Old and New Books

When I left my previous employer, I received a fairly sizeable Amazon gift-card to feed my then-imminent Kindle-habit on my train-ride to my new-job.

I have been making some steady progress through the list of classics that I had never read before. Some, little curious time capsules (“A Passage To India”), others quaint in their stilted morals (“The Age Of Innocence”). But so far most disappointing is the third of “On The Road” that I have read so far. For a book that gets praised so much it doesn’t really stand out to me. Maybe I am reading it at the wrong time though; perhaps it is just old enough not to be directly relevant, but not so old that it is a glimpse into the past. Or maybe I’m just missing the point of it completely.

As I struggle to reduce my reading list, David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas) has succeeded in lengthening it significantly.

I went to see him speak during the Sydney Writers Festival with my friend Ken. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I only knew him from the one book through his writing. He walked onto the stage a little huddled in on himself, and I was fearful of disappointment.

The first question from the interviewer was a clear lead-in to his current book. It sounded like the back-cover-summary rephrased as a pointless question. He repeated what sounded like a fairly rehearsed answer, probably from months of promoting. He apologised for being seriously jet-lagged.

And then he unfurled into what I can only describe as somewhat of a modern-day philosopher, with a slight lanky Cumberbatch-alike appearance, and a British humble shy-ness, with the most thoughtful and poignant answers rolling out of his brain like he was on a script that only he was privy to.

Earlier that day I had attended a session with Alan Cummings on the subject of domestic violence growing up, to promote his new book around that subject. At the end the audience was invited to ask questions, culminating in an aspiring actress making me cringe inwards as she proceeded to solicit acting tips from Alan.

I was braced for the worst when the floor opened for questions to David Mitchell. But I was surprised and delighted by the thoughtful questions on the meaning of his works, and humanity, and the symbolism of birds. And he’d take a few moments of silence and then again produce an answer that’d fill script-writers with envy. Maybe everyone in the audience was a plant? And I feel confident that even faced with the dullest imaginable questions he’d have found a deeper or more humorous way to look at them and keep us entertained.

So, now I have The Bone Clocks to look forward to reading next.

I’m almost ready to ditch “On The Road” for it, if not for the fact that I only once before abandoned a book without finishing it. I am too stubborn to give up.

Cannibals and Pirate Lords

I feel guilty for doing nothing.

On my weekends, I spend a lot of my time in books and television. I let it wash over me, but I feel like I should be doing something more constructive with the time.

I feel like I should be working on something, a new language, a new project, a new idea. Or being out with people, somewhere, anywhere.

I guess it’s a struggle between the introvert and extrovert.

On weekends, the introvert tends to win more often than not. I save the extrovert for Monday through Friday it seems, maybe because he is so damned useful at work?

So, this weekend, right now as a matter-of-fact, I am watching some Hannibal… because I can.

And I have a box-set of Pirates of the Caribbean waiting to be studied in detail… because I need to learn to be a better pirate for work-related reasons. Also D&D, but “for work” sounds more interesting and mysterious so that’s what I’m going to label it.

I haven’t quite worked out whether this means I need to let my hair grow or if I need to buy a bandanna and a hat.

Time will tell.

Smooth Transitions

As of Monday I am once again in charge of a team.

Exactly the same day that I had my 3-Month review in the afternoon. I felt fairly confident my review was going to be okay. I’ve definitely set myself a high bar to beat for the 6-Month review.

Today, my second day, was the day for one-on-ones with everyone. Also, interviewing a Product Manager. Also, a one-on-one with the CEO. Only lunch wasn’t technically a meeting, even though it kinda is.

It was great to talk with everybody and for them to be so positive and enthusiastic about the changing of the guard. It didn’t seem to take anyone by surprise, which is kinda surprising in its own right. If this goes pear-shaped it won’t be for lack of support from my team. I’m sure my previous two years of juggling/cat-herding/crisis-management will serve me well.

And then ending the day catching up with the CEO (a standard with all new employees, I believe)… Congratulations on getting the team lead so soon in my tenure. Emphasising how important the team’s work is to the success of the organisation (no pressure… really). And an opportunity to ask some questions.

And yet again… all ’round, so much support and enthusiasm from everyone in the company.

So…
What’s Next?

We All Should Learn a Thing or Two

I have been learning like a meth-crazed hamster.

It started about a month ago when I got a Pluralsight subscription at work; I had previously only been exposed to www.pluralsight.com in my capacity as manager with team-members that would like a subscription. It is the cheapest yet most valuable training budget you could ever spend on yourself or any subordinates.

Sure, there are bad courses as well. But overall my impression of the 30 I have done so far is that there’s more good than bad. And for the occasional slow speaker, there is an awesome speed control under the gear-wheel of their video player so you can go up to double-speed with anti-squirrel-compensation technology.

I like learning new tech topics by getting shown through an introduction. It’s not that I don’t like reading tech manuals and API documentation, but I have found that far too often when techies start writing it sprawls too broadly and leaves me completely clueless as to what is essential and what are the optional extras of a new technology. I think the written word especially is prone to a feeling that we must be comprehensive at all cost, when most of the time a new entrant just wants a gentle and limited introduction.

As a result I have found the “??? Fundamentals” courses on Pluralsight immensely helpful to broaden my horizons. But I would even go so far as to suggest that managers, whether technical or not, could probably benefit from these fundamentals courses. For the non-technical manager you may have to gloss over some of the techier bits, but courses like Jira Fundamentals or Agile Fundamentals are a great way to follow along with what your developers are talking about.

And another set of courses I have found especially helpful are the “??? Best Practices” ones. Even in technologies I am moderately familiar with a video on best-practices can be a great way to level-up to where the industry is already at. Javascript, Python and Angular, here I come!

So, I strongly suggest you go out there now, get a free 10-day trial, and give it a shot.

You might be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

Time-frames and Velocity

Next Monday I have a meeting with my team lead at 2:30pm. It’ll be the 3-month review mark in my new job, which still feels insane to me.

I blame the velocity of the release cycle at Campaign Monitor. I came from an organisation where releases are carefully planned and executed around a 6-month release cycle to coördinate deployments with numerous external parties each with their own IT department. I came from an organisation that rightfully was cautious about the idea of Agile and where it might apply. And I’ve jumped straight into the middle of an Agile maelström.

We have a release window every fortnight (or more… sometimes weekly). Sometimes that’s just an internal deployment. Sometimes that’s a production deployment with functionality still turned off by default. But it is a deployment. An opportunity for code to be exercised, reviewed in the wild, and feedback to come back. It leads to a much more experimental approach, and a preparedness to be wrong because at worst it will get fixed in another fortnight.

Which makes this morning all the more dazzling in its sudden slow-ness.

There is an issue in some of the development environments. And I’m sure it’ll be fixed by lunch, but in the face of the otherwise blistering speed, half a day without access suddenly feels like the Biggest Tragedy in the History of the Universe.

So in my helplessness I am studying on Pluralsight.

I should post about Pluralsight, because it is more awesome than I ever suspected. In the past month I have completed 30 courses on a variety of topics. It’s the quickest way to get into a new unfamiliar technology for me, and I feel so much smarter already. Just wait until I finish the full catalogue… only 3970 more to go!

Back to Angular.js for me now.

And then lunch with some ex-colleagues. Yes, I am abandoning the chefs. “Chicken and sweetcorn soup” the internal menu proclaims. I’ll be back in time for cookies though.