S02E03: Do you want to build a program?

Yup, now it’s in your head too

This week was also a pretty bad week pain-wise. My infection from last week retreated from my jaw and made its last stand in my sinuses, which left me absolutely crippled with agonising pain.

Everything about humans is badly designed.⁰

Monday was a fantastically busy day as I caught up with emails and colleagues. I chatted architecture with our new technical architect and outlined my vision for how our technology will scale to support half a million users in the next two years¹. It’s (relatively) small fry after government, but for our tiny startup it’s absolutely huge. It’s exciting, but as ever I’m far away from the actual fun of making stuff. As a consequence I set myself the challenge of building a proof of concept microservice out of some of our data over Christmas.

I spent the evening at university. Mondays are Principles of Programming. I’m self-taught and have built little web services here and there, both as proof-of-concept for managers while in the service and as hobby items for my own amusement. As a result I’ve struggled with rehashing hashes, listening to lists and or even getting into ints.

However, this session was so much better as it got into the theory of Object-Oriented-Programming, or OOP.

Tangential reference or not, if you ever think I’m not going to reference Pitch Perfect you’re wrong.

It was really interesting to see all the ways Python both is, and is pretending really hard to be, an OOP language. It was a great way to wind up the penultimate session of the term.

Tuesday I got feedback on our Posting Template. Our current Fast Streamer is brilliant, and I’m incredibly eager to get some more of them seconded out to us. It’s a great program and huge props to the whole team for keeping it going. They’re also using Google Docs, so I got comments back in a useful format and could edit the same document, ensuring we only had one version and didn’t have to fill up inboxes with “Version 3.1-final-final-corrections-final”.

From the incredible presentation “Git for Humans” by Alice Bartlett

Bam. Whole thing finished and submitted in half a day. #winning

At home I felt surprisingly tired and sore around the head, but figured it was the last remnants of the infection. It sort of was.

On Wednesday I woke up in debilitating agony. It was a sharp, focused pain around the right side of my face, from cheek to temple but focused particularly around my eye.

It was the least fun I think I’ve ever had.

It pretty much ruined my day, to be honest.

However, the rest of my team was getting on with brilliant work. One of our devs delivered a really exciting new product — an automated onboarding tool for new clients. Considering that this process usually takes about a week of staff time, this is a giant leap forward and something I’m so excited to see. We’re trialling it internally on our existing queue of customers (in case it explodes in our faces) but we’re eventually going to roll it out as a service to let new clients totally self-on board and further reduce costs.

Saving taxpayers’ money remains my eternal goal

Thursday was my usual day off, and when I woke up all trace of the infection and illness had disappeared. There isn’t a single better feeling, nor any sentiment more alienating, than getting over an illness. You suddenly enjoy tiny pleasures. You breathe deeply. You look around yourself and marvel at the world. You dance through raindrops, relishing the cold sting that’s wiped away by the warmth of your moving, working body.

That last bit’s more literal. I usually walk from Cannon Street to university, because I’m basically a sedentary creature and I like food so a walk is the best way to keep myself at least vaguely in shape. Usually the prospect of a 45 minute walk in a downpour would dishearten me, but today I danced. I splashed in puddles.

I upturned my face and drank in the glory of sensation.

Then I got to St Pauls and my feet were squishing when I walked so I caught the tube the rest of the way.

My Information systems class was the last one of the term. Next week is revision, but since the term’s lectures have been focused on Agile and Scrum I’m reasonably confident I know the content. In Fundamentals of Computing we examined problems that computers can’t solve and watched this video, which if I’m honest I’m still utterly, utterly perplexed by.

Answers on a postcard please.

I also got to see Louise Cato and Sam Villis in the evening. These two women are brilliant, smart, insightful people and the opportunity to talk to them is so valuable that it made the perfect end to the day. There was a lot to reflect on during the journey home, and yet more ideas for my final project. I’ve started keeping a note of ideas, and they currently run the gamut of fun open-source things to money-making pie-in-the-sky ideas.²

Finally, on Friday, I was back in the office. We did some backlog grooming and trimmed out some more of the ancient dead wood. This regular cleaning forces us to reconsider whether the idea we had is the right one, and whether or not it’s the right time for it. If it’s the right idea at the wrong time, it goes into our roadmap. If it’s the wrong idea, then it goes in the bin and we ask ourselves how it ended up in our backlog in the first place.

Whenever the answer is “because we didn’t have a roadmap” I do a happy dance.

I also prepped the agenda for our SMT next Tuesday and got a debrief from the CEO about a potential new product. A client we pitched to a little while ago has come back and told us they’ve got funding, so we need to talk about how we’ll approach it and what we’ll need. It’s a really exciting opportunity, and if the funding is at the right level it means I’ll be able to look at bringing in another team member very soon to own it.

Exciting times.

Unrelated to that — for now — I also spoke to a friend who’s unsatisfied in their job and looking to move. The dissatisfaction is caused by a lack of control over their career, learning, and development. It’s a stupid way for organisations to lose brilliant people, but a great lesson for someone just starting out in business.

By the by — if you’re reading this and thinking that the employee might be one of yours, please take this as a sign from the universe to start trying to fix your culture.³

#programming(self, others)

I’ve got early sight of Miguel Grinberg’s new Python Mega Tutorial, which takes novice Python developers through their first web app. I think it’s brilliant: well written, clear, and perfect for someone who’d like to do web development but doesn’t know where to start.

I’m quite keen to get more Civil Servants coding because I think a basic understanding of building tech and how easy/not-at-all-easy it is is a valuable thing. I know my audience is mostly digital Civil Servants, so: if I offered a course that covered basic Python, then building a rudimentary web service, then (if you’re interested) more complex services — would you be interested? Would your colleagues be interested? Does such a thing already exist?

Let me know here or on Twitter.


I’m going to see Hamilton: An American Musical in January which is NEXT FREAKING MONTH, PEOPLE so that soundtrack’s been on for every day this week and will continue. I’m halfway to working out whether I can make it our hold music.


⁰ Except for that example beloved by morons everywhere, which is the proximity of anus and genitalia. If someone ever makes this joke to you, ask them where else they would put the part of the body that excretes. Hands? Belly button? Feet?

¹ Eek.

² That’s my pastry products delivered by drone idea, by the way

³ It could be you. If it isn’t now it will be. Fix it!

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