S03E02: Annual leave

Getting all up in the strategy

Some things have happened this week!

My last weeknotes were only on Tuesday, so these will be brief. I say this at the outset, knowing full well that by the time you and I reach the end it could feel like longer.


1I wrote more words than I’ve ever continuously written, and it’s like edging over an enormous canyon. There are so many more words that I could pour into this thing and still never finish it.

I’ve seen a lot of family this week — more on that later — and mentioning that I’m writing a book has been a great opportunity to practice my elevator pitch.

“The second worst book ever written”

is a good hook, but then I need to get into the details and it gets fuzzy, because

“using maps to represent distance along a diffusion curve with a second dimension in terms of customer-facing value, using as metaphor climate and tactics, in order for you to produce a cogent and coherent strategy”

is less accessible. More work to be done. Writing a book is apparently not simply writing a book.

2I’ve started playing chess again, and I am having to learn it properly. There are a number of openings that you’ve just got to learn, although there’s an exciting new form of chess called Chess960 which forces players to be more creative. It looks very interesting; so far I’ve only played one match of that type:


The positions throw you off, but I found it a very enjoyable variant and closer to what I’m trying to learn and put into The Book, which is the idea that context-specific gameplay is more important than copying someone else’s ideas.

The state of the board at the end of the match. Black’s two rooks and King were placed there originally

I started looking at chess again as a way to meet people, but if I’m honest the first club I went to was just a lot of dudes who are very intense about the chess. Maybe I should stick with it.

3A friend of mine flaked at the last minute, which absolutely knocked me for six. I thought I was less emotionally raw, but apparently all it takes for me to question my self-worth is someone turning down an invite to spend time with me poking around in museums. I’m annoyed at myself at how deeply it affected me. On the flip side, though, I’m kind of glad to feel something: I was worried about numbness and drawing back. This is painful but good.

Speaking of friends: hurrah for a bonding moment on a train going through cryptic crossword clues. I picked up a book of cryptics from Bletchley, and they’re just a horrid mess of the very simple⁰ and the absolutely bloody impossible¹. It’s more obvious to me now why people who can do these had the sort of corkscrew minds required to do the work of cracking codes and ciphers.

If you have any ideas, please write in

4I mentioned my referral to someone in my family, and they said: “Oh, sure. We always thought you might be on that spectrum.” They didn’t want to explore it further because they were worried about the stigma.

I feel two slightly contradictory feels about this. The first is gratitude, because if I am, I know for a fact that having that label in school would have got me even more bullied than I was. Kids, or at least kids I went to school with, were nasty and vindictive, and autism has always been something I’ve seen mocked.

The second is annoyance, because if I am then knowing slightly earlier than now might have been helpful because then I could have found tools and coping mechanisms earlier.

In any case, no word yet on the outcome of that referral. The flowchart for treatment has a whole world of “No” in it. They called it a step by step guide though, which fits neatly into my back-to-work thinking as I prepare for work tomorrow.

5Last thing, I promise. I’ve been approached by a couple of people about spending some time on secondment with them. I’m really, really excited about it and I’m going to be speaking to my line manager tomorrow. In other work news, the person I was mentoring on technical things passed their test and will be joining my organisation! Lots of fun and I’m hoping to continue mentoring them on the technical stuff so that we can develop together.

That’s all. My only Netflix recommendation this week is Daniel Sloss’ two specials, Dark and Jigsaw. I really don’t agree with his overly idealistic ideas about love and romance, but it’s very funny material delivered by a master of the genre.

⁰ Ate three notes (3)

¹ Admit case against top player, we hear (7)


Feeling of the week: non-stop

To counter this feeling, or just to get to grips with where I’m spending my time, I’ve started using Toggl to track my time. I’m trying to keep it high level for the moment: just whether it’s product work, strategic work, or customer operations. All of these have value, but I think with my new role I should be skewing towards the strategic.⁰

Song of the week: non-stop

Monday I spent the morning training a new team on our flagship product, filmapp. There were a couple of minor things that I should have set up beforehand that I’m absolutely kicking myself about, but they were fixable in the moment and the rest of the presentation went smoothly. One bit of feedback was that the system was “intuitive” — which is absolutely my favourite kind of feedback.

