h-notes ∈ May 2022

All the fun of the fair

We took R to a funfair in a local park. She’d seen posters for it, and heard friends talking about it so she was pretty excited to go. Having heard reports from her friends’ parents we weren’t quite so excited. It was fully gated off from the rest of the park, so you had to pay entry and then pay for your rides, which were all of the £3 for 5 minutes variety. Luckily, despite what we’d heard in advance, there were plenty that R could go on alone, so we weren’t paying double to have a chaperone hold her hand.

The thing I enjoyed the most at the fair, was a row of babies and toddlers sat in old school prams in between two of the rides. The prams were all old-school1 and the kids were all in fairly cutesy outfits, but also, all of them were engrossed in tablets. The grotty cyberpunk future is here.

Seems that having a kid is just paying for a series of expensive ways to distract them until they move out. Which got me thinking about how cost effective the price of entertainment is. £3 for a 5 minute go on a bouncy castle, or low-speed whirly ride seems fine at the time, but a movie ticket is ~£14 and that gets you ~2hrs of entertainment. A similar amount of time might be covered by a gig (~£40) or a trip to the theatre (~£80). Is cinema an outlier, or just so common that it can afford to be cheap?


This month R’s school was closed for polling day so I took her on a trip. I had thought about another trip to the Wonderlab @ the Science Museum because she loved it last time. Unfortunately, it seems all the other folk looking after their kids for polling day had the same idea and all the tickets were gone. TBF I should have tried to book the tickets before the morning I intended to go. Instead we went to Hyde Park and hung out in the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, which it turns out is actually really good. Full of paths and ways to explore the space that lead to fun little play areas. We spent a lot of time in the sensory garden trying to make sound from water and granite blocks. Less good is that the cafe right outside does not have a kid friendly menu at all:

Perhaps R is overly fussy, but all the other kids she hangs out with have similarly plain palates.

Happily, unlike half-term I wasn’t surrounded by mums looking after their kids making feel grim about the state of fatherhood. Instead I was surrounded by au-pairs and nannies looking after their charges and that made me feel grim in a different way.

Later in the month, R’s class went on a school trip to a local bookshop for an author event. I can’t say at all what the event was like because us parents weren’t able to fit in the bookshop’s backroom with the kids. Instead we all went to a local cafe for breakfast where one of the kid’s grannies told us about the babysitting club she ran back in the day. It involved a lot of phoning around, and a mysterious exchange of bottle caps as payment to keep the system fair for all involved.

As with previous school trips, it was fun to just not be at work and hanging out with R for a bit. Fresh from the enjoyment of it all I suggested to some other parents that I might just like to do that all day instead of working, and they all guffawed at my naivety.

Summer holiday planning

With the half-term holidays out of the way we started working out what exactly we’re going to to with R over the summer holidays. She has ~6 weeks off from the end of July to the start of September. Despite my thoughts of just taking all the time off and hanging out, the practical realities of work mean I can’t. We decided to take 2 weeks off at the start of August and go away somewhere as a family. The rest of the time we decide we’d fill up with day camps.

Luckily there are plenty of local camps to send her to, even if she’s dead-set against going to a particularly cost + time effective one in the local bowls & tennis club. The problem is, none of these places are:

We don’t have any idea about capacity for these camps either. Meaning that there’s a temptation to just book as soon as something is available, but we know that R will really like another camp that isn’t yet open for booking. Should we wait for it? What if the other sells out? What if we end up booking her into camps on different days from all her friends? We’re attempting to co-ordinate with some friends via a spreadsheet - but it’s as unworkable as you might imagine. Honestly, it’s an absolute nightmare.2

Media catchup

Watched a lot of TV this month.

Ms Maisel S4

It doesn’t break any new ground, but it was lovely to be back in this cosy world. I’d happily watch these characters go through their increasingly farcical trials and tribulations for a few more series to come; it hasn’t yet outstayed it’s welcome. Apart from Joel, obviously, who shouldn’t be a recurring character, let alone a main one. I do still think the inclusion of actual comedian Lenny Bruce as a main character is weird.

The Expanse S6

This whole show has had pacing issues, so it’s no surprise that this final series is all over the place. It gallops to a finale that rapidly deus-ex-ring-gate’s to a conclusion of sorts, but also choses to spend time with new characters beyond the gates setting up storylines they presumably knew would never pay off. These choices are confusing and frustrating, but it’s still enjoyable sci-fi fare and worth your time. I’m sad to see it go and for it to have ended so abruptly as it felt like the story they told this series needed a few more episodes to help it play out.

What If…

Despite what I assumed previously, it seems this animated Marvel show has some relevance to future films, if what I understand about Spider-Man 3 and Dr. Strange 2 are to be believed. It suffers a little from the same problem that the “What If…” comics do - when the ideas are strong, the execution often feels rushed, and often the ideas aren’t strong. It was surprising to find that all the episodes tied together. I enjoyed the 2d-cel-shading-in-a-3d-world aesthetic of the animation though, but I think I’d have liked to see it lean into different styles more.

Starstruck S2

I assume we won’t get a third series of this, not because it’s wasn’t good, but because the story seems complete. The “cliffhanger” of the first series could have been left, but I do think it did a good job of picking up and adding an interesting arc to these characters. I’d watch another series if they made it, and I’d probably enjoy it just as much, but I think I’d rather see more from the actors than the characters.

