Weeknotes #187 — 5¢

I landed in New York with such good intentions. I was looking forward to being five or six hours behind my colleagues in London and Johannesburg so that I could have some focused time on my projects throughout the week. It didn’t work out like that.

The main focus of my visit was to on-board a new team member and get him used to the culture and communication in the team. Unfortunately, by the middle of the week he was no longer working with us. We’ve had to put a contingency plan in place to get things back on track.

The city itself felt crazy busy. Everyone was in town for the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly and the police were everywhere. Early in the week, as I meandered my way across town to the office, I stumbled across where I think Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro was staying. (The chanting, flag-waving crowd offered me a clue.) Who are these people that turn up at a politician’s hotel singing their name? Did anyone do the same thing for Liz Truss?

Because everyone was in town, the city was super expensive. In order to save some money I stayed far from the office, at the Civilian Hotel, in what felt like one of the world’s smallest rooms. As I unpacked, I looked around to find the cupboard and couldn’t see it anywhere. Eventually, its cavernous insides were revealed to me as I closed the bathroom door. The hotel marketed itself as being new and funky — which it was — but it all felt quite impersonal and a little cheap, with daily room cleaning being an add-on that you needed to schedule.

I’ve loved New York since I lived there twenty years ago. It felt quite different this time. There were lots more homeless and troubled people on the street and on the subway. Although many people have left the city through the pandemic, presumably increasing the supply of apartments, people were telling me that their rents have been going up substantially. I wonder if this is the landlord equivalent of an aeroplane, where the people sitting up the front in business class (i.e. the tenants that stayed) subsidise the cost of the whole plane (the apartment block) for everyone else? If there are less rent payers, landlords still have to cover their costs.

I managed to get in a couple of morning runs through Central Park, which was as lovely as ever. One of my Strava-generated routes took me through Times Square, which felt like running through a dustbin. The smells and tastes in the air were horrible. To add to the fun, there are reassuring signs scattered on the different approaches to let you know that it’s illegal to enter with a gun.

Being in New York, I worked on the UK public holiday for the Queen’s funeral and missed the live event. It is already fading into memory as the government starts back up again, announcing that they are pursuing a dreadful set of financial policies that may have dire consequences. When I arrived in the US on Sunday I was getting $1.14 to the pound; by the time I left on Friday it was $1.09 — an incredible shift.1 The Conservative Party spent a decade saying that they had to cut public spending in order to pay down government debt — all the time while interest rates were low. Now that the rates are going up, they will borrow from the market in order to subsidise our energy bills. It feels completely mad.

This was a week in which I:

  • Wrote up a summary of where we are with the closure of another of our offices from an IT perspective. We will soon find out whether we need to push the work along on an accelerated timeline.
  • Met with colleagues in the front office and Compliance teams to look at how we manage unstructured data in Teams and SharePoint. Wrote up a long summary of a set of actions we need to take to embed this way of working across the organisation.
  • Watched a demonstration of an internal product being developed by our department, showing relevant news and social media mentions for our clients.
  • Met with a vendor for a technical deep-dive on their password management solution.
  • Attended a brilliant Learning Hour talk by our CTO on the topic of graphics processing.
  • Raised a bunch of Kanban cards for little things that I found that need addressing in our New York office.
  • Completed the new joiner and account creation forms for a team member who starts work in London on Monday. It’s going to be great to have him join the team.
  • Wrote up an email for new members joining our team with links to all of the key Teams channels and other resources.
  • Enjoyed an evening at Postlight, a digital product studio in New York, as they recorded an episode of their podcast. I’ve listened since episode one, so it was great to meet some of the team in person. Natalie Kurz, Head of Product Design, chaired the discussion on Thinking Inside the Box and how constraints can help and hinder product design. Natalie was a very graceful host and took the time to answer my questions after the session.

  • Was sad to see that my favourite coffee shop/deli, right by our office, had closed for good. Presumably this was pandemic-related.
  • Finished the draft of a letter from the school governors to say that our headteacher will be leaving us at the end of the academic year. We have a lot of work to do to find someone to fill her shoes.
  • Chaired the school Finance, Premises and and Personnel governance committee.
  • Missed Album Club as I was out of the country. Sadly one of our members is leaving us. It’s been a while since we had a chance to the membership.
  • Ate lots of delicious vegan food. It’s so easy to find this stuff when you’re in a big city.

  • Bought some new glasses. For the past few pairs I’ve bought them on the Internet, but the pandemic got me thinking more about where I spend my money. Buying them from a shop is super expensive though, especially now that I need varifocals. The staff in Vision Express were super helpful and I’m finally changing the frames I have been wearing for the past ten years. After a few years without them, I am also getting some sunglasses again, just in time for winter.
  • Travelled home from New York and slept all the way.
  • Cancelled a future business trip and booked another.
  • Ran the line at my eldest son’s first football match of the season. The weather is perfect at the moment — sunny and not too warm.
  • Enjoyed Magdalena Bay’s deluxe edition of their Mercurial World album. I don’t think it’s as tight as the original, but I’m sure it’s not meant to be. The new songs are brilliant.

Next week: Back to London, on boarding a new member of the team and getting projects back on track.


  1. On Monday (at the time of writing as it could go lower) we reached $1.03, an all-time low. 

Weeknotes #186 — Half mast

The feeling of everything being on top of me continued into this week. I really struggled at the start. I could feel myself getting frustrated and a little snappy in a couple of meetings where I felt that we weren’t being efficient, knowing that I still had a pile of things to get on top of. The weight started to lift in the middle of the week as I got a few wins under my belt and could see the work in the rear view mirror.

The pivotal moment was a midweek meeting with a vendor, long-postponed throughout the summer as key people on their side or our side were out on holiday. The meeting started off as a pitch for a sophisticated tool for monitoring the quality of audio and video calls in our organisation, but it them morphed into something very different. They are offering a tool and services that could be of massive benefit to our organisation, hitting the sweet spot for multiple projects that I need to make progress with before the end of the year. I could sense the possibilities, and feet the pressure lift from me as we talked. It’s early days, but I’m excited and feel like I have my mojo back.

Coverage of the death of Queen Elizabeth II has not abated, with marks of respect everywhere you look. It’s going to be interesting to see where the country’s opinion of the monarchy moves to once the funeral starts to fade into the past. It’s been worrying to see a handful of people arrested for minor protests, presumably under the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act that came into force this year.

A week in which I:

  • Was given a start date for a new joined in my team. I can’t wait to get him on board.
  • Attended the weekly project meeting for the closure of one of our offices. Agreed a default timeline for when we can start to decommission the IT equipment that is in place, assuming that someone doesn’t take on the office lease sooner.
  • Had a meeting with our client-facing colleagues to propose a proof-of-concept to them and seek their help in taking it to the next stage. The preparation that the team did for the meeting was well worth it as they understood the proposition immediately and bit our arms off to be involved. I’m excited for the work happening in this space.
  • Joined our monthly risk review meeting, where we got our teeth into key person dependencies. It’s so difficult to build strength, depth and resiliency in a small team.
  • Completed a draft response to Internal Audit for a review that they are working on. It was interesting to review our technology setup through the eyes of people that are coming to it fresh; we have already spotted a number of improvements that we can make.
  • Met with a large number of people in our department to review our network risk profiles and what we should do about any identified gaps.
  • Discussed and agreed our approach to an RFP that we are due to issue shortly. Was amazed at how quickly one of my colleagues could turn our discussion into an illustration.
  • Was enthused by a vendor meeting where they presented something that hits all of the right buttons for an initiative that I am working on right now. Excited to see where this goes.
  • Got our digital signage players showing photos of Queen Elizabeth II every five minutes in place of the usual news feeds and dashboards. We also attached a player to a Cisco Spark Board which sits idle for most of the time, mainly because it doesn’t easily integrate with anything else that we use.
  • Met with a technical sales manager for one of the leading password manager vendors. Also had an initial call with a completely different vendor. The products in this space have matured so much over the past few years.
  • Joined our quarterly architecture meeting where we covered the strategy for infrastructure and operations, product roadmaps and security logging.
  • Had a super early 7am start in order to participate as a judge in our annual internal ‘Hackathon’ event. It was wonderful and heartbreaking in equal measure. The judging process was brutal, with a very strict 10 minute rule being applied for each presentation. I really felt for one of the teams; they presented a fantastic idea which had one critical flaw that they hadn’t seen. When you’re close to the detail on something it is hard to take a step back and see that there is a fundamental issue.
  • Presented at our weekly Learning Hour meeting on the topic of card scoring in LeanKit.
  • Met with another department to discuss how they use JIRA. I last used the software over a decade ago, and our team doesn’t touch it at the moment. As we look to start to develop products within our department we may get pushed down this road, so I want to start to learn a little more about it.
  • Confirmed a last-minute business trip to meet a new joiner in our team, making sure he gets up to speed with the environment, how we do things and the team culture. I’ve not been to this office in a couple of years, so it will be good to see how things are going there.
  • Applauded our team that completed a major IT infrastructure change in half a day over the weekend. We’ve further rationalised our hardware, moving more components into software.
  • Attended an company-wide IT town hall-style webinar.
  • Agreed to attend an internal technology architecture conference next month.
  • Flew to New York, where I’ll be spending the week getting a new member of our team set up in their role. I had the good fortune to be sitting next to the CEO of 100 Women In Finance, a non-profit organisation that focuses on women working in the finance industry. We struck up a conversation that went on for four hours straight. I’ve been thinking about how interesting it is that we pay more for premium aircraft seating that isolates us from others, but it robs us of chance encounters like this.
  • Rushed to another GoodSAM callout in my town, this time at a local bar. Fortunately an ambulance and crew were there by the time I arrived. The app offers no clue as to what you should do in this situation. Interrupting the ambulance crew is not a good idea if they are already working on the casualty. The only option I could see was a button marked ’drop call’, but I have no idea what happens in the control room when I press it. Does anyone follow up?
  • Had a couple of governor meetings and worked on some draft communications from the board. Followed up on the next steps for a broadband fibre upgrade.
  • Attended a revision workshop for parents at my sons’ school. It wasn’t quite as immediately practical as I had hoped, but it was good to spend some time thinking about how we approach helping the children with their work. The person leading the workshop had met the children earlier in the day; I hope that he made an impact on them and inspired them a little.
  • Started watching season two of Only Murders In The Building. We’re only one episode in and I love it already. We’re giving up with the latest series of Borgen — Power & Glory as sadly it’s just not that interesting. Bring back Kasper Juul!
  • Watched a drama unfold in the back garden when a baby squirrel dropped out of our beech tree while another hung on for dear life. The parent was going mad and I thought he or she was going to attack me. I managed to keep our cats away and the parent eventually rescued the fallen one.
  • Had a great time at a friend’s 50th birthday party, which had a gold theme. I was worried about my trousers as the reviews said they were completely unbreathable, but it all worked out fine.

Next week: New York City, for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Weeknotes #185 — Too much news

The number of things I am juggling got on top of me this week. Somehow the days don’t seem long enough to keep up with it all. I haven’t felt like this in a while, and it isn’t great.

