Weeknotes S06E07

Failing fast

1. Let’s start with the big one. I’ve asked to be moved back to an engineering role. I tried out the role I’m doing for three months, and it’s not worked out. I’m not stopping immediately: that would be an awful thing to do to anyone. But the wheels are in motion for moving on. I’m going to talk here about why it’s not a good fit, what I’ve learned, and how I feel about giving up on a job.

There are a few reasons this wasn’t the right fit for me. The first is the time, and to be honest I knew this going in. The role is one that is intensely ‘on’ all the time, with long hours assumed. That should have been a warning flag, because I have a view to work that could be considered – well, let’s be charitable and call it ‘efficiency-seeking’. It makes me a fairly effective engineer, because I can always find more things to automate. The problems I’ve been working with for the last few weeks are not automatable, but they’re also not complex. They’re just hard people problems, dealing with competing desires and agendas. This is pretty normal, at a certain level: there’s only so many resources to go round and so much that we’re expected (and want!) to do.

Me and my brain, well. We’re not so good at the people problems. We’re not so good at the games and the things not said and the intent behind the words.

This I probably should have predicted, but it still came as a shock to me how poorly people communicate. I’m almost at the point of asking whether even neurotypical people understand each other, or if you’re just confidently assuming intent and empathising and all that sort of thing.

Something else my brain struggles with is unbounded scope. Vague things that can’t be solved for any value of solved, just a continuous evolving crop of stuff that arises like zits on my teenage face: without warning and at the worst possible moment. Just when you think you’ve squeezed all the pus from a particular issue, blam. You wake up and there it is in your inbox.

I…may have mixed this metaphor a little too much.

With that being said, I’ve had a chance to see how things operate at a higher level than usual. Seeing the difficulties that senior staff deal with is brutal, and a reminder that kindness and generosity are undervalued and underused. This experience has helped develop that undeveloped empathy gland.

I’ve had a chance to work with someone genuinely disruptive and from whom I’ve learned a significant amount. I’ve had some of my most interesting, most productive disagreements in the last few months and it’s helped refine what I believe about how to manage and run technology.

And I’m still immensely lucky to work in an organisation where I can fail at something. Alright, let’s not say fail. Let’s say…tried. Where I can try something out and not be great at it and then I can stop doing it. I’ve got a huge advantage on this front, because I’ve got a backup skill, but people moving around the organisation and applying skills from different disciplines is really powerful – and people being free to try something adds huge value and buys goodwill with credit you can’t really touch or feel or put in a bank account.

In short, I’m really proud of myself for trying and for learning something. As I write this I worry what certain people might read into this: a lack of grit or resilience; an unwillingness to make the hard decisions. Maybe so. I’m going to publish it anyway.

2. I had a high quality mentoring session with M. We’re making a tool that is, possibly, a low-quality, public-sector version of Eventbrite but worse. Please don’t ask us to let you use it for things. It’s bad. We’re doing it entirely because it’s helping my mentee better understand models and their various interactions, as well as how to start chunking up pieces of work into manageable packages. We had an interesting argument about user story vs user journey – whether we should code an entire user story (but miss out functionality) or code a user journey, even if it’s unattached to a wider user need.

Mentoring: it makes you rethink your own biases.

3. The flat is [see weeknotes passim]

4. I had my weekly mathematics students and the lesson felt crisper and bolder. It was much closer to pure lecturing this week, but everyone had done their homework and we also started on time. I’d also had a non-alcoholic gin beforehand, which obviously loosened me up significantly.

We covered asymptotes, which meant introducing notation for as x approaches z, a concept that I first encountered watching Mean Girls, and then in A-level mathematics. Yes folks that’s right, Mean Girls was made more than 15 years ago. You’re welcome to go and have a little cry. Lord knows I did.

We worked through asymptotes from first principles, although as I type this I realise I didn’t explain how we’d find the turning point. It’s fine. It’ll give me a helpful jumping off point for the next lesson.

Asymptotes, by the way, are the lines that go on for ever and never ever touch the axis. They get so close that the distance between them is infinitesimally small but never actually touch.

5. I gathered advice from people I trust, I considered what they said, and then I formed an opinion and committed to it. I’m quite pleased with myself for that.

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