Weeknotes #206 — Dot-joining

Despite best intentions, going away on business means that to some degree everything else gets put on hold. This week I got back to work in my usual locations with tons to catch up on. Although there is barely any jet lag to speak of when travelling between Johannesburg and London, my flight landed at the eye-rubbing time of 4:30am, leaving me a little shell-shocked all weekend. I carried this through to the week, drifting into pre-sleep while trying to get some work done in the evenings. Every time I snapped out of it I could feel my heart racing, which was a little disconcerting. The week was fun but full on.

This was a week in which I:

  • Joined some dots between a planned piece of work that will help us to improve how we manage our unstructured data, and issues we have around client onboarding. I spent Monday evening getting everything out of my head and into a draft document that spells out the opportunity, as well as all of the assumptions that I am making. It feels like we are onto something.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss the unstructured data management initiative and how we intend to move it forward.
  • Along with my peers, fed back key takeaways from the IT strategy offsite to our entire team. It’s fascinating how we can all be in the same room and yet come away with such different highlights and perspectives. People see and hear everything through their own filters.
  • Encountered some teething issues with the Teams chat channel that I set up for last week’s offsite participants. I’m not giving up, and am thinking about how to keep nudging it until it takes off. The most valuable community that I participate in is the Signal group that was set up for listeners to the WB-40 podcast; the group can have 300–400 messages posted on a particularly busy day. I keep it muted and catch up when I can. I know that not everyone is ready to see the value of a group chat (despite many people in the world talking about the need for ‘water cooler moments’ in the office), but I am convinced that we are better off with it than without it.
  • Set up a Team in Microsoft Teams for the people that want to use dedicated topic-focused channels for their discussions.
  • Collaborated with a colleague on the new format of our delivery roadmap, to be presented to the department next week.
  • Reviewed the first pass of individual and collective scoring of an RFP that we are currently running.
  • Read through Microsoft’s root cause analysis report for the cloud services outage that we experienced last week. Met with colleagues to discuss and agree additional things that we need to put in place for when this kind of outage happens.
  • Had a follow-up session with a colleague in a sister department to talk about delivery tools such as Jira and AgilePlace.
  • Ran our weekly Learning Hour meeting, showing our team how to get more out of searching in Microsoft 365. We had a fascinating discussion which jumped from searching for information to publishing it, and what barriers people may have to putting themselves out there.
  • Agreed to try out a Lean Coffee format for a future Learning Hour session.
  • Set up and sent out a survey for our proposed ‘location broadcasting’ tool. In order for us to push it, we are going to need it be convinced that it will solve more problems than it creates with its transparency.
  • Had our monthly call with the Head of Operational Risk to discuss key initiatives and operational risk issues in our department.
  • Took part in our department’s monthly risk review meeting.
  • Met with our laptop manufacturer to get an overview of their latest products and their plans for this year.
  • Met with a colleague in our team who I haven’t spoken to since before Christmas. We finally have everyone back together after the holiday.
  • Said goodbye to our team member in São Paulo as part of the formal office close-down.
  • Had a call with our account manager at a vendor where they told me that they are moving on. The discussion was refreshingly honest, and is useful input into some work we have planned for this year.
  • Watched a webinar from Ivar Jacobson on Organising Around Value, the first of three in the series. It was good to see Brian Tucker again; he has an excellent delivery style which he now manages to make work in an online environment. The webinar was quite high-level. I am hoping that we get into a lot more detail in the next two sessions.
  • Tuned into an internal all-company town hall event held in the gigantic atrium of our head office in Johannesburg. Alongside speeches and chats with senior leaders of the company, we got to see Mango Groove perform some songs. I’d never heard of them before; apparently they are a South African staple that everyone knows there. Our firm certainly knows how to hold an event — the production was amazing.
  • Watched in wonder at the dishes people brought to the office on Monday for a multi-cultural buffet. Although they looked and smelled amazing, I avoided them as I wasn’t sure which dishes were completely vegetarian and which had been cooked with animal stocks and sauces I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by asking.
  • Heard someone senior comment again how you can’t build a culture and relationships when you’re working remotely. I stand by my view that you absolutely can, although it would help if people put their cameras on. Put your cameras on, people!
  • Attended the monthly virtual Architecture Community of Practice meeting. Banged the drum for people to put their cameras on in the meeting.
  • Had a lovely ‘random coffee’ with one of our lawyers, who joined the firm relatively recently.
  • Assembled the agenda for our school Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee and then chaired the meeting. It was the first with our interim headteacher and felt very productive.
  • Attended an online school finance briefing run by HFL Education.
  • Caught up with a Modern Governor online briefing about the strike action by the National Education Union. I am completely in support of the strike. In my ten years of working as as a school governor, I’ve seen the demands on school staff increase dramatically, with nowhere near the pay increases that they should get for such important roles. Coincidentally, this week’s episode of the Political Thinking with Nick Robinson podcast is an interview with Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU. She comes across as very reasonable and level-headed in terms of what she would like to happen.
  • Sent off for a new passport. I have my fingers crossed that a new one gets to me sooner than the 10 week estimate.
  • Enjoyed the first Saturday cycling club ride for many weeks. It’s been cold and rainy since Christmas which has stopped me going out, and sometimes has cancelled the ride altogether. It was so good to be back with everyone.
  • Had a fabulously fun evening at Mat’s birthday party, singing karaoke songs long into the night.

Next week: Attempting to squeeze the work into gaps in the diary again.

Weeknotes #205 — Summer strategy

Final approach to Johannesburg

Final approach to Johannesburg

The last time I was in South Africa was in August, the middle of winter. This week it was flipped around as I left the sub-zero temperatures of the UK for a scorching 32°C in Johannesburg. All of the senior IT staff in my part of the company were coming together to spend two days focused on our strategy. It’s a great way to kick off the year.

View from the top floor of our head office

View from the top floor of our head office

The topic of ‘load shedding’ is on everybody’s lips when I work with my colleagues in South Africa. There is not enough capacity in the electricity grid to meet demand, so the national power utility, Eskom, deliberately cuts power to avoid a larger issue1. People suddenly disappear from video calls and reappear once their back-up generators and batteries have kicked in. Back in August I didn’t think about the issues, but this time the problems were really noticeable. In the car journey from the airport to the hotel there were so many junctions without working traffic lights2. On the first day of my trip I was in a supermarket when all of a sudden we were plunged into darkness for half a minute or so before the power came back on. The same thing happened every day in my hotel, as well as a couple of times at our conference venue. Most large businesses have back-up generators, but not everyone is so lucky to have one in their home. Looking at the charts from The Outlier, it’s easy to see how bad the situation has become:

Businesses in the mall next to my hotel were advertising their ability to keep going during the blackout periods:

Sign of the times

Sign of the times

People are stoic, but it must be horrible to live with the ongoing problems, chipping away and your psyche on a day-to-day basis. I think it would wear me down.

I’ve worked in and around the organisation for nearly 13 years and still love it. The company has such a wonderful culture. A visit to Johannesburg always feels like a homecoming — a chance to reconnect with people I know and care about, as well as meet new faces. This time was no different. I spent three days of the week in the office and two at a conference venue in Houghton. It was so valuable to be there with everyone.

This was a week in which I:

  • Enjoyed the two-day strategy workshop. Our first day was spent listening to and asking questions of senior leaders from our business division. The second day was where we came together to do some work of our own in response. So often these events are fantastic when you are there but quickly fade from memory when you walk away. I’ve set up an internal Teams chat channel with everyone for the session so that we can collaborate informally on a day-to-day basis. It’ll be interesting to see what impact it has.
  • Met with the vendor of a ‘location broadcasting tool’ that we are trialling, and agreed to extend our pilot by a couple of months. We still need to decide whether the transparency will solve more problems than it may create.
  • Presented the location broadcasting tool to our Cloud Architecture Review Forum, as the tool is a software-as-a-service solution.
  • Watched our team deal with a Microsoft 365 outage which caused problems with a number of our core services. When something like this happens we don’t need to run around fixing things ourselves; instead, the job is all about communicating quickly and clearly to our staff, offering them alternative ways of navigating through the issues to get their work done.
  • Read through the responses we received to an RFP and completed a scoring spreadsheet.
  • Attended the weekly project meeting for the closure of one of our offices.
  • Had a tour of our ‘Digital Disruption Centre’, used for events, workshops and outreach programmes. I loved the giant touchscreen display that faced the public walkway in the building.

Now *that’s* a touchscreen.

Now *that’s* a touchscreen.

  • Enjoyed a lunch with the senior managers that report into our CIO. I hadn’t met a number of the team in our sister department in person, so it was great to sit down with them for an hour or so.
  • Kicked myself for talking in two meetings this week where I jumped straight into the content without introducing myself properly.
  • Didn’t get much exercise. Running outside in central Johannesburg isn’t considered a great idea from a personal safety perspective. The hotel I stayed at didn’t have any on-site workout facilities, but they had a deal with a local gym. This turned out to be a ten-minute walk away at the other end of a nearby shopping centre. On Monday I got up early, went to get a voucher from the reception desk, found that I needed some ID, went back to my room to get my driving licence, went back to reception, got the voucher, walked ten minutes to the gym, filled out a lengthy form on their computer, found out that they didn’t have any towels and then promptly gave up. On Tuesday got up early again as I was determined to get some exercise; this time the hotel reception desk suggested they give me a gym bag including a towel and a bottle of water, which didn’t seem to come up on Monday. I headed over and whizzed into the gym. The place was busy and well-equipped, but I could only find two exercise bikes. Hopping onto the first one didn’t bode well; after a few turns of the pedals the software booted up into an old Windows CE desktop and didn’t give me any options to start the exercise bike software. I transferred my stuff to the second bike which did boot properly. Thirty minutes later I had spun myself into a sweaty mess.

9 Nov 2012, an auspicious day in the world of exercise bikes.

9 Nov 2012, an auspicious day in the world of exercise bikes.

  • Joined a friend and colleague for an evening run with local club. It felt like a ParkRun, but a little tougher with the choice of a 5km or 8km route. We opted for the longer run and I was soon wondering whether I made the right choice. My heart rate hit its maximum very quickly. We were a couple of kilometres in when my friend reminded me that we were running at altitude which meant that it would be a lot tougher. I eased up a bit and managed to complete the hilly course with a decent time.

A beautiful evening for a run

A beautiful evening for a run

Start of the run

Start of the run

Post-run recovery

Post-run recovery

  • Crawled into bed at home on Saturday morning to try and steal a couple of additional hours of sleep. The flight back landed at the uncivilised time of 4:30am which meant that I was wide awake on-board from 3am.
  • Ordered a new washing machine after ours finally died. The new one won’t turn up until the end of the week, so we’ll be paying a couple of visits to the laundrette.
  • Spent hours — hours — changing an inner tube on my new bike. It turned out that I’d picked up a small flint on my ride the weekend before which slowly deflated the tyre. Taking the tyre off and finding the problem was easy, but getting the tyre back on was a challenge of epic proportions. To my dismay, the first inner tube that I used was itself already damaged, so I had to start all over again. At one point I thought that I was getting grease on my jeans, before noticing that I’d cut myself in my gargantuan effort to get the tyre back onto the rim. I’m worried that if I get a flat when I’m out and about I’ll never be able to get a repair done in any reasonable amount of time. Any tips would be welcome.

The tyre won the battle but I eventually won the war.

