h-notes ∈ July 2022
Over halfway through the year!
I took a trip down to Brighton for the day to attend the 8th2 Brighton ruby conference. I surprised myself by quite how much I enjoyed hanging out with folk in-person again. I watch a lot of talks online anyway so while all the covid-era online conferences weren’t a huge leap, there was something missing. When putting on Ruby Manor we railed against the idea that you’d pay hundreds of pounds just to hang out with people in the hallway track – the content of the talks had to be the main draw. I still stand by that manifesto, but it was good to be reminded that an obviously important part of a conference is the shared experience and immediate discussion that the hallway track provides.
I got to see a bunch of folk I used to meet regularly at LRUG or worked with in my previous job, and it was nice. I saw some interesting talks about ruby, a programming language I love, and about the human side of building software. I got to eat dinner in a pub I really like and eat cheap bibimbap for lunch on the levels and hangout with friends and colleagues. I’ll be back again.
I’d write more about the talks themselves, but we’re planning to write a blog post at work so I’m keeping my reckons for that.
Andy, organiser of Brighton Ruby, spoke at the start of the conference about how, as a community, we could do a better job of welcoming new programmers in and giving them a space for continuing their careers. A common refrain when people say they’re hiring is that they want mids or seniors only. Whenever a company is hiring for juniors they are inundated with applicants but only take one or two every year. Andy’s question to us was “why aren’t we hiring more juniors?” – they’re clearly out there and willing, but by ignoring them they drift off to join other language communities and we don’t grow the mids and seniors we’re looking for. Andy asked for people to get in touch if they had thoughts, and as someone in a leadership position for a company that is hiring, but only occasionally for juniors I felt like he was talking directly to me, so after the conference3 I got in touch and we had a call.
I think what Andy is hoping to achieve sounds very promising. Initially he wants to connect established ruby folk with people new to ruby via a program called First Ruby Friend. If that goes well he’s hoping to build out and run something more structured to help people go past what they learned at a bootcamp and give companies more confidence in hiring junior developers. I signed up to be a mentor and look forward to helping out if it takes off.
I’ve always felt that I should have been more involved in things like codebar or rails girls london, but something about them pushed me out of my comfort zone. As much as I sing their praises to others and believe them to be important initiatives, helping out just wasn’t something I ever did. Perhaps because I’m involved with LRUG I gave myself an out; “I’m already doing this, do I need to do that too?”. Perhaps now there’s more people helping with LRUG I feel like I have some more time to give to something like this?
As school wound down R’s class went on it’s final outing. This time a whole day trip to Hyde Park. We started with a visit to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground which remains excellent. It was interesting seeing R play in it with a bunch of her friends and seeing how she plays differently around them vs. a trip with just me. She was definitely more keen to try things out and, for example, climb up to the top of the crows nest on the pirate ship, when she barely glanced at it on her own. Then we walked through the park, pausing for lunch under a big tree, and ended up at the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. The kids loved the fountain, and, I’m not going to lie, I did too. The photos on the website make it look like a quiet spot for some watery reflection on mortality, the reality is that it’s a multi textured water play area full of screaming kids and joy and fun. The kids splashed about for ages, before we dried them off and trooped them back to the tube and home. It was a long day, but there were no incidents and the kids loved it. It was enough to briefly make me consider that, maybe, just maybe, the royals are not entirely worthless.
More water play
School ended for summer on a Thursday and so I took the Friday off to look after R. As it turned out there was a hasty plan for a whole bunch of the kids to meet and go to the fountains at Granary Square for a run about. The group dynamic and water play aspect worked so well on the school trip that I figured it’d be great. Nothing bad happened, it just wasn’t as easy a trip. The kids were a bit more feral and a bit less co-operative. Turns out, the magic touch isn’t that there’s a group of kids on an outing together – it’s that their teachers are there.
