Weeknotes #176 — Digital displays

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

A week in which I:

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

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

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

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

Weeknotes #175 — A deep breath and an open mind

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

A week in which I:

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

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

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

Weeknotes #174 — Ready-made dough

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

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

A week in which I:

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

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

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

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

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

Weeknotes #173 — Table top

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

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

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

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

A week in which I:

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

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

Weeknotes #172 — Isle of Wight

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

A week in which I:

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

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

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

Weeknotes #171 — Celebrations

Beautiful rose-covered cottage in Langford, Oxfordshire

Beautiful rose-covered cottage in Langford, Oxfordshire

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

A week in which I:

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

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

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

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

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

Live birthday entertainment

Street party, complete with ice cream van

Street party, complete with ice cream van

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

Weeknotes #170 — The wrong staircases

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

A week in which I:

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

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

Weeknotes #169 — Intruder alert

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

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

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

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

A week in which I:

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

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

Weeknotes #168 — Kathryn Joseph

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

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

A week in which I:

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

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

Weeknotes #167 — GoldenEye

#Octothorpe

#Octothorpe

If it wasn’t for the fact that the train operator is running a reduced timetable “that reflects the current demand for our services”, I would say that the commute to work is now back to the pre-COVID-19 experience. The trains are packed both into and out of London, often standing room only at peak times. I’m enjoying the fact that going into the office feels like just another thing that I do now and isn’t a big deal. I still love working from home and the benefits that it brings, but being in the office doesn’t feel as much of a bother as it was at first. We had a four-day week due to the early May bank holiday in the UK, and I found myself in the office for three of those days. It’s definitely enough.

A week in which I:

  • Exhausted myself on the bank holiday by going for a decent run and then spending over ten hours painting two sides of our garden fence. I felt like a consultancy who had bid too low on a job and had to see it through for reputational reasons. I still have the panels at the back to do, but they will have to wait for another weekend where I have a day to spare. I’m really pleased with the end result. Having a vast backlog of podcast episodes to listen to was a great help. I’m not sure the spray tool that I bought for the job did much to help, so next time I’ll need to remember to just use a paint pot and a big brush.

Obligatory before (left) and after (right) photos

Obligatory before (left) and after (right) photos

  • Said goodbye to one of my team members as he moves onto his next chapter with a move abroad. It was great to see him one last time in person before he left us. He was a very popular colleague and will be missed.
  • Had a meeting with the team and vendors involved in our annual investors’ conference. There are still lots of variables; from a planning perspective it would be good to fix them as soon as we can, but there is value in keeping things fluid for a few more weeks.
  • Met with our audio/visual vendor to discuss our two most complex rooms in our London office, and what we can do to improve things in the short term ahead of some more fundamental changes.
  • Had two members of the audio/visual vendor come on-site to get our office collaboration space up and running with a permanent solution for hybrid ‘town hall’-style meetings. We still have a lot to do to optimise the space, but the technology has taken a big step forward thanks to their help.
  • Wrote, edited and sent out communications on our planned move to Teams telephony in our London office next week.
  • Caught up with our front office business manager on a project we ran a couple of years ago to fundamentally change the way we manage unstructured data. Agreed that it is time to revisit the principles and run some refresher training.
  • Spoke to one of the potential digital signage vendors about the next steps in testing their solution in our environment.
  • Spent time with our CIO to discuss and agree how to represent our project portfolio. I need to try and spend more time in this space if I can.
  • Started thinking about and researching how we can increase digital literacy in our part of the organisation.
  • Took part in a meeting on an initiative to revamp how we create and manage our internal and external presentations. It got me thinking about the excellent Clear Writing For Busy Readers training I did a few years ago.
  • Attended a surprise online celebration for a colleague who has 40 years of service with the company.
  • Enjoyed the first weekly buffet lunch in our London office. They’ve been scheduled to take place every Tuesday. Hopefully people won’t just grab some food and head back to their desks. I think these things need a little curation to make them work, but the first one was pretty good as I ended up talking to some colleagues that I don’t usually interact with.
  • Prepped and then chaired our school governor Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meeting. I joined the meeting from my office; although it meant I was home late I much preferred it to the evenings pre-pandemic where I used to have to rush away early from work to get to school. As part of the preparation I for the meeting I brought our projects/big spend list up-to-date and plan to keep it current for future meetings.
  • Had an hour to make a decision about buying a ticket to a gig next week. The venue only holds 150 people and it’s been a while since I’ve gigged solo, so I decided to go. I’m not that familiar with the artist’s work but from what I’ve heard so far it should be great.
  • Cleared out our bedroom so that it could be repainted, along with our downstairs toilet. All done in a few days and we’re back in again. They look great.
  • Enjoyed listening to a whole Erasure album for the first time at Album Club. I know lots of their singles but had never listened to a whole album. This is one of the many, many reasons why Album Club is so wonderful.
  • Didn’t make it out for the cycling club ride on Saturday, opting for an indoor ride instead. We had a little rain which wasn’t forecast and I couldn’t bring myself to contemplate cleaning the bike after the ride. After the past couple of weeks it was quite good to have a less demanding exercise schedule. I’ll get back on it again next week.
  • Had a friend over again to watch the Formula 1 race on Sunday evening. I’m loving sharing the excitement of the races.
  • Spent Saturday evening at the Centre for Computing History for a Dev Talk on 25 Years of GoldenEye. Three of the original development team members were on stage — Martin Hollis, Dr. David Doak and Brett Jones — and they kept the audience transfixed with the stories of their experiences. I’ve never been much of a gamer but I have many happy memories of playing hours and hours of GoldenEye with my friends, back in the days when I had far less obligations and responsibilities. The development work seemed to fall somewhere between the small teams of the 1980s and the larger teams of the modern era. They had to make do without the Internet as a reference tool, meeting the challenges of fitting the code within the restrictions to processing power of late-1990s consoles. It was fascinating to learn that the multiplayer mode which made the game live so long in the collective memory was added just four months before their deadline. The museum itself is a wonderful place and it was fantastic to see the CEO Jason Fitzpatrick again; I first met him at the BBC Micro 30th birthday party about a decade ago, before the museum was established.

A sellout event

A sellout event

Multiplayer GoldenEye split across four monitors!