To say that we’ve had a lot going on here in the UK over the past few days would be an understatement. At the start of the week a new prime minister took office. The Queen passed away a couple of days later. We now have a new King. I’m a republican, but I have been fascinated by all of the pomp and procedure over the past few days, in a similar way to how I am interested in the processes and workings of our parliament. Although I disagree with the concept of having a monarch as our head of state, I still feel the sadness of someone passing away. It was moving to see the King shaking hands with people outside Buckingham Palace; although he has been preparing for this moment all of his life, I can’t imagine what it must be like to have your mother die and it be required of you to put your work first. The Queen had been our head of state since before my parents were born, and almost a third of our population say that they have seen or met her in real life. Most of us have never seen this process in action.

After a wasted summer where the Conservative Party spent time choosing our new Prime Minister while our previous government went on holiday, it’s a worry that things will again be on hold, particularly as the cost of living crisis will reach new heights as we go into autumn.

A week in which I:

  • Loved having one of my close colleagues over in London from Johannesburg for the week. As he was here, I had planned to be in the office every day, but scaled this back when I realised that he was visiting a supplier on Tuesday. Sadly, one of my other colleagues has been stuck in limbo waiting for her visa to be processed and didn’t make it. Hopefully it won’t be too long before she can join us in person for a long-planned workshop.
  • Attended the weekly cross-functional project meeting for the closure of one of our regional offices. I need to put together a more detailed timeline for the technology work.
  • Kicked off a project to implement a password manager for staff. Met with two of the leading vendors and chased up a third via their Marketing Director on LinkedIn.
  • Started a review of our current device and network security posture and agreed a way forward for completing the work.
  • Reviewed the details of a complex risk within our environment and agreed next steps to tackle it.
  • Spent time whiteboarding ideas on the digital literacy initiative that I am running. There is a lot of value in the Digital Workplace Skills Framework put together by Elizabeth Marsh that I think will be useful to leverage.
  • Discussed the digital literacy work with colleagues in People and Culture and Marketing and Communications, recognising that we need to work together on the implementation.
  • Had a couple of long discussions about some internal products that we are developing, and the ethics of using data in particular ways. Talked about how the role of the sponsor doesn’t need to sit outside of the technology team.
  • Met with colleagues to take stock of where we are with our main Engineering strategy work and agree next steps.
  • Took part in a management team workshop. Realised that it had been a very long time since we had done anything like this. Agreed next steps ahead of a more formal, structured session that will take place in a few weeks.
  • Had a demo of Team Today, a tool to help staff to know where people will be each day as we continue with hybrid working.
  • Ran our bi-weekly management meeting.
  • Met with Internal Audit to assist them with their work.
  • Had a call with a new member of my team that will be joining us soon. I can’t wait to get him on board.
  • Met a colleague who is helping to get an internal SharePoint Online site established to host an internal technical blog. Despite having Teams and Yammer available, it still feels more appropriate to house these posts on their own site.
  • Was grateful to the Stratechery newsletter for introducing me to The Standards Innovation Paradox.
  • Joined an online session aimed at CTOs on how to develop a technical vision. I didn’t stay long; I hadn’t realised that it was a round table and not a presentation, and the conversation felt very stilted.
  • Had a conversation with a colleague on country-level restrictions on the use of cloud services across Africa.
  • Enjoyed an excellent dinner with our London Engineering team, the first one in years. It was strange learning about the Queen’s death from a waiter an hour or so into the meal. Had fun showing some colleagues the Colorize web app that uses AI to add colour to black and white photos.
  • Agreed to take another business trip in a few weeks. I can’t believe how expensive travel is right now.
  • Attended a ‘Learning Hour’ session on the topic of psychics. One of the reasons that we run the weekly session is so that people can get practice at giving presentations. This was a tricky and controversial topic, explained and handled well.
  • Felt nauseous as we watched the announcement of the new Prime Minister on the television at work, and even worse as some of the cabinet ministers were announced.
  • Released some more books into the wild via our book drop at work. It’s been a while since I’ve used the Bookcrossing website.
  • Met with the rest of the school Full Governing Board for the first time this year.
  • Interviewed a prospective new school governor.
  • Went to the ‘Meet The Teacher’ evening at the school where I am a governor. It was brilliant to see all of the staff together with so many parents. Events like these are so important to build the social bonds between parents and the school, and I’m so glad that we’re back to doing them again after the years of COVID-19.
  • Enjoyed dinner with friends at the opening of a local restaurant’s new Sicilian dining room. Ate far too much.
  • Got lots of work done on the indoor bike trainer. It was fun to take on a couple of rides where I doubted myself mid-ride whether I could finish them or not. It was very satisfying to get them under my belt.

Next week: Trying to keep my head above water, and a 50th birthday party.

Weeknotes #184 — 4,000 random coffees

And just like that, holidays are over. At least until Christmas.

I’m feeling the pressure of trying to have a strong end to the year both at work and as a school governor. There is a massive pile of things I need to get done. This week felt disappointingly bitty; I was getting things done but I felt as though I was skirting around the edges of the bigger pieces of work I need to do. I was grateful for us having a public holiday on Monday, but a four-day week didn’t help me in terms of getting things done.

A week in which I:

  • Reviewed the latest draft of our Internet of Things architecture strategy.
  • Reviewed and edited a document on internal network risks written by our CTO.
  • Attended an Architecture Community of Practice meeting and learned about our approach to blockchain technology.
  • Met with the leaders of another internal technology team to talk about their ways of working. Started to learn about how the team is set up, what they manage and how they work.
  • Caught up with all of the messages, emails and Kanban board updates that had happened while I was on holiday.
  • Met with the team responsible for pushing our technology innovation initiatives and came up with some ideas as to how we can work more closely together.
  • Attended a Town Hall meeting, run from our Collaboration Space and dialled into a Teams meeting with our other offices outside of Africa. Celebrated our half-year results with the rest of the office.
  • Had a delightful random coffee with a colleague in one of our client-facing teams. Learned about his career, including all of the different countries he has worked in over the years. We’ve now reached 4,000 coffee pairings since May 2020; I’m so grateful to Chris Weston for passing the idea my way.
  • Was so sorry to hear that one of my colleagues won’t make it over to the UK for a long-planned trip next week, as their visa is stuck in the system somewhere.
  • Met with our Headteacher and Chair of Governors prior to the school year starting at the end of the week.
  • Created our new school governance Programme of Business document for the coming academic year.
  • Arranged to meet a prospective new school governor next week.
  • Wrote up the minutes to our most recent Pay Committee meeting and circulated them to the rest of the committee for review.
  • Had endodontic treatment. This sounds a little fancier than saying that I had root canal surgery. I think I had been subconsciously dreading it all week. I know that modern dentistry is excellent and there was no need to worry, but the thought of having my mouth open for two hours while they did their thing was playing on my mind. It went brilliantly; the endodontist made me feel very relaxed, talking me through all of the stages of the process as we went. I was a little uncomfortable when the anaesthetic wore off but I’ve not had to take any painkillers. Next stop is back to my dentist to have a crown fitted. Take care of your teeth, people.
  • Had a wonderful Saturday lunch at my brother’s house for my mum’s birthday. It was so great to see everyone so soon after our holiday.
  • Enjoyed the latest Album Club night, but listened with an open mouth to some of the lyrics.
  • Re-imaged a Raspberry Pi and re-installed the Pi-hole software. Parts of the operating system were too out-of-date for the Pi-hole application to upgrade. I need to research how I can keep the operating system up-to-date in the same way.
  • Caught up with the washing, ironing and other admin that needed doing post-holiday.
  • Registered my interest in a solar panel/battery installation for our house. I’ve long suspected that our house isn’t suitable for solar; this will be a good way of finding out for sure.
  • Attended a first aid callout in a nearby town. Fortunately everything seemed fine when I got there.
  • Started reading Travels With Charley: In Search Of America by John Steinbeck. I’m getting close to the end of my journey through all of Steinbeck’s works. This is one I’ve been looking forward to; I loved it when I read it as a teenager and it’ll be great to go on the journey again.
  • Bought Troy Hunt’s book. I’ve listened to his weekly update podcast for years and often pass on links to his blog posts. Buying a copy of his book feels like a good way of giving something back.
  • Took advantage of Bandcamp Friday to buy some new music that that was on my wishlist:

Next week: A full week in the office, my first since June. The first official school governor duties of the school year. Dinner with friends.

Weeknotes #183 — Obrigado

Off the coast near Burgau

Off the coast near Burgau

We’ve just come back from a lovely week in Burgau, Portugal, which we spent with some of our closest friends. Our last holiday together was in 2018, so it was great to get the band back together again.

We stayed at the Ocean Blue villa, hosted by the lovely Lucy, Sean and Sophia. The villa is a perfect setup with three two-bedroomed apartments all in a row, and another with a double bed that we didn’t use. As well as the beautiful villa, they offer boat trips with paddle boarding, exercise sessions and mountain biking. The villa is located on an excellent spot near the Algarve coast which gives easy access by car to lots of beautiful beaches.

Early morning by the pool

Early morning by the pool

Barbecue night by the pool. At this point we were still about 2–3 hours away from eating.

Barbecue night by the pool. At this point we were still about 2–3 hours away from eating.

The journey there was a painful one. One small member of our party had broken her little toe a few days before, so took a wheelchair to the gate and hobbled onto the flight wearing a big protective foot brace. After having a couple of days of normality, the pressurisation of the aeroplane cabin also caused my bad tooth to go bananas. I could only focus on clutching my jaw in pain. I was worried that I would have trouble for the whole week, but the pain disappated a couple of hours after we landed and didn’t cause me any issues again until the journey back.

On the flight over, we spotted something burning somewhere in Spain, presumably a wildfire.

Wildfire in Spain

Wildfire in Spain

After spending a very hot week in southern Turkey followed by a very hot week in the UK, I figured that I was all set with one jumper (“for the plane!”) and a few pairs of shorts. I was wrong. Portugal was hot, but as soon as the sun went down it got very chilly. So chilly that we resorted to using blankets handed out by restaurants for people eating outside during the evening. One night it felt too cold to sit outside after we got back home, so we ended up in one of the apartments.

It was the first trip in a long time where I couldn’t rely solely on credit cards. Lots of businesses were cash only, which more than once resorted in us running to a cash machine after finishing dessert and coffee.

Finding restaurants was easy, but finding places which could take 12 of us turning up at once was slightly more difficult. We’d booked a couple of places in advance and another couple when we got there as we found that wandering around looking for somewhere was a bad strategy, particularly when one of us had a broken toe. We enjoyed eating lunch in Love Burgau, the beautifully presented dishes in Miam and the pizzas in Corso Pizzeria, but by far our favourite was Pizzeria D’Aldeia — great pizzas and salads, as well as almond cake to die for.

Salad menu at Love Burgau

Salad menu at Love Burgau

Miam restaurant, Burgau

Miam restaurant, Burgau

Almond tart to die for

Almond tart to die for

We loved the pool in the villa, which was filled with salt water instead of being treated with chlorine. The beaches we visited were beautiful — Salema, Zavial (great for bodyboarding!) and Luz — but I have a love/hate relationship with them, worrying about looking after all of our stuff, having enough shade and sand getting into absolutely everything. I had no idea about the recent history of Praia da Luz until my wife told me as we drove there that it was the location where Madeleine McCann went missing. It was strange to think about it as we sat on the beach amongst all of the other holidaymakers.