The tyre won the battle but I eventually won the war.

  • Enjoyed watching The Proclaimers — This Is The Story on BBC iPlayer. I loved their hits in the late 1980s and early 1990s but never explored their work beyond this. It was fascinating to learn about what an important and political band they are.
  • Started watching series eight of Grange Hill on BritBox. I’m now used to the introduction of a whole new set of characters every few years. This time there has been an influx of people that I remember from my childhood; I’ve finally caught up with the Grange Hill that I knew as a kid.
  • Downloaded Ivory for Mastodon on my phone and iPad and started a subscription. Tweetbot was a beautiful app which I used for many years; having its connectivity to Twitter wrenched away in such a brutal fashion must have been awful for the developers. I’m happy to support them in the next adventure.
  • Sold my ticket to the Amber Arcades gig on Wednesday as I have too many things going on in the evening this week. Something had to give.

Next week: Back to my keyboard and back to the office in London. A couple of school governor meetings and an Album Club.

  1. If the power goes out completely, it could take a number of weeks to get things going again. 
  2. Charmingly known locally as ‘robots’. 

Weeknotes #204 — Sausage on a fork

An early morning walk across Holborn Viaduct on my way to the office.

An early morning walk across Holborn Viaduct on my way to the office.

An incredibly busy week both in and outside of work, but an enjoyable one. I commuted into the office on Monday and Tuesday, which gave me a chance to recover from Sunday’s long ride before hitting the indoor trainer again. I made good progress with a lot of the initiatives that I am running and finished the week tired but happy.

The weather has turned very cold again, which made for a bracing walk to and from the office. I’m very grateful for my big headphones, which doubled-up as earmuffs under the hood of my coat.

This was a week in which I:

  • Agreed to participate in reviewing responses to an important RFP by the end of next week.
  • Made lots of progress with the configuration and setup of our password manager. We held the second owner/administrator training session with our technical team and as a result took away a number of actions to harden and integrate the software. The scope of pilot users was widened to include some of the senior staff involved in managing information risk as well as a member of our Communications and Marketing team. Our support staff have started to get to grips with the administrative processes such as resetting accounts. Most of the hard work ahead will be in explaining the context and benefits of the tool, training staff in an effective way and helping them to get on board as users. I have refined my Don’t Get Hacked presentation and plan to deliver it to our senior leadership team in a couple of weeks. There’s a lot to do.
  • Had some interesting discussions about our planned implementation of a location broadcasting tool. There are big upsides to knowing where colleagues plan to be every day in the coming weeks, allowing people to plan meetings and diaries effectively. But being this transparent also presents potential downsides. We may need more time in the pilot, and a broader set of people to agree that this is the right direction for us to move in.
  • Met with our cross-functional product team to discuss how we move towards getting the green light to proceed with a pilot of a new tool. When you’re in a small team, it doesn’t matter who writes the first draft of something, it just matters that the team now have something to review, work with and shape. All first drafts are bad drafts.
  • Worked with a colleague on an updated portfolio roadmap for our department and reviewed the first draft with our CIO.
  • Gave a presentation to our department on the Digital Literacy initiative that we are kicking off this year. The material was well-received and generated a lot of conversation.
  • Agreed a technology plan for our two largest meeting rooms in our office. The space is complex from an audio/visual perspective as it consists of two rooms that can be combined into one, which leads to some unusual failure modes. We now have some concrete actions to look at simplifying the setup.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss the challenge of how we on-board clients across multiple countries in the simplest and cleanest way possible. It’s a difficult problem, as Conway’s law is against us.
  • Attended our bi-monthly Information Risk Steering Group meeting.
  • Worked with a colleague to plan an approach to reviewing our Team Charter. We’ve had the Charter in place for two years, tweaking it a little last year.
  • Met with colleagues in South Africa who look after our company’s JIRA instance to get an overview of how things are set up and what the possibilities are. I don’t see us moving to or adopting JIRA any time soon; the benefits would have to significantly outweigh the cost of moving away from what we do now. Knowing more about it is useful for us offering help to another department that we have started working with more closely.
  • Ran our weekly Learning Hour session where we got to see a prototype of a new Azure Bot which can give directions and answer questions for our staff, such as how to book travel or obtain a corporate mobile phone. The technology is relatively simple — at least when compared to something like ChatGPT — but still very effective.
  • Met with the leaders of our Innovation and Community Development team in South Africa to catch up on each others’ plans for 2023. I think that this is the year that we may go places together.
  • Attended the internal project team meeting for our annual investor conference.
  • Joined the weekly meeting for the close-down of one of our regional offices.
  • Helped solve a colleague’s travel documentation issue through concatenating and compressing a bunch of images and PDF files into one small file using Adobe Acrobat.
  • Completed a lot of school governor work, including final versions of two letters to parents, organising meetings and completing a draft contract.
  • Watched Billion-Dollar Downfall: The Dealmaker on iPlayer. I used to work with the CTO that was involved in bringing the alleged crimes to light, and heard about it via a post on LinkedIn. I wasn’t familiar with the story, but it appears to be yet another case of corporate fraud, misappropriating client funds in a similar way to what happened at FTX.
  • Started reading Lurking by Joanne McNeil. It is as great as I hoped it would be — a journey through communities and interactions on the Internet through the lens of someone who must be of similar age to me. It’s so fascinating to look back at things that happened twenty years ago which still feel very recent.

  • Ploughed through season 7 of Grange Hill, supplemented by a few episodes of the brilliantly-named Sausage On A Fork podcast. It was weird, but not surprising, to see Letitia Dean turn up in a cameo role; so many actors from Grange Hill ended up going to work on EastEnders. Season 8 should be fun; the crop of new characters will be ones that I am familiar with from when I watched the show as a kid in the mid-1980s.
  • Had a delicious Saturday brunch with my family at Daisy & Co in Berkhamsted. It’s so lovely to stop for a minute and see how the boys are growing up.
  • Headed to the airport for my first business trip of the year.

Next week: Catching up with colleagues and attending an offsite on our divisional strategy for 2023.

Weeknotes #203 — Bobble

The first full working week of the year. It had a strange and sad start, with a funeral for a childhood friend on Monday afternoon. Rob grew up a few doors down from me when I was a kid. He was three years below me at school, his sister and I were in the same year together and our parents are very close. Rob had been battling with cancer for the past few years and sadly passed away in December. He was in his early 40’s, but to me will always be the young boy from down the road. I can’t even begin to imagine what his family have gone through. It was wonderful to see the room completely packed, with people standing in the aisle at the front in order to get into the room. The service and eulogies were lovely. He’s going to be missed by a lot of people.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent a good chunk of time working on our password manager rollout. I’m trying to move the work on at speed so that the organisation gets the benefit as soon as possible. I had a kick-off meeting with our Onboarding Manager on Monday evening and held the first of two IT admin training sessions later in the week. By Friday we had configured the tenant, customised the security groups, documented what we had done, deployed the browser plugins and desktop software to our Engineering team and invited them to join.
  • Found an annoying issue in the password manager software which I would like the vendor to get resolved before we roll it out to the rest of the organisation.
  • Reviewed the first draft of a contract for our staff intended work location broadcasting tool. I’m not completely confident that we will roll it out, as while it will solve some issues it will raise a few others. Take-up for the pilot has been excellent. We are reviewing it next week and hopefully will make a decision.
  • Registered the tool for presenting at our internal Cloud Architecture Forum later this month.
  • Had a small workshop with a couple of colleagues to reimagine the focus of our team towards product development. We don’t yet have a set of concrete actions but it was good to get on the same page.
  • Attended our first management team meeting of the year. It was lovely to check in with everyone again. We reviewed our department finances from last year and discussed plans for this one.
  • Spent time talking to a client-facing colleague about how they manage their client-related data in Microsoft 365. The conversation gave me great insights that will help with the digital literacy work planned for this year.
  • Gave a demo of our Teams Rooms setup to some senior IT and Facilities managers at a sister company. Our discussion inevitably drifted into talking about Microsoft 365 and the strategy that we took for our IT Infrastructure from the ground up.
  • Discussed plans for some IT Security initiatives with our Chief Information Security Officer and Head of Operational Risk.
  • Had to solve an issue with my Microsoft Office apps randomly exiting on a regular basis. After trying the quick repair and full repair — to no avail — a full delete, reboot, re-download and install seemed to do the trick.
  • Was taken through an example JIRA configuration to see how it could be used by our team. We don’t use Jira at the moment, although the rest of the organisation does. For us to start, it will have to offer a significant productivity increase and not just marginal gains. We have another meeting scheduled for next week to understand the hard edges of what’s possible within the organisation when using the tool.
  • Attended an interesting presentation on the latest developments with our key business-to-business portal. I’m still on what seems to be a one-person mission to get colleagues to turn their cameras on in meetings. Ninety people were in the virtual room with me the only person on video. I’ll keep plugging away.
  • Fixed an issue with the content on our digital signage displays in London that I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t gone to the office.
  • Enjoyed a team Learning Hour session on the topic of Adventures with ChatGPT. The tool has definitely captured the team’s imagination. If you haven’t tried it out yet it’s worth doing so soon; it seems to be overloaded quite a lot of the time at the moment, and the Sharp Tech podcast made the point that each query costs the organisation pennies — which is a lot for something so busy.
  • Had a lovely random coffee with a colleague, the third time we have got together this way since the pandemic started.
  • Had lots of school governor work to do, including a meeting in school, a virtual session with the full governing board and work on contracts and draft letters. There is a lot going on.
  • Was sent a bill of £497 for our electricity and gas usage for the past month. This used to be £80 pre-pandemic. We’ve turned our thermostat down and rarely fire up some of our heating, but the number is still ridiculous. From talking to some friends, it seems that we are definitely not alone.
  • Was reminded that a few weeks back I had signed up for the Westerley Winter Warmer Reliability Ride. I woke up early on Sunday and left my house before dawn in order to cycle the 20km to the start. It was a beautiful sunny day out in the Chilterns; a gap in the dreadful weather that we have been having for the past few weeks.

  • Finished Season 2 of Happy Valley and made a start on the current one. It’s really, really good.
  • Finished a book, getting my first one on the board for 2023. I don’t seem to be reading as much as I would like to at the moment. There’s a stack of wonderful books that friends and family got me for Christmas and I want to devour them all.

Next week: More of the same at work and school, with lots to push forward.

Weeknotes #202 — Sparkly windows

It felt good to be back to work this week. My two working days were spent at home due to the rail strikes; given how miserable the weather was and how many people were still off on holiday, I was very glad not to have ventured in. Lots of the team were shaking off the cobwebs, but everyone seems ready to get stuck in. I’m determined that we’re going to get lots of great things done this year.