Multiplayer GoldenEye split across four monitors!

Event poster

Event poster

An incredible array of consoles from the earliest times to the modern day

An incredible array of consoles from the earliest times to the modern day

Silicon dreams

Silicon dreams

Sinclair ZX Spectrum prototype. No rubber keys!

Sinclair ZX Spectrum prototype. No rubber keys!

Next week: A big go-live of our Teams telephones in London,a work social event and a solo trip to a gig.

Weeknotes #166 — Back in school

I paid a price for last weekend’s all-out cycling in that I was feeling a little tired and run down this week. I sloped off to bed early on a couple of evenings but didn’t seem to be able to catch up. The week was bisected by the welcome return of Governors In School Day which we hadn’t been able to hold since the pandemic began. It was wonderful to spend time with pupils and staff on a typical school day. It reaffirmed the reasons why we volunteer for the role.

Going into the office has started to feel normal again. We have some physical infrastructure work that I need to complete there; as long as there is a purpose to travelling in, it doesn’t feel like there is a presenteeism aspect to it. Quite a few of our global team are still on holiday so it has been noticeably quiet, but we should have a full compliment again in a week or two.

It feels as though the pandemic is all but over here in the UK with masks now relatively rare in any situation. We seem to have seamlessly moved on to other things. I still have friends and family members catching the virus but thankfully they aren’t getting very sick. It feels like the best we can hope for, and remembering how I felt back in 2020 I will definitely take it.

Although we’re at the end of April it is still pretty chilly. I ditched the bib-shorts and went back to winter gear for this weekend’s cycling club ride and was glad I did. When the sun breaks through the cloud things warm up pretty quickly, but it’s been cold and frosty overnight. Hopefully the weather is saving the best for a glorious summer.

A week in which I:

  • Ran the weekly project meeting for our annual conference, which is now only two months away. We have an important meeting with our technical partner next week, after which I will be able to put more meat on the bones of the plan.
  • Joined the broader bi-weekly project meeting with the conference sponsors and executives.
  • Got a second digital signage solution up and running as part of a trial. The display box is Ethernet-only, so I had to rig up an Ethernet to Wi-Fi bridge in order to get it to work. It sprang to life with a carousel of COVID-19-related visuals about washing hands and maintaining social distance, presumably installed by the last company that were testing it out.

  • Took part in a prioritisation and planning meeting for our component of the big group programme.
  • Joined the monthly meeting with the Head of Operational Risk to discuss hot topics.
  • Ran our bi-weekly all-team meeting.
  • Met with one of my team members for a handover. Sadly he’ll be leaving the team next week and will be sorely missed. We gave him his virtual leaving card this week (Thankbox is brilliant for this) and I’m hoping to see him in the office on Tuesday for a final day of work together.
  • Picked up an issue with a new starter who doesn’t fit any of the models that we have for on-boarding people.
  • Had a wonderful catch-up with an ex-colleague that I hadn’t spoken to in some time. Checking in with her is always food for the soul.
  • Met with a colleague in one of our client-facing functions for a random coffee. The last time we met was over a year ago and it was great to catch up.
  • Had an incredible time at Governors In School Day. Going and seeing things for yourself is so important, and reconnects you with the purpose behind the work that you do. The Deputy Headteacher had put together a well-structured timetable for the day and I got to visit lots of different classes and lessons. I also got to talk to smaller groups of pupils for feedback about their experience and the work that some of them are doing as anti-bullying ambassadors. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed being in school over the past couple of years. All of the staff and pupils made me feel so welcome and the children were eager to answer the questions that I had about their work in the lessons. Our day finished just after three o’clock in the afternoon and I was exhausted; the staff do an incredible job that I know I would be terrible at, and I take my hat off to them.
  • Wrote up my notes from the day and submitted them to the governor that is collating feedback from everyone.
  • Attended my youngest son’s parents’ evening online from home. I still think this is one of the best things to come out of the pandemic and hope it stays for the rest of the time that they are both at school.
  • Enjoyed a relatively flat club ride on Saturday morning. A cold start but by the end of it we were sitting in the sunshine on the terrace at the cricket club and I was reluctant to leave.
  • Had my eyes tested for the first time since before lockdown. I’m getting old and already wear varifocals. It was interesting to see that my short-sightedness that I’ve had since the age of nine is now steadily improving, but offset by ongoing development of near-sightedness. I need a new prescription. Getting old is an expensive business.
  • Mowed the lawns and prepped the back garden fence ready for painting tomorrow. These kinds of jobs always feel less of a burden now that I can wear my headphones and chug through a few hours of podcasts.

The lilac is coming out and it looks stunning.

The lilac is coming out and it looks stunning.

  • Experienced what my eldest son identified as a lucid dream. At some point in the dream I became suspicious that I was asleep but wasn’t sure if I was really there or in bed. I took out my phone to take a photo of a building and deliberately turned on the front-facing camera, only to find someone else’s face staring back at me. This jolted me out of the dream. I was very happy to find myself in my bed, having been proved right.

Next week: Another public holiday, staining the garden fence, prepping for and holding our next school governor meeting, saying goodbye to a team member, celebrating an anniversary and mapping out the technical work for our annual conference.

Weeknotes #165 — Hillbuster II

Having lunch in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral

Having lunch in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral

Back to work with a bump. Tuesday was a shock to the system with a return to the office; I had a feeling of being slightly punch-drunk by the time the evening commute came. I’d spent the day in an attempt to catch up with colleagues as well as get on top of two weeks of emails, messages and other notifications. Some projects had moved on in leaps and bounds during my absence while others were just as I left them.

I went into the office again on Wednesday prior to a couple of days working from home and think that I’ve finally started to enjoy the variation of where I’m working. I still need to have a purpose to travel in and be there, but we have enough going on physically in the office to make it worthwhile.

