Weeknotes 05×06: Putting the “Go” into Godzilla

Bish, bash, bosh – last week was a fast one. I was only in on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday -it’s the end of January and to be honest, we could probably all do with a bit of a rest.

Thursday I had to look after #son2 and we collected mud from the playground and dead things from the beach. Friday I had a well-planned day to myself, so went to an exhibition at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne – here’s some quick photos.

Otherwise, my three working days had a lot of good catch-ups, namely:

1. 1-to-1s and Annual Reviews happened. I caught up with John (developer) for the second time since he started, and noticed I think we’re both still getting over our initial “are we doing OK?” phase – from both sides. I wonder if 1-to-1s need to be different at all when someone is first starting out – I think mine are fairly structured and work “OK”, but forget that others may not be used to them.

Had both Luke’s (fellow Director) and my (uh, me) Annual Reviews. Lots of catching up over the last year, and interesting to hear where either of us would like to focus over the year ahead. As per last notes, I think mentoring is coming up a lot at the moment. I think I’m going to start looking for mentor(s) in the near future, after reading about others’ experiences with them, and from various UKGovCamp chats. It’s slightly scary.

bad mentor

Probably not one of the better mentors

2. Pushed forwards on some product chats. We had a good session looking at the overlap and differences between Community Insight and Local Insight, which are sort-of siblings and sort-of cousins. I’m not sure I have much more of a clearer answer, and also not quite sure if I’m best placed to hammer decisions on this, but will continue to ask questions (on behalf of myself, but also for others) – and I think we have enough steer to take the tech decisions forwards around git branches, et al.

Out other meeting looked at what we could do to improve performance for some recent work on updating lots of reports in one go without crippling us. I pushed for a decision the previous week to not launch it yet, and our subsequent investigation/chat firmed up a few hopefully-easy things to give ourselves a lot more breathing room.

All this does mean that we have a lot on the go at the moment, and things feel rather fragmented and scrambly. Might have to push to close some things before opening new ones.

godzilla peace

Yes, the peace of an empty backlog?

3. Writing, writing, writing is something I’m doing a lot of at the moment, to the extent that I’m booking writing sessions into my calendar. I’ve promised people various documentation and have lots of 1:1s to write up. I bashed out a quick blog post for some UKGovCamp notes which should go live later this week, and am pleased with how quickly I can throw together words. I HAVE NO IDEA IF THEY’RE ANY GOOD. Note to self: Get better at asking for feedback.

On my Friday off, I also started getting some notes and thoughts together on what to do with the Data Skills Inclusivity discussion I had at UKGovCamp. Feels like there’s some pressure to get something out and follow up on this soon, while the iron is hot – but at the same time, I want to get something together that I know I can take forwards. I’m great at having ideas, and rubbish at keeping my promises due to lack of time and energy. So I’ll take this week to keep ideas going, and then send it round to a few people for ‘closed’ thoughts, is the plan. Get in touch if you’re interested though.

typing zilla

How everyone should type

OK, that’s me for this week. As is tradition, I’ll break for a week after episode 6. This series has been disrupted, choppy, boring and brilliant. But next week I’ll aim to write something up on the Data Skills stuff, so it’s not like I get a break or anything. Tchah.

Reading

  • Ben Cubbon’s notes on starting out at OVO – in particular, his note on mission and values got me re-thinking about team mission and vision and values. I really want to try this out, but need to work out the right way to get it into the busy roadmap ahead.

  • A selection of high-quality PHP libraries – we don’t use many external libraries. There are obvious downsides to this, but on the upside, we have total control over our code and know exactly what changes are being made. Tough choice – should we opt to trade off some flexibility and “a known constant” for better quality, and possibly free improvements? Are there any other small companies out there actively choosing to eat their own dogfood?

Writing

Watching

  • Netflix’s new Godzilla anime. A timeline of 20,000 years in the future is quite comforting when you’re reading about the possibility of nuclear war.

Weeknotes 05×05: “Oh boy”

OK, let’s do this. It’s Tuesday so I’m late. It’s a bit late, and I haven’t got any notes, just a Google calendar and a brain sieved through by a trip to UKGovCamp on Saturday. Let’s do this.

Fires up calendar

Week comes rushing back, like that bit in Quantum Leap where he jumps into someone’s body

PZEEOOOW SSM

Oh yeah. I was all over the place, with big blocks of time marked out like allotments, which meant I didn’t have much time to get into anything unplanned in any great depth. Which is probably a good way of doing things.