Slow Horses

I honestly thought the trailers for this were for a film, so I was surprised to find out it was a series. It’s an enjoyable piece of spy-malarky, with plenty of twists and turns and unreliable double-crossing. What I enjoyed the most about this show was working out over a couple of episodes that a cafe used as the setting of a couple of scenes is a cheap greasy spoon I used to frequent for lunch.

Love, Death, & Robots S3

Significantly less horny than the first series, or the already less horny follow-up, I reckon we could probably drop the “love” part from the title3. Like I said for S2 I still don’t think it’s great TV, but I will watch more. It embraced more different animation styles this time around, which I enjoyed, and I would say that the quality was higher too. This time around though I was shocked to find that a lot of people at work really love this show whereas I mostly find it kinda “meh”.

The pubs

Back in March I went to the pub and really enjoyed it. This month I went to the pub two times! It was great!

First I went to the office because some of my European colleagues were in London and we all went to the pub. Doing our best to find a “traditional English pub” in the Old St. environs we ended up at The Prince Arthur. Obviously we mostly spoke about the weird London drinking culture that is pints without food straight after work.

Later in the month the London Computation Club had a night in the pub in Kings Cross at the Little Creatures Brewery. It’s a somewhat soul-less modern brewery in the ground floor of what I assume is an office block. Nice beer and food though. As it turns out, it was the last pub I went to before the pandemic so it felt like a nice symbolic bookend to the whole situation4.

Here’s to more pub outings in the months to come!

Grad hiring

This month we ran some grad hiring to find 2 graduate engineers to join our squads. Most of our hiring is pretty general - yes we have plans for what kinds of engineers we want, at what level, going into which squads, but if you get through the process we’ll make you an offer. In this case, we knew we had two positions and lots of applicants so we were explicitly comparing candidates and even if they had passed we were choosing between them. For some reason I found this particularly hard. It’s easy to evaluate someone against our scoring rubrics and decide if we’ve seen enough evidence to proceed to the next stage, it’s hard to then compare them against other candidates who have done the same and try to rank them. It feels even more fraught with bias danger than “normal” hiring.

I have a personal preference for career-changers who have gone to a bootcamp. Partly because I’ve worked with a bunch of people like this (mostly from Makers) who have all been excellent, partly because all grads need support, but career-changers only need help with technical skills not also “how to have a job”. In the end, our process ended up with 3 grads at final who were all career-changers, who had gone to the same bootcamp, and had all returned to work as teaching assistants. I honestly can’t tell if I designed the process to cater to my biases, or if they truly were the best 3 candidates from the initial pool. In the end, we decided we also weren’t sure so hired one instead of two and have gone back to market to try to get a more diverse result.

On the flip-side, one of them did spend a couple of minutes in the interview I conducted with them complementing me on my linkedin profile. So obviously that one in particular was a great candidate.

Changing nature of my role

The other work thing worth talking about this month is how my role is changing. Since becoming a full-time engineering manager, my role has been almost entirely about supporting my direct reports. There have been projects like working on our progression framework, or hiring process, but even those can be seen through the lens of helping support the career development of our engineers. This is starting to change now as we try to align engineering managers with pillars5 and have them be responsible for supporting delivery of the Squads within it.

At the moment I manage engineers across the entire business and need to have context on lots of squads, their OKRs and initiatives in order to support my reports and know what’s going on at performance review time. By aligning with a pillar the goal is to only have reports from that pillar which should free up some cognitive load as I need to know less about what’s going on across the business. I’m excited to reduce the context in my head and to spend some time really digging into what’s going on with those squads and pillars. For a long time I’ve not really had anything to do with what my reports are delivering and just focused on general coaching or mentoring. I’m looking forward to leaning in on that side and trying to apply some of my supporting skills to helping groups of people rather than individuals. I’ll still focus on my reports, but I’ll be able to support them through shaping the squad work too. It’s an exciting change, but it’ll take some time to get there, as we need to hire more engineering managers to really make it work.


5 times

Mostly just the Wednesday morning runs. I hesitate to call it “Long Covid” but the running isn’t getting any easier which is surprising as pre-covid it was getting easier again. I suspect I just need to return to a couple of times a week at least.


4 (although, again, it depends on accounting).

I read one physical book, and rifled through a few comic series on my phone. One was all the currently available issues of the “Criminal” series by Ed Brubaker & Sean Philips - it’s nice to read something in comic form that’s not super heroics. It starts out as an anthology crime series, but then it keeps cycling back through history to revisit the same characters, and TBH, I think I preferred the anthology nature than the “they’re all connected” thing it turned into. That’s a nitpick though.

I also started reading “Immortal Hulk” by Al Ewing et al, because lots of people over the past few years have mentioned how good it was. Now it is complete as a run, I decided to read it all in one go. Maybe it’s ‘cos I’m not super into The Hulk, or maybe my tolerance for slightly weird takes on christian mythology isn’t that high (and comics creators do seem to love dipping their toes in this pool), but I’m not sure I saw what all the fuss was. It does have an interesting idea to explain why these characters just keep coming back from the dead (other than commercial interest, obvs), but I can’t say I enjoyed the pay off.

For Criminal, I haven’t recorded it at all on Goodreads or Storygraph, but for Immortal Hulk I have. For Immortal hulk, there are 4 omnibus editions that cover all 50 issues, for Criminal there’s just the individual trade paperbacks - which would add up to 8 books. I’d really like to be able to record something like this as a single book. Much like I was able to, for some reason, when I read “Akira” by Katsuhiro Otomo. I don’t really know why, but it feels like a more true reflection of my book reading stats is to count these series as “that’s one massive book” rather than “this is 15 short books”.