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.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

After four weeks

Four weeks down. Another three (or more?) to go.

The last few weeks I’ve been writing about work. That has been interesting, but if I’m facing the better part of two months (or more?) without any direct human contact I need to think more about my own mental health and look at my own reactions.

I have been working long hours and weekends since the outbreak began, and in a way I’m grateful for this. It has kept me focused and given me purpose, which has meant time has passed rather than dragged, or worse. However, I came into this period exhausted and there is only so much a change is as good as a rest. Unfortunately the nature of my current work makes taking time off extremely difficult, so now I’m feeling pretty trapped.

Fortunately, this very problem (and a few large mugs of coffee) has been a catalyst for some significant changes in our approach. Why can’t I take time off? Because we’re nowhere near a business as usual position. This is a problem for many reasons beyond my own need to take some time off so solving it should be very valuable for all kinds of reasons. So how do I solve this wider problem?

Thus begins the journey to re-craft the project into something that looks like a more conventional programme. Once I'd opened that box, it's amazing how many other related things started falling out - governance, technical decision making, staffing questions, etc etc. Lots of the leadership team are grappling with some tricky situations and I have a hope that pushing through these questions will put us on track to finally resolve some core issues and give us a framework for discussing the rest. Then maybe I can take a break.

The details here are something for another time. For now I'm returning to something I wrote about years ago - asking (and answering) the simple question can lead to some very interesting results. I really wish I could remember my own advice more clearly sometimes.

Oh, I was supposed to be writing about myself rather than work. Well, I guess I'm fine. How are you?



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.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

After three weeks

Three weeks of lockdown complete. Last week we were trying to bring some sense of order out of the maelstrom. This week, it has been pleasing to see some success. We definitely have clearer lines of communication, and we have far fewer conflicting priorities and while this week has still been rough, it has lost the frantic and desperate edge. I’m taking that as a success.

The work this week has been about reaching out and having a clearer voice in the narrative. I’ve written before about the problems with prioritisation. After analysis, it seems our key problem is that of our four workstreams (feature development, technical debt, bugfixes, onboarding) only one is being discussed upstream. Predictably, this is feature development. Then it reaches the operational team and the other three streams are brought in and prioritised with insufficient visibility and it looks like we are delivering slowly, which is totally unfair.

This week I had enough clear air to write out exactly where this work is coming from and the impact of it being prioritised (or not). It’s a first step, but we are slowly working towards a world where the impact and consequences of prioritisation decisions are being felt by the people who are making them, not by the poor folk downstream who have to implement them. Still work in progress, but I feel hopeful.

I’d like to push this a lot further. Rather than constant demands, I’d like us to be making clear statements of intent for our delivery (ie a roadmap) and then we can very clearly articulate the problems caused by changes in priority. It is, of course, fine for other areas to have different priorities and to roll things out their schedule but often, if these groups are upstream in the project it means their priorities are de-facto our priorities as we have to react. By having a voice in the narrative we can make clear the impact of their decisions on the delivery of the whole service.

The next step for this is for there to be a clear project roadmap, which will start to map dependencies on any given change, make it less likely we’ll get ambushed by a connected group doing something unexpected, and enable us to plan rather than just react.

I’m using the word "clear" a lot. It’s almost like "how do I bring clarity?" is the key underlying question here.

Anyway, work isn’t going away and more on this next week no doubt. How am I doing? It’s Easter weekend - a four day bank holiday - and I’ve had a really hard time relaxing. I know there are people working over the weekend while I’m having a rest, and I know everyone is doing a different job so it’s not comparable. I’m also aware that I’ve been feeling physical symptoms of stress and anxiety (shortness of breath, tightness in the chest making eating difficult - it’s a barrel of laughs) which has been an interesting and new experience. I know I’ve more than done my part, including working through other weekends and a ridiculous number of hours in-week. Despite all this I feel very guilty at having been resting this weekend when others have been working.



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.