S04E20: I need you to need me


My most recent mentee has secured a job as an associate developer, and I couldn’t be prouder of her. She’s worked hard, she’s built things effectively, and she’s asked really excellent questions. She is going to be a superlative software developer. She got me a card, which touched me in a way I wasn’t expecting in the slightest.

The code I’ve written this week has been pretty good. It’s broadly well tested (though it definitely needs some more) but the fixtures are frankly appalling.[mfn]It’s Hacktoberfest, so if you’d like to pick up some easy PRs then please go take a look and help the Cabinet Office do stuff better![/mfn] Despite that I’m immensely pleased with it: I’ve built in a means of redacting personal data that I think is pretty neat, and should allow me to get real-ish data into a staging environment for the team to have fun with. They’ve been hugely supportive and it’s amazing to get the chance to work on something that’ll help the wider organisation.

In my own career I’ve been successful at a role I applied for a little while ago, and so for a year I’m going to go and be nosy in departments all over the place and try to fortify the DDaT profession wherever I go. It’s a good, meaty, generalist role that will hopefully help me build leadership skills. I’m immensely excited and a little bit apprehensive, but I guess that’s par for the course when starting something new.

Despite all this success I’ve been feeling really down this week. I’ve noticed my sleeping has been getting rougher lately, and I’m not eating as much fruit and veg as I should. It kind of winds me up, that these small things have such a massive impact. I should be more resilient, I think, more invulnerable. But I can’t pretend there’s not a difference in my ability to work on the days when I sleep well enough to makes eggs in toast compared to the days when I have to grab something from PrĂȘt on the way in.

These small, basic ways of taking care of oneself are at once so tedious and so important. It shouldn’t be like that. You shouldn’t be able to harm yourself in such immensely boring ways.

This feedback loop is bullshit.

Anyway. This is your semi-regular reminder to sleep 8 hours a night and at least eat a piece of fruit a day; and my regular reflection that I am better at doing these chores for my cat than I am for myself.

deep code

I’ve had an opportunity this week to really get into my code, and it’s completely revitalised and reminded me that really good coding needs dedicated deep time.

I’m working on a database-backed web service and this latest piece of work is to convert two spreadsheets of data into a single comprehensive source of truth, and then repeat it 7 times. I’ve broken down the problem logically; encapsulated it in classes and written decent tests. All of this is way less…pleasing, I think? Than the two days I spent on fixing up an issue a user had identified in a task she was trying to do.

Having code that’s two days old and being tried is really important, while having code that’s three days old and nobody can try is really frustrating. Unfortunately that’s the nature of this particular piece of work: I’m dealing with legacy from when the team was set up that’s developed organically. It’s a slow and considered piece, less flashy, less dramatic: the grinding down of a problem into smaller and smaller pieces.

My mentee has been another inspiration to me in this, because I think that sense of malaise – that the code doesn’t yet deliver value for anyone – might have been overwhelming if I hadn’t shown it to her and walked her through the complexity of it and seen her enjoy it. There is value – as pretentious as this is – in creating beautiful code; in creating something elegant to solve a problem. Responsibility flows neatly from one object to the next. Process follows process. Factories made entirely of code sweep silently into existence; construct themselves, follow instructions without question, and fold quietly away again.

This is all rather pretentious of course for code whose only purpose is to smoosh two spreadsheets into one and then read off the data. I think there’s something beautiful, though, in a well-made machine that does its work effectively, quietly, neatly. There’s poetry about steam trains, after all. I hope you’ll forgive a little love for my software.


I may finally be moving. Around the middle of the month I’m apparently getting a home tour – like when you go to a nice hotel and the porter walks you round and shows you how everything works.[mfn]I’m certain this is an Izzard bit but my Google-fu is failing me at the moment[/mfn] I’ve no actual date for moving, mind you – just an estate agent with the same sadistic streak as the parents who put presents under the tree two weeks before Christmas.

As the date creeps closer – or rather as the date-space, the cloud of potential future dates on which I’ll move, is reduced – I find myself putting off more and more. The gym is a really good example of this: I keep meaning to organise myself to go to the gym, but every time I start trying to understand the policy of moving gyms I just get dispirited. And it’s absurd, I know it is, but I am nevertheless unable to just start.

At the same time I’m suspicious of all ‘new starts’. There’s no new start anywhere. Wherever – whenever – you go, there you are. I’m not going to be a radically different person when I move house. The reason I want to go to the gym is because I’ve heard it helps with mental health – I am at peace, I think, with the way I look.

I’m not body positive, as I heard recently from a comedian, I’m body neutral. I ‘meh’ my body. It is the meatsack that makes transporting my brain around slightly easier.[mfn]Robotic body would be cooler, I think, but there’s also the whole unintended consequences of fundamentally transforming yourself into a creature that your brain doesn’t recognise and the consequent split in how you perceive yourself and the world[/mfn] But exercise isn’t the only thing I’ve been procrastinating over. I’m procrastinating over piano lessons; over chess club as I realise the incredible mission it would be to get in from my new place. I can feel myself drawing away from starting new things because of the fear that they won’t neatly wrap up when I move at the end of this season.

This may be a reflection of my brain: a drive for neatness in a world that is extremely not-neat. It’s a hangover as well of the thing I said I was suspicious of: I am purposefully not starting new things until I am in the new flat because they will otherwise be doomed to fail. I must start all new things together. This is not true, of course.

Alright. I guess I will go to the gym, then.

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