Chuck in some remote working days due to ILLNESS and DELIVERIES, and it was not your Standard Week, all in.

Monday: Annual review for Gregor, sysadmin. First Annual Review that I’ve ever held in a dark, miniature cinema. Resisted my usual cinematic experience of falling asleep.

zzzzzzz

Gregor is part-time, which is something I’ve struggled to fit in alongside 1:1s and Annual Reviews – I would be very interested in how other people do regular catch-ups for part-time people. Annual Reviews are … annual, obviously, but usually I try to do a quick catch-up monthly. For part-timers, this is relatively a lot more time – should they get pro-rata’d contact time, or what? Are there more creative ideas out there?

This ran over, but then also went through the line-up for the sprint meeting later in the week, and then looked at our system metrics for some bulk-data-processing work that we’re trialling out currently. We’re picking up a few very unoptimised, but expected and explainable, parts of the data flow. Personally, I argued strongly to look into this more before releasing – discerning what the metrics actually meant was tricky, but there’s a gut instinct here that means I’m not quite happy with it going live yet. Fortunately, there’s a also a gut instinct that it can be fixed fairly easily?

Tuesday: was day off.

Wednesday: Was feeling pretty ill and got woken up by #son2 at 4am, and didn’t want to infect the office ahead of some guests arriving the next day. So I pinged a message in, got some rest in the morning after school drop-off, and then by about 11am was feeling a bit better and worked from home.

MY BODY IS SO READY, SCOTT

This turned into a lot of churning through e-mails in the end, which was actually extremely satisfying and I had to be slapped with a wet fish by my wife to stop before bedtime.

I also discovered that GMail’s “Priority Inbox” can be configured a lot more than I thought. I had a play with this, and have rejigglied my main GMails screen to show my emails in sections, in the following order:

  • emails I need to respond to (latest 10)
  • emails I need to do something about (latest 5, because doing takes longer and more headspace than replying)
  • unread emails (latest 10, to have a quick sort through and stem the incoming tide)
  • everything else in my inbox (ie read ones that I haven’t sorted yet but are lower priority)

I’m liking this setup so far – having a section for “Unread only” means I can filter them quickly. Having a section for “response” and “action” means I can jump to them when I’m in the mood for one or the other. Rapidly coming around to the idea that emails need scheduled time, and need to be handled in specific chunks, to save on context-switching.

Judging by the latest stats, I’ve done some good clearing out, and most of the remaining mails are recent. But I do read those stats like the Matrix code, which probably means I’m wrong, and about to get re-inserted.

Thursday: Ooh, exciting day. Had our sprint planning meeting in the morning, followed by our first Hosted Event, I think – Kim (marketing lead) had arranged it for Mor from 360Giving to come and run a Data Expedition for various local foundations and grant-givers.

I got to come in on it as support, and filled our my “Character Sheet” as the role of “Engineer” – possibly the only Engineer in the room, I think. Fortunately I didn’t have to do too much live-coding, even though I offered. Instead, there was some great chat in my team about data sharing, mapping impact, and data for collaboration.

Friday: Turned out a delivery was due to the house on Friday and, with nobody else at home, I remoted in again. More emails, picking up on a few tasks that needed clarifying, writing up notes, and a catch-up call with a client from 5 years ago, whose site we still seem to be hosting. Nothing too crazy, and a nice end to the week before #ukgovcamp hit home the next day.

But that, I think, is a whole another story.

Ohhhhhhh boyyyyyyyy

Weeknotes 05×04: When You Have Six Arms

Kamaji from Spirited Away

Kamaji from ‘Spirited Away’ is my role model sometimes. My sister gave me this t-shirt year ago, and I like to wear it sometimes when all the cogs are turning.

Six arms – two for typing leaves you with four more; four directions to point in, four strings to pull at the same time, like half a spider. It’s been a Kamaji week.

Kamaji looks at some paper

Looking back at my list of week focuses from Monday – oh yeah, I kept it simple, didn’t I? TWO FOCUSES IS ENOUGH FOR ANYONE I said to myself, full of new year confidence. One for each arm, for each hemisphere of the brain.

One: STICK TO THE PLAN.

Two: RELAX.

I figure both of these will do me good this year. I’m pretty sure they were the same aims as last year.

