’ve struggled with over the last few years is technology – hugely ironically, as Head of Technology. I find it difficult to get the balance right between things being developed in a decentralised, ad hoc kind of way, and setting some sort of overall agenda that helps direct this. It seems everyone thinks they know how to do “tech”. Build it, release it, things will be better. But I don’t see the world that way any more. It feels like what we need isn’t a tech strategy, but an innovation strategy – something that addresses how development is fostered, but then also framed and integrated. In theory I could spend the rest of my life on that. Maybe I need to find others to discuss this with?

I have to change path after that. I have some American development work to attend to now that I’m back from afar. It’s just me on it, so it feels like a strange trip to a place I’ve visited before, but that is off the beaten path for us now.

I create a new git repo, plan out some tasks, read up on specs, and assemble code from across the years. It’s surprising, but it comes together quickly and I have a nice new code layer on top of our existing database, running in my local VM. Good to know I still have it…

Friday.

Yawwwwwwn, missed out on two hours sleep last night. I’ll feel it later.

I’ve got a travelling companion today, as #son1 needs to be parentally supervised, and hey, he loves coming into work for some reason. (The A1 paper, I think.)

He seems happy to get in our morning catch up across most of the team to see what’s needed on our Australian work. We’ve got a fairly hard deadline and there are some risks and difficulties still around which I’m not very keen on. But three of us get stuck in, and we have a decent plan by 11 o’clock. #son1 is drawing a volcano.

Then a welcome change of scene and pace to have a 1:1 with Kim, which is always good. I’m reminded how far our (her, really) marketing work has come in the last year, and it’s pretty amazing (and a bit scary, when you’re not so used to knowing the subject matter as line manager).

#son1 is playing with bubbles when I get out. We go for lunch, and part ways when mum turns up.

In the afternoon, I return to my American work from the day before. It’s a bit of a slog this time – setting up new database tables, importing data, configuring my code – but the results are instantly accessible and so I’m satisfied with the progress.

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