Weeknotes S03E21

This has been a week of working out where I’m going. I’m going to go through my week day by day, because it had a nice arc to it.

On Monday I played chess with public sector hero Dan in the evening. We played two games, and I only managed to record one. We won a game apiece and talked about the difficulties of working on legacy tech. It reminded me that I have a lot more to do; that the breadth of technical challenges that exist run the full gamut from big data to ancient systems.

The most difficult thing about all of these technical challenges is naturally that they’re almost completely about people.

I also got to play chess at lunchtime with a colleague who’s thinking about their next steps. I’m always interested to know what drives people to make changes like this, though trying to ask questions and also focus on the game is nearly impossible.

Tuesday I wrote some code and prepped my mentee for a panel discussion she was to do on Sunday. It was a long session — we left the office about 9pm — but as I write this on Monday having had a glowing conversation with her I think it was worth it.

I also found out that there’s going to be a round of promotions to Senior Developer. I’m going to go for it, of course: I’ve been in my role for almost 9 months now so naturally I feel ready to take the next step up.0 I’ll need the following:

  • A statement of suitability from my line manager
  • A statement of suitability from my Lead Developer / Lead SRE
  • A statement covering the following:
    • Why I want to be a Senior
    • What experience I have that makes me a good candidate for this role

If you want to chip in, tweet me or leave a comment on this shiny new (possibly not permanent) WordPress blog.

I went to Codebar on Wednesday for my little group of mentees’ penultimate session. It was at Google, and I found myself getting more and more irritated as the hosts have us a 20 minute rundown of their apprentice programme. I get that these organisations offer the space for free; I get that you’d want to do something with all this captured attention. But you could do it ten minutes, not twenty, and let us get on with what we came here for.

I also had a chat with a Fast Streamer who’s hoping to get into software development. I’ve agreed to a weekly check-in with her to monitor her progress, in the hope of being able to get her ready for an interview at the end of the year.1

On Thursday I actually went home at normal time. I had a chat with my mentor last thing and he encouraged me to go for the senior role. This was Nice and Reassuring. We spoke of many other things, including an exciting new corporate objective that is right up my alley.

Ah, Friday. A blur, really, but delicious Nepalese food and the Netflix documentary Mitt rounded out the week.

Then, on Sunday – bonus, personal weeknotes! – I tried making mac and cheese and failed tremendously. My white sauce boiled over and I added the cheese too soon and it split. I had a grainy mush of dinner. Every part of it was wasted.

At a conservative estimate I would say I’ve made this particular recipe 200 times in my life. I can do it. But I was suddenly staring into a mess of gloopy, gritty sauce and realising that I’d rushed into everything I’d done this week. I’d been going so fast that I’d completely ruined a dish where the only important quality was patience. All of a sudden I was aware of the momentum that I’d been building and sustaining all week.

I’m lucky that the person I was cooking for found the whole thing hilarious and agreed to tidy up while I bought more ingredients. I walked to the shops very slowly. I walked back very slowly. I cooked the slowest mac and cheese I’ve ever made. I even checked the temperate of the white sauce with a sugar thermometer before I added the cheese.

It turned out great. Of course it did.

Today I wrote some really good code, slowly. I turned down a meetup this evening and went home instead of rushing across town. I wrote these notes three times before I published them.

Nobody can do everything. I go on about this at every planning meeting in an attempt to get the team to admit that there’s some stuff we’ll never get round to. I said this to my mentee as she went through all the things she’d like to say in her speech.

I would do better to take my own advice and pare back my commitments, but the world is so large, so brilliant, so full of things to learn and do that it seems a shame.

My FOMO is wide and deep and all-encompassing, and I:

That’s from a gag by the apparently lovely John Mulaney, so I recommend you give him a follow or watch this phenomenal bit about the best meal he’s ever had:

 


 

0 I know that this sounds enormously pig-headed, which raises the question: why did I write it? Because I want you to know that I know that, and also that I genuinely believe that it’s true. Beneath the obnoxious bravado is genuine self-belief, which raises the question of why I need the bravado at all.

1 Why yes, it does sound like I’ve picked up another mentee. Funny you should say that. I was reflecting on exactly the same thing.

Weeknotes S03E20

What’s the difference between pizza and toast? And what is a sandwich, anyway?

I have had a number of weird conversations this week, and not written a whole lot of code. I’d like a job where I can swing between these two things.

I do not think a job like this exists.

Let’s do the week: retro style!

What went well?