This assumes that there’s a plan in place, of course. BAD SIDE: I’m a man of many plans – too many – and not enough time. The plans are backing up like […]. GOOD SIDE: We killed it as a team at the end of last year, and have some bigger developments under our belt. Now is a good time to tackle plans, and I’ve put some big, purpley-brown blocks in my private calendar to eat into them. Each afternoon, a different focus, spurred on by my velvet (or “dark puce” if you’re honest with yourself) rectangles. Truly, calendar items are the new infinity of stars, guiding our lives and divining our fortunes.

Kamaji has Andrew Marr arms

Puce Plan One: Decide the course of people’s lives

It is the time for this – our team has been going long enough to ask the question of “who am I?”, in a deep Les Miserables baritone croon. “Where am I going?”, “How do I get there?” – the people want answers. Really technical answers, because I am Head Of Tech, which means also I am Head of the Tech Team, and have been doing this stuff long enough to help others to do it. Which is scary and fun, like everything should be once you’re 38 or older.

In my case, I have started to write lots of things down in order to answer the following questions:

  • What should our job titles/grades be? As a small company, we’ve pretty much made this up so far. I like the idea of a guide for my future self to be able to decide these without thinking. Self-assessment for team members would be even easier. Then I just have to blockchain it.
  • What technical skills do we depend on as a company?
  • What should a developer need to know at any level, for any skillset? Yes, this is now an RPG.

The process is personally interesting, but writing it up takes a lot of thought. I shared it with a couple of people, and then (as a result – thanks openness?!) realised it was more of a guide for me than for others. Still, I tried it out with a member of the team, and it seemed to tick the box of being a Conversation Starter and Handy Reference List for the Ultimate Purpose of Standardised Clarity. I will keep developing it and trying it out, but with a lot more Caveats and Disclaimers about it being a living, breathing document (because, basically, it is what I know at this point in my life, really.)

Kamaji finds GDPR a bit boring

Puce Plan Two: Get Down, Pretty Reliably

Or “GDPR” as others seem to call it. I figure that’s what it stands for, anyway – looking through legislation is so fun that I can’t think what else it might stand for.

Delving into detail, I think we’re generally in a good place. As Nice People What Do Sensitive Data from time-to-time, we’re generally aware of people’s privacy. Mostly it’s a case of making sure we’re covering all our bases, and writing everything down, as opposed to changing any fundamental business models. I think three of us are looking into this (vaguely independently) which helps, and we’re starting to merge our GDPR brains.

Also, the “Right to Erasure” means I’m legally allowed – nay, forced – to play A Little Respect in the office.

Kamaji makes the furnace work

Puce Plan Three: Get my head around our Impact On The World

I might blog separately on this, but have made a start on looking at our “Weight” in the world – or “social impact” maybe – by sending an internal survey out, then comparing responses, and starting to draw out some structure and threads. IT’S A LOT MORE INTERESTING THAN IT SOUNDS. And tough. I’m using the act of writing it down to sort through it, which means lots of staring blankly at the screen, then minimal, but important, typing. But alongside thought time, I need to pick through some existing literature and see how others do this.

So far, I’ve come back to my usual approach of “Map it then Measure it”, but there’s a risk I forget about what we’re trying to do, so I’ve written up a few aims, which I need to run past some people.

I’m probably the worst person to do this – I’m pretty bad at just grabbing a framework and running with it, and my Agile instinct to get something done quickly is actually pretty tricky when you’ve got a large issue. There’s probably another blog post just from that. Kamaji hides behind the all-knowing teapot

Puce Plan Four: Save the World, and Drink Coffee

OK, this wasn’t really a plan, but a response. Hey, I had a spare arm.

Cloudflare changed SOMETHING, which meant we had a few TECHNICAL ISSUES. Honestly, with Meltdown and Spectre and Heartbleed and WananCry, I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that a) tech is a mug’s game, b) I should live in a forest with no internet connection (or a 56k modem, max), and c) nukes are nothing against the power of 30 years of insecure tech design practice. GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN.

Which is all to say that we’ve been working hard reacting to some big issues – some our fault, some not, but it’s certainly been quite the couple of weeks for it.

Still, makes a change from just before Christmas, at least.

Other Stuff That Happened:

  • Lots of team stuff – Kim joined the Senior Management, and we all had lunch together, and then all the dev team had lunch together (on a different day) and had a bit of a catchup.
  • Carried on clearing out old magazines
  • More 1:1s
  • Far too much caek

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Weeknotes 05×03: 10 Years Later

It’s dark. The kitchen light is off, and I’m dragging the laptop out, sitting down at the table and writing by the ambience of the sidelights. I’m out of the Weeknotes rhythm, and it feels a bit like I’m starting again.