A week in which I:

  • Concluded the latest ‘request for proposal’ process for the technical components of our annual conference. It’ll be great to start working with the chosen vendor on the delivery timeline now.
  • Had the weekly internal project meeting for the annual conference project.
  • Met with a colleague to give an overview of a project I ran a couple of years ago to change the way in which we manage unstructured data in our London office. Agreed to meet again in a week or so to see if there are any follow-up actions we need to take.
  • Met with the head of our API Marketplace to discuss the approach that we are taking as a company to launching and promoting it.
  • Caught up on the programme relating to the lease expiry events for two of our offices.
  • Reviewed the status of work to improve the physical and audio/visual aspects of our office ahead of a town hall meeting in a few weeks’ time, and our annual conference later in the year.
  • Discussed progress with the dashboards that we are creating as part of the big group programme.
  • Reviewed the final draft contract for renewing our helpdesk and ‘level one’ support function.
  • Updated the monthly London Governance Committee pack, including a slide on the audio/visual changes we are working on.
  • Had the bi-weekly management team meeting.
  • Ran my first ‘wins’ session with the team for a few weeks. The sessions always seem to start slowly but then build to a decent set of achievements.
  • Pondered why some people don’t take time to clear out their diary ahead of a holiday, cancelling and declining meetings that they can’t attend. Doing it is both helpful and joyous.
  • Was treated to two small work lunches on Tuesday and Wednesday, one in a restaurant and the other sitting on a bench in the grounds of St Paul’s Cathedral. I was very grateful for both. It felt good to be back with the team again. I also discovered that Hotel Chocolat now sell ice cream, and enjoyed a tub on the way back to the office.
  • Had the mid-year appraisal for our Headteacher. It was lovely to spend some time catching up with her and the Chair of Governors.
  • Enjoyed a lovely family barbecue with my brothers, hosted at a new house that one of them has just moved into. It felt like forever since we had got together.
  • Renewed our home buildings and contents insurance by phone after three unsuccessful attempts to buy it online at the weekend. All of the multi-factor authentication mechanisms didn’t seem to be working on multiple cards that I tried. However, I now find that I’ve paid for the insurance four times over so will need to call them again.
  • Made some headway on catching up with my personal emails again, and then immediately fell behind. I’m not sure what changes I need to make to get on top of it.
  • Substituted Monday’s scheduled indoor trainer recovery ride for a run. Compared to the running that I had done on holiday it felt very hard, but I was glad that I did it.
  • Started watching the Ken Burns documentary on Muhammad Ali. Of course, it’s superb.
  • Thoroughly enjoyed the latest Album Club.
  • Did a lot of cycling. Saturday morning’s club ride was full-on, with an average speed of over 17mph. I then did the Hemel Hillbuster on Sunday, a charity ride in aid of the Dacorum Emergency Night Shelter (DENS). Usage of the DENS food bank has increased by 15% in the last three weeks alone, and I suspect that this will only get worse. Last year’s ride was in July and I was grateful that they had moved it to April, turning down the heat. After all that riding, I felt a little destroyed by the time I got home.

Queuing to register at the start of the Hemel Hillbuster

Queuing to register at the start of the Hemel Hillbuster

  • Had a friend over on Sunday afternoon again to watch the F1 Grand Prix. Not the most exciting race I’ve ever seen, but there was enough to keep us entertained. I’m really looking forward to the circus going to a brand new track for the next race.

Next week: Another four-day week, bisected by the welcome return of the annual Governors in School Day.

Weeknotes #164 — Evaporated

Bristol

Bristol

Although we were no longer on a ‘proper’ holiday, I had another week away from work. This one seems to have quickly evaporated without me making much headway into my personal to-do list.

A week in which I:

  • Took my youngest boy for an eye test and booked myself in for one, the first since before the pandemic.
  • Had two visits from our plumbing insurance company to try and resolve the issue with our immersion heater electrics. The first guy turned up to tell me that he didn’t fix ‘unvented’ things (like immersion heaters), only ‘vented’ things (like boilers). This resulted in a second guy turning up, who took a look for two seconds and then told me the electricity supply to the immersion isn’t covered under our insurance. What a waste of time.
  • Took a trip to Ross-on-Wye to see my wife’s parents for the day. We stayed overnight and travelled to Bristol the next day to visit my brother-in-law, his wife and our newest nephew. Children really grow up quickly when you don’t see them day-to-day. He’s six months old already and so different to when we saw him last time, with his lovely smile being beamed to everyone. As we went to find a spot to eat our lunch, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw a giant seagull take someone’s wrap from their hands as they ate.

Stuff in the muddy riverbanks in Bristol

Stuff in the muddy riverbanks in Bristol

  • Travelled into London to see Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. Trains into and out of Euston were cancelled all weekend due to engineering works, so we planned to go into town via the tube from Chesham. But when we got there, the line had stopped running due to an incident. Our only choice was to bite the bullet and drive in, paying the congestion charge and parking as close to the theatre as we could. The venue is lovely to look at but let down by modern impracticalities — the un-amplified voices of the actors were regularly drowned out by the sounds of passing aircraft and helicopters, and as it was so hot we saw four people in the audience collapsing and being taken out in wheelchairs. It was fun to go once, but I won’t do it again.

London was busier than I have seen it in years

London was busier than I have seen it in years

  • Paid a visit to Deco Audio in Aylesbury to pick up my repaired CD player and browse the second-hand vinyl. I was very restrained, picking up only a couple of records. I’ve wanted to get the player up and running again as quite a few boxed sets I’ve bought recently have included CDs. Playing them over the air in the house isn’t quite the same as settling down to listen to something physical.
  • Had a sunny Sunday lovely afternoon at a friends’ house, with drinks and nibbles in the back garden.
  • Spent a lot of the week exercising. I feel like I’ve been overdoing it a little bit and could do with a lie-in, and Strava seems to agree. But I’m also conscious that I will be back at work next week and won’t be able to exercise on the days that I go into the office. Ideally I’d like to keep up the running habit that I got into in Málaga alongside my bike riding. It has been brilliant to get back out riding outside on multiple days.

This week’s efforts

This week’s efforts

Riders passing us on Saturday as our group stopped to solve a puncture

Riders passing us on Saturday as our group stopped to solve a puncture

A beautiful place to stop

A beautiful place to stop

Next week: Seeing my brothers and their families for the first time in a long time, a couple of album club evenings, and getting back to work.