At the retrospective today, one of our seniors said that he was really pleased with the way Monday morning planning/tech debt session was going. I was absolutely elated to hear this because I’ve been facilitating them and this kind of validation is the best. The session we did on Monday went really well, though my team have rumbled my tactic of finding the five oldest tickets in the backlog (added 2 years ago!) and prompting a discussion about whether they’re still needed or were fixed long ago. One turned out to be urgent-ish so that’s definitely a silver lining.

I didn’t take a job I was offered. Why is this in what went well section? Because it’s a good job doing something exciting, but it’s not the right one for me. It’s a small signal to me that I’m growing out of the phase of needing to please others: there was a time that I’d do any job someone asked me to do, because it meant they’d seen me. It meant I was wanted.⁰

I finally closed a piece of work to part-automate library updates. In the course of that a colleague helped me fix an irritating bug: if you’re particularly interested in how I fixed it, there’s some code you can look at. Once this piece has been seen through to completion then whoever’s on second line will have the slightly more boring task of going through the automated bumps and figuring out what to do with them, but it should mean more up-to-date libraries and more consistency across the entire system.

I had a good (if accidental) coaching session with a friend. It’s a very strange thing, to ask questions and not give one’s opinion. I’m a white guy from a fairly privileged background. I’ve only recently come round to the idea that my opinion isn’t the only one that matters.

Codebar as ever was enjoyable but tough. I’m taking a couple of students through the Game of Life from a test-driven perspective. I see in them the mirror image of myself when I started, wondering what the point of tests was when I could just hack at it until it worked or I passed out from a caffeine overdose. I am very slowly convincing them, if only because there’s such a lovely endorphin hit from getting a test to go from failing to passing. The fact that it forces them to think about the design and write small methods with no side effects is incidental (muahahaha).

It’s always a late finish and I gave my girlfriend¹ a call on the way home. Somehow she ended up asking me

What’s the difference between pizza and toast?

and it made me think that either I was eating very boring toast or she was eating incredibly boring pizza. I am resolved to find out which it is.


What didn’t go well?

A friend revealed that they’d recently broken up.

What do you say to a friend baring their heart with aggressive vulnerability? What can you do but respect that? I did my best to give the best advice I could. I drew on the well of my limited experience and talked about the fact that it would hurt; that there was no way to make it stop hurting; that drinking just kicked the hurt down the road where it would hunker in the shadow and wait for you.

I also gave them my blog to read, because the support I got from the weeknotes community was phenomenal and writing was incredibly helpful to me. I hope it helps them. I hope it didn’t seem like ruthless self-promotion.

I squeezed myself into a suit to help some friends with interviews. I need to lose weight or buy a bigger suit, and frankly I suspect a bigger suit would be a cheaper approach. I had planned to sign up to a gym when I moved; now that that’s been pushed back to June I think I’ll just have to bite the bullet and go to my local for now.

Starting imperfectly is better than planning for perfection: if I wait for the right moment I think I’ll probably never do it.

Interviewing was hard work, but that’s not the thing that didn’t go well. One of the people in the office was sneezing and blowing their nose a lot. They left at about three, saying “my head just feels like it’s stuffed with cotton wool and my nose keeps running, so I’m going to head home early.”

By a weird coincidence I woke up on Friday with exactly those symptoms.³


These have been your extremely jumbled weeknotes, brought to you by sudafed to stop the running nose, ibuprofen for the sinus pain, and a desire to be away from this computer to go and eat fish and chips and look at my date.

Enjoy your weekend. You’re doing great!


⁰ Therapists, get in line
¹ According to my sisters, who know about this sort of thing, my recent tweet mentioning their kind gift of a creme egg made it official. I’m not sure what this makes it.²
² official-medium, I guess, as opposed to official-rare
³ coincidence is a word which here means not a coincidence at all

Weeknotes S03E19

Groping towards the light

I got this comment on last week’s post:

Every week I am impressed by how much you pack into your life!

And I want to assure you it’s only because I have a constant hovering sense of not being good enough and a crushing fear that people will find out. Every new person who approaches me to suggest I do a thing increases that anxiety, even as I recognise that I’m still upright. I’m starting, slowly, to recognise that I can surf the wave or walk the tightrope or whatever metaphor works best for you. That doesn’t take away the fear, but I’m finding better ways of co-existing with it.

That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always scared.