This was a week in which I:

  • Brought my in-flight work up-to-date on our Kanban board.
  • Coordinated a submission for one of our regional governance committees.
  • Walked through the material I created before the Christmas break for our Digital Literacy initiative.
  • Ran our weekly team meeting where the whole team got to answer the question of ‘what’s on your mind?’
  • Had a high-level discussion on ChatGPT, and our team’s role in understanding and explaining how this type of technology might be used within a work context.
  • Generated and published the first set of random coffees for the year.
  • Attended a number of important school governor meetings ahead of the start of the spring term.
  • Had my mum and dad over for lunch for the first time in ages. It was so lovely to see them again so soon after Christmas.
  • Finished the project to re-rip my entire CD collection to a lossless format. I now have 276GB of high-quality music on my NAS drive to listen to. I’ve been playing with Plex as a way to stream it to wherever I happen to be, and I’m very impressed.
  • Continued my unbroken record of exercising every day so far this year. I feel like I am getting stronger with my indoor bike training, which is reflected in the TrainerRoad AI telling me to change my FTP from 171 to 177 and now to 181 within the space of a month. I don’t know how accurate those numbers are in terms of watts, as my indoor trainer’s resistance switch stopped working a few years ago, but I guess it’s all relative. The workouts are now really challenging, but feel great when they are done. I recently found the Training Stress dashboard in the system, which shows me I have been pushing a bit more recently. It’s bound to drop off when I go back into London for work a few times a week, but it can’t be helped.

  • Gave my home office a complete spring clean, something that was long overdue. I also spent some hours cleaning the insides of all of our windows in our house. They all look sparkly and lovely again.
  • Started listening to some of the new music that I bought or was given over Christmas. The John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band box set is absolutely stunning, and I am so glad that I finally bought a copy. It sounds incredible. CDs are still brilliant.

Next week: Saying goodbye to an old childhood friend.

Weeknotes #201 — 46

A week spent working on little projects and jobs at home with a couple of visits to family and friends. I was determined not to go back to work in January with regrets of not having completed any of the things I had been waiting for some time off to get done. There are still plenty of things to do, but I feel like I’ve made some good progress.

The weather has mainly been wet and miserable, which has put me off getting out on my bike. On Boxing Day I managed a lovely lumpy ride around our local hills, covering the cycling club route that had been called off a couple of weeks ago due to the snow and ice. The rest of the week was spent on the indoor bike trainer. I don’t mind riding in the rain if the heavens open when I’m out and about, but I can never bring myself to deliberately go out into it.

This was a week in which I:

  • Made a five hour round-trip to Ross on Wye and back, in order to see my wife’s parents, brothers and children. It was so lovely to be there and meet up with everyone. We couldn’t stay because we had nobody to tend to our two cats overnight.
  • Spent a very fun New Year’s Eve at the house of some close friends. Other friends of ours brought along a karaoke machine and we sang until the early hours.
  • Made lots of progress with re-ripping my entire CD collection to my NAS drive in a lossless format. I’m determined to have it done before I go back to work. Lossless will mean that I will have a backup of all of the CDs I own, and will never need to do this again. I’ve found myself wrestling with the vagaries of iTunes the Music app in order to make sure that things end up named and catalogued correctly. The number of spelling errors in the automatically-matched database is shocking.
  • Finished processing around 500 notes that I had made in the Drafts app. They dated back to late 2020. Next year I need to do much, much better at processing the notes that I make so that they don’t build up again.
  • Turned 46. My wife, quite rightly, pulled me up when I made a comment about getting old. It’s a privilege that not everyone has.
  • Watched a couple of movies with my wife. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022) was good fun, but didn’t feel like that much of a mystery. The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent (2022) was superb; it basically consisted of Nicolas Cage parodying himself, a less freaky version of Being John Malkovitch (1999) for modern times.
  • Continued my journey through Grange Hill on Britbox. I’m now up to series six and it’s starting to turn into the show that I knew as a kid. Characters that are familiar to me have turned up, and are now being matched by much deeper storylines such as racism and bullying. It’s jarring to see how some of the issues were dealt with in the early 1980s; two young girls going off in a car with some strange men while on a school trip is just brushed off as ‘a nasty scare’ and nothing else is done about it.

Next week: Finishing off some home projects and getting back to work. There’s lots to do in 2023 and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.

Weeknotes #200 — Two hundred of these, that’s why they call me ‘Mr Fahrenheit’

Looking back on my first set of weeknotes, it’s interesting to see what has changed and what is still the same. The purpose of jotting things down still makes sense to me. Primarily, these posts are a vehicle for me to remember and make sense of things. If others find them interesting or useful, that’s a bonus. Most of the time I feel as though I am writing into the void, but occasionally I’ll be in conversation with someone and they will mention something that they’ve read here. I’m always a little shocked.

It took me little while to find a format that made weeknotes easy to write and therefore an easy habit to stick to; Ton Zijlstra’s weekly posts were an inspiration. I’ve got myself into a routine where I settle down to write on a Sunday evening for an hour or two. Somewhere along the way they changed from being a commitment to something that I really enjoy.

When I started blogging back in 2004, I soon felt the pressure to think about topics. It was easy to fall out of the habit of posting. A combination of regular weeknote schedule, inspiration from Micro.blog that posts don’t need to be long (or even have a title), and the realisation that this is my website where I can publish whatever I want, have been very helpful in keeping up a practice of writing. I’m not a very good writer — I envy those bloggers that bring humour and style to what they put out — but I do enjoy the process. I think that’s enough of a reason to do it. Occasionally I publish something that I’m really pleased with, and it’s lovely when other people find pleasure in reading it too.

This was a week in which I:

  • Went into the office on Monday for the final time in 2022. It was a frustrating, unproductive kind of day, especially after having got so much done last week when I worked from home. Being in London meant that I could do a bit of last-minute gift shopping after work, but navigating Oxford Circus six days before Christmas wasn’t the brightest idea I’ve ever had.
  • Sent off the purchase orders for our corporate password manager subscription and activated our account. My instincts about avoiding LastPass were sadly proved to be correct this week. I always thought that even though the ‘core’ password data should be reasonably safe in the event of a breach, the fact that they have had multiple incidents points to everything not being well with how they built both their product and organisation. Early next year, before we start the rollout, I’ll be talking to colleagues about the benefits of using a password manager. It’ll be interesting to see whether we get questions and doubt from non-IT staff based on this latest event.

  • Wrote a draft lean business case for purchasing and implementing an extensive Microsoft Teams toolset. The software should allow us to monitor the quality of service across all aspects of Teams, audit its usage to avoid sprawl and rot, as well as nudge staff and give them pointers towards best practices at the point they need it.
  • Had the final meeting of the year for the project to close down one of our regional offices.
  • Arranged a meeting with a sister company in January to demonstrate how we have set up and configured our Microsoft Teams rooms.
  • Caught up with some neglected emails and brought my Kanban board up-to-date, ready to get started at pace next year.
  • Booked my first business trip abroad for 2023.
  • Met up with a friend to talk about their new product management role. I’ve never been a product manager but it felt like a useful conversation. I guess that one of the good things about being a generalist is that you get to know a little bit about a lot of things and can point other people at some useful resources. Not to compare myself to one of the greatest authors of the 20th century, but it was delightful to read this week that John Steinbeck was also a generalist, with too many interests:

In the past I have been soundly spanked by some of our talmudic critics for failure to pick out one ant-hill and stay with it. It is a permanent failing. Thirteenth-century manuscripts and modern automobiles are separately but equally interesting to me. I love processes and am perhaps the world’s greatest pushover as an audience.

A girl in a department store demonstrating a tool for carving roses from radishes has got me and gone with me. Let a man open a suitcase on the pavement and begin his pitch “Tell you what I’m gonna do!” and I will be there until he closes. (Daily Mail, 7 Jan. 1966)

  • Started to re-rip my entire CD collection in Apple Lossless (ALAC) format. Years ago I ripped them as 320kbps mp3 files, but with the amount of storage I now have on my NAS it makes sense — or at least gives me some geeky satisfaction — to bump up the quality even more. It’s a little side project that will probably take some weeks to complete. I’m also putting some albums aside that I bought years ago, but perhaps haven’t given enough attention.
  • Continued my marathon journey through Grange Hill. I’ve heard rumours that BritBox may be going away at some point, so I’m racing to get through all 11 series that are available on their service before this happens. I’m nearly halfway through. I’ve also started listening to episodes of the Sausage On A Fork podcast, focusing on the interviews with cast members that have appeared in the early series.
  • Had a family movie night where we watched Get Out (2017). Creepy, but not too much.
  • Got out for a bike ride with the cycle club again. It felt great. Being at home for the past couple of weeks and managing to get on the indoor trainer every day seemed to have paid off. The weather was dark and grotty, but at least it wasn’t raining.
  • Was persuaded by my eldest son to go for a ParkRun on Christmas Day. I was very proud to see him come in first overall, half a minute ahead of second place. I managed 17th, first in the ‘veteran male 45-49’ category.
  • Took the Political Compass test, and was unsurprised by the result.

  • Had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner with my family at Rosanna’s in Berkhamsted.
  • Spent a fabulous Christmas Day with at my mum and dad’s house along with my brothers and their families. It reminded me why our summer holiday together was so good — we got to spend a lot of time together and had some great conversations, which is much more difficult when you’re only with each other for a few hours once in a blue moon. Hopefully we’ll see each other more next year. Christmas dinner was superb and everyone had a great time.

Next week: Visiting relatives, relaxing at home and turning 46.

Weeknotes #199 — Shallow snow, deep work

An eventful and productive week. On Sunday night the snow came down and we woke up on Monday to a few inches of snow. School were quick to text us that they were open and that they were expecting pupils to attend; our children were not impressed. I cleared and gritted a path down our driveway as well as the steps to our neighbour’s house, but experience now tells me that I’ll have to grit the pavement and road directly outside our house in future.

This week’s trains into London were already going to be problematic due to more scheduled strike action, so I resigned myself to a full week of working from home. For the first time in months, I found myself with two consecutive days with almost completely free of meetings, with hours of time to lose myself in some deep work. I made the most of it. It was so satisfying to create something that has been building up in my mind for most of the year.

Temperatures have swung from -7°C to 9°C in 24 hours and the snow has largely been washed away. We really do get a lot of weather here in the UK.

This was a week in which I:

  • Fleshed out a slide deck to frame our digital literacy initiative. I need to write more about this in a separate post, as I think it will be a central component to what we do in the future. The magical Internet led me to making contact with Blaneth McSharry at the University of Galway, one of the authors of the excellent All Aboard tube map of digital skills for higher education. The map has helped me to organise my thoughts into these categories, albeit with different content under each one. I really appreciate Blaneth sending me the graphic in a modifiable format that I can potentially remix. I feel as though I’m now in a place to share what I’ve done with the wider team and get some feedback.
  • Finalised the contract for a trial of software that will allow our staff to broadcast their planned daily working locations to their colleagues. The concept is super simple and the application is very pretty. Almost everyone in our department is now on-board and I’ve already had my first conversation along the lines of “Oh, I see you’ll be in the office on Monday so I’ll try and come in too.” I demoed the system to two other departments and enabled them also. There’s an obvious potential downside in that people may start asking negative questions about other peoples’ working patterns. We’ll have to be clever about how to present and promote the concept to the wider organisation.
  • Completed the cybersecurity review for our chosen password management vendor and met with our sales representative. I now have purchase orders in place for three of our four locations and hope to get the final one in place on Monday, ready to send them all back to our reseller. I am so excited to be getting close to rolling this out across the organisation; it has been on my backlog for many years.
  • Continued a discussion with a colleague in another department about work management tools. Gave him a demo of Planview AgilePlace, which is central to our work.
  • Demoed and explored a feature of AgilePlace that allows you to set up programme increments and sprints. We may be able to use this in our future product development work.
  • Spoke to a colleague in the Enterprise Architecture team for help in logging a historical product decision that pre-dates the setup of our own Architecture Governance Authority.
  • Took part in our annual review of our Microsoft licensing requirements.
  • Attended a Meetup on the topic of scaling agile outside of software development. Before the pandemic, when I used to go to something like this in person, there was an opportunity to meet some interesting people afterwards even if the main event wasn’t that great. This mingling is almost impossible on a virtual call, so if the presentation isn’t very good then there is little incentive to stay.
  • Signed up as a paid user of Milanote after getting a recommendation from a friend and watching a couple of introductory videos. I’m wondering if this will help my blogging workflow; currently I have a list of ‘ideas’ in Ulysses but don’t spent time looking through them. Perhaps having them in a more visual format, adding references and links as I go, will help with getting more things to ‘done’.