Weeknotes #163 — Málaga

The port of Málaga

The port of Málaga

For the first time in over two years we hopped on a plane and went off on holiday. I’ve been feeling for some time as though I needed a change of scenery and a proper break; I have weeks of unused holiday days to spend before the end of June which itself tells me how little I’ve been away from work. Finding somewhere that was guaranteed to be warm in April, wasn’t too far away from the UK and wouldn’t cost the Earth was a tall order. We found ourselves crossing our fingers and heading to Málaga, a city on Spain’s south coast that was previously only familiar to me through the pages of my ¡Vaya! Libro 1 textbook at school. We had a rough sketch of a plan for the week but I was keen to not book in too many activities, fearing that a plan would detract from taking things easy. We had a wonderful time.

Although we live close to London, we thought that we would experiment with flying out of Birmingham Airport as it is only 90 minutes north of here. The experience was excellent — the airport is smaller and much less busy than those that we normally use and we were through the check-in and security processes in no time. We were travelling with Jet2.com; I’d never heard of them before, but apparently they are the UK’s third-largest scheduled airline with 94 aircraft in their fleet. For a short-haul flight they were fine. The staff were super friendly and helpful, and the aircraft itself was sparse but functional. We didn’t need anything else.

Flying through the clouds

Flying through the clouds

Our base for the week was the Barceló hotel, located above the central train station. We managed to get two interconnecting rooms, which allowed us to go to sleep while our two (almost) teenage boys could stay up and turn their light off when they were ready to do the same. The room was fine, although it had a strange view over the gigantic rooftop of the station. Most of the old town with its sights and restaurants was located a short walk away, which we ended up being grateful for after our evening meal. The hotel didn’t seem to quite know who it was pitched at. We didn’t see many other families there and there were a few businesspeople at breakfast, but it also had a slide going down from the dining area into the lobby which the kids loved.

Barceló Málaga

Barceló Málaga

Hotel slide

Hotel slide

Almost every time we went out we had to cross the dry river bed of the Guadalmedina. It divides the city in two and the concrete channel looks quite an eyesore; from what I could tell it is used a place for people to take their dogs to use the toilet. But it serves a bigger purpose. Back in 1907 Málaga suffered devastating floods; presumably this construction would prevent something similar happening in the future.

Dry Guadalmedina

Dry Guadalmedina

For a working port city, Málaga is beautiful. We acquainted ourselves through an evening walk on the day that we arrived as well as a run the next morning. The port area has been made attractive by all kinds of lovely architecture, from the Centre Pompidou to the wonderful zig-zagging pergola (‘The Palm Grove of Surprises’).

The Palm Grove of Surprises, covered in red dust

The Palm Grove of Surprises, covered in red dust

In the old town

In the old town

The food market

The food market

Lighthouse

Lighthouse

All of the buildings, windows and pavements were covered in a fine red dust, the consequence of gigantic Saharan dust storms that had engulfed the region a few weeks before. We had some rain for the first few days that we were there but it didn’t seem to do much to shift it.

The meals we had throughout the week were excellent, and great value when compared to the UK. We had a few adventures with churros and chocolate, as well as tapas, and dinner at a wonderful homely restaurant that was recommended by a friend.

Churros and coffee

Churros and coffee

Tapas at Mesón Ibérico

Tapas at Mesón Ibérico

Indonesian satay vegetables at Mamuchis

Indonesian satay vegetables at Mamuchis

Pasta at La Pala D’Oro

Pasta at La Pala D’Oro

Tapas at Casa Lola

Tapas at Casa Lola

There are a few sights to see in the old town, including Gibralfaro Castle and the Alcazaba fortress, both of which give spectacular views of the city. At their base is a Roman amphitheatre.

View from Gibralfaro

View from Gibralfaro

One of the many splendidly perilous walkways around the Castle

One of the many splendidly perilous walkways around the Castle

The Roman ampitheatre

The Roman ampitheatre

View of the bullfighting ring near the port

View of the bullfighting ring near the port

Religion seems to play a major part in the life of the city. The cathedral is breathtaking in its size and ornateness. While we were there, the city was getting ready for Holy Week, erecting portable stadium seating and laying out thousands of chairs ready for a week of parades.

Málaga Cathedral

Málaga Cathedral

Detail inside the cathedral

Detail inside the cathedral

Surprisingly, not the main entrance to the cathedral

Surprisingly, not the main entrance to the cathedral

The city is also famous as the birthplace of Pablo Picasso. In the centre of the old town is a lovely museum of his works. There is plenty to see, covering his paintings, drawings and sculptures broadly in chronological order.

Contemplating a Picasso

Contemplating a Picasso

My eldest son and I hired some road bikes from bike2malaga. Along with our wonderful guide, we had a great day puffing our way out of the city and into the mountains. My son had never been up a proper mountain pass before but he seemed to love it. We had a comedy moment where one of us fell off on a climb, causing the others to stop and check they were ok, and then struggling to get back into the pedals and get going again. The day started a little cloudy, got very hot on the way up the first pass and then was freezing on the descent. We wisely decided to avoid the village we were heading for when we could see it getting rained on from our view on the other side of the valley. By the time we got back to the city the sun was shining and I was ready for an ice cream.

Mountains, with all the weathers

If you look closely, you’ll spot my son

If you look closely, you’ll spot my son

View from the road

View from the road

“I’ve never seen it looking greener than this.”

“I’ve never seen it looking greener than this.”

“I’ve only ever done this as a descent, I’ve not climbed it!”

“I’ve only ever done this as a descent, I’ve not climbed it!”

At the top of a climb

At the top of a climb

We hired a car for a couple of days and made a journey out to Ronda. (No, not that one. Similar.) The town is divided in two by a deep chasm which has been bridged by a magnificent construction. It is stunning. We spent most of the day wandering up and down the various paths, getting different views of the town and its surroundings.

Seems as good a place as any to build a town

Seems as good a place as any to build a town

A view of one side of Ronda from the other

A view of one side of Ronda from the other

The bridge across the chasm

The bridge across the chasm

Looking out from Ronda

Looking out from Ronda

On the way back, we stopped at the town of Setenil de las Bodegas, famous for its houses that have been built into the sides of overhanging rocks. It was strange to peer into some of the empty dwellings to see literally one room, with a back wall made up of the rock face. Leaving the town was terrifying; our sat-nav took us on a route through the narrowest of side streets, underneath rocks and passing by people atop ladders that were painting their houses. I felt like Clark W Griswald in European Vacation as I edged the car forward, expecting an accident at any moment.