These weeknotes started out as a giant mess of words and then, like staring at one of those magic eye pictures, came into focus as a single theme with stories to support it. It’s freaked me out a bit to be honest.

https://media.giphy.com/media/3o6MblX3f2qq6lcw7u/giphy.gif

This week began — as it always does — with me trying to corral my team into prioritising a bunch of work. It’s a little delivery manager and a little product manager, but since I have neither of those roles in my job title I’m soft skilling the heck out of it. It was easier this week than it’s been before; I think it’s because I’ve been enforcing the format for a couple of weeks and it’s starting to bed in. At the end of the day I had an initial meeting with a new mentor, who posed some hard questions to me. He understands a lot of my frustrations and he’s helping me to be patient where I would otherwise be impetuous. This is Good. He also holds strong opinions about military structures in the Star Wars universe, and this is Also Good. With his help I’m going to look at rounding out my technical skills with some projects in my wider organisation, and we looked at some that seemed interesting.

https://media.giphy.com/media/MsWnkCVSXz73i/giphy.gif

Tuesday was a weird long day: I did some volunteering in the morning and that sort of wrote off the entire day, as I tried to recover from the emotional black hole that speaking to kids opens inside me. Volunteering is supposed to help you learn things, and in fact I learned three new things:

  1. teenagers in a group are sullen and bored and disinterested and talking to them is like pulling teeth. From a whale. With soapy gloves.
  2. teenagers on their own, hanging around while the rest of the class files out, definitely not queueing up to talk to you but just, like, hanging out in a vaguely ordered curve, yeah: they’re incredible. They absolutely sparkle. They’ve got brilliant questions and probing follow-ups and make you wish they’d asked the question in front of the rest of the class so everyone could have benefited from it. Fuck me, I hate that enthusiasm is uncool.
  3. being escorted around by a teacher I still felt a bit nervous and like I’d got in trouble. I’m almost thirty years old.⁰

In the evening I had dinner and a chat with a mentee.¹ She is going to be giving a talk that’s kind of in my (undergraduate) area, so I’m doing my best to coach her in speech-giving and argument-forming.² I’m more comfortable with this mentee, and as I write I’m trying to figure out why. I think part of it is that we discussed it formally in the beginning and had some ground rules; we know what we’re aiming for and how we’re approaching it. Maybe I just like structure.³ It’s also politics, economics, and arguing: areas I know reasonably well.⁴ It meant I missed the weeknotes meetup though, which is a shame. Next time.

I am (still) completely in love with writing code. I track my time, and on Thursday I spent 7 hours (with some breaks) on trying to figure out why an innocent upgrade was causing massive, things-on-fire test breakage.

I should explain — so that a handsome, rugged, naif young coder doesn’t go releasing massive changes to the production environment and breaking everything for everyone everywhere, a whole suite of tests runs against any change I — sorry, he — makes. They take about ten minutes and run through a few hundred scenarios a user might actually carry out. In my case, the phantom user was pretty hacked off as the system kept logging her out.

https://media.giphy.com/media/dfkXw8NbkkxsQ/giphy.gif

That was my cue to start pulling my hair out and diving three or four layers deep to try to get to the bottom of the problem.

The problem turned out to be nothing I’d done (hurrah!) and in fact something someone else had done for reasons known only to themselves, god, and people with toys they want to connect to the internet.

Still, thanks to my senior I scratched out a 6 (sorry Sam) Point Plan to solve it and then went immediately on a date. I don’t think that I could have done it with a senior to guide me, so I’m really grateful I’m working somewhere where I can learn from people much cleverer than me.

I think these have been the best weeknotes I’ve ever done. Not for you, the reader — I expect you’re bored silly. But as a reflective practice I think they’ve helped me work out the solution to something I’ve been struggling with all week.

Go weeknotes. You rock.



⁰ Oh god
¹ fuck, maybe I do do to much
² I can practically hear the eye rolls of people who know and love me
³ Maybe we all just like structure, apart from my slightly scary friend who’s convinced purging all laws every ten years would do wonders for society
⁴ As opposed to “how to get a career in tech”, an area I know literally fuck all about having faked my way into it in a big way. I’m making a good go of it, but seriously — 2 Bs and a C at A-level and a 6-year long slog at an undergraduate degree in French doesn’t scream “tech sector career”.

Weeknotes S03E18

Trying to find my groove

This week has felt long. January is a month that is infinitely long, while the last week of that month is itself infinite.⁰

I have done a few things this week, but all of them feel fretful. I am still struggling to find my space, and I’m starting to get frustrated with myself at my inability to settle into a thing and just do it. Maybe I’ve not found the right fit. Or maybe I’m just incapable of doing one thing for any duration.

