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Weeknote #4 — NDAs

Exhausted. This week has felt like a constant race against time with deadlines to hit — some this week, lots more in the coming few weeks — and the need to keep so many streams of work moving forward. Friday particularly felt like I’ve spent all of my time going from conversation to conversation, picking up new actions and not having much chance to regroup, take stock and start getting them done.

I’m currently talking to no less than nine vendors about various aspects of the programme I am running, with at least two more being lined up for an initial chat. Getting to the point where I can even talk in detail about the business with one of them is a slog:

  1. Agree we want to take the discussion further
  2. Fill out an non-disclosure agreement (NDA) template and send it to the vendor for them to put on their letterhead and send back to you
  3. Deal with any queries between the vendor and your legal department (and occasionally get given the vendor’s NDA form which results in further back-and-forth)
  4. Receive the signed PDF
  5. Get the legal department to countersign the PDF
  6. Send the final version of the document back to the vendor, encrypted in a zip file along with the materials you wanted to talk about in the first place
  7. Dig out the mobile number of your vendor contact and send them the password for the zip file

Multiply this by the number of vendors involved and it’s been difficult to sit back, relax and say I’m done with work for the day unless I’m sure that the ball isn’t in my court with any of these.

The work itself is as fun as ever and it’s great to be running a programme that is dealing with the entire IT stack. I’ve been in discussions about architecture, networking, cyber security/IT risk and data loss prevention, virtualisation, desktop hardware, end-user problem diagnosis, helpdesk escalation channels, internal communications and marketing and the end user experience. And that’s just this week.

We’ve been experimenting with using BlueJeans as a desktop videoconferencing tool and it has blown me away compared to my experience of Skype for Business. The video quality is incredible, it has nice little features like ‘hold space bar to talk’ (making me feel like I’m messing with a CB radio) and the screen-sharing works great. Our daily team meeting was a little bit Brady Bunch at first but we soon got used to it.

Taking a step back, I’ve been thinking a lot this week about what ’my thing’ is — joining the dots, making connections between different people and pieces of information etc., which is… a little nebulous to say the least. I brand myself as a Programme Manager and that’s the role I’m currently undertaking for my client, but it would be great to get to the bottom of whether dot-joining really is a thing in its own right and how I could move to doing more of it. I think Jen Dary’s appearance on the Track Changes podcast I listened to last week is still sinking in:

Jen: … led me to a little café on Court Street where I made a very long list of every job I’ve ever had, both volunteer and pay. And I wrote next to each job my favorite thing about it, using, like, a little phrase with a verb, so maybe my work on a farm was like teaching kids how to shear a sheep, right? … And you know, the reason that I say that is because there may be people listening to this who have no idea what their next step is, and what they think their next step is is a title, and that is bullshit. I will just tell you that. People say titles and they mean lots of different things by them. … And so the three most popular verbs on that list were “leading,” “connecting,” and “writing.” So I thought, cool. If I stay at arc, I need to push for a role in which that is my focus. If I go to another company, I need to look for a role in which that is my focus.

Rich: So you broke it down.

Jen: Yeah.

Rich: You’re not looking for “senior vice president — ”

Jen: Exactly.

Rich: Of blah blah blah.

Jen: I’m looking for verbs. What the hell do I wanna spend my billable hours doing?

(I love the way that all of the Track Changes podcasts have transcripts. Classy.)

School governing has taken a back-seat this week and I have a bit of catching up to do. I had to miss a check-in meeting with all of the Headteachers and Chairs of Governors in our town on Thursday morning which never feels good. Some of our governors are collaborating with a teacher on a staff survey which has a great set of questions compared to previous years; hopefully it’ll give us a great insight into how the staff feel about the school.

Had a ‘real life’-focusing conversation with a friend who turns 50 next week. Like me, he also has two boys and his whole family are effectively 10 years down the road from where we are now. When we met at work eight years ago I remember him telling me his worries about not spending enough time hanging out with his kids — not being ‘too busy’ to kick a football around with them at the weekend — and today he told me that he thinks he addressed it just in time. My boys are at great ages, 10 and 8, and I know I need to prioritise my time with them before their childhood slips through my fingers and they’re off doing their own thing.

The eldest boy ran the Hertfordshire Primary Cross Country race and won it (yay!) which means we’ll be off to the national final in Loughborough on 24 March. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the race but I heard it was an exciting one. He’s got his final Chiltern League race tomorrow morning and is in with a great chance of winning the league overall. Fingers crossed!

Kids football last weekend was completely freezing, but at least the sun was shining. I’m reffing the U11 match this weekend, which is great midwinter job as you get to run around a lot. I haven’t done it in quite a while so am a little nervous; the introduction of the offside rule from this age group has made a difficult job a lot harder.


All my Dan Carlin Christmases came early. No sooner had I finished a six-hour dose of Hardcore History on the Celtic Holocaust, along comes not only a 4.5-hour episode on the history of watching other people’s pain for entertainment, but also a new second podcast feed of ‘addendum’ material. Dan says that listeners don’t want these short, quirkier shows in the main feed but I’ve always liked them — they are what Hardcore History was in the early days. Good work.

Michael Lopp has a great post about being a leader, taking on too many things and the consequences of not being able to keep up with your commitments.

This interview with Quincy Jones doesn’t pull many punches. There must be something about being at the sunset of your life where you have less of a reason not to say what you really think. The Remainiacs podcast recently said the same thing about Ken Clarke after his speech in the House of Commons. He’s the current ‘Father of the House’ (the person with the longest continuous service in the Commons) and it must be refreshing to be able to talk with such radical candour.

Troy Hunt talked about responses to his view about whether coders should take a ‘Hippocratic oath’:

I’ve thought about this topic often since reading After The Gold Rush by Steve McConnell which argued for turning software development into a ’true profession’. With technology seeping into pretty much everything it’s amazing that you still can (and people do) hire a developer after just an interview or two and then let them loose on all your code. I have always thought that we haven’t had enough major disasters yet for a single code of conduct or set of standard professional certifications to emerge, but Troy has a point in that many people now work on the code we run and it’s therefore hard to hold individuals to account. RBS were famously fined for a major systems failure that impacted their customers but there are a lot of contributing factors to what went wrong; other than the fine and (I assume) internal disciplinary procedures there has been no wide-scale change to the way we do things.

On the subject of accountability, Rich Ziade noted on What We Chat About When We Chat About Chat that our audio virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa and ‘OK Google’ (is that what it’s called?) will never get to the point where they’ll give you true advice as none of the companies would want to take on the liability if things went wrong. I’d never thought of that.

Reading-wise, I finished up Mark Webber’s autobiography (when times are busy it’s nice to have an easy-reading book like this to turn to) and have continued with the excellent IT Infrastructure Architecture by Sjaak Laan, which reminds me of the enjoyment I used to get in reading about computer internals from 1980s computer magazines as a boy.


Congratulations to Paul Downey on his new role. The outpouring of love and respect in the replies this tweet are amazing, and better than any CV:

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