h-notes ∈ November 2021

Turns out there’s a bit of a theme of teenage nostalgia running through this month. Or, I’ve selectively written about events that make it seem like there was for narrative purposes.

Dithering over new boots

Ever since I decided that I’d wear barefoot-style shoes for my normal as well as running shoes I can spend much of October and November looking for decent winter boots that meet my criteria. Vivobarefoot do a decent job and my last two pairs of winter boots have been from them. They usually last me for a few years of daily wear through the colder and wetter months until they need replacing so I’ve no complaints really from a quality point of view. The thing is though, they’re never that interesting. It’s not like I need wild and exotic footwear, but their boots have a single look and they only mildly update the style every couple of years.

This year was a new boots year, and so I nearly bought a vegan pair of vivos1, because I like a canvas shoe over a leather one, and, you know, a vegan shoe is probably better for the planet. However, by the time I decided to so so, they were sold out. I didn’t like the leather versions enough, so I started looking elsewhere.

I like the look and idea of wildling shoes, but it seems impossible to tell if they’re actually good in winter or not. The advice on the page is that you have to self-treat them to make them water resistant, and well, I’m lazy. I think I’ll return to these when next I need some new summer shoes where I have to worry less about water.

After much dithering, I decided to buy a pair of feelgrounds patrol winter (also vegan, but they have a leather aesthetic) and wouldn’t you know it, the day I decided to buy them they went out of stock too! Feeling cursed, I opted to try the “let me know when this comes back in stock” option, and resigned myself to another few weeks of dithering and ultimately buying something I didn’t really want.

Happily, a day later, I actually got an email from feelgrounds to say they were in stock. Driven by a fear of missing out and a dread of more dithering I ordered them ASAP. Turns out, they’re probably the warmest winter boots I can recall having and I don’t know that I’ll have to double-sock, which I often do (particularly when visiting my folks in the highlands).

Anyway, what’s the moral here? Something about taking decisive action.

Why all managers want to quit

We have a few folk taking their first steps into engineering managers at work and so to help them understand the journey we shared and read Andy Walkers “Why all new managers want to quit” blog post together. Even though I’m a year into my journey as a full-time EM and a couple of years into my EM career in general - I definitely recognised myself in this blog post and found it somewhat reassuring that “it’s not just me”.

I’m glad the author isn’t my manager though as I don’t think I’d have coped well if this had happened:

I got to the point where I would burst out laughing when the manager told me this. Perhaps not the best reaction to someone baring their soul.


That said, the main thing we’ve taken away from reading this as a team2 is that we really need to celebrate our wins more. It’s easy to focus on the challenges and difficulties in the role, or the urgent problems that need work, but we’re taking the time out to share the good things too. Little things like “so-and-so isn’t worried about that thing anymore”, or big things like “who-ja-ma-call-it is excited about that opportunity we’ve given them and really smashing it”. It really helps with recognising what we’re doing and damping down the “I want to quit, I’m no good at this” vibes that come from taking on this role.

Zeroing-in on the worst take

Someone that I used to manage at work left this month and I got to read their exit interview notes. They left amicably enough, and while there were organisational things to think about one line in particular leapt out at me:

“[new manager] is an experienced manager and it shows, Murray is supportive and kind” 3

I do think being supportive and kind is very important as a manager and so I eventually felt good about the praise here, but it took me a while to come round to that take on it. Worrying that I’m not a useful manager, and that I’m not actually helping my reports is something I definitely struggle with. I also compare myself to the other manager referenced in the comment and he seems (from the outside, he’s not my manager after all) way more organised and structured in how he works with his reports. So my initial reading of this comment zeroed in on the most unfavourable to me interpretation possible: that I am ill-equipped as a manager and this report much preferred their time with their new manager.

I brought it up with my manager and we had a good long chat about what sorts of conversations I have with my reports, and how comparisons between me and the other manager weren’t useful - he’s got a couple of years more full-time experience than me and comes from a larger company background where the role was more established and formalised. This conversation was pretty useful in calming me down, and helping me reflect on what I am good at as a manager, and what I could start to work on to become better. My manager also closed the conversation by saying:

“and just so you know, that’s not how I read that comment at all; the comment about [new manager] doesn’t have to lead into the comment about you.”

It’s obviously impossible to tell if the ex-employee meant to damn me with faint praise or not, but it was very useful to hear that spelled out.

What we do in the shadows

I binged series 3 of What we do in the shadows in the early parts of the month. I love this show. Generally speaking, I think the documentary-as-sitcom format is a bit tired, but I can get past it in this show because the other set dressing really works for me: it’s silly, it’s ribald, it’s gothic. Honestly, teenage me would have loved it.

I love little things about the show like Lazlo shouting “bat” every time he transforms into a bat. I love how it doesn’t just use classic vampiric tropes, but it has some interesting world-building of its own. I love the title sequence.

What I particularly enjoyed this series is that it seemed like they had a bigger budget, and so were able to leave the house more and do episodes in more locations. This really helps escape the documentary-as-sitcom format, even if it does stretch the reality of the format a bit.

Teenage nostalgia part 1

Speaking of things my teenage self loved, in a moment of nostalgic consumerism, I bought the WFRP Humble Bundle. I played loads of tabletop battle Warhammer4 as a youth, and this bled into playing lots of RPGs too. Given my background in Warhammer, a firm favourite was WFRP and I have many happy memories of running games for my friends.

Playing RPGs seems to have something of a renaissance at the moment - we have several D&D groups at work, and I know a bunch of other friends who play in some form or other. Notably, I don’t partake in any of this because I don’t really have the time. Buuut that didn’t stop me from buying this humble bundle and hoping that maybe one day I would, and I could drag out these PDFs to help out.

Teenage nostalgia part 2

Continuing to speak of things my teenage self loved, I went to a gig this month to see grebo band Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Back in the summer during a nursery pickup I spotted a Ned’s t-shirt on a dad I knew. At a kids birthday party later we got talking about it and it runs out he was a massive fan, and partly involved in the scene as a music journalist back in the day. He let me know the band were doing some gigs as part of a 30-year anniversary in November, and hoping that COVID would be winding down5, we arranged to go see them together.

It was a strange gig:

On the whole, though, I liked having a night out and pushed the weird feelings down to let myself enjoy it. I can’t wait for things to be normal again soon and this kind of thing be a more regular occurrence. Of course, normal here means that the global pandemic goes away, and T & I can find trusted babysitters for R so we can do stuff like this together.


7 times. 🥳

I’ve managed to keep up my routine. What’s more I also returned to my Wednesday morning pre-work runs with some local runners, after taking nearly 1 and a half years off. It’s nice running with people again, as there’s something different about running while holding a conversation compared to running on your own. Bodes well for December.


1 book. 😬

We started an EM book club at work, and read “Team Topologies” by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais. On the one hand, it has some useful things to say about how to organise teams and the overall structure of technical teams, on the other hand, it was over-written and could have been a blog post. The core ideas are all expressed in the final chapter, but you have to slog through a deep-dive literature review in the preceding eight chapters that doesn’t fully explain the ideas presented. I’d recommend reading the final chapter and only then exploring the rest of the book, as reading it in the printed order feels a bit backwards.

That said, the ideas in the book are a useful frame for us to hang our organisational structure thinking off of, so I am glad to have been exposed to them. I just wish I’d done so in a more condensed form.