I have two new colleagues on short term contracts — loaned from the Civil Service. One immediately went on annual leave, while the other has been hard at work. It’s been absolutely eye-opening. As they’ve grown into the project they’re working on, they’ve freed up a huge amount of the mental energy I didn’t even know I was expending on it. That, in turn, has made me so much better at my job.
My point is probably that if you get to the point where you say “I’m too busy to hire someone”, you should hire someone.
So: Monday I had a one-to-one with my colleague. I ask the colleague to come with an agenda and share it with me ahead of time, so I don’t get blind-sided by big questions. So far the approach has been effective; my colleagues are thoughtful and honest, which has helped guide the way I do my job. I’d like to learn more about ways to improve them, so if you have suggestions please throw them at me and I’ll try to collect them.
It was the last week of term and the UCU strike had ended, so I had my last programming class before the exam. It was a valuable session; I’m still getting to grips with Java but made some progress. I am still entirely confident that it is a terrible, horrible, no good language, but it’s helping with the very good Scala course I’m doing. It’s on Coursera and it’s created by l’École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and if you’re interested in functional programming I recommend it.
In job news, I found out that a position I’d applied to had already been filled — but would I like to meet the director to talk about joining a different team?
Tuesday was backlog grooming, which the aforementioned colleague facilitated, and customer problem solving. Backlog grooming is an opportunity for the business side of the operation to come together and argue priorities and roadmap. It’s really helped to get the new colleagues up to speed and helped me sharpen up the product’s vision, because new colleagues have a tendency to poke holes in assumptions you didn’t realise you had. If you don’t have any new colleagues to hand, you can always borrow some from a neighbour.
I applied for a job that required me to take a situational judgement test. Situational judgement tests ask you to image yourself in a situation and then evaluate four responses to the situation. Apparently you can automate cultural fit now, which I have two conflicting thoughts on:
- Tech bros hiring for cultural fit⁰ is a contributing factor to the lack of diversity in our industry. By writing down what your culture is and letting a computer check if people react in the same way as you to the same situation, you can remove some bias you would have for or against that person. But:
- Culture is mostly unwritten; the people who commission and input into this software don’t deal with the day to day culture; the idea that you can neatly encapsulate vast, unspoken cultural stuff in 15 questions with four answers is patently absurd.
In any case, the test identified me as a bad fit. It was a novel experience though, and gave me insight into a dystopian world of automated decision-making that can only be just around the corner.
Wednesday passed without major incident, and I took advantage of the evening to finish up the work I was doing on my side project to make the algorithm work and the interface usable.
Unfortunately, it takes a long time to process the data, which means if I deploy it anyone who tries to use it is met with this page:
So: now I’ve got to write something fancy to move the data processing to the server-side while the client-side displays an animation to keep the user interested.
I’m frustrated, but I’m also learning new things that I’m really enjoying. So that’s nice. It also works as long as you only ask for ten data points, so if you promise not to break it you can try it here. If you feel like a fun challenge, print off the data points you get and see if you can get better matches than the system.
(If you spot any horrendous results, please let me know!)
Thursday was my day off and my partner worked from home, so I made some fish with a dill sauce for lunch. Eating together is something we try to do as much as possible because we’re both so busy, and it was really nice to be able to do lunch as we wouldn’t have the chance to eat dinner together.
I went on to university in the afternoon. Information systems got a bit heated as we discussed ethics in computer science. There’s a whole thesis to be written on whether our industry ought to be regulated in some way, and now’s probably not the time.¹ There are also theses already written about the actions of Snowden and Manning, and the recent whistleblowing about the stunningly shifty activities at Cambridge Analytica². People have Strong Feelings about this stuff. It’s a good start.
Computer Systems was a blur of confusion. I’m going to be spending my (now free) Thursdays before the exam reading the textbook from cover to cover.
Friday everything was on fire.
Customer issues came in from left right and centre. A client was accidentally missed off a mailer a couple of weeks ago and found out today from someone else in their industry. I’m really frustrated that we dropped the ball, particularly because this client has a unique insight into upcoming work that we really value. It also makes us look unprofessional and I really, really hate that.
I had to crunch through some tests for another client, and because computers can smell your fear that was the moment my laptop decided it was time to do updates.
Matters were made worse by the fact that the afternoon was given over to the retrospective. Some tough conversations happened, as they should do, but I came away from it wondering how valuable my input was. I felt as if I’d done nothing but complain, and I don’t like that. There’s plenty of good to celebrate, but I felt like I was playing the bad guy. I’m going to keep an eye on this and see if it resurfaces in a fortnight.
Incredibly short week, so work will be crunchy as I bring everyone back up to speed. On the other hand, bank holidays are good and mini-breaks with your cool and awesome partner to Bletchley Park AND the National Museum of Computing are the absolute best. Next week’s weeknotes will feature many pictures of my immensely excited face.
⁰ Cultural fit is a phrase which here means “Are they, too, a tech bro?”
¹ Since you ask: pilots flying planes today rely heavily on software. Despite this, pilots are highly regulated and rightly so. But the person writing the software — who’s regulating them? As far as I know: nobody. And if that’s the case, it makes me nervous.
² This year’s favourites in the boat race against Oxford Analytica