I’ve been back at work for three days. I didn’t take notes, as I quite enjoyed writing reflections from memory a couple of times last year. But not at the end of the year – I skipped a couple of weeks of writing anything up. It was all just that little bit too cray-cray. In between some internally-set-yet-still-pressured deadlines, salary reviews, and board meetings, there were trips to hospital for #son2, and the usual festive activities of worrying about what presents to get for people and trying to cajole people into winterval logistics.

I’m not a Scrooge, I *do* really enjoy Christmas. I just find the other stuff – the need to get work finished early, the manic consumption, the pressure to stick to some haphazard ‘rituals’ – a little too much when combined into the same, three-week dash. So the highlights for me were 1) our Christmas office do with an amazing quiz with an amazing music round and scavenger hunt, 2) getting to actually go out for a meal with the missus, and 3) Christmas Day at last, when there was no more organisation needed, just early starts, and lots of chocolate.

Weeknotes fell by the wayside in among all of that. Which was a bit of shame, because at the same time, the work we worked on was, I think, some of our best yet – in terms of organisation, setup, implementation, flexibility, robustness, and delivery. All the pieces were in place, and I think there’s a lot we, as a team, could celebrate and learn from in hindsight. We haven’t had a retro since, but I might suggest one which looks back at this, in a “yay” way – too often I think retrospectives are keen to “fix” something that annoys people, rather then reinforce the stuff which inspires us. In fact, I’ll Make It An Action.

TODO: Suggest next retro idea is “why things went well”.

There, I’ll come back in a week and see if I’ve done it.

This week was three days as we all returned on Wednesday. We had a fairly quiet first day back, trying to remember what we did the year before. Thursday was the day to plan a fresh sprint. Friday was the start of dealing with the Meltdown/Spectre fallout, instead of the planning I’d planned to plan.

This week I’ve been taking the advantage of a fresh start to get some plans in place, and I’m both (as I tend to be) excited, and anxious and impatient and wanting to do everything Now Now Now. We started getting our next few months of projects together, which meant UPDATING THE BIG GREEN BOARD again, which I always like. One of our biggest challenges, I think, is to balance project planning between the many different projects and products we run, so anything that sorts through the maelstrom is bound to feel good. Cracking this challenge properly would be a great accomplishment this year, if we could.

As joint Product Owner for the _HIVE PIXIE_ product, I’ve been pushing to get some more concrete plans and aims in place to move on with. I don’t feel like I have quite the buy-in I’d like yet, and it can be a pretty lonely job sometimes, but I’ve had the chance to practice some basic product ownership, and this week have decided to just push on with my own instincts, suggest defaults, and see if anyone argues vehemently against me.

It was also great to start the year with Kim (Comms and Marketing lead) joining the ranks of our senior management. She knows what she’s doing, and it’s great to be able to get her opinion on the Things we discuss, as well as to give her more responsibility for the work she’s already basically in charge of already.

We’ve also started lining up annual reviews for the management team, including myself, over the next month. For the, this has been on my mind a lot – I’ve now been with OCSI for 10 YEARS exactly, which makes me feel either old or abstract, I’m not sure which, or maybe they’re the same thing? I bought some cupcakes from Sainsbury’s and finished off an office bottle of whisky to celebrate, while CPU security patches rolled down the window like raindrops. (There are also rather a lot of chocolate coins and leftover Christmas food in the office, so we’re collectively anti-detoxing ourselves successfully.)

So I’m at that stage where I’m really wondering, after 10 years, what the hell I’m doing and what I should do next. I’m lucky – I get to do a lot of different and interesting things in my job, which isn’t really a job title or description beyond merely “fairly good with making computers do things” and “OK at making other people make computers do things”. This year I’ve been doing team leading, product strategy, strategy strategy, understanding finances, client talking, and trying to cheer people up, among other things. I’ve basically got a free rein, which begs the question, “yeah, but what do you WANT to do?”

I have some draft answers to this, but they need some grounding now, like bouncing creative ideas off a team for developing a website, except I’m at the point where it’s “me” (or “a” me) that’s being created. I need that external perspective – an annual review will be a good chance to do this, but I intend to pick other people’s brains about it too. I couple of people offered their ears and advice over the last year, and it’s about time I take them up on it.

Oh, I’ve also started tidying up bits of the office as well. Feels like it could be a good year.

