Monday, 31 August 2020

After twenty three weeks

It has now been around twenty three weeks of lockdown and the world has changed. The restrictions continue to ease, although the number of new cases per day is on the rise. Many decisions are being made about the future of the country, however I’m not going to write about those.

What I do want to write about is the weird message we are seeing in the papers about getting back to work. Setting aside the utter lack of empathy being shown - people are frightened - I want to take a quick look at the underlying assumptions in the message.

Firstly, there is an assumption that people aren’t working now. Because we aren’t in the office, we are slacking off or not working at all. Now clearly there are some jobs for which location is important (you can’t build a house remotely) but the modern office is perfectly capable of working remotely. Indeed, during this period I’ve seen my colleagues work harder than ever - putting in more hours, remaining better focused on delivering solutions. I myself went through a long stretch of working around 3 days worth of hours for every 2 calendar days, including over the weekends. And yet we’re hearing about “bone idle workers” staying at home and not helping the country recover. This narrative is simply not true and does a great disservice to the many workers around the country who have done everything they can to keep things going during a time of international crisis.

Secondly, there is an underlying assumption that returning to normal (ie as things were a year ago) is the ideal. For me, this is a long way from true. A year ago, I was travelling an awful lot and basically doing nothing but working. I was looking to change this before the pandemic hit, but now I’m certain. I have been stuck in one place for pushing six months now and that has been lovely. I haven’t had to get on the train, I haven’t had to run from location to location looking for the next person to meet. I’ve been at home - the place I’ve worked for and which is full of my stuff - and it has been great. Now I’m not certain I want to remain a remote worker, but I do know that the minimal commute (bed to sofa via shower) has been wonderful compared to getting on the tube every day for half an hour or more.

Not that I want things to be as they are right now. I would like to go to more than three locations and I would definitely like to be able to pick up new things and meet new people. However, I feel like my current life is a good starting point and I’d like to be able to add to it - not reset to the madness of my old life and work from there. I know a lot of people who feel this way, which makes the ongoing call to return to the bustle and noise of before hard to hear.

Underpinning the “back to the office” narrative is a push to get the economy running again. Of course, one would be forgiven for thinking the London economy is entirely shaped by sandwich shops. Maybe this is modern city life? Working hard so you can buy sandwiches from someone else, while the city around you slowly prices all service industry people out of living there?

Myself, I see a different story. It’s about control. Get back into the office quick - before you realise you actually have some options. Don’t start making any decisions for yourself because you might notice that this unique event has stopped The Machine long enough to take a look at the world and think that maybe this isn’t what you want. Maybe we don’t want to all be running around all the time like ants.

Control is in the micro - we only trust you’re working because you’re in the office where we can see you - and the macro. The current economic system doesn’t benefit many. I am fortunately enough to be in the ranks of people who are doing ok, but there are many people who are chewed up and spat out by society. And there are a very few who benefit from the status quo - the queen ants in the analogy above. The same people who seem very keen for us all to be back in the office where they can see us...

There isn't a conclusion to this post. Like all of these lockdown posts, I’m recording my feelings and the way I’m thinking. At the moment I’m using this time to think about what I really want from my life, what I’m worth (both in the market and in a general existential way) and what this means for my future. What I want is definitely different from what I had.




This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

After seventeen weeks

It has been seventeen weeks of lockdown. I’ve taken a few weeks off writing these posts because, frankly, I lost all enthusiasm. Lockdown has been a long, dark time and that’s before getting to the things that have happened during this time and I took a bit of time to work through how I’m feeling.

The answer is: rough.

I’ve been staring at the same four walls for seventeen long weeks. In that time, I’ve had almost no human contact outside of the supermarket and phone calls. I’m a solitary person most of the time anyway, but that is by choice. This enforced isolation has eroded my patience and sanity and I’m definitely ready for a change.

More significant though is the way life is on pause. I, like many others, have had an enforced change of pace and life patterns and that has caused me to reflect on what I do with my time and what I want to be doing. Where I’m spending my time and energy and where long-term change is needed. I’ve come up with a lot of ideas for things to change, and I’m ready to do them, but I’m just not allowed. That was a problem for a while, but now my patience has snapped and I’m getting increasingly twitchy.

There are lots of factors contributing to how I feel which I can’t write about here, but the upshot is I’m finding myself pacing like a caged lion.

However. However. All times pass. This lockdown is easing (as I write this I’m in a coffee shop - something I’ve missed more than I realised over the last nearly 4 months) and things are going to change again. I’ve made some life choices, I face some new challenges, and while some parts of my life are still a long way from where I want them, finally I’m starting to feel something I’ve not felt in a long while. Hope.

Time to face life properly again.



This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

After eleven weeks

It has been eleven weeks of lockdown.

More importantly, it has been two weeks since the murder of George Floyd and last week particularly has seen a vast increase in the Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations around the world. 

As a white person who has grown up in safety and prosperity, I have nothing insightful to add to this international outcry of pain and anger. The best I can do here is voice my support and use my platform (such as it is) to encourage those who read this blog to engage with what is going on.

I’d like to recommend everyone listen to this song - Black by Dave, performed at this year’s Brit awards. Listen closely to the lyrics then reflect.

   

 If you’d like to do something and you’re not sure what, you can find places to donate and other things here: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/



This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

After ten weeks

Ten weeks down. I assume Other People still exist physically as well as in this little box of lights.

So this week I finished a small repair project - I fixed a broken multi-plug adaptor. This has taken about 5 years (because I dismantled it then forgot about it) and about £25 of screws but I finally have a working adaptor that I don't really need (because I replaced it years ago) which is worth about £13, as well as close to 1500 tiny screws which I'm sure I'll use someday.