  • Interviewed a prospective school governor who has recently moved to the town. We’ve been adding governors at a steady rate recently which is giving me some optimism for the future. It’s wonderful that people want to volunteer, offering their time, experience and expertise for free.
  • Joined a National Governance Association webinar on the topic of Financial oversight in challenging times. It’s a pretty bleak picture. I really feel that there is nobody talking about the impact of the pandemic on school finances. There are so many children in schools who are now presenting with additional needs that have to have support from more staff. The vast majority of this is completely unfunded. Even if a specific child has managed to get an education, health and care (EHC) plan, the amount of additional money that is given to support that child falls way below the level required to hire an additional member of staff such as a one-to-one teaching assistant. The government recently announced additional funding for schools, but it will only take us back to 2010 levels of funding per child in real terms, with no additional funding for all of these additional needs.

Next week: Last day in the office and the last three working days of 2022. Finishing off the Christmas shopping and wrapping things up for the year.

Weeknotes #198 — Sub-zero

This week had a real ‘end of year’ feel to it. Monday set the tone; in the afternoon we had a ‘town hall’-style event in the office followed by our Christmas party, the first one that I’ve been to in half a decade or so.

Temperatures have dropped across the country with some of my colleagues reporting on Sunday night that they have snow. The cycling club cancelled the weekend ride as it was too dangerous.

We made our annual visit to the local Christmas tree farm and bought a whopper. Decorations have gone up and boxes of chocolates have been broken into.

There seems to be so much illness around at the moment. Everyone in the house either has, or is getting over, something, and people seem to have lots of ailments at work. A scheduled Album Club was cancelled due to the host being unwell, so we’ll be doubling-up in January to keep our unbroken record. Hopefully everyone is collectively getting their illnesses out of the way before getting together at Christmas.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had my annual performance review. Next year I need to get my head up even more out of the detail, take a step into the unknown and let go. It’s difficult when I find everything so interesting, and want to learn more about most subjects that I encounter.
  • Helped colleagues prepare for an important meeting with an internal senior Committee. Our goal was to reflect what we have managed to achieve this year to help our client-facing colleagues through a small cross-functional team, and to get support for working this way in the future. I didn’t attend the session and felt like a nervous relative in a waiting room. Everyone seems very pleased with how it went.
  • Continued work on defining what our Digital Literacy work will look like next year.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss how to safely progress with a new initiative that uses client data.
  • Took part in the concluding retrospective meeting for how my small team works today and what we can do to improve. It’s been a while since we’ve examined the detail so closely and had a good discussion about what we can do differently.
  • Discussed an approach to representing our portfolio of work for 2023.
  • Helped a colleague in another department wrestle with the problem of what work/project management tool to use, starting from the problem that he is trying to solve.
  • Joined the weekly meeting for the shut down of one of our regional offices. Our IT work has completed successfully ahead of schedule.
  • Had a lot of fun hosting our final all-team meeting of the year. I ran a hastily-prepared collaborative quiz via a shared Excel spreadsheet, where the team had to attribute their colleagues to a list of weird or interesting things that they might have done.
  • Responded to a first aid incident and had to ensure a colleague got home safely.
  • Joined the last Teams Fireside Chat of the year. Found out that you can now add animated GIF backgrounds to Teams by putting them in the usual backgrounds folder and renaming the file extension from .gif to .png or .jpg.
  • Visited school for a meeting with our IT provider. Agreed next steps for an equipment/asset survey and a tidy-up/re-stack of our equipment room.
  • Wrote up and circulated the draft minutes from our recent school Pay Committee meeting.
  • Had lunch with my cousin, who works a few minutes walk away from my office in London. We met at All Bar One in Moorgate, which used to be a regular spot for me to meet up with old colleagues. The pandemic has changed things; it felt empty, we had to order our food via an app and the quality of the food wasn’t great. Still, it was lovely to see him.
  • Submitted my son’s application to sixth form. How can he be this old already?
  • Enjoyed an evening of playing F1 2019 on the Xbox with some close friends. We haven’t got together to do this since the depths of the pandemic and it was a lot of fun, despite my audio being intermittent due to dodgy controllers. I can’t bring myself to buy a new one for £55 given how seldom I play.
  • Spent an evening at the Red Bull Formula One team’s headquarters for an evening with Christian Horner, hosted by David Coulthard. The ticket to the event was an early Christmas present from my lovely wife, and the evening was in aid of the Wings for Life spinal cord research foundation. Drinks and canapés amongst a selection of Red Bull F1 cars were followed by an interview, a charity auction and questions from the audience. The place was full of hardcore Red Bull fans with lots of money, bidding extraordinary amounts on the various items in the auction. It was a fun evening, and such a privilege to get to be so close to the cars and people that have been so successful over recent times.

  • Watched England lose to France in the football World Cup. France deserved to win, scoring two excellent goals from open play.
  • Found out that I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts. A lot.

  • Found myself picking up the Toot! app and browsing Mastodon. Signal to noise ratio is very high right now and I’ve been saving tons of articles to Instapaper (despite the fact that history tells me I am unlikely to read most of them).

Next week: A relatively quiet diary for the first time in weeks, which hopefully means I can get some of the more creative work done that I have on my plate. I don’t think I will make it into the office due to the disruption from the planned rail worker strikes.

Weeknotes #197 — Unplugged

A tough week. I’ve felt exhausted, like the wind has been kicked out of me. I assume that this is a post-COVID-19 malaise. Despite being ‘over it’, I’ve not felt at my best since I caught it a couple of weeks ago. I’ve struggled to keep my eyes open in the evenings.

There has been so much school governor work to do and meetings to attend over the past few weeks. I had Monday off work to spend the whole day at school with three other school governors, assessing and interviewing prospective headteachers. On Wednesday I found myself having to run out of a meeting with my boss in order to get to our Full Governing Board meeting. I enjoy being a governor but I am very fortunate to be part of such an understanding team at work when weeks like this one come up.

I find that I still have too many days at work where I feel as though my time is not my own. Either I am riding a back-to-back meeting journey for the day, or I’m in the office with too many interruptions and distractions to get any meaningful work done.

This was a week in which I:

  • Joined the final Architecture Community of Practice meeting of the year. My ongoing quest to get people across our organisation to put cameras on in meetings continues. I don’t think I am endearing myself to colleagues who are focused on blockchain technology, but I still don’t see a use case for them where a database would not be a better solution. Well, maybe there is one use case, as per the brilliant email that was sent to the hosts of the Sharp Tech podcast:

Andrew Sharp: Brandon, he says: “I think you guys are fundamentally misunderstanding crypto when Ben [Thompson, Sharp Tech co-host] talks about wanting to see “more products from crypto”. I’ve been around the crypto world since 2012 and worked full-time in crypto the last two years. The best way to think about crypto now, and for the foreseeable future, is as an ‘Internet casino’ that takes advantage of regulatory arbitrage. The mistake people make is grossly underestimating demand for that product. Back in 2013 I would have told you that an Internet casino would be maybe a $30bn industry. But no, even removing Eth and Bitcoin and other stablecoins, right now, today, CoinGecko shows there’s about $300bn of what I would consider speculative nonsense. And that’s just tokens, not NFTs etc. I think there’s just a massive underestimation of the demand for get-rich quick schemes. To lots and lots of people that all sounds incredibly silly and unproductive (and I probably agree) but it can’t be denied that it’s a massive industry with a very clear product/market fit. Maybe that’s an industry that’s not interesting to Ben or Andrew … but it’s not lacking products in my opinion.”

  • Met with members of our executive team to discuss the new products being developed by our Engineering group.
  • Attended a couple of meetings in preparation for a presentation on digital ways of working at one of our executive committees next week.
  • Joined the weekly project team meeting for closing down one of our regional offices.
  • Met with a colleague in another department to discuss how they can optimise their regular practices and tweak their culture. Any initiatives always need someone to drive them and be the ‘community manager’ until the whole group adopt them as ‘just what we do around here’.
  • Had an introductory meeting with a well-known digital consultancy. Working with them is likely to be a long play, but there are things that we can do together in the near future to get to know each other.
  • Heard concerns from our team that the planned rollout of our ‘location broadcasting tool’ may get some push-back from people that feel they are being tracked. I need to think more about this before we go live.
  • Attended an interesting lightning talk by a colleague called The Three Flavours of Innovation.
  • Went to an online presentation from the head of our internal ‘Knowledge Centre’ in South Africa. It’s quite incredible how many resources we have available to us.
  • Enjoyed being in school for our headteacher assessment day. It was a very intense twelve hours for everyone involved, with a variety of written and verbal exercises.
  • Attended the school Full Governing Board meeting. With some nudging from our clerk, we have reverted to having our meetings in person again. There were 38 (yes, thirty-eight) documents to read and review ahead of the meeting, which may be some kind of record.
  • Enjoyed listening to Eric Clapton’s Unplugged as we finally got our little work-based Album Club back together. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the whole album before. It’s incredible. Old Love is definitely the high point, but it has quite a few other songs snapping at its heels.

  • Took Friday off to go Christmas shopping and have some lunch with my wife. I hadn’t been to St Albans in many years, despite it only being half an hour away from us here.
  • Was inspired by hearing Ben Thompson’s take on what makes a good group chat on the Sharp Tech podcast and played around with some where I am an admin, changing the defaults so that messages disappear after a period of time. It makes sense to me that chats are ephemeral, don’t clog up your phone and can’t be held against you later. This was met with annoyance by some of the other participants and in one case was changed back.
  • Got out on my new bike again, managing to keep up with the 16–17mph group on Saturday morning. I don’t think there will be an organised ride next Saturday due to the freezing temperatures that are heading our way.
  • Capitulated and started watching some of the World Cup matches. I always like to say that I have “strong views, weakly held”; articles such as the one in The Economist made me think that I was being hypocritical, or at least trying to hold Qatar to a higher standard than other countries that have recently hosted major sporting events.
  • Watched more Grange Hill. For some reason I’m finding the banality of it to be quite enjoyable at the end of a long day. I’m now midway through season three from 1980; Tucker is in the third year, school uniform is optional and there is no sign of headteacher Mrs McClusky yet.
  • Found something to wear to the office Christmas party on Monday. I haven’t been to an office Christmas party in over half a decade, so it’ll be an experience.
  • Tried to get a grip on my podcast backlog by abandoning my subscription to The Bunker. As interesting as their daily episodes are, I just can’t keep up with them.

Next week: Year-end functions, a visit to Red Bull and the last Album Club of 2022.

Weeknotes #196 — Red lines

I felt a little bit off-colour last weekend. It was like I had a mild hangover, despite not having had anything to drink. Two colleagues were flying in from Johannesburg for the week; I planned to spend every day working with them in our London office, so I thought it was prudent to take a COVID-19 test. Two tests on Sunday came back negative as did another one on Monday morning. But a fourth test on Monday evening resulted in the dreaded double red lines.

