S07E09: Slow time

Something I rediscover every week is that policy works in slower time. I am finding it a real struggle to wean myself off the instant serotonin hit you get from releasing things minute-by-minute. Luckily, I know this isn’t unique to me: Camille Fournier’s book The Manager’s Path prepared me for this realisation.

It doesn’t make it less frustrating, but it does make it easier to manage.

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S07E07: Performance review

Yes, that’s right. It’s time to ask for feedback, trying to phrase a request that starts out like this:

“I’m looking for your opinion on my strengths and, perhaps more importantly, my weaknesses areas for growth”

…and is iterated to

“Hurt me. Tell me you hate me. Tell me I’m terrible at my job. Please just give me some critical feedback, anything, because this parade of nothing but lovely compliments must be what Hell is like…

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Weeknotes S07E04: Knowledge wants to be free

I’m writing a position paper for someone senior at the moment, and I’ve had a really good week with it. It feels like the best asynchronous working I’ve ever done – putting something out for folks to comment on and getting really considered, really thoughtful feedback. I’m not going to incorporate all of it – as I said last week, I do think that part of leading effectively is getting input and then making a decision, even if you know it’s not going to make everyone happy.

I got a blog published on Monday and the response has been really fantastically good – working in the open (on stuff that we can be open about) continues to be the absolute best way to improve uptake and sell the product. I have missed blogging officially, and this definitely feels good. I’ve also been working on an internal presentation for my boss and struggling to get his voice down – it’s a lot drier than mine, and a bit more serious. His style is also quite different to mine, and I’m really enjoying the challenge of trying to embody someone else. We shall see how it goes next week. All of it is reminding me that I enjoy, and am good at, writing. Also, this tweet from Kit –

– which I’ve been blushing about since Thursday but is a really nice reinforcement. I would like to ghostwrite, and if I can apply these talents to getting a book like this published, then I think that would be an almighty success. For myself (though I wonder if publicly volunteering to ghostwrite renders one more ghastly than ghostly) but also for everyone who needs it.

My mentee is going great guns. She’s brilliant, and I’m really enjoying the experience of being able to advise someone against the mistakes I’ve previously made. In this case, the question was whether to rewrite the entire codebase of a working, though badly-written, app. My answer was no: if it works, add tests so you can be sure it still works, and then start slicing it up. All models are wrong, but a good mental model of the code is easier to build if the code you’re modelling is smaller to start with. It’s why learning more about things is hard and simple caricatures are preferred (not preferable). A mental model of an elephant is easy; a mental model of a herd of elephants is easy; a mental model of 16 elephants and the interplay of the relationships, history, hierarchies and so on is a full-time job. Same with code. So we slice things up into classes, expose simple methods and attributes, and then we only deal with those things at the higher level of abstraction.

I’m still teaching math, and finding it as interesting as ever. Video calls are not my preferred method, and if this goes on much longer I’ll need to buy a whiteboard or a tablet and pen, but it’s still a really enjoyable way to spend an hour a week. I’ve got some knowledge, and knowledge wants to be free, and sharing that knowledge around seems to be the theme of this blog post and I’ve literally only just realised this as I wrote it, holy smokes.

Weeknoting is so damn good.

S06E20: All change please, all change

Two things ended this week. A role I’ve wanted to do for years and only ended up doing for nine months. And an epic chess game with Dan. I like the way that they finished at the same time – although, of course, this is confirmation bias. Lots of other things didn’t finish, so it’s entirely possible I’m just grasping for things that fit the pattern I’m trying to build.

Facing the prospect of two weeks off, I am struck again by the existentialist horror of responsibility. I know if I don’t plan things I will default into wasting time. And I know there’s a self-care aspect to wasting time, and there’s a productive way to waste time, but neither of those are embodied in me eating a family bag of crisps and binge-watching Netflix for a week. A couple of days, sure, but I know my default is to just passively wait for something to happen to me. I am going to do my best, on this occasion, to do things.

My lovely team got together and said lovely things to me. Even more kindly they did it on Thursday so, at the end of the day on Friday, I could quietly slip out of the door without any fanfare. I have been thinking about why this is, and it seems to be how I leave any relationship. I want to do it on good terms, but I also don’t want fuss, because fuss means emotional expression and that is a real struggle for me. Consider a party. If one mentions one is leaving, then people will say “Oh no! Already? It’s so early!” and one feels a duty to explain oneself. The cat needs feeding. The crocodile needs brushing. One has left the stove on and the cat’s dinner will be quite burnt. It is rare to find people who say, “Right! Jolly good, lovely to see you, safe journey and au revoir.” Instead, there’s a lot of emotions to manage. I know this is one of those good problems to have – oh no, my friends protest at me leaving – but I think it’s still valid to say it’s exhausting to have to explain multiple times that you’re leaving, yes, you’re really leaving, sorry to disappoint but by this time the crocodile’s almost certainly eaten the cat…

And so again, as always, I slip quietly away, so as not to face up to – I think the disappointment, even feigned, of people who’d like me to stay.

As I look ahead to the next season I am thinking about whether to refocus these notes to be a more effective reflection on work. I’m not sure yet: I like the freedom, but the lack of constraints also produces all sorts of work that’s not necessarily useful for me. Valuable, but not useful. I’m also looking forward to writing a little code again, and I’ve updated my automated graduate rotator with some more content. Next step is to thing about the tricky things like a data architecture; the end-to-end system design; and the words to mask the complexity of what’s going on.