This is my life now.

Fixed gangway



This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.

Monday, 25 May 2020

After nine weeks

Nine weeks down, and I skipped eight for Reasons.

After nine weeks of very heavy work, I am now facing a whole week off. Much of the time is going to be spent resting and recovering as I am definitely exhausted and need some proper recuperation. However I don’t intend to be asleep all week, so I need a few things in mind to fill the time and this brings me to one of the favoured topics from the early days of lockdown - self-improvement. Back in the beginning, a very common way for people to face the lockdown was with the idea of learning something new - languages were a very common suggestion - and I remember looking on these suggestions with envy as I completed my tenth 12 hour working day on the trot. However, now I have some time so it is worth having a bit of a think about what it means to me these days. Then I can ignore my thinking and spend the time being kind to myself.

In the before time, I used the act of leaving my home as a trigger for shifting my mental state. I wanted to write something, so I went out to sit in a coffee shop and put digital pen to paper. It gave me a good separation between rest and doing things and in the current climate of no coffee shops and staying indoors, it’s something I’ve noticed. I need to build a new way to get going mentally - ideally without relying on caffeine.

There are three things I think I need to look at in the world of self-improvement and I hope to be able to kickstart all three this week. The first is programming. This has taken a significant backseat over the last year or so, and doubly-so since lockdown started. The division between work and life has always been thin for me, and lockdown has hit that very hard so avoiding even vaguely work-related things has been a must for the last few months. However programming is something I enjoy and I’ve got a few things I want to get done, so I need to figure this out.

Next up is exercise. I’ve been far too physically idle since lockdown began and I need to fix this. No great insights here. I’ve got a skipping rope and a nearby park. I’ll start there.

Finally, I think I will pick up on my reading. I used to read extensively on the train and the tube, back when I travelled around on those things. But now I don’t and I haven’t really found a good gap to get back to books. I also need to pick up something edifying - too much of my time at the moment is spent pondering pointless or unhelpful things so something something meaning of life would be a far better use of my brain cycles as well as enhancing my pretentious nerd credibility.

So this week is: do some programming, do some exercise and do some reading. Today I slept most of the day after a night’s insomnia. Great start!



This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.

Monday, 11 May 2020

After seven weeks

Seven weeks down, more to go and I’m struggling to write anything this week.

Everyone is having a difficult time during lockdown. Some folk are carrying problems in their life. Some are trying to keep sane in a small space with children climbing over them. Some are entirely alone. There are people who have it much, much worse than any of this.

It feels churlish for me to complain. I have too much to do for sure. But I'm not in financial difficulty. I'm physically healthy. I’m in no more physical danger than the majority of people. However, this week has been the week things have hit me pretty hard.

I didn't come into the lockdown period fresh. I was exhausted - counting the things I needed to do before I could take a proper holiday from work. Get some time back and spend some time breathing. During this time I've been on the front line, working through all manner of things to do my job effectively and that has included long hours and weekends without break. I'm far from the heaviest affected but that doesn’t mean all is well or anything is sustainable. I'm certainly not getting a rest.

I'm keeping this short this week. I was going to talk about ethics in modern software engineering, but I don't think I can face it at the moment. I'm going to be a bit kinder to myself today and take some time doing the things I want to do because I need to give myself some space right now. No clever insights or anything, but that's not the point of these posts at the moment. This is a weekly(ish) diary of my experiences during the coronavirus and the UK lockdown. This week I am low.



This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

After six weeks

Six weeks down (and yes, I skipped week five). Today is the forty-third day of lockdown - a month and a half with extremely limited human contact. At this point I have come to believe that people are actually faces in boxes who come with a mute button.

Isolation aside, I want to write something about finishing things, prompted by this cartoon from The Oatmeal. When is something good enough? We are under a lot of pressure at the moment, which means whatever needs doing, needs doing quickly. Whether it's writing code, or writing papers I've seen (and experienced myself) paralysis around completion scuppering good work time and again in my career and this seems more prevalent the more senior I become.

Perfect is the enemy of good, as the saying goes (both Voltaire and Confucius had things to say on this). Trying to make something perfect can stop it being put out. Just as with a software project (or indeed any project), if it hasn’t been released it doesn’t have value*. Agile preaches to release early to start gathering feedback and realising value and it seems to me that this should hold true for written documentation, writing briefs, and so on.

I can think of a few reasons why this doesn't work in the same way. A digital project is reaching potentially thousands of people, and each will have a different experience. A written paper will be reaching a handful of people. It's unlikely these people will re-read your paper after some corrections, so iteration doesn't really work in this context. Each  "transaction" has a greater value, and that value is to you personally rather than to the company and nobody wants to risk looking like a fool.

This line of thinking goes to an interesting place. Why does writing something take time? Because it’s frightening. Why? Because it is personal, and makes us vulnerable. However, speaking for myself, I'd rather receive information earlier and less polished. My threshold for "good enough" is lower than those who report to me. I suspect that is true for those I report to as well.

As I turn this over in my mind, I find it keeps coming back to the same point - corporate culture and safety. I hope I create an environment where people feel ok to make themselves vulnerable. Regardless of my success (or otherwise) in this, I know plenty of people at different levels who do not. It seems to me that accidentally creating a culture of fear is detrimental both oneself and others for very practical reasons, as well as it being a crappy thing to do.

Muse over. In the meantime, the route around this is to learn to write and have confidence in one's ability to string words together. It's an important skill and why I write this blog.

* Gross oversimplification, of course, ignoring learning and so on, but even an investigation has a "done" state which is analogous here



This post is from a series of shorter posts, written roughly once a week while the country is on lockdown to capture my feelings and reactions as we go. They are all tagged with coronavirus.