Houses built into the rock face

Houses built into the rock face

Wandering around the town

Wandering around the town

View from the car. Even more terrifying than it looks.

View from the car. Even more terrifying than it looks.

On the second day with the car we ventured to Marbella to take a look around. Although the sea front was pretty, it wasn’t worth the visit. Being there would be great if we were in our late teens as there were plenty of bars to hop around, but it didn’t seem as though it had anything that central Málaga couldn’t offer.

Marbella seafront

Marbella seafront

To cap our week off we booked tickets to watch Málaga CF play Real Valladolid CF at La Rosaleda Stadium. Sitting in the afternoon sun was such a treat. The atmosphere was brilliant despite the stadium not being full. There seemed to be so many more families at the game than I’ve seen at other places. Málaga went 2-0 up before the visitors pulled it back to 2-2, with the second goal happening right in front of us. We loved it.

Heading into the stadium

Heading into the stadium

Beautiful venue, beautiful game

Beautiful venue, beautiful game

We all had such a lovely week, with plenty to fill our time. I’ve returned home not quite as rested as I expected, but this was self-inflicted through early morning starts for running, cycling and watching the Australian Grand Prix, as well as tons of walking every day. Malaga was well worth a visit.

A chilly Málaga morning

A chilly Málaga morning

Next week: Another week off, this time at home. Catching up with sleep and eyeing up my personal to-do list.

Weeknotes #162 — The fault in our boilers

The spring that sprung to life in the UK last week seemed like a false dawn, as the warm weather was replaced by a cold snap. On Tuesday we had our boiler serviced for the first time since the pandemic started and felt very pleased when it was given a clean bill of health. A couple of hours later, we stared in disbelief when it wouldn’t fire up. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t get an engineer to come and look at it for a couple of days. At this point we found that the immersion heater wasn’t living its best life, with a socket that got too hot to the touch and an electricity arc when we turned it on or off. We managed to get enough hot water in the tank to last for the first day, but when it tripped the circuit breaker we figured that it was game over. For the first time since I was a child we resorted to flannels, soap and cold water instead of showers the next morning. I spent the day feeling like I hadn’t woken up properly, pondering how my family and I would fare if real hardship ever hit us. Perhaps you just quickly adjust and get on with it.

I spent only one day in the office this week, a relief after the four days I spent there the week before. I had a variety of in-person meetings which made it feel worthwhile being there. I’m still a big believer in giving people as much autonomy as they need with the expectation that they will make good decisions, but if there has to be a set number of days in the office, one or two is more than enough.

I have a couple of weeks off work over Easter and a lot going on. For the first time in a while I had an acute sense of pre-holiday panic, with a number of late nights to try and complete as many of my commitments as I could. It’s never good enough, but I got myself into a place where I felt as though I could walk away from the keyboard for a while without any major open loops.

A week in which I:

  • Engaged with staff that were recently impacted by a technical implementation to check how they are getting on. Instead of one-to-one conversations and emails, I’ve experimented with setting up a chat group in Teams for this purpose. I also spoke to the vendor to discuss how other firms are using the functionality, and relayed my findings back to the team. By tackling it head on it seems to have taken away some of the noise, but it is still early days. The departments that depend on the system being in place are happy with the approach.
  • Ran a short training session with our Compliance and Legal teams on the new tool.
  • Took part in a meeting to discuss our status, options and approach for a lease expiry for one of our offices. There are so many variables in the equation, not least of which is what an office will look like and be used for in the next couple of years.
  • Along with the other teams involved, decided to go back out to the market to try and find a technical partner for our upcoming conference. We made some minor revisions to the brief and re-issued the request for proposal. The submission process will close a day before I am back from my break.
  • Was delighted to see how quickly our first agile team has taken to the work ahead of them, and the level of understanding that they have about the processes. They are quickly getting to the point where they will be able to get a minimum viable product out of the door, which is very exciting. I was also struck by how much non-technical staff know about the affordances of user interface components, such as radio buttons and multi-select dropdown lists.
  • Discussed the bigger picture of our agile development work and how we will manage our portfolio.
  • Reviewed our quarterly roadmap in our all-team meeting, reflecting on what we achieved in the first quarter and what lies ahead. We’re largely on track; a couple of deliveries didn’t quite make it over the line but we also got things done that weren’t due to be completed until Q2, so I’m calling it a draw.
  • Started to pull together a more detailed milestone plan for the team. I have a first draft, but we’re either going to need to prune the items we are tracking or split the view across a couple of pages.
  • Met with a colleague in our HR team to discuss their project on the topic of ‘sustainable careers’. Working for a small part of a large company has so many advantages; career advancement may not come in the classic form of a promotion, but instead the opportunity to experience working and collaborating across so many areas of the organisation.
  • Had a recurring thought about how to get the organisation working out loud more, and what the barriers are. Remembered Euan Semple’s quote that “no matter what you are trying to achieve social media adoption happens one person at a time and for their reasons not yours”. I’m happy to lead by example — weeknotes would be great to get going internally — but being a pioneer can be tricky. Maybe I just need to write a Teams post about it in the same way that I started my weeknotes a few years ago.
  • Got asked the question “Did you make a difference today?” by one of my close colleagues. I think they were reflecting on their own day but I love the question — responding to it made me feel like I was creating weeknotes.
  • Reviewed the licencing and support for our Cisco estate ahead of our latest renewal. It was invaluable to have an expert in the room to guide us through the myriad of line items.
  • Met with one of the vendors we are considering for our digital signage solution to continue the process of on-boarding them.
  • Discussed our approach to a ‘first responder’ scenario, where someone in the team discovers a critical outage. We’re planning on running some crisis simulations later this year.
  • Was very pleased to see the welcome return of one of our key team members after his holiday. A couple of critical items have been on hold for a little while which we can now try and make rapid progress with again.
  • Had a lovely random coffee with a new member of our Distribution and Loan Syndication team, a South African who recently moved to the UK.
  • Got my annual goals into our performance management system.
  • Had a school Full Governing Board meeting. At nearly three hours, it felt like a long one. It’s difficult to know how to shorten the meetings without impacting on the breadth of topics and critical questioning that we cover. The headteacher and staff continue to do an incredible job, and I’m always left wondering how they manage it. I wish there was something significant that we could do to improve their wellbeing.
  • Made further edits to a letter from the Governing Board and circulated it for review.
  • Wished my lovely eldest boy a happy 15th birthday. The years have flown by.