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Weeknotes 05×02: Modularise all the things

Monday

Monday, and things are busy. We’re in switchover mode, deploying our last sprint’s work to a beta site for user and load testing, while also ramping up on the next chunk of work.

Which all means I’m very delivery-focused at the moment. But I’m also out of the office a fair bit over the next few weeks, so I’m spending a lot of my time trying to get all the blocks in place. Briefly, my focus is:

  • setting out a high level overview of what the blocks of code are, and how they should talk to each other
  • making sure any obscure technical information is thought about and written down, so I’m not a bottleneck when I’m away

I’m having to have a fair bit of faith in what I’ve set up, because we’ve got less than 3 weeks to get something delivered. It’s going to be interesting.

As I said last week, closing stuff off needs to remain a strong focus – fast progress needs to clear stuff out so we can concentrate on the harder stuff without too much overhead.

We’re going to need guns. Lots of guns.

Wednesday

OK, this plan is going well so far. We’re on a pretty big task – it’s the first time we’ve voted something a 13 in a few years. But I’ve learnt a few things since the last time. The mix of (lean business needs + code decoupling required to write unit tests) has really helped me understand where a “system” can and should be divided. In any system, there are natural “breaks” which define certain holistic chunks – we call these “departments”, “teams” or “silos” when thinking about an organisation. We call them “classes”, “microservices”, “modules”, “libraries” and so on when talking about code.

Some sort of git branch management analogy, or merely the onset of winter?

Any system has them, and so I wonder if there is a general rule of modular interaction that one can define and refine – I’ve probably seen something along these lines in the past, and my writing probably reflects my mind trying to remember it.

In a way, it’s another version of “joining the dots”, except in this case the dots don’t exist yet and have to be forced into shape. My main aim has been to define the modules we need, and the ways in which they interact – and to then translate this into tasks, and how the tasks overlay. I feel like I could really work with someone else in this framework in future – I could identify the tech modules and someone else could define the “work modules”.

I’m also now wondering if it’s possible to apply this to my Product Owner role, where I’m going through product feedback and categorising/refining/estimating/prioritising potential stories. What are the dots, the subdots, and the superdots here? (Yes, I’m thinking fractal dots.)

Thursday

Mixed start to the day. Made good progress on the crossword on the way in, but half the phones were down. Bit stormy today too.

A month in review

Had the first monthly catch up with John, our new developer, with a nice mix of feedback for both of us, I think. Having someone new on board is a good opportunity for reflection. Hopefully I put some of his fears to rest, and I think mine were – I’m always slightly anxious when someone new joins. Do they think they made the right decision in joining? Thankfully, reminded me that our ethical value is really, well, valued, and that if we can formalise it in the right way, it can be very powerful.

(Or probably very cheesy, if done in the wrong way.)

Closure, closure, closure

Slightly annoyed we didn’t get to close off part A of our current work as I’d hoped, but in hindsight it was probably optimistic. Momentum had been good, but the two remaining tasks were the largest, and required a fair bit of review and testing. I had to leave early, so there’s a chance it will come together in the next hour or so.

And we did make a start on the next stage anyway, which is good. But was hoping for a clean break. Tomorrow looks plausible. Bought chocolates for the team for when the first part gets closed, anyway.

Spent a lot of my day running updates on my machine. Windows wanted an update which meant also then updating VirtualBox, followed by Vagrant. Computers are stupid.

Chipped in a few notes for our monthly roundup/lookahead, which randomly again reminds me that I should make a start on an extremely lightweight ethical business framework.

(Note – should get feedback on whether our ethical values are ones that people agree with, and buy into.)

Went through and tidied up potential user stories for Hive Pixie – pleased with a quick decision on ordering priorities and identifying story clarity, will be interesting to see if our partners agree with the proposals which are coming together in my head.

Lost 10-0 at table football. Blaming the receding head cold and tiredness. Need to up my game here.

The office “Christmas tree” made its appearance. Need to up our game here.

It’s a path, which is definitely some sort of analogy

Friday

OK, we wrapped Part A. And the team have cracked in with Part B. This is good. Just need to make sure I dedicate some attention to the right places early next week and we should be fine.

Running a daily diary makes me think there should be some easy daily mood-ometer for work progress. Maybe a personal research thing next year – buttons, API, database, bosh.

Also did lots of tidying-up communication and starting to get some dates in January’s calendar. I think the sprint work has actually given me a good, productive attitude today. Happy reinforcement cycles.

Next week is all over the place though. Will have to wait and see a bit.

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