Salema Beach

Salema Beach

We took a half-day excursion by boat from Lagos Marina out to the ‘grottos’ to have a go at paddleboarding. It was a chilly, grey start to the day and the sea was uninviting. We soon forgot about the weather once we had anchored up, donned our wetsuits and got in the water. Paddleboarding is hard! I managed to get up on my feet without too much trouble and could paddle around quite easily, but found that I would suddenly lose my balance for no reason whatsoever. It was fun to cruise around the little caves and rock formations and to jump into the water from the roof of the boat.

Marina De Lagos

Marina De Lagos

Paddleboarding through the grottos

Paddleboarding through the grottos

The weather in Lagos was a lot lovelier when we returned

The weather in Lagos was a lot lovelier when we returned

That afternoon we wandered around the streets of Lagos. We’d been signposted towards the MarLe coffee van, where they serve drinks with zero waste. Once you’re done with your coffee, you can eat the oat-based waffle cup that it came in. A fun concept which I hope takes off.

Lovely coffee, and the cup was delicious too

Lovely coffee, and the cup was delicious too

Beautiful tiled building in Lagos

Beautiful tiled building in Lagos

Lagos street art

Lagos street art

For lunch, we stumbled across the excellent Poké Lagos which served wonderful bowls of goodness which we ate in the street outside.

As we walked around Lagos, one of the children had picked up a leaflet for Slide & Splash, a water park close to Portimão. It looked like a great day out, so we booked it. And then we read the reviews:

We got there early. It was very busy, but nowhere near as bad as this review made out. I remember going to Wet ‘n Wild in Las Vegas as a kid which I think had similar levels of queues. The kids managed to get on three or four different slides in the first hour and this then slowed as the day went on. It was just like being at a theme park, but wet, and without the chance of buying a ‘fast pass’ to jump the queues. The slides were excellent and we had a great time.

The Big Wave, Slide & Splash

The Big Wave, Slide & Splash

Sharing a ride on The Big Wave with my youngest son

Sharing a ride on The Big Wave with my youngest son

Mountain biking on the trails surrounding the villa was fun, although we didn’t pedal that far. It must be difficult to offer paid guided rides that are suitable for a wide variety of riders. We took the bikes along the rocky paths and ended up at an old fort where our guides handed out beers to drink in the sunshine.

Mountain biking

Mountain biking

Beer in the sunshine

Beer in the sunshine

Unfortunately the trip had a bad ending when one of our riders faceplanted into the floor after hitting a rock. He was very badly bruised on his hand, legs and face, and we were grateful that he had been wearing a helmet.

One of my friends on the trip is training to run the London Marathon later this year. I took advantage of this by heading out on a few early morning runs with him during the week. After running a 10k at the start of the week I was so pleased to complete my first half marathon distance. It involved climbing up a very big hill in Praia da Luz before making a gentle descent down the other side.

Coming across this hill on the Strava route was a comedy moment

Coming across this hill on the Strava route was a comedy moment

Reaching the monument

Reaching the monument

We finished the week with a walk around the clifftop paths close to Burgau, looking down on beautiful beaches and coves that are only accessible by boat.

One of many beautiful remote beaches

One of many beautiful remote beaches

We had a wonderful time and felt as though we had only just scratched the surface of the places to see. You could easily spend two or three weeks there, exploring the coast, the villages and towns.

England looks quite shocking from the air, more parched than I have ever seen it. It was lovely to see the clouds, with their promise of a little rain.

England from the air. Everything still looks parched.

England from the air. Everything still looks parched.

Back at home, under familiar skies

Back at home, under familiar skies

Next week: Back to work with no holidays in sight, and a root canal ahead of the weekend.

Weeknotes #182 — A desire to punch myself in the face

A strange, liminal week, back at work for five days between two holidays. After having such a wonderful time away with my extended family — and having looked forward to it for years — it felt sad that it was now in the past. Monday was a bit of a struggle; I travelled into the office and had a lot of meetings, which meant that I didn’t feel caught up by the end of the day.

Most of the week was dominated by my bad tooth. The pain was a dull ache at first, enough to make me start searching for dentists near the office. Most of them seemed to cost about £175 for an initial consultation with a filling at around £400–£600. The pain was coming and going in waves, so I figured I would wait and try and get an appointment with my regular dentist at home. If they couldn’t fit me in, I would then try to get seen somewhere else. But on the train home on Monday the pain became unbearable. I was almost in tears and wanted to punch myself in the face to make it stop — or at least take my mind off it. My wonderful wife met me at the train station with a pack of ibuprofen and a bottle of water. The pain relief soon kicked in.

I managed to get an emergency appointment with my dentist the next day. She removed an old filling and replaced it with a new one. Unfortunately, as soon as the local anaesthetic wore off the pain came raging back. The next day I was so grateful that she found time to get me into her dentist chair again. My tooth was reopened so that the nerves could be removed, followed by yet another filling. This time the pain faded away. The extra work means that I now need to have root canal treatment, an expensive specialist procedure that my dentist can’t do. I’m so grateful that we are lucky enough to afford it. I’ve already been to the consultant and had a 3D scan of my jaw so they know what they are tackling. Hopefully the pain will stay away for the next couple of weeks ahead of me having the procedure. Once that’s done I have to go back to my dentist to look at having a crown fitted.

A week in which I:

  • Read a debrief on the physical and logical network changes that we made in one of our server rooms a couple of weeks ago. The team did an incredible job and the setup now looks fantastic. There are still some good lessons we can take to our next site.
  • Met with the team creating data dashboards for use by our client-facing staff. Reflected on how important it is for us to get information about how they are used in practice as opposed to how we think they might be used. Some of the team members will be users of the dashboards themselves, so it should be easy for us to get some good insights.
  • Gave a call to the prospective new member of staff that I have been trying to hire. The process has been snarled up on our side for a variety of reasons and I am conscious of it all adding up to a terrible first impression of our organisation. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we’re ready for him to start with us. It’s going to be brilliant to get a new set of skills, ideas and fresh thinking into the team.
  • Joined the weekly project meeting for the shut down of one of our regional offices. Being out of the office for the past couple of weeks means that I haven’t been playing a major part in the work. So much has been done already and I’m very grateful that one of my peers has stepped in to pick up the IT actions for now.
  • Tried to spend time progressing my thinking on how to tackle our Digital Literacy programme. I’m starting to relate lots of conversations with colleagues back to this embryonic piece of work. It seems that every week somebody is getting in touch for some basic pointers on an app or service that they use. Assumptions that I’ve made about what people all already know are false. We have 60–90 minute training videos that nobody ever watches. So we’re going to need to build in a series of easily-digestible basic tutorials that we send out in bite size chunks again and again. After all, every day somebody’s born who has never seen The Flintstones.
  • Took part in our monthly department risk review meeting. We covered the upcoming potential ’grey listing’ of South Africa, what it might mean for our business, and what we need to be thinking about as an Engineering team.
  • Watched a recording of an internal meeting all about the potential impact of the grey listing, run by a number of our senior analysts. My conclusion is that it is very difficult to predict what the impact would be and how long it would last, if and when it happens.
  • Viewed the recording of a meeting I missed with one of our department heads on the challenges of his business. This was the last in a series of interviews with the leadership team where we discussed their goals, as well as what keeps them up at night. He took us through his sophisticated OneNote-based knowledge management system and explained how it gave him a massive advantage when speaking with clients. It has got me thinking about how we can socialise the techniques and thinking as I am sure there are others that would benefit from it. Two decades of Getting Things Done systems have taught me that everyone will have their own preferences, but it does help to be exposed to the ways in which other people get their work done.
  • Challenged the thinking that the executive sponsor of an IT initiative cannot sit within IT. This idea is so deeply ingrained in business culture, part of the history of IT being viewed as order-takers instead of true partners. I had similar discussions about where product managers sit. The team should be the thing that matters; we should concern ourselves whether they have the skills to do what they aim to do rather than where in the organisation chart they sit.
  • Reviewed a quote for external help with the major network infrastructure optimisation at our busiest office.
  • Reviewed the latest technical proposal and quote for improvements to our collaboration space.
  • Gave a team demo on our new digital signage solution as part of our Learning Hour series.
  • Reviewed the communications that will be sent to announce the new digital signage solution at the next office where we plan to go live.
  • Met with the co-founder of the Team Today application. It seems to be a good fit for solving the problem of knowing where your colleagues are planning to be, particularly now that hybrid working seems here to stay. We have a demo lined up for when people are back from their summer break.
  • Formally completed the last task for our June conference when our solution vendor confirmed that they had deleted all of our data.
  • Checked in with a colleague following our workshops in Johannesburg a couple of weeks ago, on the topics of how we collaborate between two different of two parts of our organisation and setting up an informal group chat.
  • Caught up with all of the teams’ Kanban board changes from the past week.
  • Tuner into a LeanKit demo on their new card scoring functionality. I think this can replace a makeshift ‘cost of delay divided by duration’ method that I put in place a couple of years ago.
  • Agreed next steps towards providing our team with ‘clear writing’ training. A half-day course I took many years ago has stayed with me ever since and I’d love more of our team to be exposed to it.
  • Enjoyed our weekly in-office ‘munch and mingle’ lunch, chatting with a colleague in our People and Culture team.
  • Got sent some lovely date biscuits from a very thoughtful colleague in Dubai.
  • Formally signed off on my mid-year review.
  • Reviewed a letter from our Headteacher to parents that is due to be sent out before term starts.
  • Agreed to do a PechaKucha presentation at a cycle club social evening. I’d not heard of the format before. You get 20 slides which advance at a rate of one every 20 seconds, so it needs to be both visual and to the point. They’ve asked people to present on topics other than cycling so that we get to learn a bit more about fellow members. My topic is going to be about the best night of the month.
  • Had fun buying a bunch of new t-shirts from Printerval, Etsy and Threadheads.
  • Bought new flea collars for the cats.
  • Had a lovely evening out for dinner with some friends we hadn’t seen in a while.
  • Got prepped for our next holiday, ironing all of the things.
  • Travelled to Faro for a week away with friends. For some reason the flight nearly destroyed me with the impact it had on my bad tooth. I’m guessing the pressurisation of the aircraft didn’t agree with it. I will be taking painkillers before we take off for our journey home.

Next week: Holiday part two.

Weeknotes #181 — Teşekkür ederim

We spent the entire week in Türkiye at the Voyage Sorgun hotel with my parents, my brothers and all of our families for a long-planned and much-delayed group holiday. We hadn’t spent this much time together since we all lived under the same roof in the 1990s. It was wonderful.

The holiday had been cancelled twice before, so we were a bit concerned that the current issues plaguing travellers in the UK would see it get cancelled a third time. We’d booked with EasyJet but ended up on aircraft operated by SmartLynx, who apparently are used to increase capacity in the busier months. The plane and service was sparse, but they did the job.

All aboard the SmartLynx

All aboard the SmartLynx

I’ve only stayed at two all-inclusive hotels in the past. The first time I ended up in hospital with pneumonia so couldn’t take advantage of all of the amenities. The second time was lovely, but quite basic. This hotel was incredible, and exceeded all of my expectations.

One of the many pools

One of the many pools

Upon arrival, we were put into a WhatsApp group with a personal concierge whom we could message and ask for help, for example to make restaurant reservations, book taxis or check whether anyone had handed in something that had been lost. It worked very well. Usually the group is per room, but we managed to get all 14 of us into a single group so that we could all see all of the chat.

Another pool, at sunset

Another pool, at sunset

The hotel’s accommodation was at capacity, but it never felt like it. There were multiple swimming pools to choose from as well as a water park with slides that kept everyone entertained all week.

