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.


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:



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.

S01 E07

The one where I start to say goodbye

Another week of Russian, which culminated in a brief handwriting lesson. My handwriting is apparently awful, which is oddly reassuring — although I’ve still some way to go before I get to “Russian doctor” level:

Good luck!

There’s not much to share workwise from this week as I’m still on leave, so this will be a very short weeknotes. However, a couple of things have popped out at me that I want to remember.

Firstly: I’m bad at ignoring work emails. As a consequence people are more likely to contact me, and it becomes a destructive circle. I might need to just uninstall emails on my personal devices while I’m away.

Second: before I go on leave, I have to be better at planning. I’m hoping to get my colleagues and the organisation to a place where I’m less and less needed, but while we’re still finding our way it’s unfair of me to act like we’re not. I’ve got to get better at listening to what colleagues need, because colleagues are users too.


Third: I’ve handed in my notice. As of September 1, I won’t be a Civil Servant any more. That realisation hit me harder than I thought it would. From the age of 19, I’ve been interested in serving in politics — I know I’m not good at running for office. I am a person who does things, and I’m never happier than when I can wrestle with the kind of thorny problems visionary people come up with.

I know I’ll be back. My initial contract is for 2 years, with an option to extend. My end goal is to return to the Civil Service, so whether that’s in 2 years or 5 I guarantee you’ve not seen the last of me. There’s still so much to do to get the Service to a properly user-focussed, agile organisation. I’ll be returning when I’ve got the experience to run a directorate in exactly that way. In the meantime I’ll be following the careers of my fellow Digital and Technology Fast Streamers, luminaries like Kit, and of course all of my fellow #weeknotes writers.

Lastly I’ll answer three questions posed by the One Team Gov team, with an eye on my time in the Service.

What was hard? Learning patience and the realisation that everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got. I’ve slipped into the trap of thinking “An idiot wrote this/put this process in place/is directing this programme” many times, because it’s a sop to my ego — “If only everyone were as clever as me!” and turns cultural issues into individual issues. Neither of these things are true: everyone is slogging their guts out and doing the best within their contexts. It’s up to senior leaders to provide the cover for those people to reach across silos or to take up a sledgehammer and get rid of them altogether — a reminder that all difficult problems are cultural.

What was fun? Everything. I’ve got the honour of speaking to the incoming cohort of Fast Streamers in August, and I’ll say now what I’ll say then: this is the most fun I’ve ever had in a job. The people you’ll work with, both Fast Streamers and not, are completely committed to an ideal. That’s hard to find elsewhere. The opportunity to organise a 600-person conference, to explore graphic design and recruit web developers and teach and learn with colleagues who become friends is absolutely awesome. I’ve been behind the scenes at Heathrow Airport; organised an experience day for students that involved a speaker from GCHQ; written submissions about Twitter and watched a hacker demolish something I’d built. This job is a cool job.

What made you proud? Helping other specialisms see the value of user-centric digital services. Building services that people will use. Brokering compromise between absolute security and absolute usability, and keeping everyone excited and committed to the solution. Going to universities up and down the country to talk to students about why they should join. Learning to code. Building things. Building teams. Working with the best people in the world.

Oh, and sometimes your job will involve attaching 800 lanyards to cards. Be okay with that