I could only apologise to my colleagues that I had spent the day and evening with. Perhaps if it was a regular week, I would have stayed at home just in case. But I was excited to see them, was looking forward to a team night out and figured that it was just some other random lurgy that was going around.

It is almost a year since I knowingly got infected for the first time. I guess this is just how life is going to be now? This time around the effects were a little worse than before, although it was still relatively mild. I was never poorly enough take any time off work, but I did need a lot of sleep and didn’t feel up to any exercise. On Wednesday night I developed a mild fever but it was gone within 24 hours. Thankfully, none of my family have developed any symptoms despite sharing the house with me. Government guidance is to stay at home for five days.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent Thursday with the Engineering management team in a strategy meeting. I was the only person attending remotely, with everyone else in a meeting room in our London office. A few of us had put together a broad outline of the meeting a few days before which we largely kept to. We dived into thoughts on leadership before moving onto strategy, bringing in a guest from the CEO office to go through the work that has been done at his level. Our plan is to have a quarterly session starting next year to look at things top-down instead of bottom-up. I’ve always liked Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy/Bad Strategy which has this definition:

The kernel of a strategy contains three elements:
1. A diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as critical.
2. A guiding policy for dealing with the challenge. This is an overall approach chosen to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis.
3. A set of coherent actions that are designed to carry out the guiding policy. These are steps that are coordinated with one another to work together in accomplishing the guiding policy.

  • He also talks about how to detect a bad strategy:

To detect a bad strategy, look for one or more of its four major hallmarks:
– Fluff. Fluff is a form of gibberish masquerading as strategic concepts or arguments. It uses “Sunday” words (words that are inflated and unnecessarily abstruse) and apparently esoteric concepts to create the illusion of high-level thinking.
– Failure to face the challenge. Bad strategy fails to recognize or define the challenge. When you cannot define the challenge, you cannot evaluate a strategy or improve it.
– Mistaking goals for strategy. Many bad strategies are just statements of desire rather than plans for overcoming obstacles.
– Bad strategic objectives. A strategic objective is set by a leader as a means to an end. Strategic objectives are “bad” when they fail to address critical issues or when they are impracticable.

  • Presented three items at our quarterly Architecture Governance Authority meeting and got the go ahead on all three. Two of the items are applications we want to enable on our Microsoft 365 tenant and the third was for a Password Manager which I plan to roll out early next year.
  • Set up our new ‘work location broadcasting tool’ which we plan to pilot over the next few weeks before making a decision on rolling it our across our organisation. It’s so simple to use, and plugs a gap in the way that the Microsoft suite works today. I also reviewed a draft agreement for our pilot which we need to finalise next week.
  • Took part in a retrospective, looking specifically at the way in which my immediate team works. It has been very useful to reflect on how we go about things. We started this process a couple of weeks ago and still have one more session to go.
  • Met with our Enterprise Architect for our bi-monthly catch-up and discussed an issue that I raised a few weeks ago.
  • Attended an Architecture feedback session, reviewing a number of architecture decisions that were made at the highest forums in the past few weeks.
  • Reviewed our options for setting up an internal blog that is accessible by the rest of the organisation. We have been looking at SharePoint for a couple of weeks but the feeling I get is that it just isn’t built to run a blog-style content management system without extensive customisation. We’ve decided to pilot using Viva Engage (previously known as Yammer), despite the very mention of it making us itch based on our experiences from years ago. There seems to be a very broad user base at our firm and it comes with a lot of blog-like features out of the box. We’ll experiment and review how it goes.
  • Joined a series of very insightful meetings with our heads of Finance and Risk, as well as staff in Compliance, to talk through our thinking about our digital initiatives and get their input.
  • Met with our cross-functional digital product team to talk through a presentation they have put together to gain support and buy-in for their work. We drifted into topics such as ways of working; it was useful to be reminded of the gap between how we work in technology versus the rest of the organisation. I have some follow up meetings and discussions planned off the back of this.
  • Attended our Information Risk Steering Group and gave updates on a couple of initiatives that I am running.
  • Met with our People and Culture, and Marketing and Communications teams to discuss a planned service provider change for employee discounts.
  • Joined our weekly project meeting for closing down one of our regional offices.
  • Had an unexpected view of a suburban area of Beijing through a one-on-one meeting with a colleague. Our office was closed due to a detected COVID-19 case, so he took the opportunity to show me around where he lives. It reminded me of a typical street in Queens or Brooklyn in New York City.
  • Attended a division-wide town hall meeting and won a recognition award with a small cash prize.
  • Couldn’t find a simple solution to get a timer to display on a Teams Room screen alongside all of the participant video feeds. I’d be interested if anyone has solved this.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour cybersecurity presentation from a colleague.
  • Loved seeing my colleagues from Johannesburg, albeit briefly. We had a brilliant night out with most of our department at the Singer Tavern followed by darts at Flight Club across the road.

  • Completed and circulated drafts of our school’s Pay Policy as well as the five (yes, FIVE) UK GDPR-related policies to the Governing Board, ahead of our meeting next week.
  • Reviewed most of the materials ahead of the Full Governing Board meeting.
  • Read through the materials ahead of our headteacher assessment and interview day.
  • Decided to change my approach to concert-going to one where I buy my own ticket and broadcast my plans to my musically-minded friends. I didn’t get to see the wonderful Kathryn Joseph on Tuesday night as I was ill. The friends I was going with decided not to go either and I couldn’t find anyone to take my three tickets.
  • Missed the cycling club’s AGM as I wasn’t well. I’ve not been able to participate as much as I would have liked to, especially in the second part of the year.
  • Was sent a replacement TICKR heart rate monitor by the lovely people at Wahoo after mine gave up after 11 months. I think there is a design flaw as it is the second that has died on me. The main unit is fine, but the poppers that hold the straps on always seem to get corroded.

  • Turned off my mind by continuing to watch some episodes of Grange Hill on BritBox. I’m now late on in series two and have started to make notes on some of the more ridiculous aspects of the show.
  • Switched off crossposting from this blog to Twitter. There’s a toxic person at the helm and I’ve decided to stop creating posts on there. I’ve recently set up a Mastodon account and the service has the feeling of Twitter circa 2009, in a good way. Years ago I deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts; I plan to keep my Twitter account in place, partly so that I don’t break parts of the web and partly so that I can use movetodon.org to find accounts of people I previously followed on ‘the bird site’.

Next week: Assessing prospective headteachers, meeting with the Full Governing Board, getting back to the office and taking a day off to spend with my wife.

Weeknotes #195 — The fine folk of WB-40

Even by recent standards, this was an incredibly busy week. Things tend to slow right down at work in December as South Africa takes its summer holidays, so there’s a race to get things completed before people start to disappear. School governor meetings also came thick and fast this week, with lots of events that just happened to land one after the other.

Tiredness on Friday was hidden by my excitement of finally getting to meet the Internet friends that I have made through the WB-40 podcast Signal group. Matt Ballantine and Chris Weston couldn’t have known what they were creating when they started the show. They have brought together the most wonderful community of geeks that over the past few years have shared laughter and tears together. Meeting people in real life that I have only really known over a message group — and very occasional video call — proves to me that you absolutely can establish meaningful, supportive and productive relationships without being physically in the same the same place. It felt like a reunion, despite many of us meeting for the very first time. It’s a privilege to be part of the group.

This was a week in which I:

  • Met with a colleague in our Marketing and Communications team to discuss ideas for our planned password manager rollout. I originally wanted us to go live at the start of January as people return to the office, but this is becoming less realistic as we go through our lengthy vendor on-boarding processes.
  • Hastily pulled together submissions to our Architecture Governance Authority for a couple of applications that we want to connect to our Microsoft 365 tenant, along with the password manager software.
  • Completed some draft slides for my boss to use at an upcoming ‘people day’ meeting.
  • Met a colleague and a vendor for an interesting discussion on what was originally pitched as ‘career activism’; helping staff to take charge of their careers. The consensus is that ‘activism’ has negative connotations, so another name is in the works. Continued the discussion after the meeting and agreed that people don’t often stop to look at themselves and realise all the benefits they have of being in their current roles.
  • Spent a lot of time with our Digital team as they recapped where they are with their various products, and planned and delivered an organisation-wide talk to showcase them. They have been doing excellent work on tools that should allow us to make significant improvements to our understanding of our clients. The products range from simple to complex; the latter are interesting because they will take lots of our teams into uncharted territory.
  • Spent time with our CIO to structure and prepare for a strategy day that we have planned for next week. Two of my colleagues are coming over to London from Johannesburg, so we should have everyone in the same room.
  • Joined a meeting with our new head of Investment Banking to get her views on our business challenges. We’ve been talking to all of the senior leaders across our part of the organisation and will continue these sessions next week.
  • Took part in the weekly meeting with the Marketing and Communications, and People and Culture teams. Gave feedback on recent initiatives that we have been running internally and the impact that I think they have had on my team.
  • Had a catch-up with a colleague who is stuck in a COVID-19 quarantine hotel.
  • Took part in the weekly project meeting for closing one of our offices.
  • Was taken out for a lovely lunch by a colleague as a thank-you for giving her some spare theatre tickets earlier in the year. I’d never been to Cafe Below before, despite having walked past it hundreds of times. It was a pleasant surprise, with delicious food in a unique setting.

  • Reviewed the applications for the post of Headteacher at our school. The recruitment panel met to discuss our views and agree who we will put on a shortlist. The next step is for us to nail down the details of the assessment day and then spend a day in school observing and interviewing the candidates.
  • Met with our School Improvement Partner to hear her feedback after spending a morning in our school.
  • Completed our Headteacher’s annual performance review, sadly for the last time.
  • Chaired our school Finance, Premises and Personnel meeting. Had a call with our school Site Manager to discuss a couple of actions from the meeting.
  • Joined the HFL Education Hertfordshire Headteacher Update briefing. There isn’t a lot of good news about at the moment, particularly when it comes to school funding; the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that the real-terms spend in schools in 2024–25 will be 3% lower than in 2010. On top of this, at least one in six children are across the county are presenting with mental health needs, with the system stressed. It really feels that there is a national crisis brewing.
  • Joined a videoconference to learn about World Challenge, a 27-night expedition for children between the ages of 15 and 18. Our eldest son is mulling it over. It would be a life-changing experience, but it’s expensive. They told us that the children who do best on the trip are the ones that have strived to raise most of the money themselves.
  • Finally completed the treatment on my bad tooth that started in the summer, getting my second gold crown. I need to look at insuring my head, or at least making sure my family know to extract both of them in the event of my demise.
  • Made it out on Saturday morning for a cycling club ride. It was so good to see everyone again. I joined the club around this time last year, so going out in the cold and damp, with mudguards on my bike, got me thinking about how quickly the year has gone. I jumped straight back in with my usual speed group and felt pretty good as we propelled ourselves around the wet, pot-holed lanes.
  • Ran the line at my eldest son’s football match. It was a cold but gloriously sunny morning in Cheddington.

  • Watched the anti-climactic final F1 race of the season. Yas Marina is a good-looking place, but it rarely produces great races. As someone on Twitter recently said, “What should be the last race of the season and why is it Brazil?”
  • Met some close friends for a walk around the Christmas display at Kew Gardens. The displays are beautiful. The circuit is very, very long and we had parked a thirty minute walk away from the venue; by the time we neared the end we were all looking forward to getting back and relaxing at home.