The Aqua Park — so much fun

The Aqua Park — so much fun

Bars were everywhere, and you could either go up and order a drink or wait for a couple of minutes for someone to come to wherever you’d pitched your towel. Everything was premium, with no ‘own brand’ or ‘soda gun’ drinks. The bars used heavy glasses and no plastic cups, and I didn’t see one get broken near a swimming pool during the whole week that we were there.

For breakfast, lunch and dinner they had the largest buffet I had ever seen, or you could choose to book and dine every night at a different themed restaurant scattered around the hotel. Ice creams and lollies of all kinds were on tap — you could have some scoops in a cone, or help yourself to a freezer full of well-known branded delights such as Magnums, Cornettos and Calippos. There was even an on-site patisserie and chocolatier where you could eat as many of the confections as you desired. It felt terribly indulgent, taking whatever food I wanted as I wandered around listening to political podcasts that are focused on the cost of living crisis, knowing that inflation in Türkiye had nearly hit 80%. It was awful to see some people pile their plates high at the buffet, nibble a little of it at their table and then wander off, leaving most of it untouched. Sadly, at the end of each session, everything that wouldn’t keep was thrown in the bin. I have no idea about the logistics of distributing the food to staff or people in the local area, but it did seem like such a ridiculous waste.

The kids became macaroon-obsessed

The kids became macaroon-obsessed

Whatever you wanted, you could have it

Whatever you wanted, you could have it

Unbelievably good chocolates

Unbelievably good chocolates

Fruit, piled high

Fruit, piled high

Cooking a pasta dish in the buffet

Cooking a pasta dish in the buffet

Every evening there was a different show at an open-air auditorium. The quality of the entertainment was very high, with all kinds of acrobatics and dancing. We even had a motorcycle show inside a subtly-named ’globe of death’:

The globe of death

The globe of death

After the entertainment the outdoor area turned into a thumping loud Eurodisco, with three quarters of the guests calling it a night within five minutes of it starting.

On Thursday afternoon the hotel put on a ‘pool party’ with inflatables, disco music and dancing penguins in one of their shallower pools. The highlight of this was the ‘hoverboard’, powered by the engine of a jet ski. I’d never seen this before and it was a lot of fun to watch, despite the outdated ending where Hoverboard Guy was joined by two bikini-clad women shaking their butts as he zoomed them around the pool.

I tried speaking a little Turkish while I was there and got around with a few basic phrases:

Teşekkür ederim: Thanks (te-she-ku-ederem)

Merhaba: Hello. (mer-ha-ba)

Nasılsın?: How are you? (na-sil-sin)

Iyiyim sen nasılsın?: I am well, how are you? (ee-ee-yim, sen na-sil-sin)

Hoşça kal: Stay well (hosh-cha-call)

Badem sütü: Almond milk (badem soo-too)

I never got over the look of surprise from staff when I used a phrase or two. I’m sure my pronunciation was absolutely awful and they were being very kind to me.

Moon loungers

Moon loungers

QR codes dominated every sun umbrella and restaurant table, allowing you to order whatever you want and have it delivered to you. This was mostly great, but in the restaurants it felt like a shame to whip out a phone in order to see the menu.

We only had one disappointing meal during the whole week, at the Italian-themed restaurant. Everywhere else was delicious. The best food was at the Turkish restaurant, but everyone had the most fun at the Greek place, with diners shaking tambourines and dancing to a live band.

Getting the party started

Getting the party started

The hotel was home to a number of feral cats and kittens that enjoyed being petted and being fed scraps of food by the guests. I wasn’t so keen, particularly when one of them jumped up onto a sun lounger with me. One evening, a cat decided to vomit all over the floor underneath my son’s seat as he ate his dinner. Diners at the Greek restaurant had to chase this hungry cat away who was looking longingly at their food:

Hungry cat

Hungry cat

Although it was hot, on a few mornings I made it out of the complex to go for a run. There was a wooded area that we could circumnavigate in an 8km loop, which was perfect.

It was a little terrifying to pass by some big dogs, not knowing whether they would suddenly start chasing after us. We slowed a couple of times to try and discourage them; they never got close as they seemed more interested in the passing vehicles than our legs:

One morning we took taxis to the nearby ancient town of Side. The archeological remains are stunning. Unfortunately it was brutally hot and everyone was feeling it after just a few minutes of walking, so they sought respite in the multitude of fake clothing stores nearby.

Ruins at Side

Ruins at Side

The ancient theatre at Side

The ancient theatre at Side

More ruins at Side

More ruins at Side

The hotel extended out into the sea via a couple of piers that were covered in sun beds. Next to these was a company selling various water sport experiences. The children (and some of the adults) enjoyed a couple of banana boat rides and a parasailing trip.

Banana boat

Banana boat

We had such a wonderful time on our holiday. It’s a cliche, but the time goes so fast and the whole trip felt like it was over as soon as it began. I loved spending time with my nephews and niece, and felt as though I got to know them properly for the first time as we had lots of opportunities to sit together and chat. I didn’t realise quite how fabulous they are.

Moonlit sea

Moonlit sea

The journey home was long. Our flight was delayed by an hour, most of which we spent standing at an inadequately-sized departure gate. We then had to wait at the baggage carousel for 90 minutes before our suitcases started to appear. All part of the fun of travelling this year. COVID-19 seems to be a distant memory for most people; there were a few masks here and there around the hotel, but probably 98% of people didn’t wear them.

Sunday was spent putting things away and getting ready for a week of work. I seem to have developed a toothache which is stopping me from sleeping, so that’s top of my list of things to get sorted out on Monday.

Next week: Back to work for a week, and trying to fix my toothache.

Weeknotes #180 — Reconnecting

Different location, same story

Different location, same story

I spent most of this week in Johannesburg. The main purpose of my trip was to attend a three-day workshop with the aim of rebooting the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) within our company. A few years ago it was the shiny new thing, but for a number of reasons it has faded away. It feels as though we are trying to climb out of the ‘trough of disillusionment’ up the ‘slope of enlightenment’ of the Gartner hype cycle:

I hadn’t been to Johannesburg since 2018 and it was so good to be back. Our company headquarters are there and it is great to be immersed in a place where the organisation has such a significant role to play in peoples’ lives. Of the 30 or so colleagues at the workshop I only knew a couple of them, and nobody very well. Our facilitators were amazing, with two of them leading the sessions and another acting as a scribe, resulting in a collaborative piece of work being emailed to us just a couple of hours after we finished. We have a bunch of actions to follow up with as a group and none of them feel unrealistic or overreaching.

Everything a flight geek needs

Everything a flight geek needs

On Thursday I spent the day in our head office with our immediate team, meeting a whole bunch of people in person for the first time. They all travelled in to say hello and enjoy a fabulous team lunch together. It was so lovely to reconnect with my colleagues, our company and Africa again.

Two minutes before I took this, we had a flat-bed truck filled with people going to work ahead of us

Two minutes before I took this, we had a flat-bed truck filled with people going to work ahead of us

A week in which I:

  • Agreed to take an action to look at how we can effectively collaborate across Microsoft 365 tenants with a company that we recently acquired.
  • Took the decision not to roll out our digital signage solution to one of our smaller offices. They use their screen to watch the news on occasion; they agreed that putting signs in their face would be overkill.
  • Continued to try and navigate the process to on-board a new contractor to the team.
  • Pondered how the sunk cost fallacy applies to hotel breakfasts. They are always a set rate of around £10–15, most of the time I just want my usual bowl of muesli, but I end up eating fruit, toast, mini muffins, bowls of fruit, eggs and everything else even when I don’t really want them, because £10 for a bowl of muesli seems excessive.
  • Felt good to be reconnecting with the worlds of software development and ‘ways of work’ through the workshop. I felt as though I could contribute to the topic despite SAFe not being a big part of my current day-to-day reality. I took the opportunity to explain about our little-known and sometimes misunderstood part of the company that sits outside Africa.
  • Ate a lot of junk food for dinner. Being away from home and an aspiring vegan meant that choices were limited.
  • Tried samp for the first time. Absolutely delicious.
  • Was the first person to go through Heathrow Terminal 3 immigration on Friday. I woke up at 3:30am as we started to descend towards the airport. The flight back from Johannesburg never used to get in so early; as a result of the pandemic there are a reduced number of flights and I think the airline needs to use their early slot to avoid losing it.
  • Spent Friday working from home in a bit of a daze before driving down to a hotel near Gatwick airport, ready for an early flight on Saturday. We have a holiday away with my parents, my brothers and all of our families which we are finally embarking on after a couple of cancellations — the first time because the travel company went bust and the second time due to the pandemic. It’s going to be amazing to spend so much time with everyone for the first time since we were teenagers. I’ll be able to avoid that feeling of always leaving shortly after arriving when we meet up. Being able to spend time together is such a luxury. From Wait But Why:

I’ve been thinking about my parents, who are in their mid-60s. During my first 18 years, I spent some time with my parents during at least 90% of my days. But since heading off to college and then later moving out of Boston, I’ve probably seen them an average of only five times a year each, for an average of maybe two days each time. 10 days a year. About 3% of the days I spent with them each year of my childhood.

Being in their mid-60s, let’s continue to be super optimistic and say I’m one of the incredibly lucky people to have both parents alive into my 60s. That would give us about 30 more years of coexistence. If the ten days a year thing holds, that’s 300 days left to hang with mom and dad. Less time than I spent with them in any one of my 18 childhood years.

Next week: Holiday!

Weeknotes #179 — CPR towel

I wish it would rain. It’s been so hot and dry in the UK, with some parts of the country already taking measures against the drought. I took the photo above as I walked through the village of Potten End on Thursday. Usually this village pond is full of water; it was a shock to see it so dried up.

Work felt a bit of a struggle this week as I couldn’t seem to shake an overwhelming tiredness. I found myself needing to eat something in meetings where I was taking more of a back seat role just to keep my eyes open. I have a few weeks coming up where I’m in workshops and taking a few days off, so I tried to focus to get things into a good state before the turbulence kicks in.

A week in which I:

  • Attended an Architecture Deep Dive into our cloud computing setup. Moving the IT assets of a large organisation from an on-premises setup to the cloud is a fascinatingly difficult problem, with multiple approaches and tradeoffs to be navigated throughout the work.
  • Along with our CTO, completed and delivered a virtual presentation to the Architecture Community of Practice on the work that we have done over the past five years. It felt as though the presentation went down well, but it was difficult to gauge as not many people had their cameras on. Hopefully it is the start of more collaboration with the teams across the Group.
  • Created the Kanban cards for our work to shut down one of our regional offices, and reviewed the consolidated milestones for the work across all of the other departments. Discussed the approach to planning with the project manager. Recruited a peer to get involved with representing us at the project management forums as I won’t be able to make the meetings for the next few weeks.
  • Reviewed the plan for the second phase of a physical infrastructure change in one of our offices. Getting this work completed will be a massive win, vastly simplifying our physical architecture in line with our new design.
  • Had a very insightful conversation with one of our executives as part of our work to understand more about the challenges faced by our business. We are using the information as input into how we can extend our digital capabilities to best effect. The discussion went for double the time it was booked for and gave us lots to think about.
  • Attended a de-brief of our annual Investors’ Conference that took place at the end of June.
  • Met with our divisional CIO who was visiting our London office. Demonstrated a Meeting Owl Pro camera as part of a hybrid meeting with him. We’ve sent one of our cameras to Johannesburg for the purpose of lending it to our colleagues there, enhancing our experience when colleagues get together in a room over there.
  • Met with a vendor that we use for our mobile phone contract to discuss their broader offerings.
  • Had our monthly catch-up with our head of Operational Risk.
  • Met with a colleague in our Wealth Management team for a random coffee. It’s great meeting people for a second time as you get straight into a meaty conversation.
  • Re-qualified in First Aid at Work again. I’ve been a first aider on and off for the past twenty years or so and only let my training lapse when I was working for my own company as a contractor. Embedding the knowledge over a long time frame is very useful, despite that knowledge changing over time to follow current best practice. The changes due to COVID-19 might have been appropriate in March 2020 but are a little silly and outdated now, advising you to put a towel or piece of cloth over someone’s face so that they don’t breathe on you when you administer CPR chest compressions.
  • Decided to take a two hour walk home from the training session instead of getting a taxi. Regretted wearing jeans after ten minutes of the journey.