Next week: A much-needed break, away from the keyboard.

Weeknotes #161 — Senses working overtime

An unanticipated confluence of events at work meant that I spent Monday to Thursday in the office this week. It’s so hard to believe that five days there used to be the norm. The office-based sensory overload that I’ve been feeling went off the charts; by Thursday afternoon there were more than one of us that were talking about how frazzled we were. The clocks going forward by an hour here in the UK and early starts for cycling on both days of the weekend meant that I haven’t managed to catch up on sleep yet.

One of the side effects of being in the office more is that ironically I felt more remote from my colleagues, specifically those that are located in other countries. It was great to reconnect with them through our team meetings on Friday.

I’ve officially called the start of spring through leaving my coat at home. The morning commute was a little chilly but things soon started to warm up. A little raising of the temperature does so much to lift the collective mood.

This was a week in which I:

  • Proved how frazzled I was by ending up running for a train, catching it, and then finding that it whizzed past my stop at Berkhamsted and on to Leighton Buzzard. I had to do the journey of shame back down the other line. No alcohol was involved, just inattentiveness.
  • Saw the team manage three ‘town hall’-style meetings across three days. The presenters were in our London office along with a large in-person audience, and we had others dialled in via Teams from all over the globe. The equipment we used wasn’t really fit-for-purpose and we had a few technical glitches. Simplifying the technology is on our to-do list.
  • Went live with our Teams mandatory compliance audio recording project, paving the way for an office telephony migration at two of our sites in the coming months.
  • Had a one-on-one meeting with a colleague in Asia via the new meeting room Teams videoconferencing equipment that we’ve installed there. The implementation is ahead of schedule and the quality of the video is stunning.
  • Ran the weekly project meeting for our upcoming investors’ conference. Reviewed and responded to questions from a technology vendor on the revised brief.
  • Placed an order for an industrial Mi-Fi device to be used during the conference, giving us a network SSID in an area where we currently don’t have any coverage.
  • Took part in an end of iteration review for a dashboard/reporting project. A productive discussion but we have work to do in terms of structuring the sessions.
  • Looked at the planned renewals for our networking equipment licencing and support.
  • Agreed a simplified strategy for video feeds to our office digital signage, avoiding the need for us to install hardware.
  • Joined a number of meetings relating to our expiring office lease agreements, including some with vendors who can help us with the projects.
  • Had the monthly check-in meeting with our Operational Risk department.
  • Met with a small team to talk through a number of cyber risk scenarios.
  • Enjoyed our weekly Learning Hour session on the topic of Navigating in a world without landmarks or maps.
  • Did the preparatory reading for our school Full Governing Board meeting on Monday.
  • Had a friend over to my house to enjoy the second F1 race of the season. Sport is a lot more fun in the company of others. My eldest boy cooked some delicious food for all of us while the race was on, part of his journey to getting his silver Duke of Edinburgh award.

  • Had an unconventional but enjoyable Mothers’ Day family meal out at Nando’s.
  • Saw my youngest boy take part in his first cycling time trial, involving three laps up Whiteleaf Hill, one of the toughest climbs in the Chilterns. When we saw the entrant list and started looking at the profiles of the other 16 riders we wondered what he had signed up for. But the organisers and marshals were very welcoming and encouraging. I don’t think I would have been up for this kind of challenge when I was 14. He completed the course without bailing out and was completely shredded by the end. I was proud!

  • Enjoyed a superb no-nonsense club ride on Saturday morning, shaking off the cobwebs from the week in the office.
  • Enjoyed an eclectic Album Club #133.
  • Took a trip to Whitecross Street Market as part of our team day in the office. Now this is a great reason to go in. Hoxton Beach Falafel are just as good as they used to be.

Next week: A school Full Governing Board meeting, objective setting, portfolio planning and managing the aftershocks of project implementations.

Weeknotes #160 — Saddle bag

A really busy week which felt like a taste of what’s to come. Despite rising COVID-19 case numbers in the UK, travelling to the office for a couple of days this week felt as though the world had got almost completely back to normal, with packed trains and busy London pavements. I’m finding being in the office to be quite a sensory overload for most of the time; I find myself struggling with the fact that everyone has unfettered access to my ears and can feel my heart rate being a few beats per minute higher. Next week I’ll be in the office almost every day and am anticipating feeling quite toasted by Friday. Another theme of this week was a few frustrations that have crept into things at work which I need to try and manage in a positive way.

This was a week in which I:

  • Found out that we have three ’town hall’ style hybrid meetings to run next week. We spent some time developing a plan for configuring the equipment we will use in our collaborative meeting space and need to have a final run-through before the first session scheduled for Monday lunchtime.
  • Ran a couple of training sessions to show colleagues what will happen when we switch on mandatory compliance audio recording in Teams. Everyone needs to know about it as they may find themselves on a recorded call because another participant has recording enabled.
  • Reviewed an updated technology vendor briefing for our planned conference in June. Spent time testing and reviewing some of the invites that will be going out shortly and met a new team member who will be working on the conference project in the Marketing team.
  • Investigated different ways in which we can obtain TV streams for our planned digital signage. It’s interesting that you seemingly can’t (yet?) buy a private stream that doesn’t involve hardware at any site of the way. I was hoping there would be an equivalent to a private URL that you can only access from a specific IP address that gives you raw channels for the cost of a commercial subscription. In the age of fast Internet, why do we need satellite dishes and decoders?
  • Discussed how we can on-board one of the digital signage vendors given the relative sizes of our organisations and the heavyweight nature of our process.
  • Agreed the next steps for rolling out Windows 11 across our laptop estate.
  • Joined a number of internal and external meetings relating to lease expiries for some of our offices that will happen in a couple of years time. It’s an exciting project to be part of.
  • Attended our Information Risk Steering Group and agreed some changes to further reduce our risk of data loss.
  • Joined the monthly overview of what’s happening in our internal Governance and Control team.
  • Hosted one of our business teams who took our whole team through their business strategy for the year and what areas they think we can help with.
  • Had a delicious posh lunch with our London team in one of our client meeting rooms.
  • Chaired the latest Finance, Premises and Personnel committee meeting at school.
  • Spent some time talking to the brilliant people at HfL Governance Services. I’ve called on them a number of times over the nine years that I have been a school governor and are always my first thought when a tricky issue arises.
  • Drafted a letter from the school on behalf of the governors.
  • Finished watching the latest season of Drive to Survive on Netflix, just in time for the start of the new Formula 1 season. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous seasons and wonder if the format is already getting a little stale.
  • Enjoyed having a friend over to watch the first race together.
  • Had a good cycle club ride, at a slightly slower pace than the rides last weekend. My saddle wedge bag broke in two places as I went up a hill early on in the ride. I had to work under the pressure of the rest of the group watching me as I tried to reattach it to my bike just enough to last the rest of the route.