Next week: In the office all week with our visitors from out of town. Seeing Kathryn Joseph. And meeting up with the cycle club for the AGM.

Weeknotes #194 — Smoke Fairies IV

This week has been a struggle. Every now and then I go through a phase of self-doubt, questioning everything I’m doing for my job and wondering whether I’m on the right track. It’s happened so many times before and it always passes, but while it’s here it feels like there’s a cloud hanging over me. Back when I started work in 1999 I quickly moved from software development to analysis and project management and that’s where I’ve stayed. But I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I had dived deeper into coding and built my technical skills.

I have a few things on my ‘big milestones’ list that I haven’t achieved yet this year. Now that there are only a handful of weeks left this year, the things not done are nagging at me. I don’t know whether it is because I’ve had to get involved in other work, or whether I just gravitate to projects and tasks that are less nebulous and easier to move to the ‘done’ pile. Having so much latitude in my job is a real blessing, but is also sometimes difficult to navigate. It will pass.

This was a week in which I:

  • Met with a colleague to discuss our approach for improving management of unstructured data across Microsoft 365. This project will be ramping up over the remainder of the year and into next.
  • Worked on a draft outline of a presentation for an annual senior management meeting focused on our staff.
  • Took part in a retrospective for my immediate team, looking at how we work and thinking about how we can improve our processes. It was so useful to go through this in a guided way; we haven’t been this introspective in some time.
  • Attended our monthly risk management meeting. We’ve made great progress in closing out some items and moving forward with mitigations for others.
  • Shared an overview of my team’s remaining key deliverables for 2022 in our department meeting.
  • Took part in the weekly project meeting for closing down one of our regional offices.
  • Spent time with colleagues in a sister department to discuss ‘ways of work’ and how they might approach improving their culture and processes. It feels as though I am building a good rapport with the team.
  • Went through our ‘ways of working’ journey so far with a recent joiner in our team. Next week we’ll look at how we can take it forward from where we are right now.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour presentation by one of my team members on how to use the Invision web app.
  • Saw our team complete a major network infrastructure change in one of our regional offices, completing the work that they have been doing across all of our locations all year. It significantly simplifies our setup and puts us in a good place to build out additional capabilities.
  • Attended a ‘digital showcase’ session where a colleague presented on our API marketplace offerings.
  • Attended a Better Value Sooner Safer Happier meetup on the topic of Tilting at Supertankers: Business Agility in Large Organisations. It was well-presented and well-received, but I didn’t feel as though there was enough new information in the presentation for me.

  • Distributed the materials for, and clerked, our school governor Pay Committee meeting. We had lots to cover. I now need to put aside some time to write up the minutes.
  • Had the privilege of seeing the Smoke Fairies play live again, for a ‘one night only’ show where they played all of their singles in chronological order. They didn’t disappoint. I first saw them live ten years ago when they launched their Blood Speaks album; they get better every time I see them. I’ve been supporting them on Patreon since they got it set up; it’s lovely to get a steady stream of home-made live performances on a regular basis in return. Getting home from the venue was a drama as the trains out of London were messed up, but it was worth it. Towards the end of the gig they played a song that was released during lockdown, No Matter How This Goes, Just Make Sure That You’re Kind. It brought back memories of what a stressful time the pandemic was. Watching live-streamed gigs from the Smoke Fairies and others was a little slice of joy.

  • Did a double-take when I saw someone standing next to me that I remembered noticing at the Blood Speaks gig in 2012, as well as the Cate Le Bon Cyrk album launch that happened around the same time. It turns out that he is Roger Mairlot, known (affectionately?) as the ‘Gig Slut’, and attends hundreds of gigs in London every year. Next time I see him I will say hello.

  • Finally got to take my new bike on a ride after a little break from all of the rain we’ve had. I rode out to Milton Keynes to see my eldest son take part in a Chiltern League cross-country run. It was joyous. We are going to have a lot of fun together. I can’t wait to get back to Saturday morning rides with the bike club.

  • Met up with a couple of close friends on Friday night to go for a pub dinner. It had been a long time since I’d seen one of my friends in the flesh and it was great to spend time with him.
  • Went to a dinner party with some friends who live a couple of streets away. They are amazing hosts and nobody went without a drink or something to eat for more than a few seconds.

Next week: A bulging diary, culminating in — at long last — meeting the people of WB-40.

Weeknotes #193 — Big duvet

A good, solid week where I got lots done. I managed to move forward with most of my projects in some way. Our unseasonably warm October has moved aside for an exceedingly wet November, so far at least. Temperatures have dropped, so we’ve switched our summer duvet over to the incredibly deep, snuggly winter one.

This was a week in which I:

  • Remembered that I had a Monday 8am online meeting as my train pulled into the station at 8am on Monday. It was a bright, sunny day so I joined the Teams call on my mobile and joined on video as I walked the 40 minutes to my office. It worked well, and I was grateful for the additional hour in bed.
  • Spent time with our new Head of Investment Banking to talk through an important project that we ran in 2020, getting her buy-in for some follow-up work.
  • Joined our weekly project meeting for closing down one of our regional offices. Nailing down a critical path is tricky, with multiple ‘chicken and egg’ scenarios in that we still need parts of the company to be functional as we shut it down.
  • Had a meeting to discuss the technical requirements of one of our regional offices. We are likely to be vacating the premises in a year or two, by which point I am hoping that we don’t need an actual ’server room’ as part of the floor plan. Our vision is to have just a cabinet on the wall with some switches and links to our wireless access points, with very little else.
  • Spent time workshopping a short online talk that our digital product team will be giving in a couple of weeks’ time.
  • Met with our sister company to discuss the planned tactical and strategic technical refits of our shared space.
  • Created and delivered a ’learning hour’ presentation on the internal Scaled Agile Framework conference that I went to in Johannesburg in August. I deliberately didn’t spend lots of time creating new things to share, instead using the materials that we left the conference with. The talk seemed to have an impact in the team as a couple of people referred back to it in conversations later in the week.
  • Informed the vendor of the ‘location broadcasting tool’ that we are ready to move to the pilot stage. We’re going to try it out across our Engineering, People and Culture, and Marketing and Communications teams to begin with. I met with representatives from those teams to show them what the tool will look like. It’ll be interesting to see the take-up.
  • Had a technical session with our chosen password management vendor, talking to the Helpdesk team about what internal tool support looks like in practice. We have much to do if we are to be ready for a company-wide launch in January.
  • Joined a meeting with one of the largest microprocessor manufacturers in the world. Our CTO had invited them to our office to discuss their view of trends and predictions, their roadmap, and how we are thinking about their technology. Data centre owners are sometimes our clients, giving us a slightly different perspective on things.
  • Had further discussions on the design choices for an internal team blog that will be hosted on SharePoint. I spoke to friends about whether there are better platform choices, but it seems that for something internal that SharePoint is probably the right answer.
  • Completed my personal annual review for 2022. Nobody likes doing these reviews, but it is just the way of things. I felt for my boss who had to complete his part of the process to a deadline while he was away on holiday.
  • Raised the idea of having a formal role of Technical Product Owner (TPO) within our organisation. This was in place at the Swiss bank I worked for over a decade ago and it worked well. It was a formal title given to people in the IT organisation that meant that they were recognised as the ‘go to’ person for a piece of software or hardware. They had additional responsibilities on top of their day job that they undertook for the good of the community. It carried prestige as it meant that the person with the title was recognised as the leading internal voice for a particular technology. For example, someone might be the TPO of Business Intelligence software. They would have a day-to-day role where they used the software but were also responsible for:
    • Articulating why we as a company had chosen product X instead of — or as well as — other products in the market.
    • Coordinating licencing and ensuring we got the best deal, leveraging our scale.
    • Understanding and communicating the vendor roadmap within our organisation, and providing guidance on the appropriate versions to use.
    • Working with the vendor, bringing them into the organisation to give technical updates and increasing their understanding about how we were using their product.
    • Thinking about how we went about engaging with the product and whether it would make sense to, for example, offer the product ‘as a service’, taking away the need for others to setup their installations from scratch.
    • Act as a point of escalation on detailed technical issues and topics.
  • Met with my peers to discuss the format and agenda for our upcoming strategic planning day.
  • Had an in-person ‘random coffee’ with a member of our Transactional Products and Services team. I love that I’ve got to know colleagues like this through these randomised encounters.
  • Enjoyed a webinar-style meeting with our new head of Investment Banking, getting an insight into her fascinating and challenging career so far, as well as her first impressions of working with us.
  • Helped a colleague to see that they do not need to wait for permission to present themselves as being in a certain role. I remember years ago when I started to refer to myself as a programme manager on my email signature, as that was what I did. I owned the title and people didn’t dispute it. It felt like a big thing at the time.
  • Joined the excellent monthly Teams Fireside Chat where we covered a lot of detail on Microsoft Teams Rooms. I had lots of questions, all of which were picked up and answered. It turns out that there currently isn’t a satisfying solution for adding a Teams Room to a meeting where you aren’t the organiser.
  • Met with a prospective new school governor who found us through the Inspiring Governance service. It’s such a pleasure and privilege to speak to people who are willing to give up their time for an organisation that they have no prior links with.
  • Finished looking into whether we should move the school’s role of UK GDPR Data Protection Officer to an external body. At the moment, with finances so tight, it’s difficult to justify the cost.
  • Attended the annual HFL Education Governor Conference which this year had the theme of ‘Raising The Bar’. This has been a virtual event for the past couple of years. As much as I never like driving halfway across the county to Stevenage, I dearly hope that the next one is held in-person. I’m now of the view that there is a balance to be struck between in-person and virtual meetings; the annual conference seems like a good occasion to have people in the same room, meeting governors from other schools over a cup of coffee, despite the impact on the environment. The presentation from Jo Goodman of the Education Endowment Foundation was excellent. On Sunday I stumbled across this excellent Twitter thread which covered similar ground:

  • Attended my eldest boy’s parents’ evening online.
  • Finally took delivery of the new bike that I ordered in the summer. I was working from home when it turned up; I had to fight my urge to unbox it and start putting it together right there and then. It looks beautiful. I’m waiting for a gap in the weather to take it out for a spin, as I’m not sure pedalling it in anger on a Saturday morning club ride is the best way to start. Waiting for the right conditions feels like a poor version of a planned SpaceX launch.
  • Had another short meeting with a colleague from twenty years ago, hearing more about his plans now that he has moved to Australia.
  • Waited for British Gas to turn up for an appointment they made with me to fix some of the electrics in our house. They never showed.
  • Ran the line at my eldest boy’s football match. Got completely soaked.
  • Had our good friends over for dinner as their home renovations mean that they are currently without a kitchen. We watched the first few tracks of Joe Jackson live at Rockpalast in 1983 which never fails to blow my mind. What a band. We also ended up watching Harry Mack doing his thing in London, which had us laughing out loud at how incredible it is:

  • Had our windows cleaned for the first time in a year or so. The window cleaner covers lots of our street already. It’s a shame that it has rained so much since they were done.
  • Started subscribing to NowTV again so that we can watch the second season of The White Lotus. I love that we have to wait each week for the next episode.
  • Subscribed to BritBox so that I can watch Grange Hill from the first episode onwards. I remember enjoying the show so much, but in reality I must have only tuned in for a few years in the late 1980s. Hearing some of the racist language on screen is shocking.
  • Loved hearing a full White Stripes album for the first time at Album Club.
  • Had my first mince pie of the season. Too early? It’s never too early.