  • Took my son to the Watford Open track meet. He managed to get a new personal best in the 1,500m which he was very pleased with.
  • Enjoyed the much delayed instalment of our International Album Club with some friends and colleagues from work. I’d never heard of Joe before, let alone listened to one of his albums. The modern version of R&B is not the sort of thing I’ve explored much. It took me back to similar music of the past and it was great to hear something different. Very enjoyable.
  • Spent Saturday prepping for a business trip, my first since I came back from New York in February 2020. Shirts ironed, bags packed, travel checklist checked. I flew to Johannesburg overnight on Saturday, not sleeping very much. I wondered how much thought goes into the acoustics of an aircraft cabin layout — I seemed to be able to hear every conversation that was taking place from the front to the rear galleys. I may need to give the ear plugs a go on my way home.
  • Enjoyed a lovely Sunday afternoon with the family of a friend from work. We had lunch out and then tea and cakes back at their house, playing air hockey and table football with their young boys and making friends with the lovely family dog. They were very gracious when I thought we might put the final of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 on. I’m so glad they were! A fabulous day.

Next week: An in-person workshop on agile software development practices, meeting some of our team for the first time, rounding out the week back at home and packing once again.

Weeknotes #178 — What it means

Three years ago, on a business trip to Dubai, I took this photo of the weather forecast on my hotel TV screen. I remember sending it to friends to show them just how crazily — unbelievably — high the temperatures were. It never crossed my mind that this short time later we would see those same temperatures in the UK. Monday and Tuesday were hot. Alice Bell’s tweet captured my mood perfectly.

I stayed at home for the first few days of the week. The train companies had advised us to stay at home. Services had been reduced to two trains an hour, running slowly over potentially dangerous track. We managed to keep our house at a relatively cool 27°C but my home office is like a greenhouse; I had to keep the door open, and only had a fan blasting warm air at me for any kind of relief. The cats weren’t impressed, stretching themselves as long and low as they could in order to cool down.

I felt as though I got lots done this week, managing to get focused quickly when I was at my desk. It’s been a week of ideas, many of which I’ve had to jot down with the intention of working them out as blog posts sometime soon. This weekend I’ve had to spend some time at my desk to close off a few things as I’m about to enter a few weeks where I’m going to be short of time.

A week in which I:

  • Worked on a presentation for our Group ‘Architecture Community of Practice’ forum that myself and our CTO have been invited to speak at next week. We are going to tell the story of the work we have done over the past few years. I’m excited about sharing it with the teams across the organisation. We’ve had a first run through and will have a final check-in on Monday.
  • Met with the team developing a series of interactive dashboards to be used by our front office staff. Thought about the need for ‘rules of the road’ that everyone sticks to, i.e. ensuring that all staff regularly and consistently capture data in the source systems so that the dashboards are as useful and insightful as they can be. If you work for the police, you know that there is a minimum standard of documentation that you have to complete such as writing up incident reports; my assumption is that not doing this would be negligence or misconduct. The challenge is in moving the organisation towards a similar minimum standard, changing the culture so that this data capture is something that we just do.
  • Spent time talking through a compliance issue with an in-house application that we are developing. Hoping that my contribution was useful and may help unblock things so that we can get the tool in front of people as soon as possible.
  • Met with colleagues in the People and Culture team to discuss the work I have been preparing for our Digital Literacy programme.
  • Took part in the first internal project team meeting for the work of closing one of our offices. This first meeting was to agree the processes that we will follow, as well as the artefacts that we intend to use.
  • Reviewed and discussed the outcome of our interviews of senior leaders in our part of the organisation that we undertook as part of our digital journey mapping. Agreed how we would feed the results back to the Executive Committee.
  • Went live with our new digital signage system in London, getting the Raspberry Pi devices installed on each of the monitors in our office. I wrote up a Teams post to explain what we’ve done and how it works, as well as asking for feedback on the information that colleagues want to see on the displays. The devices also arrived in our office in Asia this week; it has been interesting to understand and deal with a number of challenges that come about specifically due to the location. Hopefully we will have them up and running in the next few days.
  • Updated the security design and end-user notes for our mandatory regulatory audio recording system following an agreement to make a small change to the setup.
  • Went through the draft proposal document for how we will manage ‘Internet of Things’ devices on our office networks.
  • Reviewed the latest formal quote for upgrading the door access system in one of our smaller offices, comparing it to a quote we received months ago. This project has taken an extraordinary amount of time for the work that is required, with lots of back-and-forth with vendors. Agreed next steps to try and get the quote reduced.
  • Gave another IT team an introduction to LeanKit and explained how we came to adopt it a couple of years ago.
  • Attended an online internal town hall-style meeting on the topic of being Human First. Gave some feedback to colleagues in London who were promoting the event.
  • Met with our audio/visual equipment and services vendor to review our latest requirements for our London office and agreed next steps.
  • Booked flights and a hotel for my first business trip since February 2020.
  • Enjoyed an insightful presentation on the automation of our travel processes.
  • Completed online First Aid at Work training ahead of my in-person requalification course next week. It’s been a while since I’ve held a certificate and I’m looking forward to being qualified again.
  • Had a lovely random coffee with a colleague in the Investment Banking team.
  • Completed an analysis of technology spend in the primary school that I support as a governor, and put forward a plan for work next year. The school have already taken this forward with our current and planned technology support vendors.
  • Agreed to look at becoming a Strategic Leader of Governance for Herts for Learning. It is a volunteer role where I will get to mentor and give advice to Chairs of school governing boards across Hertfordshire. I hope it is not quite as tough as the SLOG acronym suggests.
  • Enjoyed ‘shoegaze night’ at the latest Album Club.
  • Have had the song Perfect Man by Rufus Wainwright whirling around my head. I don’t think this song gets anywhere near the recognition it deserves — it’s a genius piece of work which happens to be both melancholy and funky at the same time. I can’t believe it’s been a decade since it came out.

Next week: Presenting at the Architecture Community of Practice, a summer social at work, attempting to requalify as a First Aider, a debrief from our recent conference and preparing for a trip.

Weeknotes #177 — Teenagers

A regular week with plenty to do. I managed to steer clear of the gory details of the Conservative Party leadership contest, avoiding the live TV debates and catching up with the news and hot-takes “in a specific and limited way”. Given that the myriad of candidates to be our next Prime Minister will be whittled down to two by their fellow Tory MPs and then voted on by the 200,000 party members, I don’t understand why we are having TV debates at all. It’s incredibly depressing that one of these will be our next leader; it’s like the country is waiting for sentencing after being found guilty of committing a crime.

A lot of thought and discussion focused on Monday and Tuesday next week, where we are expecting to see the highest ever recorded temperatures in the UK. Dark, foreboding emails from the train companies about reduced services, bent rails and trackside fires have torpedoed any ideas I had of going into the office to enjoy the air conditioning. So far I haven’t seen any reports of wildfires here in the UK but it wouldn’t be a shock if they occurred; the countryside looks properly parched at the moment.

I’m enjoying work, but seem to have a chronic feeling of every day being too short for what I wanted to get done. I’m sure it’s always been like this, but for some reason the feeling has become more acute over the past couple of years.

At the weekend, our eldest boy was away doing his expedition for his silver Duke of Edinburgh award and his younger brother turned 13. It was strange celebrating without both of them being there. This now means that we have two teenagers in the house, which feels like another life milestone that we’ve reached.

A week in which I:

  • Was so sad to hear that we will be closing one of our offices. Although I never made it there for a visit, I’ve made many friends there through working with the team as we rolled out our new IT infrastructure. It’s going to be a shame to say goodbye.
  • Spent time playing with ideas for a digital literacy programme that I am planning to get off the ground in the second half of this year. I’m very much at the ‘discover’ phase of the Double Diamond, gathering and ordering ideas that I hope to shape into something structured. The work has spurred some great discussions already, some of which I need to turn into blog posts in order to clarify my thinking.
  • Showed someone how to post an announcement on Teams.It has made me realise how much additional benefit we can still get from the tools we have already deployed.
  • Installed the digital signage player to drive the looooong monitor in our office. It took some fiddling to get the Raspberry Pi to drive the screen at an appropriate resolution but it’s now looking great. I have it running live Bloomberg TV from YouTube, a fancy world clock that I forked and tweaked on codepen.io and a beautiful weather display from Meteoblue. We’re due to get all of the others installed in the next week or two.
  • Wrote up instructions for on-boarding new digital signage players so that colleagues in other offices can get started when their devices arrive.
  • Reviewed the latest iteration of our audio/visual vision document with our AV service provider and agreed next steps.
  • Met with our landlord and our Head of Legal to discuss next steps for an additional Internet Service Provider connection to our office. Of all the countries we operate in, London is by far the most difficult for getting this kind of work done due to the need to get a wayleave in place.
  • Enjoyed an internal Learning Hour session hosted by three members of the team who took us through the work they have been doing on a new internal product.
  • Took part in our monthly risk review meeting.
  • Joined our bi-monthly information risk meeting.
  • Prepped for, and then ran, a school Pay Committee meeting. We have them at least once a year and then on an as-needed basis which meant I was a little out of practice. I’ve now got to find some time to write up the minutes.
  • Assisted with updating a school policy. PDF Expert on the iPad is a great tool for concatenating two PDFs.
  • Had fun taking my son and a few of his friends to TeamSport Karting in Dunstable for his 13th birthday. It wasn’t cheap, but after two years of no parties at all it felt as though we were making up for lost time. They all seemed to love it. The venue wasn’t brilliant — all of the track marshals seemed to be on a go slow, meaning that every little crash took an age to resolve — but we had fun all the same.
  • Popped down to my aunt and uncle’s house near Romsey for lunch with my mum’s side of our family, including my lovely nan that I haven’t seen in a very long time. Another aunt and uncle are visiting from Australia and it was great to see them too.
  • Had the news that my bike is no longer viable for riding on the road. It needs almost everything replacing on it at a cost that would be greater than what I bought it for eight years ago. After some good long chats with the brilliant guys at my local bike shop, I found something I like and put a deposit down directly with the manufacturer. Their website says that orders placed now aren’t likely to be completed until November, so I’m resigned to riding indoors for the next few months.
  • Joined a Tortoise ThinkIn for the first time in months, this time with the wonderful PP Arnold. She’s still fantastic.