  • Wrestled with getting my thoughts together on Violent Borders. Writing a blog post on something I’ve read really does help to get my head around the topic.

Next week: The majority of the week in the office, and another Album Club.

Weeknotes #159 — Spring Classic

Incredibly busy week from start to finish. I felt ready to drop on Friday night. But it was a good form of tiredness — we’d managed to move a number of projects on significantly this week.

After feeling a little croaky for a few days, my youngest boy tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time in six months and had to stay home from school. I keep hearing reports of people catching the virus a few months on from when they previously had it; I’m not sure this is the endemic state we really want to be in.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent a significant amount of my week on our planned conference in June. I established and chaired our first weekly project meeting that covers the technology aspects of the conference. We also met on site with a prospective vendor to go into detail about their proposal to run the digital components, and continued the discussion later in the week via diagrams and email. Some very big decisions on the format are lined up for next week.
  • Completed testing on the Teams mandatory regulatory audio recording system. Ran a demo of the system for the CEO and their staff in one of our offices which went brilliantly — ‘feeling’ the change has so much more value than reading about it. I’ve now set up two more demonstration meetings next week and opened them up to the rest of our colleagues around the world.
  • Circulated details of the financial implications of further simplifying our wide-area network. We’re planning to proceed with the changes this year.
  • Participated in our digital working group.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss how we can improve digital literacy throughout our firm. The conversation expanded to discuss how we can more generally become an organisation that communicates on all sorts of topics. This stuff really excites me; the possibilities are vast.
  • Had a couple of random coffees with colleagues. We’re almost two years in but I still love having these scheduled catch-ups.
  • Met with an old colleague for our regular check-in to keep in touch.
  • Attended the Leesman Hybrid Working Employee Experience Data Debrief webinar. Lots of data and interesting highlights and insight, but I didn’t feel as though there were enough concrete statements about what companies should be doing in response. Perhaps this is asking too much given how unique each company’s setting is.
  • Enjoyed an interesting internal ‘learning hour’ presentation on our RADIUS/NPS servers, what they do and how we have been optimising them. The weekly session continues to be a great place for people to practice presenting in a relatively safe space.
  • Attended our annual ‘in-house’ school governor training, this time on on Knowing Your School and Ofsted, run by Herts for Learning. As always, the course was superb and gave us lots to think about.
  • Hosted the latest Album Club that we have started up at work. I’m not sure that my choice of PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake was the right one, but given recent global events I’ve been thinking about the album a lot. Any night when I get to sit and listen intently to an album is a good night.
  • Joined the first session of the second Micro.Camp, to hear from the team on the state of all things micro.blog. The sessions started on Friday evening UK time and continued throughout Saturday so I couldn’t join any of the others, but I am looking forward to watching the videos.
  • Pushed hard on my bike. Our Saturday morning club ride was satisfyingly punchy once again. The next day it was followed by the club’s annual ‘spring classic’ reliability ride. For a 106km route, the classic was really tough, with rain showers, headwinds and punctures adding to the challenge. I was so hungry at the end, and satisfied my savoury craving by gorging on an unseemly number of sandwiches.

Next week: Big project decisions, hosting some short on-line demonstrations, a school governor meeting and a team lunch.

Weeknotes #158 — Shaggy lawns

A very busy week where I made progress with lots of initiatives, but got to Friday evening with some very important items still on my to-do list. It feels as though the next few months will ramp up significantly as some of our projects reach a conclusion and we prepare for the annual conference in June.

This was a week in which I:

  • Tried to avoid doomscrolling Twitter and following the various live blogs on the Russo-Ukrainian War. I consciously tried to catch up with news in a slower fashion. On Friday we had a town hall-style online meeting with our CFO who, along with her husband, has already made a return journey by car to the Poland/Ukraine border to deliver medical supplies. They’ve now appeared on the BBC Breakfast News as well as in the New York Times for the work they have been doing, and are taking donations for British-Ukrainian Aid.
  • Spent an evening watching Winter On Fire (2015), a Netflix documentary on the events in Ukraine in 2014. It’s a brilliant way to understand a little more about the recent history of the country. Netflix have made it available on YouTube for free.

  • Started the week with memories of yesteryear. Rain, a train that was half the size of what it should have been (and therefore twice as busy) and crowded London pavements due to a tube strike. I really haven’t missed any of this.
  • Reviewed the responses to a short procurement exercise to assist us with our annual conference. Made arrangements for the preferred vendor to visit us on site next week so that we can go through their proposed solution in much lower detail, and potentially do some basic testing.
  • Made progress with our planned Teams mandatory compliance solution. Testing is nearly complete. We reviewed the setup with a couple of our key executives and they are happy for us to take it forward. I’ve drafted communications to go to all of our staff on what to expect when we turn it on. Hopefully it will go live in the next week or two.
  • Reviewed our planned contract renewal for our SD-WAN network.
  • Reviewed the plan to optimise the technology in three of our office meeting spaces with our Head of Infrastructure and Operations and our CIO. It was great to do this in person while we were in the spaces themselves.
  • Made updates to our Team Charter following our review a couple of weeks ago. Nobody commented on the draft I circulated so it looks like we have our second version.
  • Attended our quarterly Architecture Governance Authority meeting. The team did brilliantly to present four separate changes in an hour without any significant questions being raised.
  • Took part in our monthly department risk review meeting.
  • Ran our management meeting as my colleague who usually runs it was away.
  • Met with company that was recommended to me. I’m looking to bring someone onto the team that will increase our agile delivery and product management skills. Unfortunately I found out that they aren’t a company that provide staff in the way we want. I may need to think about a different approach.
  • Enjoyed a ‘learning hour’ talk from a colleague on the topic of the climate crisis and renewable energy sources. It sparked a great conversation and an internal Teams thread. The team continue to amaze me with the talks that they are bringing to our weekly forum.
  • Attended an Agnostic Agile MeetUp with Manuel Pais on the topic of Remote-First Team Interactions with Team Topologies. The concept of formal team topologies is great; like everything else it is probably about taking the appropriate bits from this to apply to your particular setting.