On that cheery note: here is the week that was:

On Monday I caught up with a mentee. She’s coming off a coding bootcamp and is trying to work out what she wants to do next. I’m still trying to find the right balance with mentoring between giving advice and letting mentees work out their own path. I think I leaned too heavily in the latter direction and may have come across as sharp or stand-offish by repeating her questions back to her. I feel like I need a mentor in mentoring. A grand-mentor?

I also offered to use my connections to try to secure shadowing. I think this is the right thing, but I’m also anxious about it because it privileges her above other (equally deserving) individuals. On the other hand, my wider organisation could do with more people from her background, so…

https://media.giphy.com/media/tL3Nkk58oeWEo/giphy.gif

Look, Monday was essentially a mess of me wondering whether I was doing the right thing.

All the way through this week I’ve been doing Russian homework during my lunch. I’ve needed to do this because I’m a massive keener who’s taken a homework that involves writing about 50 words and turned it into two pages of both printed and cursive writing. I’ve also started watching Trotsky on Netflix, a Russian-made biopic of the revolutionary. It pulls no punches as to the homophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism rife in Russia at the time.


I’m concerned I’ve overstretched myself on this: it smacks of “ooh! Shiny! New!” enthusiasm that I fear will fade over time. I’m slightly buoyed that my Duolingo streak is at 70 days: maybe it’s not just a flash in the pan. Maybe.

I was supposed to go and mentor on Wednesday, or go to the leaving drinks of Kit Collingwood. Instead I found myself spoon-less by the end of the day and crashed home. I’ve noticed a massive dip in my energy levels recently: is it something to do with the weather? Am I not eating enough fruit and veg?¹

Still, it gave me an opportunity to make a butt-load of spicy carrot and lentil soup. It’s my favourite reviver in weather like this: warming, thick, and enough spice to make your tongue and nostrils tingle without being painful. Paired with thick bread and a thick book — this week it’s Ha Joon Chang’s Economics: The User’s Guide — it’s a corpse reviver.²

https://media.giphy.com/media/ItbGTGlgqvw2s/giphy.gif

Thursday was a day that was half running around and half sitting down and doing thoughtful programming, and really hit the sweet spot of things I like doing. In the morning I ran over to Whitehall to talk to other unsuccessful Future Leaders Scheme candidates about what we could do to advance our learning and development before the next application window opens later this year. We didn’t get much insight into the process or scoring system, which is a shame: I am continually banging on about openness because it makes things better. I still offered to help in any way I can, and made a few valuable contacts. My organisation covers so much that the opportunity to go and shadow someone doing something wildly different — whether that’s the Privy Council or the Queen’s Honours list — seems like too good an opportunity to pass up.

In the afternoon I sat down with my senior dev and paired for a solid hour and a half on a new-ish feature. It’s really enjoyable because she’s a really good pair: thoughtful, patient, and doesn’t obviously flinch when I ask questions that I then answer myself almost before I’ve finished asking them.³

https://media.giphy.com/media/8nn3g8obMjVp6/giphy.gif

Friday was a full day of training. I bumped into some old Fast Stream colleagues and talked to them about my eternal, unchanging bugbear and my plans to stop whining about it and turn it into a scoped piece of work for a corporate objective. They agreed this would be a good idea.⁴ So I’m going to write that up over February and start shopping it round and see if I can get a little team of volunteers on it.

The training itself was interesting: it was an introduction to Service Design. I’m personally very nervous about tech architects and service designers, because in my experience they tend to want to architect and design. Agile development doesn’t fit easily with this approach, but I think perhaps I’m still struggling to see the bigger picture. I’m also probably being hyper sensitive. There is value to seeing the bigger picture: where your little transactional service fits into massive, wider user journeys. I’m just…I’m not yet convinced that you can design that journey up-front.

Now it’s the weekend. I had an extremely good date last night, and I’ve got a few hours before I go to Russian class and am crowned “Hideous teacher’s pet”. So I’m off to have breakfast with good coffee and even better company.

And look — it’s February. We made it. Well done team.


⁰ For more on infinities that contain infinities, I recommend you start with Hilbert’s Infinite Hotel
¹ I am almost certainly not eating enough fruit and veg
² In actual fact, a corpse reviver is a cocktail that combines gin, absinthe, chartreuse, lemon and Lillet Blanc. It’s said that one will revive a corpse; another three will un-revive it.
³ “But how would I add this permission to — oh, yeah, I think I’d do that”
⁴ Hang on, I should have asked which bit they felt would be a good idea.