  • Found a piece of metal in my mouth as I munched my way through a bag of salad. I’ve let the manufacturer know but they are yet to get back to me.

Next week: Working from home a little more than usual, trying to keep cool, while the rest of the family enjoy their last week of the academic year at school.

Weeknotes #176 — Digital displays

In some ways, things were back to normal this week after the all-consuming focus of our annual conference. In other ways they were anything but — in the evenings I found myself glued to the TV, Signal chats and Twitter, catching up with the tumultuous goings-on in the UK government which culminated in the Prime Minister’s resignation. I’m so glad that we will finally see the back of the worst person ever to hold the office. I’m also fearful as to what comes next.

A week in which I:

  • Started the week with my sixth weekday commute in a row. Our division of the company has implemented a new policy of having everyone around the world in the office on Monday. I understand why — this week’s FT Working It podcast noted that lots of companies are going this route, for good reasons — but it still felt a bit like being in the office for its own sake. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I had to leave the office at 3:45pm in order to make an in-person school governor meeting at 5:30pm. The travelling seemed like a colossal waste of time when I could have done a full day’s work at my desk at home.
  • Loved being in the office on Thursday, setting up our new Raspberry Pi-based digital signage players along with a Tidbyt that will sit near to our Helpdesk team. I can’t wait to get the players installed behind their respective screens and to train the wider team on how to manage the displays.

  • Made progress with my Agile Coach / Product Manager vacancy, interviewing three candidates. I’m hopeful that we’ve found someone who looks like an excellent fit. Interviewing is like DIY to me — I dread it until I’m actually doing it, and then I realise I quite enjoy it.
  • Was so pleased with the work my colleague got done to simplify the physical infrastructure in one of our offices. At his insistence, he jumped on a plane at short notice in order to take advantage of the space being vacant for a week. They managed to decommission tons of redundant cabling as well as a patch panel that looked like something out of the climactic scene of Superman III.

  • Reviewed our plan for our London office ‘collaboration space’ with our CIO. Agreed in principle what we will do. We now need to keep focused on closing out the specification and seeing the project through to a conclusion.
  • Moved to a new laptop. I’d had my Thinkpad X280 since early 2019 and was very fond of it. I’m now using a superbly-specced Thinkpad T14 and can really tell the difference. Our philosophy is to purchase devices with sufficient RAM, hard drive space etc. and to give everyone the same device, so that we minimise any follow-up work with specific staff members who need their hardware to be upgraded. It’s an approach that has served us well. I use Windows at work and macOS at home and generally prefer the former; I wonder how much of the preference for Apple is driven by people using underpowered devices.
  • Wrestled with getting my new laptop to sleep. Having said how much I like Windows, it still does have some bizarre niggles. Windows 10 was no problem — I locked the screen, walked away and the laptop would then switch itself off after a while. My Windows 11 devices don’t seem to do this, nor do they sleep when asked. A colleague shared a little BAT file with me which when run will force the computer to sleep, which works a treat.
  • Spent some time getting our Kanban cards into shape, after having neglected them for the past couple of weeks due to the conference.
  • Updated our quarterly roadmap, closing out on Q2 and refreshing the milestones we have planned for future quarters.
  • Contributed some text to our quarterly update to the divisional CIO.
  • Met with colleagues in our IT Innovation and Community Development team as they wanted to find out about what technology we had implemented in our offices over the past few years. I need to turn this into a short, snappy presentation by the end of July in conjunction with our CTO.
  • Met with colleagues for a Digital Showcase session on a ‘playbook’ put together for anyone who is providing digital services to clients via our new externally-facing portal.
  • Attended a Learning Hour session on the topic of Health and Safety in one of our regional offices. The presentation was followed by a useful discussion with about communication.
  • Enjoyed meeting in person for our final Full Governing Board meeting of the year at school. It was lovely to stay after the meeting and to chat with some of my fellow governors. We haven’t had much of an opportunity to do it over the past few years.
  • Attended a feedback meeting with our School Improvement Partner. Despite all of the challenges that the school has been facing, it was wonderful to hear from someone external on how well everything is going.
  • Got the car’s annual MOT and service done. We were hit with a hefty bill this time, partly because of the things that needed doing and partly because everything is getting more expensive. We bought our used car from a main dealer a couple of years ago. I know they are not the cheapest place to get a service, but it is very cool to be sent a link to a video showing all of the parts that need fixing. I’ve now made a vow to take more notice of the depth of tread on my tyres. Nobody needs a £10,000 fine.
  • Bumped into an old friend on the train home that I hadn’t seen for years. Our children started playing football around the same time so we used to chat at Saturday morning training. Added him into our F1 Geeks WhatsApp group so that he can enjoy the in-race banter.
  • Cycled over to my mum and dad’s house for a family get-together. I’m glad it wasn’t any longer than my usual Saturday morning ride as it was so hot. It was wonderful to be with so many friends and family, many of which I haven’t seen since before the pandemic. There have been a few family events recently as well as more planned in the near future. I like this.
  • Had two friends over to watch the F1. Getting together to watch the race is definitely the way forward.

Next week: Trying to keep cool while we bask in a heatwave. Taking my bike in for a much-needed service. The final school governor meeting of the year. And suddenly finding that we have two teenagers in the house.

Weeknotes #175 — A deep breath and an open mind

An amazing week, completely dominated by our annual Investors’ Conference which we hosted in our London office. For the first time in over two years I didn’t spend a single day working from home. For the three days of the conference I had to be at my desk by 7:30am. Every day I found myself staying late to ensure we were prepped for the following morning. A few of us from Engineering/IT sat side-by-side with Marketing/Events, working seamlessly as one team. It was intense, and a massive shift from the quiet isolation of working from home that I was used to. We managed to tackle every problem that arose; there didn’t seem to be anything we couldn’t handle with a deep breath and an open mind. There is no way that I could work like that every week, but it was brilliant to be involved and feel part of something big again.

A week in which I:

  • Helped a colleague to get a video loop playing on the smart TVs around the office. Our solution was to upload the video to Vimeo, ensuring it was unlisted, creating a small HTML file that pointed to the video with the correct parameters to play and loop it, storing that HTML file in an Amazon S3 bucket and making it publicly accessible, then creating a bitly short link that could be quickly entered onto the TV web browsers. It worked a like a charm.
  • Had to react quickly to the realisation that part of the conference was going to be hosted in an area of the building where we and no Wi-Fi coverage. We had to get the password for our sister company’s guest network into thirty iPads. I am so grateful for the ‘nearby device password sharing’ feature built into iPadOS. We also had to create a QR code for the Wi-Fi network and drop it into the meeting rooms in this space.
  • Learned that “there’s a problem with the Wi-Fi” can mean any number of a myriad of small issues, none of which are an actual problem with the Wi-Fi.
  • Found that if there is a screen in a room, there will be an expectation by the people in the room that it can be used, even if it has been made clear that it isn’t available.
  • Talked through a problem relating to generating QR codes for last-minute registrations and how those codes were shared between two different applications. These codes were to be used to record attendance at the different meetings and plenary sessions at the conference. We went with the simplest solution, not using them at all for the few people that this would affect, capturing their details manually instead.
  • Captured lists of attendees at our virtual sessions throughout the week through the built-in functionality in Teams.
  • Watched colleagues in the Marketing team wrestle with the platform being used to run the conference. Learned a lot about what makes a good tool for this kind of event.
  • Found out from our network analytics that one of the attendees may have had an issue on their device given the amount of bandwidth they were consuming. We’ve followed up with them to let them know.
  • Helped the team to quickly pivot to a series of online meetings for an important client who couldn’t make it to the event at the last minute.
  • Enjoyed the event food, with the desserts being the highlight.
  • Agreed to send one of my team over to our office in the Middle East to start a physical infrastructure project. When we’re finished we should have massively decreased the complexity of our server room as well as the cabling throughout the office.
  • Reviewed a proposal to be submitted to our internal company board meeting to tweak part of our Teams setup.
  • Attended a demo for an Amazon Mechanical Turk-style platform that we are using to create employment opportunities in Africa as we process internal data sets.
  • Took the Tube for the first time in months. I love my daily walk between the mainline station and my office, but I wouldn’t have been able to make it to my desk on time if I didn’t use the Underground this week. Found that prices have shifted upwards to £2.50 for a single journey in Zone 1.

  • Ended the week with a lovely dinner out with some of the London Engineering team and one of our alumni who was over from Johannesburg, attending a totally different conference. We’d last been together when we were working in New York just before the pandemic kicked off. It felt like a very lovely end to the week.
  • Prepped for our final school full governing board meeting of the academic year which takes place next week.
  • Had to deal with some ongoing work for school.
  • Enjoyed the F1 British Grand Prix with a friend who popped over for the occasion. What a race!

Next week: The start of a new working pattern with the whole company expected to be in the office together on Mondays. Our school governing board meeting. Getting the car serviced. And getting back to all of the other work that was paused during the conference.

Weeknotes #174 — Ready-made dough

Crazy busy. We entered our final few days ahead of our annual conference, to be held in our office next week. I have never been involved to this extent before. For this kind of event, I suspect that no matter how much run-up we have had there will always be some last-minute panic. It feels like there are lots of loose ends but we have a plan for each one. We now just need to work through each of them to be ready for Tuesday.

In parallel to my day job I’ve also been heavily involved in a lot of school governor work which has kept me busy into the evenings. I was so grateful that the trains weren’t running so that I could only feasibly go into the office on one day. Being at home meant that I got so much more done, leaving my desk at the end of each day with a strange satisfied feeling that I couldn’t have achieved more.

A week in which I:

  • Welcomed my wife back from her well-deserved girls weekend away in Portugal.
  • Travelled to the office on Monday in order to meet someone from our conference technology vendor. I was in late as I had to get the boys off to school first. The vendor had brought a van full of kit that will be used for the video production at the event. One of the reasons I love working where I do is that I moved straight from a call on strategy with the CEO of one of our regional offices to wheeling cases through the basement of the building like a roadie. I love the variety.

  • Agreed the digital signage plan for the event.
  • Had our final pre-meeting with the conference technology vendor.
  • Attended a run-through of what to expect and what to do at the event with all of the senior executives that will be hosting or presenting from our organisation.
  • Finalised the technical details for a series of FinTech-based presentations at the conference. Flip-flopped between using Zoom and Teams a couple of times based on limitations of the setup and finally landed on Teams. We managed to disable convenience recording on the account used to set up the meetings which means that nobody can record them; in Zoom this is one of a bazillion web-based settings, but in Teams you need to get someone to run some PowerShell.
  • Continued a fascinating series of meetings with our regional leaders, speaking to the heads of our business in the Middle East and North America. We ended the week with a retrospective of what we have heard so far and thinking about how we can take things forward.
  • Reviewed the latest batch of CVs for my Agile Coach / Product Manager vacancy and gave feedback to our recruitment agency. Prepared an interview template.
  • Was asked to review an internal document created in response to some regulatory changes. I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked reviewing other people’s work and making corrections and comments on it.
  • Agreed a proposal for federating part of our Microsoft 365 setup with another organisation to ease speed of communication between us.
  • Attended a meeting with the team who are collaborating on creating dashboards of client data and agreed how we will deal with current risks and issues with the work.
  • Wrote up a detailed governor visit report following my IT-focused meeting at school a couple of weeks ago.
  • Did the Tring 6k ‘fun run’ with my eldest boy. He won his age category, coming second overall, and I was very happy with my 16th place. I went out way too fast and had to stop to catch my breath at a couple of points. My heart rate never goes above the high 150 beats per minute; and as soon as it approaches its limit I have an overwhelming urge that I can’t carry on. Still, I set a new personal best time for 5km.