  • Celebrated my wonderful wife’s birthday. We’re the same age again for the next nine months. We enjoyed a family takeaway and all stumbled into spending an evening watching the Everton vs Boreham Wood FA Cup match on TV. We then went out on Saturday night with some close friends for what turned out to be an amazing meal at Lussmanns in Berkhamsted. The sticky date and ginger pudding was incredible.

  • Joined the Micro Blog Republic of Readers meetup with a wonderful bunch of Micro Bloggers that I have been talking to over the past few years. The time zone differences of the attendees was massive. I’m really glad I joined; the conversation was excellent.
  • Attended a couple of DfE-funded webinars on school benchmarking and integrated curriculum financial planning (ICFP) metrics. They were fine, but pitched at the wrong level — you really don’t need the lowest level of detail on these topics until you are actually going through the motions yourself. I left both sessions early; I know where to get this information in the future if I need it.
  • Enjoyed a brilliant cycling club ride on Saturday morning. It was a completely flat route. My specialism is in climbing hills and I sometimes struggle to keep up with the faster groups on the flats but I felt like I held my own.
  • Cut the front and back lawns for the first time this year, and applied lawn feed to what I could before it ran out. I didn’t expect the lawns to start growing already as it has been so cold but they were both looking very shaggy.

Next week: Pushing to close out on the voice recording project, a crucial meeting with a vendor, governor training and an album club.

Weeknotes #157 — War

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine meant that this was anything but a normal week. Like the death of a loved one after a long illness, it felt inevitable but was still completely shocking when it happened. Like many others, I’ve been reading and watching the news and trying to understand what it must feel like to have normal life wrenched away from you so brutally. Two of my colleagues are Ukrainian and one of them is headed for the country with her husband and medical supplies. I’ve heard stories from my friends doing what they can to help their colleagues in Ukraine get to safety, such as finding shelter for them in neighbouring countries and advancing them a number of months’ pay. So far, the global response seems to be near-unanimous in condemning the aggression and imposing penalties on Russia. The situation is horrible. It has been difficult to keep focused.

This was a week in which I:

  • Agreed a strategy for moving forward with our new network design. We are balancing our need for additional Internet service provider connections and the possibility of moving offices in the next couple of years.
  • Discovered that the purple banner for Microsoft Teams compliance call recording is a mandatory feature.
  • Continued testing of the Teams call recording software and completed a short guide on how to use the playback tools.
  • Documented the workflow for emails and mailboxes for our investors conference taking place in June.
  • Discussed next steps with our CIO for putting together a portfolio-level overview of the work in our department.
  • Agreed a way forward for the use of alternative videoconferencing and communication technologies within our organisation. Every company has a preferred tool and sometimes these do not match up between firms, so somebody has to compromise.
  • Agreed the sequence of events for a number of significant IT infrastructure changes in one of our offices with the principal vendor involved in the work.
  • Attended an excellent internal ‘leadership talk’ on the topic of environmental, social and governance factors in the work that we do.
  • Attended a ‘learning hour’ refresher session on the financial governance processes used across the offices that we are responsible for.
  • Enjoyed an office lunch with one of my team members.
  • Had meetings on the big group programme to align on where we are with the work so far and what we want to achieve this year.
  • Had our monthly meeting with the Operational Risk team to discuss hot topics ahead of the Governance Committee session.
  • Congratulated one of our team members on becoming a dad again. We’d presented him with a ‘baby shower’-type card and gift earlier in the day, so it was perfect timing.
  • Met with our school Headteacher to review our list of larger one-off projects that we need to budget for.
  • Had another online parents’ evening for our eldest son. Moving these events online during the pandemic has been a massively positive change. I seldom made them in the past; to be there I had to race across London to catch a train home in order to get to the school on time. The five-minute ‘speed dating’ countdown clock is brilliant for focusing the mind.
  • Was very pleased to have a couple of my questions used on this week’s WB-40 podcast. I’ve been listening since the first episode and it has been consistently excellent. Its accompanying Signal group continues to be one of the most supportive, interesting, amusing and inspiring communities that I’m fortunate to be a part of.
  • Hosted an impromptu Album Club at my house on Friday evening due to our planned host having a suspected case of COVID-19. After assembling a shortlist of albums I ended up going with the first one that I had thought of, The Black Crowes’ Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, which I have listened to and loved for thirty years.
  • Woke up at 6:30am on Saturday to go on the weekly cycling club ride but found it to bee far too cold out. Went back to bed and then headed out with my son around 10am to cover the route. We got to the cafe at the end of the ride to find other cycling club members there who had also delayed their start for the same reason.
  • Refereed my eldest son’s football match, a high-stakes cup game. I have a love/hate relationship with reffing, and only put my hand up when we don’t have a qualified referee for our home games. It was as tough as I thought it would be, with plenty of calls from the players for me to give decisions their way. Our team did an incredible job, coming from 0–2 down to win 3–2 after extra time.

  • Enjoyed a long Sunday afternoon walk with a couple of friends, through the woods and to a pub in Little Gaddesden. Spring is definitely in the air, but as the sun drops down to the horizon the temperature plummets.

  • Booked a short family holiday. It feels like it has been a very long time since we’ve gone anywhere.
  • Had bizarre, vivid dreams on Sunday and Monday night which lingered with me at the start of the week. In one of the dreams I saw a woman fall off of a balcony and land in the middle of a public square while I was sitting on a bench eating a sandwich. I went over and asked the people attending to her whether they wanted help, but nobody responded or even acknowledged my presence.

Next week: Ramping things up on a number of projects, trying to keep focused.