The last time I was in South Africa was in August, the middle of winter. This week it was flipped around as I left the sub-zero temperatures of the UK for a scorching 32°C in Johannesburg. All of the senior IT staff in my part of the company were coming together to spend two days focused on our strategy. It’s a great way to kick off the year.
The topic of ‘load shedding’ is on everybody’s lips when I work with my colleagues in South Africa. There is not enough capacity in the electricity grid to meet demand, so the national power utility, Eskom, deliberately cuts power to avoid a larger issue1. People suddenly disappear from video calls and reappear once their back-up generators and batteries have kicked in. Back in August I didn’t think about the issues, but this time the problems were really noticeable. In the car journey from the airport to the hotel there were so many junctions without working traffic lights2. On the first day of my trip I was in a supermarket when all of a sudden we were plunged into darkness for half a minute or so before the power came back on. The same thing happened every day in my hotel, as well as a couple of times at our conference venue. Most large businesses have back-up generators, but not everyone is so lucky to have one in their home. Looking at the charts from The Outlier, it’s easy to see how bad the situation has become:
Businesses in the mall next to my hotel were advertising their ability to keep going during the blackout periods:
People are stoic, but it must be horrible to live with the ongoing problems, chipping away and your psyche on a day-to-day basis. I think it would wear me down.
I’ve worked in and around the organisation for nearly 13 years and still love it. The company has such a wonderful culture. A visit to Johannesburg always feels like a homecoming — a chance to reconnect with people I know and care about, as well as meet new faces. This time was no different. I spent three days of the week in the office and two at a conference venue in Houghton. It was so valuable to be there with everyone.
This was a week in which I:
- Enjoyed the two-day strategy workshop. Our first day was spent listening to and asking questions of senior leaders from our business division. The second day was where we came together to do some work of our own in response. So often these events are fantastic when you are there but quickly fade from memory when you walk away. I’ve set up an internal Teams chat channel with everyone for the session so that we can collaborate informally on a day-to-day basis. It’ll be interesting to see what impact it has.
- Met with the vendor of a ‘location broadcasting tool’ that we are trialling, and agreed to extend our pilot by a couple of months. We still need to decide whether the transparency will solve more problems than it may create.
- Presented the location broadcasting tool to our Cloud Architecture Review Forum, as the tool is a software-as-a-service solution.
- Watched our team deal with a Microsoft 365 outage which caused problems with a number of our core services. When something like this happens we don’t need to run around fixing things ourselves; instead, the job is all about communicating quickly and clearly to our staff, offering them alternative ways of navigating through the issues to get their work done.
- Read through the responses we received to an RFP and completed a scoring spreadsheet.
- Attended the weekly project meeting for the closure of one of our offices.
- Had a tour of our ‘Digital Disruption Centre’, used for events, workshops and outreach programmes. I loved the giant touchscreen display that faced the public walkway in the building.
- Enjoyed a lunch with the senior managers that report into our CIO. I hadn’t met a number of the team in our sister department in person, so it was great to sit down with them for an hour or so.
- Kicked myself for talking in two meetings this week where I jumped straight into the content without introducing myself properly.
- Didn’t get much exercise. Running outside in central Johannesburg isn’t considered a great idea from a personal safety perspective. The hotel I stayed at didn’t have any on-site workout facilities, but they had a deal with a local gym. This turned out to be a ten-minute walk away at the other end of a nearby shopping centre. On Monday I got up early, went to get a voucher from the reception desk, found that I needed some ID, went back to my room to get my driving licence, went back to reception, got the voucher, walked ten minutes to the gym, filled out a lengthy form on their computer, found out that they didn’t have any towels and then promptly gave up. On Tuesday got up early again as I was determined to get some exercise; this time the hotel reception desk suggested they give me a gym bag including a towel and a bottle of water, which didn’t seem to come up on Monday. I headed over and whizzed into the gym. The place was busy and well-equipped, but I could only find two exercise bikes. Hopping onto the first one didn’t bode well; after a few turns of the pedals the software booted up into an old Windows CE desktop and didn’t give me any options to start the exercise bike software. I transferred my stuff to the second bike which did boot properly. Thirty minutes later I had spun myself into a sweaty mess.
- Joined a friend and colleague for an evening run with local club. It felt like a ParkRun, but a little tougher with the choice of a 5km or 8km route. We opted for the longer run and I was soon wondering whether I made the right choice. My heart rate hit its maximum very quickly. We were a couple of kilometres in when my friend reminded me that we were running at altitude which meant that it would be a lot tougher. I eased up a bit and managed to complete the hilly course with a decent time.
- Crawled into bed at home on Saturday morning to try and steal a couple of additional hours of sleep. The flight back landed at the uncivilised time of 4:30am which meant that I was wide awake on-board from 3am.
- Ordered a new washing machine after ours finally died. The new one won’t turn up until the end of the week, so we’ll be paying a couple of visits to the laundrette.
- Spent hours — hours — changing an inner tube on my new bike. It turned out that I’d picked up a small flint on my ride the weekend before which slowly deflated the tyre. Taking the tyre off and finding the problem was easy, but getting the tyre back on was a challenge of epic proportions. To my dismay, the first inner tube that I used was itself already damaged, so I had to start all over again. At one point I thought that I was getting grease on my jeans, before noticing that I’d cut myself in my gargantuan effort to get the tyre back onto the rim. I’m worried that if I get a flat when I’m out and about I’ll never be able to get a repair done in any reasonable amount of time. Any tips would be welcome.
- Enjoyed watching The Proclaimers — This Is The Story on BBC iPlayer. I loved their hits in the late 1980s and early 1990s but never explored their work beyond this. It was fascinating to learn about what an important and political band they are.
- Started watching series eight of Grange Hill on BritBox. I’m now used to the introduction of a whole new set of characters every few years. This time there has been an influx of people that I remember from my childhood; I’ve finally caught up with the Grange Hill that I knew as a kid.
- Downloaded Ivory for Mastodon on my phone and iPad and started a subscription. Tweetbot was a beautiful app which I used for many years; having its connectivity to Twitter wrenched away in such a brutal fashion must have been awful for the developers. I’m happy to support them in the next adventure.
- Sold my ticket to the Amber Arcades gig on Wednesday as I have too many things going on in the evening this week. Something had to give.
Next week: Back to my keyboard and back to the office in London. A couple of school governor meetings and an Album Club.