  • Enjoyed a week on the bike trainer, thanks to working from home almost every day. Saturday morning was a beautiful day for a cycle, with slightly lower temperatures than we’ve had recently.
  • Had some friends round for an impromptu firing up of our pizza oven. We bought ready-made dough from a nearby restaurant which tasted superb. It’s an expensive way of doing things, but great to have the option if we haven’t planned ahead. Of course, being England in the summer it started chucking it down with rain right in the middle of cooking. I found myself outside with two umbrellas, hoping to keep the water away from causing a mini-explosion on the 400°C oven stone.

  • Was sent an email with a glorious typo. “I appreciate how busty you are at the moment…”

Next week: In the office by 7:30am for three days in a row, hopefully without my brain melting. Cleared the diaries to focus on the conference; hopefully the issues will be few and far between, giving me lots of space to work on everything else.

Weeknotes #173 — Table top

I go past this bus stop every day when I walk to my office. It looks like it is not long for this world, but somebody wants to keep it open.

I go past this bus stop every day when I walk to my office. It looks like it is not long for this world, but somebody wants to keep it open.

As wonderful as it was to go away for the weekend, I felt a little devastated on Monday. The weekend of cycling didn’t look that dramatic on paper but it took its toll, and I found it to be an effort to string coherent sentences together. I’d felt ill on Sunday’s ride so I wasn’t sure if it was related to that, or just general fatigue and loss of salts from all of the sweaty work.

I always start each week with a determination to jot things down as I go for these weeknotes. Getting very busy means that the habit falls away, leaving more work to do at the weekend to recall everything that happened. This week felt hectic; try as I might I still ended each day with some ‘must dos’ on my list that I hadn’t got to.

A week in which I:

  • Spent half a day with our Group Head of Enterprise Architecture who was in town to attend a conference. It was interesting to bring him up to speed with the work that we have done in our part of the organisation over the last few years. We also spoke about the state of of our organisation’s strategy and initiatives that are in progress in the wider group.
  • Noted that we’re reaching the business end of the preparation for our upcoming Investors’ Conference. Our technology vendor came on site to test connectivity to cellular data networks ahead of the setup next week. I ran the penultimate internal project meeting, and participated in getting some of the technical aspects of the event website set up. We also went through the physical build plan for the days leading up to the event. So much has to happen. Most of the work is non-technical; one of the joys of working where I do is the ability to be involved with projects across the organisation and to get a great breadth of experience.
  • Took part in a series of fascinating interviews with senior leaders in our business. We spoke to heads of product as well as Chief Executives of some of our international offices. The goal wasn’t to talk to them about technology, but to get insight into what business challenges they face and what their goals are. We gathered so much interesting information from the sessions. One of the best things about our company is that people make time for you and are willing to talk. I’m excited to continue these discussions next week. Once we’ve finished we will need to step back and look at what we’ve been told, with a goal of assessing how we can spend our limited technology resources for the greatest impact to the organisation.
  • Made a little progress with recruiting for the Agile Coach / Product Manager role in my team. I was put in touch with a recommended contact as well as received a few more CVs. It’s going to be difficult to make good progress with this over the next couple of weeks but I need to try and get things properly in motion.
  • Took part in a ‘table top’ exercise with the rest of the team, simulating what we would do if a major IT problem hit one of our offices. The session was really well run and there were lots of good things that the team learned from the session. We are fortunate in that we don’t experience significant issues very often, but this means that we may not be match fit for when one does strike. Exercises like this one are there to get us into shape.
  • Completed work on the revised proposal for the audio/visual setup of our largest meeting rooms and our collaboration space. We now need to review the proposal with our CIO.
  • Was introduced to a new colleague who will be joining us soon in one of our regional offices. It will be the first time that we will have had a full-time IT presence there. It’s going to be good to have a new face in the team.
  • Met with a consultancy that has been hired by our technology leadership to look at the culture of the organisation. I’m never shy about giving my opinions. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of their one-to-one interviews and focus group sessions.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour presentation given by one of my colleagues on the topic of client ecosystems.
  • Continued to work on a school governance project, supported by the wonderful people at Herts for Learning.
  • Attended the latest Herts for Learning Chairs’ Strategic Information Briefing. As ever, the content was excellent. I’m very impressed by the Livestorm platform — it’s the best one I’ve seen for online events like this.
  • Tried to keep cool as we were hit by 32°C weather on Friday. We found that two of our portable fans that we bring out for these occasions weren’t working, so I took them to the recycling centre and bought some new ones. There are less visible moving parts on the replacements so I’m hoping they will last a bit longer.
  • Said bon voyage to my wife who headed off to Portugal for a well-deserved and long-delayed weekend with her friends.
  • Enjoyed a weekend at home, catching up with lots of chores. Had a lovely Saturday evening out with my boys, grabbing dinner and watching Top Gun: Maverick (2022). The storyline was completely predictable, but that didn’t stop it being a lot of fun.

Next week: One week until the conference. Train strikes and an Album Club.

Weeknotes #172 — Isle of Wight

A very busy week on all fronts. There is a lot going on at work as well as in my school governor life. My weekend was completely packed, going to see Magdalena Bay on Friday night and then getting away early on Saturday for two days of cycling. I’m going to have to pick another weekend to catch up with some sleep.

A week in which I:

  • Met with our technology vendor for our upcoming conference at the end of June. The technical requirements are reducing as we go, giving us less things to focus on.
  • Agreed the details for our digital signage setup for the conference.
  • Followed up with our vendor on the completion documents for our final Teams telephony migrations.
  • Took part in the status review for our client dashboard development initiative.
  • Created a presentation called Don’t Get Hacked, covering data breaches, password managers, multi-factor authentication apps, basic smartphone settings and virtual private networks. Since the presentation, a few of my colleagues have told me that they have changed passwords and/or purchased password managers so I am calling this a success.
  • Agreed the technical specification for an upgrade to a door access system in one of our offices. I hate doing rework, but it looks as though the specifications given to us were wrong the first time around. I’m glad we didn’t find out even later in the process.
  • Finalised the purchase orders for the new digital signage solution to be installed in two of our offices.
  • Was given a lead for my Agile Coach / Product Manager vacancy and set up an initial meeting with the prospective candidate for next week.
  • Attended training on a new Gifts and Entertainment system.
  • Joined the first part of the Teams Fireside Chat.
  • Spent a morning at school reviewing the technical infrastructure and making notes on things that we need to implement over the next few years.
  • Chaired a school governor meeting. Governance Services at Herts for Learning were as superb as ever in helping me to prepare for the session.
  • Had some real struggles on the bike. Noting how strong I felt last week seemed to be the kiss of death. Twice this week I started a turbo trainer session only to find that I was unable to complete it, spinning out the rest of the session at low power. It’s really difficult to identify the point at which you give up, having resolved only seconds before that you will keep going. My poor performance came back again at the weekend when we did our ride around the Isle of Wight. I could only keep up with my usual group for the first part of the ride. It then felt as though I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs; I had developed a cough which meant my chest was quite painful. Even walking to and from the office has left me a bit out of breath. I’ve tested myself for COVID-19 and it has come back negative, so maybe it’s just another minor bug that I’ve picked up somewhere.
  • Despite it feeling tough, enjoyed a wonderful weekend of cycling around Winchester and the Isle of Wight with a brilliant group of Berkhamsted Cycling Club members. We spent Saturday evening at The Ship Anson pub where it happened to be karaoke night. It was so much fun to be on a proper night out again after having been away for so long.

  • Watched the Conservative Party’s vote of confidence (which I couldn’t help referring to as a “vote of no confidence”) in the Prime Minister. I have my fingers crossed that this is the beginning of the end for the tenure of both him and his party.

Next week: Starting the week on the back foot from having been away all weekend, trying to catch up.

Weeknotes #171 — Celebrations

Beautiful rose-covered cottage in Langford, Oxfordshire

Beautiful rose-covered cottage in Langford, Oxfordshire

The Platinum Jubilee week here in the UK. Our traditional bank holiday on the last Monday of May was shifted for the special occasion, with another day off thrown in for good measure. I’m a republican (with a lower-case ‘r’), but I do appreciate a four-day weekend. It’s been lovely, and came at just the right time.

A week in which I:

  • Followed up with the long-running project to replace a door access system in one of our offices, giving more context to the new contacts at our vendor that have taken over our account.
  • Reviewed more CVs for my Agile Coach/Product Manager role.
  • Took part in our quarterly Architecture Governance Authority meeting, a short one as we only had previous actions to review. Had a great discussion about participating in the broader forums that run within the wider organisation and resolved to take part.
  • The next day, joined one of our Architecture forums and tried to contribute as much as I could in the meeting. I came to a realisation that behaviour of people in online meetings may be partly behind a drive to get people back into the office.
  • Met with our Legal and Procurement teams to agree next steps on a couple of vendor contracts.
  • Agreed a strategy to progress the concept of us ‘moving up the stack’ as an IT/Engineering team. We have a number of meetings with senior stakeholders in June, and I’ll be picking up a stream on ‘Digital Literacy’.
  • Updated the user guide for our Teams telephony voice recording system. Added instructions on how to share voice recordings in a safer way by stopping them from being downloaded.
  • Watched the team deal with network performance issues at one of our sites. They managed to get it back to a good level of performance, but we still have work to do to understand the detail behind what happened.
  • Collaborated with a colleague on our audio/visual vision document for our largest office. We wrote the document months ago and it has been an interesting exercise to see how the vision has shifted with the collective experience of being back in the office.
  • Reflected further on what makes a good, or poor, client/vendor relationship. Submitting a termination request only to be told that you are too late and the contract will automatically roll over for a further term, for a service you no longer use, then telling you the termination request was wrong so the ‘ticket’ will be closed, falls squarely in the ‘poor’ bucket. It doesn’t do a lot for a company’s net promoter score.
  • Enjoyed our weekly Learning Hour meeting on the topic of Product Management.
  • Watched most of the new series of Stranger Things on Netflix. This time around it feels like three or four stories in one; it’ll be interesting to see how it all comes together.
  • Travelled to Langford in Oxfordshire for my wife’s mum’s birthday. We had a good meal at The Bell Inn before going for a wander around the village.
Spotted these birds hanging around someone’s garden gate in Langford

Spotted these birds hanging around someone’s garden gate in Langford

  • Got a couple of good bike rides in. I did the weekly club ride on my own a day early, and then rode down to Romsey in Hampshire on Saturday. I’m definitely feeling ‘match fit’ at the moment, particularly as I’m managing to go for an occasional run as well.
It’s still a thrill to look at a map after a cycle ride and see how far I managed to go.

It’s still a thrill to look at a map after a cycle ride and see how far I managed to go.

  • Had a wonderful time in Romsey at my uncle’s 70th birthday party. The weather held off so we could enjoy ourselves outside in the garden. There is never enough time to speak to everyone. I do love a family get-together.
Live birthday entertainment

Live birthday entertainment

Street party, complete with ice cream van

Street party, complete with ice cream van

Next week: Back to business with a bump, school governor duties, a night out at a gig and a cycling adventure.