It also didn’t help that actually, it wasn’t really warm enough for a sustained run about in the water. R didn’t really want to go in the fountains for very long and there’s only so much that they’ll put up with under promise of “an ice cream later”. It certainly wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t as easy and fun a trip as any of us had hoped.
I’m not a product owner
Following on from last month’s musings on my role expansion this month I found out quite abruptly, that my jack-of-all-trades skills do not extend to being a useful product owner for a squad. I pulled people on the squad together and listened to their thoughts and leaned in to learn where the fault lines were. I pushed for clarity and I got people to talk to each other. I thought I was doing ok. Then a previous employee came back on a short term contract to fill in for a while and within a week and a half it was clear that he knew what he was doing and I clearly didn’t.
Within that short week and a half, he had pushed the team to reset and commit to their agile processes and unblocked them in a bunch of ways I was only just understanding were issues. In part, I’m being unfair to myself. He was full-time on this squad, I was giving them scraps of free time in-between all the other things on my plate. He is an execution and delivery focused product owner by profession, I’m a developer who has been around agile teams for someteen years and reckons he can give it a go.
Taking some positives from this, I’ve learned what I’m not good at and where my limits lie. Or, what needs to change if I’m going to do these sorts of things in the future. My role is going to include more squad-based work and I’m going to have to make time for it so that I can be useful. There’s only so far I can go being a good listener and a engaged facilitator.
We took R to her first music festival. It was a one-day event in Ally Pally park called Kaleidoscope so we didn’t have to go full festival. R was initially a bit all over the place, and quick to tears, but we took her to the kids area and found the arts and crafts tent, where she made a crown and kite and this set her right again. We met some friends and drank in the sun taking turns to observe the kids at the various activities: arts and crafts, circus skills, hula-hoops, a magic show. There were bands playing on the stages, but the line-up wasn’t actually that interesting to me, so missing out on being in the direct audience and just hearing tunes wafting over on the breeze was enough.
Eventually we decided that we’d exhausted the kids area and went to get some food and find a spot closer to the main stage. As we did this Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon was on, and TBH, they were a highlight of the day for me (even though it was the middle of the afternoon and not at all late night). R was entranced and demanded to be right up the front dancing and grooving on someone’s shoulders. This continued for the next two acts; David Rodigan, and the Happy Mondays. In theory R would have been happy to stay for the final act, Orbital, and she’d have probably powered through and loved it, but it was also clear she was waning so we packed up and headed for home.
I wasn’t at all sad to miss the headliners, and TBH would have happily missed the Happy Mondays too as they were terrible. I was never a huge fan, and given the excess of the scene I’m not sure they’d have been great in their prime, but at this stage they definitely weren’t4.
What we learned though, is that, probably, yeah, R is old enough to take to a family friendly festival like Camp Bestival or Lattitude or maybe End of the Road. It’s exciting that she’s now of an age where we can do things that we all might enjoy, and the idea of going to a proper music festival again appeals greatly. Although, obvs, probably gonna spring for some fancy pre-fab glamping option.
Murray vs. The Heat
In June I complained about the heat. Little did I know what July had in store: the hottest temperatures recorded in the UK! As it happens, I didn’t need to worry about how to stay cool in the hottest part of our house where my desk is, as I’d scheduled myself to go into the office for some in-person stuff.
A lovely air conditioned office.
I even had to bring a light cardigan because it was actually fairly chilly. There was a “fun” escalation of heat as you slowly exited the building - from the chilly air-conditioned office, to the lift corridor, to the stairwell, to the foyer, until finally you emerged outside and could do nothing but exclaim “holy fuck it’s hot” as you immolated.
On the first day it was fine, I got the air conditioned train in the morning, visited the office, broke cover quickly for lunch, returned to the office, then went to the pub until it was late evening and (relatively) cool enough to get the train home. Other than heading out for lunch, it was pretty good. I beat the heat!