Back in the office I caught up on emails. Since logging my time I’ve noticed I spend at least an hour a day on emails, so I’m going to make a concerted effort to do that in blocks rather than in blobs. One of those emails was confirmation that we’ve secured two more Fast Streamers starting in March, and I’m absolutely over the moon. We’ve got a number of juicy opportunities for them and I absolutely cannot wait to meet them.¹

Tuesday I got to do some coding!

I was digging out some numbers about users and applications to support a decision about scaling. That meant writing database queries, and man alive there’s no better feeling than just getting stuck into a couple of hours of data munging.²

Who’s with me?

We had our monthly SMT meeting and everything appears to be going well. I’m aiming to increase our staff by two in the next three months: one junior developer and one customer operations team member. “Customer operations team member” is a horrible mouthful, so they’re going to be COps. Specifically a COps practitioner, who’ll eventually lead a team of COps. Hard-bitten, user-focussed, problem-solving COps. They’ll drink tea like it’s water. They’ll get to the root of a problem like armillaria ostoyae that feed exclusively on problem trees.

I said armillaria ostoyae. *taps mic* is this thing on?

We closed out the day with backlog grooming. More hard challenges from my colleagues that ended in really fruitful discussions and a rejigging of future priorities.

Wednesday a big meeting was canceled, which on the one hand was a massive bummer — we’ve been gearing up for it for a couple of weeks — but on the other gave me an opportunity to talk to the dev team about upcoming work. They’ve started to limit their WIP at my gentle prompting⁴ and have had real success. Among other things there’s been an increase in team communication, since if WIP is full you have no choice but to go unblock it before starting anything new.

Yay for WIP limits!

I had a great check-in with another new client, who’s expecting to go live very soon. There are a few tweaks to be made — local by-laws that applicants need to be aware of, for example — but they’re otherwise ready to go.

We also tried out our totally new, totally awesome automated instance generator. It works in a totally boring, plain English, exactly how-it’s-supposed-to-work way.

Boring is brilliant when you launch a new product for the first time. It’s exactly what you want. I am very nervous of people who like being in chaotic situations.

Thursday back to uni, and an in-class test. But time for a coffee with one of my oldest mentors⁵ first and a discussion about an MBA. She’s set me some challenges for our next meeting. If anyone has recommendations of finance books for manager types, please put them in the comments!

Friday I worked from home on the technology strategy. Coincidentally, the Government’s Shared Services strategy was launched at the same time. It’s a joke of a document that literally puts user needs last…

…tries to plan the next ten years, and is rammed with nonsense jargon that sounds like it came directly from a consultancy.

Still, it was helpful in showing me what not to do, so there’s a silver lining there. It also hints at what systems government might be buying in the future, so that’s a good market signal to build in to analysis.

As the afternoon rolled around I got a chance to preview some technical debt. It’s some really great work that improves the speed of our service, and I’m very excited to get it rolled out next week.

I ended the week on a massive high: I headed to see my sister’s new flat, and took along an enormous tiramisu made by Antonio, who owns an Italian store in Lewisham. It was decadent. Go there. Buy some. Tell him I sent you.

⁰ I’m absolutely willing to be proven wrong on this

¹ Full disclosure: I was a Fast Streamer and I had my issues with the programme. But I can say with honesty that it consistently turns out thoughtful, curious, eager people who learn quickly and get stuff done. If you’re interested in offering a secondment leave me a comment and I’ll dig out the email address for you.

² I looked up “munging” out of idle curiosity. I do not recommend you do the same. The definition starts “Go to a graveyard” and let’s face it, there’s no way it’s going to get better after that.³

³ How on earth munging can be associated with data and the definition above, of which we will not speak, is totally beyond me.

⁴ Read: me furiously limiting my own WIP and suggesting it as an experiment in retros.