Weeknotes #170 — The wrong staircases

A regular week with a couple of days in the office. I managed to allocate some time to looking at some of the more strategic aspects of my job and not just the immediate to-do list. Next week should be quiet as a lot of people are taking days off work to coincide with school half-term as well as the two public holidays for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee; I’m hoping it will be equally productive.

A week in which I:

  • Got approval for the next set of infrastructure work in one of our smaller offices, to implement a modern UPS stack and environmental monitoring, and to simplify the cabling.
  • Celebrated when the team successfully worked through the telephone call quality issues in Microsoft Teams as part of our new setup in the same office.
  • Had our first weekly meeting with the main technical vendor for our annual conference. We have a month to go, so we’re getting to crunch time.
  • Closed out on the decision of a digital signage vendor and obtained a quote for two of our offices. Moving to the new platform will give us a better solution at about a fifth of the cost charged by our current supplier and allow us to extend the signage across all five of our sites.
  • Continued reviewing CVs for my Agile Coach / Product Manager vacancy. Met with someone who had been recommended to me by a friend for an introductory chat.
  • Had a couple of meetings about the dashboard work for our big group programme.
  • Spent time working on how to represent the work that we are doing at a portfolio level, both top-down and bottom-up.
  • Attended a Digital Showcase session for a presentation on our company’s sales enablement framework. Asked some questions which felt obvious to me and was glad I did.
  • Found myself in a conversation about ‘row-level security’ again, 17 years after tackling the issue on a project I ran to build an HR data warehouse.
  • Spoke to Matt about what good and bad vendor relationships look like ahead of him starting his new job. I’ve spent the past few years being the client, and have some idea as to what works and what doesn’t.
  • Reflected on how stuff is so difficult in technology when you are building products with a tiny team. There are so many disciplines to cover: security, typography, user experience, performance, architecture. What’s the right way to optimise?
  • Spoke about Conway’s Law in a meeting again. Wondered whether communication paths and the efficient transfer of information at the point of need is the ‘general problem’ for most things.
  • Enjoyed a presentation from a colleague on genealogy as part of our weekly Learning Hour series.
  • Enjoyed the first monthly Connect Day in our London office, with drinks and nibbles to round out the day.
  • Had a fun Random Coffee with one of my colleagues in the Wealth Management team.
  • Interviewed a prospective new school governor. It’s always such a pleasure and privilege to talk to someone who has decided to put their hand up and volunteer for the job.
  • Got annoyed when talking to a friend who works as a cleaner. She told me that her company has changed their holiday policy so that she can only take two of her four weeks of leave at one time. This means that she can’t spend as much time as she would like with her family back in her home country. We seem to have moved on very quickly from clapping for the people that kept things going during the pandemic.
  • Bought tickets to the Singles Night Smoke Fairies gig in November. I’m so excited to see them play live again.
  • Finished reading Re-educated by Lucy Kellaway. Picked up the next book in my Steinbeck journey, The Short Reign of Pippin IV. I’m about a third of the way through and it isn’t blowing me away.
  • Had an excellent first couple of weeks in the latest Learned League. I’ve been here before; it’s too early to know whether I can keep my run of form going.
  • Visited the doctor for the first time in years, getting my mind put to rest on a few niggles. Getting older is fun!
  • Had a great time out on the bike for a Saturday morning club ride, and a lovely run with my wife on Sunday.
  • Watched a lot of sport at the weekend, with the F1 Monaco Grand Prix qualifying and race, as well as the Champions League final. I was dog tired on Saturday night and found myself falling asleep in front of the football, despite the match being fantastic to watch. Had a friend come over for the race on Sunday afternoon which was wonderful.
  • Sat down to watch The Staircase with my wife, which a friend had recommended to us. After two-and-a-bit episodes we found out that we were watching the wrong thing completely — a documentary about the events that was made in 2004 instead of the mini-series from 2022. The documentary was bizarre in that I couldn’t understand why anyone would have allowed it to be made, and for what purpose. It was very macabre. After having watched the real-life events, the dramatisation seemed a bit pointless and badly acted. So we gave up on both.

Next week: A three-day week, crowned with birthday celebrations and a street party.

Weeknotes #169 — Intruder alert

I had it working last week. This week, not so much.

I had it working last week. This week, not so much.

I started the week at home. My wife was away on a residential trip for the first half of the week, giving the children a wonderful experience to remember whilst getting very little sleep in the process. This meant that I was home alone with the boys for the first time in years. As far as I know I only had one ‘dad fail’: forgetting to make lunch for my youngest boy before he left for school on Tuesday. Luckily he had some credit on his school card to go to the canteen. There’s nothing like a short absence to refresh your appreciation for someone and everything they do.

On Thursday I found myself remarking to a colleague in the office about how ridiculously busy the week had been, but that I felt I didn’t have a lot to show for it. Others seemed to be in the same boat. Prepping for these weeknotes is very useful to remind myself of what I actually got done.

A week in which I:

  • Woke up on Monday to text messages from the street WhatsApp group about a random hooded figure who had been wandering around our road at 4:20am. I scanned the footage from our video doorbells and found them creeping up our driveway, flashing a torch at our door and at our neighbour’s window before shuffling away. We logged it with the police and uploaded our footage but I’m not sure there’s a lot they can do. Nobody has seen them since.
  • Was pleased for the team who stayed up through Friday night until the early hours of Saturday morning making a successful, major network change at one of our sites. It is a big step forward in simplification. Our vision is to ultimately remove the need for server rooms at our offices, replacing them with a small cabinet on the wall containing SD-WAN sockets, a couple of switches and cables to the wireless access points. I’m not sure that we’ll ever literally get there, but the idea does help to focus our minds.
  • Put together and sent out communications for the cutover of our final site to Teams telephony. Every single one of our offices has a slightly different technical implementation due to regional differences and restrictions. The team still have some tuning to do but the system is now live.
  • Reviewed more CVs for the vacancy in my team. Briefed our contract resourcing agency on the role and the broader context of our organisation.
  • Had a number of meetings about our investor conference, which is now only a month away. There’s a lot to get done in a very short space of time. I see this project moving front and centre for the next few weeks.
  • Met with our Information Risk Steering Group and gave an update on a number of items that I am running with.
  • Continued work on looking at potential digital signage solutions. After wrestling with trying to bridge a wired connection to our wireless network in the office — something that I got working last week but this week just wouldn’t cooperate — I took a test device home with me. Having looked at about five different platforms there is really only one that I would be comfortable in handing over to our non-technical staff to administer. We completed on-boarding for the vendor so hopefully we’ll be able to put an order in next week.
  • Spoke to our main technology vendor and received an updated quote for upgrading one of our server rooms.
  • Had the monthly update meeting with our Governance and Control, and Cybersecurity teams.
  • Referred to Conway’s Law a number of times in different meetings as we discussed how people can be motivated to look beyond their silos.
  • Enjoyed a talk from one of our team on the new ’first responder’ incident process that they are putting in place.
  • Tuned in to a town hall-style session with the technology leaders from our division of the organisation. Having multiple cameras in the room that cut between the main stage and the audience was impressive. I asked some questions through the chat Q&A function and had some of them answered.
  • Joined our school full governing board meeting from my office in London. Although I was late travelling home, I much prefer it to the old days of rushing out of the door just before 4pm, crossing my fingers that the trains were running so that I could turn up in person at school.
  • Made contact with a prospective new school governor and agreed to make plans to meet up next week.
  • Had a meeting about school technology and our plans for the future.
  • Had a fun evening out for a friend’s birthday at Tabure in Berkhamsted. Rolled home completely stuffed.
  • Enjoyed a bike ride on both Saturday and Sunday morning. The weather was beautiful for it on both days.
  • Finally finished reading Hitman by Bret Hart, and wrote up my thoughts. I love the process of consolidating and organising a bunch of ideas once I’ve finished reading a book.

Next week: Keeping the momentum through what one member of my team has referred to as ‘mad May’ and looking to put some time aside to work on the portfolio management aspect of my job.

Weeknotes #168 — Kathryn Joseph

A fun week. I planned my days of going into London around events that were happening there. On Tuesday we had the CEO of our division of the company visiting from South Africa, with office drinks drawing a line under the day. Then on Wednesday I wandered over to St Pancras Old Church to see Kathryn Joseph, supported by Sophie Jamieson. The venue was beautiful and both artists were incredible. There’s something delicious about going to a gig on your own; I managed to grab a spare seat in one of the front rows between two couples that had left a gap between them. I can’t remember quite how I came across Kathryn Joseph’s work. I wasn’t very familiar with her music, but what I had heard was good enough to take a punt on going to see her. I’m so glad I did. I came home feeling full of life. Live music is magical.

I’ve not been sleeping well for the past few weeks. I can’t work out why. In one of my dreams, a stranger came up to me and started asking me about things that are on my real-life to-do list. I seem to always be awake before my alarm and then try to get back to sleep again. Hopefully it will pass.

A week in which I:

  • Welcomed one of my peers back after a long break. We hadn’t seen each other in five or six weeks due to our overlapping holidays. There was much to catch up on.
  • Finished the Teams regulatory recording project after the final system user confirmed that they can access the recordings.
  • Kicked off some work with a colleague to look at our old voice recording archive to see whether we should just leave the system where it is, or formally move it to a read-only silo.
  • Enjoyed seeing us switch our London office telephony over to Microsoft Teams. We say goodbye to the unloved Cisco Jabber after three years of service. We are edging towards our vision of replacing the server room in each of our offices with a simple cabinet on the wall.
  • Had a number of meetings relating to our upcoming annual conference, including our internal and external project status updates and a session with the technology vendors to discuss how the on-site and online components will integrate.
  • Prepared a team member to look at the architecture of how we will configure ‘Internet of Things’ devices on our network, ahead of us rolling out our new digital signage solution.
  • Updated one of our test digital signage players with the latest Internal Communications slides and was reminded how simple it is to use. I’m excited to roll this out across our offices.
  • Took part in our monthly risk management meeting and reviewed all of my risks. The process that we have put in place is working well.
  • Reviewed a number of CVs for the Agile Coach/Product Manager vacancy that I have in my team.
  • Discussed our approach to revising our major incident response process.
  • Attended the ‘steering committee’ for our big group programme.
  • Joined a couple of meetings with our agile development team working on dashboards from the group system.
  • Completed all of the online annual mandatory training courses at work. After working in financial services for 23 years, I’m in the habit of doing them as soon as they turn up and skim reading the content to get straight to the assessments.
  • Enjoyed drinks and nibbles with the London office, a random coffee with someone from our Operations team and another with a colleague in New York.
  • Enjoyed the fourth session of The Micro Blog Readers’ Republic, an online meeting with other microbloggers where everyone shared their selection of fiction and non-fiction book recommendations.
  • Reviewed the 2022–2023 draft school budget ahead of our Full Governing Board meeting next week, as well as the collaborative visit report from our recent Governors In School Day.
  • Spoke with our school catering provider about their compliance with food standards, closing out an action that I took following our review of a school policy.
  • Got a couple of screws fixed in our garden decking that we had installed last year when the gardeners came to pick up their lawn roller.
  • Had a good week on my bike, with some indoor training sessions and a great ride out with the club on Saturday morning. There’s a joy to sitting outside the cricket club with a well-earned coffee and cake at the end.

Next week: Moving to Teams telephony at our final site, another school governing board meeting and home alone with the boys for a few days.