Next week: The Smoke Fairies singles gig is finally here!

Weeknotes #192 — All the gigabytes you could possibly need

My overwhelming memory of this week is being overtired. Leg-achingly, eyelid-droopingly overtired. More than once, I dozed off in front of the TV and should have taken this as a hint that I needed to go up to bed, but instead I ploughed on. Before I met my wife I used to exist on very little sleep during the week, catching up by binging with lie-ins at the weekend. I’m now a reasonably early riser every day of the week, and after almost two decades I’m coming around to the possibility that my bedtime is perhaps a smidgen too late.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent time planning out the remaining work for our project to roll out a Password Manager to the organisation. As I keep saying to everyone, buying the tool and putting it in peoples’ hands is going to be the easy bit; making sure that the on-ramp is effective and continually nudging people towards the right behaviour is much more difficult. Given the amount of time required to on-board a new vendor and get a purchase order in place, and that December is around the corner, I’m aiming for a big launch in January. This will also give us time for a trial in the Engineering team, and allow us to collaborate with our Marketing and Communications team to get their help and support in making it a success.
  • Created a mind map for onboarding new staff as part of our digital literacy initiative. My draft goal for the work is to “Give new joiners a great on-boarding experience, equipped to be able to work digitally and effectively from day one.” People already think that we do a good job compared to other companies, getting new staff set up with an account and a laptop on their first day, but it’s a low bar. We can do so much better. Although the root of the work is from our digital space — it stemmed from me realising that all of our new joiners will need to be shown how to use our password manager software —I’ve also been inspired by this passage from The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath:

Shortly after you accept the offer letter from John Deere, you get an email from a John Deere Friend. Let’s call her Anika. She introduces herself and shares some of the basics: where to park, what the dress norms are, and so forth. She also tells you that she’ll be waiting to greet you in the lobby at 9 a.m. on your first day. When your first day comes, you park in the right place and make your way to the lobby, and there’s Anika! You recognize her from her photo. She points to the flat-screen monitor in the lobby—it features a giant headline: “Welcome, Arjun!” Anika shows you to your cubicle. There’s a six-foot-tall banner set up next to it—it rises above the cubes to alert people that there’s a new hire. People stop by over the course of the day to say hello to you. As you get settled, you notice the background image on your monitor: It’s a gorgeous shot of John Deere equipment on a farm at sunset, and the copy says, “Welcome to the most important work you’ll ever do.” You notice you’ve already received your first email. It’s from Sam Allen, the CEO of John Deere. In a short video, he talks a little bit about the company’s mission: “to provide the food, shelter, and infrastructure that will be needed by the world’s growing population.” He closes by saying, “Enjoy the rest of your first day, and I hope you’ll enjoy a long, successful, fulfilling career as part of the John Deere team.” Now you notice there’s a gift on your desk. It’s a stainless steel replica of John Deere’s original “self-polishing plow,” created in 1837. An accompanying card explains why farmers loved it. At midday, Anika collects you for a lunch off-site with a small group. They ask about your background and tell you about some of the projects they’re working on. Later in the day, the department manager (your boss’s boss) comes over and makes plans to have lunch with you the next week. You leave the office that day thinking, I belong here. The work we’re doing matters. And I matter to them.

  • Had my regular meeting with our Marketing and Communications and People and Culture teams. Gave them an overview of my thinking about on-boarding and the password manager initiative.
  • Was given approval from our Chief Information Security Officer to go ahead with a trial of software that will give staff the ability to broadcast our intended location each day. There are just one or two more vendor on-boarding checks to do before we can proceed.
  • Spent Tuesday in an all-day meeting with senior managers across our Investment Bank Technology team, watching and participating in a number of panel discussions about our strategy. It felt as though those of us that couldn’t be physically present in the room in Johannesburg still managed to contribute well to the session. We were helped by fabulous colleagues that were there who let us know in the meeting chat who was speaking. Once again I made reference to my write-up of the book A Seat at the Table, which jumps to my mind as soon as anyone utters the phrase “IT and business”.
  • Met with the vendor that will be upgrading the physical door access system in one of our offices and agreed that they will give us a detailed implementation plan.
  • Reviewed some new dashboards for our CRM system that show the level of interaction with the tools over time.
  • Enjoyed our weekly Learning Hour session, this time with a guest host from our Financial Crime Compliance department.
  • Ran the weekly all-team meeting. Along with our usual agenda, we talked about the alert from the US embassy in South Africa about a possible terror attack at the weekend which thankfully didn’t come to pass.
  • Attended the weekly project meeting for the shutdown of one of our offices.
  • Enjoyed meeting a colleague from our Credit Risk team in South Africa for a ‘random coffee’.
  • Started using Trello again after a very long hiatus. I needed something that would allow me to easily see my main personal and school governor projects in one place. My task manager, Remember The Milk, doesn’t really cut it. Although Planview’s AgilePlace (formerly LeanKit) is the best Kanban tool around, I can’t justify spending USD 240/year; I’ve given up on waiting for a reasonably-priced licence for personal use. I already feel as though I’ve got my arms around my personal projects a little more. Last Christmas I spent some time trying to get on top of my personal workflow and haven’t made much progress beyond migrating from Evernote to OneNote.
  • Caught up with an old friend and colleague from twenty years ago who has recently moved to Perth.
  • Spent time refreshing the various school policies relating to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It was sad to see that we now have to refer to ‘UK GDPR’ throughout the documents as a result of Brexit.
  • Welcomed my eldest boy back from his school ‘sports tour’ to Manchester. For a short while after he returned, I wasn’t the most tired person in the house.
  • Upgraded my children’s SIM-only mobile plans from 20GB/month to 75GB/month for just a couple of pounds extra. Apparently, because we also have a Virgin Media subscription, these allowances get doubled. I never want to have a conversation with anyone about running out of data ever again.
  • Loved hosting Album Club and sharing a recent favourite with friends.
  • Had a random weeknight family dinner out at Nando’s.
  • Feel like I’m starting to get my bike fitness back after a couple of weeks off. Workouts are harder than they should be, but I’m at least now managing to complete them.
  • Went out with my eldest son for a Sunday morning 10k run, right before his football match where I ran the line. We’re both a bit worn out.
  • Watched Boyz N The Hood (1991) with my eldest boy. The climatic scene still makes me cry, thirty years after seeing it for the first time.
  • Finished watching season two of Only Murders In The Building. It’s such a delightful show. Our itch to see a bit more of Steve Martin and Martin Short was scratched by heading straight to Father Of The Bride (1991). It turns out that 1991 was a pretty good year for movies.

Next week: Finishing my annual review (already!), a school parents’ evening, meeting a prospective new school governor, and another Friday night Album Club.

Weeknotes #191 — Disarray

Back to work in London again and back to my happy place in my home office for a few days. It’s lovely to be here again. Autumn is all around us, which means that I can start wearing jumpers when working from home and no longer need to iron the shirts that I’m wearing underneath. (Don’t tell anyone.)

The podcast backlog that built up while I was away in New York in two weeks wasn’t helped by so many ‘emergency’ episodes being released in the wake of the government turmoil. I spent a lot of evenings up late watching the extraordinary goings on in parliament and checking the news. Watching the Prime Minister fall after 44 days in office has been simultaneously filled with schadenfreude and completely grotesque; our country is in a lot of pain and I don’t see a clear route forward. The current Conservative party is unleadable. No candidate will be able to keep MPs pointing in the same direction to conduct government business in a stable way. As always, Chris Grey has a useful dissection of where we are. Despite his latest post being called Total Disarray, he ends by saying that “For only the second time since June 2016 I feel slightly hopeful.” Because we are now having to confront the realities of Brexit and Brexitism and the ensuing political and economic crisis, we may be able to start talking more openly about it.

This was a week in which I:

  • Agreed on a way forward for our Password Manager project and have now asked our preferred vendor for a formal quote. Buying the tool will be the easy bit. We need to make sure that we have a good on-ramp for our staff and the capacity to nudge people towards the correct behaviours.
  • Reviewed the latest architecture proposal for an Internet of Things network and agreed next steps.
  • Caught up with colleagues in our People and Culture department on the clear writing course I want to schedule for our team.
  • Started to pick up some additional responsibilities as our CIO is now spread across two jobs. Attended our bi-monthly meeting with Enterprise Architecture and agreed how we will go forward with these sessions.
  • Handed over some small projects to our new team member in New York.
  • Took part in the weekly project meeting for the closure of one of our offices.
  • Caught up with our head of API technology.
  • Met with colleagues in Investment Banking Technology to collaborate on ‘ways of working’.
  • Enjoyed our team’s weekly Learning Hour session where one of our newest members took us through the concept of Jobs To Be Done.
  • Attended a presentation by our CTO on electricity infrastructure and power resiliency. He made brilliant use of video from Google Earth to take us to various sites, explaining some of the design decisions that were made and how lots of infrastructure is operating well outside of its normal parameters.
  • Watched the video from our South African headquarters celebrating our company’s 160th birthday. The quality of our internal events and their recording are both exceptional.
  • Met with a sister company to talk through our approach to IT infrastructure and in particular our Microsoft 365 setup. They are at the start of the journey. The in-person meeting was coupled with an old-fashioned audio dial-in which felt like a big step back in time.
  • Joined the Thoughtworks Technology Radar webinar to hear about the tools, techniques, platforms, languages and frameworks that they are thinking about. I’m wondering whether it would be useful to create our own ’hold, assess, trial, adopt’ map for the technologies we use internally.
  • Booked a slot at Flight Club social darts for a team night out in November, when a couple of members of the management team will be in London. The venue is incredibly booked up for weeks in advance.
  • Had a random coffee with a colleague who has relocated from Johannesburg to Cape Town. He actually lives in a small town a few hundred kilometres east, alternating each week between home and office working. It got me thinking about the displacement that we’re going through; many major cities will be experiencing falls in population and tax revenues which could send them into a downward spiral. A friend shared an excellent article from Bloomberg which dissects the situation for midtown Manhattan, illustrating the same point.
  • Had another random coffee with a colleague in New York who had just got back from a long trip to South Africa and Angola.
  • Attended the Chairs’ Strategic Information Briefing run by HFL Education. Their meetings are always valuable but extremely information-dense, with this one covering assessment, upskilling the board and headteacher on financial management, human resources, improving school attendance, Ofsted inspections and a number of other smaller topics. The HFL Education Governance Senior Advisor told us that she is retiring at Christmas and I will be so sad to see her go; her support has been invaluable to me over the past few years.
  • Spent an evening at my son’s school to learn about the Sixth Form and get more detail on the subjects that he is interested in. I’m so jealous that he has all of this wonderful learning ahead of him.
  • Had my first of two visits to the dentist to get a crown fitted to the tooth that gave me so much trouble in the summer.

Next week: Hosting Album Club again.

Weeknotes #190 — Butterboy

Two weeks away on a business trip is always a little too long. By the middle of the second week I’m always homesick, fed up of eating out for every meal. A privileged problem, I know, but it’s real all the same.