On the second day, much infrastructure was sad and so I had to get the tube instead of the train. This was so terrible that I decided to walk from Highbury & Islington (just over half way) instead of completing the commute by tube. The walk wasn’t too bad, as long as I plotted a route on the shady side of the streets. I’d hoped to get a TfL cycle hire bike, to generate a mild breeze in my face, but alas, the bikes don’t really extend particularly far north. By the time my route took me past a docking station it wasn’t really worth it, but I tried to hire one anyway. Unfortunately either the heat or the lack of other transport options was putting too much strain on the server infrastructure and after a lengthy wait in front of the unshaded docking station for my hire payment to go through, it cancelled on me. I was fairly sweaty by the time I got to work, but the air conditioning soon cooled me down. We went out in the evening for dinner so, again, I waited for the transport network to cool down and had an easy enough ride home. I would say heat and I had a draw on this day.
On the third day I walked in from Highbury & Islington again, but didn’t even bother trying cycle hire and so avoided standing in the direct sun. Going for lunch was a mistake as we chose a venue that had no shady route to it. There were no evening plans this time and so I walked back to Highbury & Islington and got the tube. At rush hour. Almost at the height of the day. The heat won this day.
To be fair though - I had it better than many and in particular T who had to commute fully on the tube all three days to work in an un-air-conditioned office. I don’t know how she managed.
A rush of Dopamine(land)
Ever on the lookout for fun things to do T booked us a visit to Dopamine Land in South Kensington. We weren’t at all sure what to expect, and the entrance was a little underwhelming. You just mill around in a reception area with some hoarding to carve out space before you’re ushered down a corridor to another holding area5. Finally you get to go into the first room, which is a timed experience talking about dopamine and what to expect. The vibe was “close your eyes and imagine all the people in this room - you’re all on this journey together” and one I wasn’t sure I was into; R was certainly a bit fidgety as the voice over went on and on. However, once that was over we were led through more corridors and into a room that smelled of popcorn, with popcorn video art on the walls, and a big bucket of free popcorn. Much more up R’s street (and mine!). From there, you follow a trail through the building visiting several themed rooms - all trying to make you happy through sensory spectacle, creativity, or play.
If I’m being cynical, it was the most instagram-generation thing I’ve ever been too. Everything designed with a thought of sharing on social media, and nothing designed for more than a quick fix – a pose, a photo and off to the next thing. That’s unfair though. It was, genuinely, fun to be in a room where you’re encouraged to draw and write on the walls, or visit a fake indoor forest with mirror trees, or lie down in a LED candle lit “outdoor camp” and stare up at paper lanterns floating in the “sky”. While there were plenty of people racing through, after the first two timed rooms you could take it at your own pace – and we definitely lingered in some rooms that we found the most fun and engaging. R enjoyed herself immensely and asked several times in the following weeks if we could go back to one room or the other.
I surprised myself in finding that I was recommending to people at work even if they didn’t have kids to entertain.
Not really much to say. I didn’t go on any interesting long runs. I didn’t go on any fast runs. It’s not getting harder. It’s not getting easier. It’s just … running. I’m enjoying it again after COVID and lockdown and low-heart-rate regimes. Still haven’t signed up to any official races, but I will. I think. Soon.
I think I can put this down to spending most of my evening time watching the Clone Wars.
The book I did read was Agile Retrospectives that I bought back in April. I clearly had a fit of personal improvement fever when I bought it which quickly passed given it took me a couple of months to get round to reading it. It’s the ur-text of running retrospectives so chances are everything that needs to be said about the book itself has already been said. One thing I found surprising is that for a seventh version of a book originally printed in 2006 there are still a bunch of typos in it. The less nitpicky thought I had is that this book is clear to stress that good retrospectives take time, and yet, most retrospectives I’ve ever taken part in as part of an agile team have been of the 45 minutes to 1 hour scale. The retros I’ve been in also mostly fall into the “write stickies in columns, then group and discuss, recoding actions” format whereas this book is full of many other activities and formats. I wonder why as an industry we’ve decided that this limited idea of retros is what we’ll live with.