It felt like a very successful week. We on-boarded a new team member in New York and enjoyed getting to know him. We’ve been getting him up to speed with who we are, what we do and how we do it. Our office is a small but important hub for our company; various CEOs kept appearing in person throughout the course of the week.

I’ve been in love with New York since I lived there many years ago. But it now feels like a city which is going through a big change as a result of the pandemic. This is probably reflective of the wider world, felt more intensely here because of how compact everything is. Being in the city for two weeks got me thinking about how living in a particular place can influence your life; my lack of an indoor bike trainer and a five minute commute meant that I finished my trip with a gigantic podcast backlog. I had no time on a train to write. Running in Central Park was fun, but a few early morning meetings and quite a bit of rain meant that I didn’t get as much exercise as I would have liked. But I could quite easily be at the office for 7am, something that would be a struggle at home.

It was great to get on board the plane and head home again.

This was a week in which I:

  • Marvelled at how the working population of New York approached a federal public holiday. Although Columbus Day is a controversial celebration, I didn’t expect to see quite as many people heading into the office as I did.
  • Continued interviewing candidates for our IT role in New York.
  • Joined the weekly project meeting for closing one of our regional offices.
  • Reviewed our draft submission to the annual Operational Risk review process.
  • Welcomed our SD-WAN vendor as guest presenters at our weekly Learning Hour session. Their product is superb and keeps getting better at a rapid rate.
  • Agreed in principle to taking a radically different approach to a new Internet link in one of our offices.
  • Reviewed responses from vendor to our on-boarding questionnaire. Had a meeting with them to discuss the roadmap for their product given some recent industry news.
  • Agreed to take a look at whether Miro could be useful for our work.
  • Pondered how expertise manifests itself as knowing what part of a process or methodology you can leave out, as well as why it works in particular cases but not others.
  • Went for drinks with our local IT vendor in New York, on the 41st floor of the Aliz Hotel. It was a good opportunity to meet a number of their other clients.

  • Caught up with the family finances and processed all of my trip expenses.
  • Reviewed the recruitment materials we intend to use to find a new Headteacher for our school. I’m hoping that there are some great candidates out there for whom our school would be a perfect next step.
  • Had a great night out in Brooklyn with my boss, who was in town for a short visit. After seeing Jo Firestone last week at Friend of the Show!, I booked tickets to see her team up with Maeve Higgins and Aparna Nancherla as hosts of the Butterboy comedy night. I have absolutely no idea why it is called that. It was a giggle.

  • Tried to commit to my MUBI subscription by watching more films. The Worst Person In The World (2021) is a Norwegian romantic drama that is well worth a look.
  • Continued watching How To with John Harris. A beautiful, funny dialogue set to ephemeral videos mainly in New York City.
  • Kept noticing Adam Brisbin everywhere. He played an amazing gig with Indigo Sparke last week and his name stuck in my head. I’ve since spotted him on the cover of Wilder Maker’s Zion album as well as in the writing credits for two of the songs on Katie Von Schleicher’s brilliant Consummation.
  • Refereed my eldest son’s U16 football match. I’m not particularly confident — or particularly great — at the job, but if volunteering means that the match can go ahead then I’m happy to do it. There seems to be a shortage of referees at the moment, which is a shame.

Next week: Back to our office in London and back to my happy place of my office at home.

Weeknotes #189 — Guilt trip

The first of a couple of weeks away from home. One of my children developed an illness that was serious enough for a minor operation and a night in hospital, making me feel very guilty for being so far away. He seems to be on the mend now but it was a worrying few days. Two weeks for a business trip usually feels a little too long; by the end of the second week I’m usually missing everyone and can’t wait to get back. This time it feels worse.

New York seems a little less crazy than it did a couple of weeks ago when the UN General Assembly meeting was in full swing. I’m able to stay much closer to my office, but it’s a sad location — lots of restaurants, delis and hotels have shut, presumably due to the pandemic, leaving a couple of rows of vacant real estate. Even the restaurant in the hotel is shut and there is no room service.

I’ve tried to make the most of being in the city, going to shows and gigs that Katie Von Schleicher recommended to me as well as taking a trip to the cinema. I’ve walked for miles in the evenings, choosing to go by foot to get home instead of taking the Subway or a cab. The weekend gave me a chance to catch up with lots of school governor work and home admin, things that I would have struggled to get done in a typical weekend at home.

This was a week in which I:

  • Met with the CEO of our new staffing provider in the US, giving an outline of who we are and what we do and hearing about their setup.
  • Caught up with the sales representative from our main IT vendor.
  • Worked with a colleague to create a snag list of items that need to be addressed in our New York office.
  • Validated a physical network cabling configuration for our Networks team.
  • Clarified the timeline for the closure of one of our regional offices and agreed how we will provide IT services to the few staff that remain.
  • Agreed a raft of next steps relating to our management on unstructured data across our offices.
  • Gave a presentation to the Engineering team on the history of our unstructured data management work and what we intend to do from here.
  • Started a review of responses via our third-party vendor management system for a new tool that I want to bring into the firm.
  • Reviewed alternative offerings for our planned course on clear writing at work.
  • Attended the monthly Teams Fireside Chat for a discussion with lots of experts and practitioners involved in Microsoft Teams.
  • Completed all of the reading and meeting prep ahead of our first school Full Governing Board meeting of the year. As the meeting was in-person, we used a small conference speaker in the room connected via Bluetooth to someone’s mobile. I’m grateful that it allowed me to dial-in to participate, but it was a flashback to a time before desktop videoconferencing. I’m so glad it’s mostly behind us.
  • Took a tour of the United Nations building and was surprised at how emotional the experience was. I was going to put more about this in these weeknotes but I think it deserves a write-up of its own.

  • Managed to complete a few runs around Central Park, including two at the weekend which took me along the whole six mile loop.

  • Had a night out with a couple of colleagues at the Friend of the Show! show in the stunningly beautiful Sultan Room in Brooklyn. I’ve tried to look up the evening’s house band, The Dodies, as they were excellent, but can’t find any details about them anywhere.

  • Went to see Indigo Sparke with support from Katy Pinke at the intimate Public Records Sound Room. I wasn’t really that familiar with either artist before I went. Sparke was celebrating the release of her new album Hysteria. I ended up randomly talking to Pinke’s brother before the show started. Going to gigs alone is a strange thing; sometimes it feels comfortable and other times less so. I think that if I had been more familiar with their work I would have felt more of a part of things than I did.

  • Was grateful that Channel 4 don’t seem to block well-known VPN providers on their website, so I was able to watch their Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix qualifying and race highlight shows.

Some random observations on New York:

  • People in cinemas/movie theatres talk. A lot. It’s distracting.
  • The guys riding ‘bike taxis’ are inevitably playing Michael Jackson really loudly.
  • I’d love to find and read a history of the architectural infrastructure of the city, answering questions like: what was the tallest building as time went by, how steam gets pumped to the buildings, the impact of air conditioning showing up, a history of elevators etc. Twenty years ago I watched New York: A Documentary Film and I have the series on DVD; maybe I just need to re-watch it.

  • Finding a good local spot to have a delicious bowl of vegan granola and a cup of coffee feels like a big win.

Next week: Putting our staffing plan into place and heading home.

Weeknotes #188 — Heritage

A regular, busy week. Colleagues recently remarked how people seem to be falling ill after business trips. So it was with me. On Monday I felt as though I had a bit of a cold coming on. It was a long-lost, familiar feeling that I haven’t had for a few years —probably thanks to social distancing and squirrelling myself away during the pandemic. We had an office social event that evening which I didn’t feel well enough to attend. Tuesday and Wednesday I spent working from home, armed with hot lemon and paracetamol, and a big supply of tissues. By Wednesday evening I had started to feel a lot better, making it back into the office at the end of the week.

It was interesting to see my heart rate on the bike trainer when I got back in the saddle on Friday and Saturday; it was a bit higher than usual and took longer to recover than before.

Despite feeling a bit under the weather I felt as though I managed to get focused and get things done. There’s a mountain to climb, but I’m climbing it.

This was a week in which I:

  • Welcomed a new member to my team in London. It’s taken months to get him on board. I’m so glad he had the patience to join us. He brings a bunch of experience and skills to the team that we don’t already have. We’re going to do great things.
  • Had meetings with our regional CEO and COO to go through our signature programme that focuses on digital product initiatives. We’ve practiced the narrative through a number of these meetings and it’s interesting to see, and to show, how the dots all join up. There is an enthusiasm around the work which we need to capitalise on. Feedback was excellent and gave us some new perspectives to think about.
  • Had the weekly project meeting for the closure of one of our offices. I spent time trying to decouple the work we need to do in the IT team from the real estate/lease discussions. A final timeline is beginning to emerge.
  • Met to review the list of contracts associated with the office that we are closing down.
  • Joined colleagues from the Office of the CEO, People and Culture, and Communications and Marketing, to talk through where we are with plans for promoting sustainable careers and digital literacy.
  • Met with Operational Risk to discuss this year’s self-assessment process.
  • Had a late night interview with a candidate for our vacancy in New York.
  • Gave a walkthrough of our digital signage platform to a member of the Marketing and Communications team, and gave them access to make their own updates.
  • Met with a colleague to discuss where we are with enabling collaboration across Microsoft 365 tenants between two of our group companies.
  • Validated and closed out a change to our voice recording system with the Compliance team.
  • Enjoyed an office lunch where we celebrated Heritage Day. In our offices in South Africa, staff are encouraged to come to work in their ‘traditional’ dress. I find it interesting that for my own culture, I was already in what we consider to be our traditional dress. It got me thinking about how the suit has been adopted by so many different countries as the ‘standard’.
  • Enjoyed a well-timed and excellently delivered Learning Hour talk by a colleague called Get To Know Lesotho. Two people in the session admitted to not even having previously been aware of Lesotho as a country. I would love to visit one day.
  • Had two lovely random coffees with colleagues in our Compliance and Client Coverage teams.
  • Felt discombobulated as we had our first early morning all-team meeting. For the past few years they have always been on Friday afternoon, but we have started to alternate so that a colleague in Beijing can join them occasionally. It was lovely to have him there.
  • Went for a thorough health screening, provided by my employer. I don’t have my results yet but everything seemed good.
  • Migrated my whole family from Dashlane to 1Password. There are usability issues in Dashlane that have been outstanding for years, whereas 1Password seems to have come on in leaps and bounds since I last looked at it. The whole migration process took about half an hour. I haven’t noticed any issues so far.
  • Spent time playing with DALL-E 2 and having my mind blown. Started thinking about the general use case of AI beyond creating pictures.

Input: “a woman cycling through berkhamsted on a sunny day”

Input: “a woman cycling through berkhamsted on a sunny day”

  • Had my mind blown by the Internet once again, finding myself emailing back and forth with Katie Von Schleicher as she recommended New York venues and shows to me. It’s the simple connections that we make through the technology that still dazzles me.
  • Watched another couple of episodes of season two of Only Murders In The Building. It’s a brilliant show, making me laugh out loud with every episode.
  • Finally got around to watching the documentary about Alexei Navalny. Despite knowing some of the story, at points it was absolutely jaw-dropping. It was striking to see so many people out in support of him. Are they still as vocal given everything that has happened since Navalny’s arrest? It must be a terrifying place to be if you disagree with the regime.
  • Enjoyed a lovely meal out with my family. It had been a while since just the four of us had gone out, so it was great to catch up.

Next week: Coming to America part two.

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.