Maybe tomorrow I think I’ll settle down

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?

It’s hard when thinking about the things we do to scratch out a living not to recall Larkin’s words about the manner in which work can dominate our lives.

I’ve been thinking about work a lot in the last few months, to the point where I’m making a change in what I do and how I go about it. This Friday will be my last working at Adur & Worthing, and from the following Monday onwards, I will be shifting up the road to Horsham District Council.

The main reason for the change really is a temperamental one, I guess. I’m moving from a permament job to contracting. At Horsham I’ll be an interim with a defined period of time to work in. Having a go at a permament role has been an interesting experience, but it has become clear to me, and I suspect to one or two colleagues, that I am a sprinter rather than a marathon runner. I do my best work in short bursts, before momentum runs out and boredom sets in.

The other interesting thing to me is the new role itself – Head of Technology Services. That might sound to you like a fancy way of saying IT Manager, and to an extent you’re right. Somehow I’ve pivoted from being someone who knows a little bit about how the web works to being the bloke in charge of the infrastructure, the applications, the data, the security, and yes, the web. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I’m kind of pleased it has.

My role going into Horsham is to put a technology strategy together, get the programme of work lined up, and to ensure the structure of the team and the roles within it are the right ones for the future. You’ll notice that the ‘D’ word, digital, hasn’t been mentioned yet. It might be a semantical thing, but I’m trying to avoid it this time around.

There’s a thing about being able to talk about digital ways of doing things, without people automatically assuming that it is the digital team’s job to do it. It isn’t always, and I think having a team and a strategy that isn’t called digital means that one can talk about digital in a much more open way, without it being seen as a land grab, or a takeover by one particular group in an organisation.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the challenge and getting stuck in at Horsham. And then in six or so month’s time, I’ll be moving on again.

So the answer I’ve found to the conundrum of work, I think, lies in words from another of Larkin’s poems: peculiarly for him (and perhaps for me to choose them) amongst his most uplifting:

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

What I use 2016 edition

Here’s an update on the kit and software I’m using on a daily basis, just in case it’s of use.

My main computer is an 11” Macbook Air.

It has the i7 processor and 8gb of RAM and is the best computer I’ve ever used. I use it for home and at work, thanks to our Councils’ move to cloud based services.

I do have a work laptop, which I turn to when I need to access things like our HR and finance systems; and if I need to do some printing. It’s a Dell somethingorother.

In terms of software:

  • Chrome is running the whole time, hooked into my work Google account, where I access Gmail, Google Drive, my calendar and so on. Pretty much all the productivity work I do for my job is in Google’s suite of apps.
  • Trello and Tweetdeck are usually open too
  • Safari is often open, which hooks into my personal Google account
  • I have two other email addresses that I check regularly my desktop (I know…) which I host with Fastmail and pipe into Apple’s Mail app
  • Slack is usually open. I’m a member of about five teams that I access regularly via the desktop app
  • I use Reeder to keep up to date with RSS feeds (old skool, right?) – I use Feedly as the web service to keep it all in sync
  • I bookmark stuff in Pinboard, which then autoposts into Twitter for me via Zapier. Zapier also zaps bookmarked links into Pocket for me, so I can read them later at my leisure
  • Following a chat with Matt Jukes, I do most of my writing in Ulysses, whether taking notes, drafting blog posts or my email newsletter
  • Occasionally I’ll use Transmit for FTP, I have Microsoft Office installed but very rarely use it, do the odd mind map in MindnodePro, draw something with Omnigraffle, have a chat with someone in Skype, listen to music on Spotify, or screenshot something with Skitch.
  • I still have loads of different tools installed for editing text, most of which I don’t use very often or at all (Byword, Scrivener, BBedit, Atom, Writeroom, MarsEdit, probably others)
  • Utilities wise, I use Alfred as a Spotlight replacement and TextExpander is usually running
  • I store pretty much all my files in Dropbox
  • My blog uses WordPress.com and I pay to use my own domain and to not have adverts
  • My newsletter uses Mailchimp’s free tier

My phone is an iPhone 6, space grey with 64gb storage.

On my home screen I have the following things:

  • On the top row: photos; camera; app store; settings
  • Next row down: A folder with emails apps (Mail, Fastmail, Outlook, Inbox and CloudMagic – each app has a different email account feeding into it. I have too many email accounts); Natwest; Music; Google Maps
  • Next row: Spotify; Simplenote (for todo lists and quick notes, rather than ‘writing’); Overcast (easily the best podcast app); a folder with ‘reading’ apps (Medium, Buzzfeed, Nuzzle, Yahoo News Digest, Pushpin (an app for Pinboard), Kindle, NextDraft, iBooks)
  • Next row: Trello; HulloMail (provides a visual voicemail like tool, plus emails voicemail messages as MP3 files and transcribes them too); Wikipedia; Reeder (mobile version of the deskptop RSS reading app – again syncs with Feedly)
  • Next row: Slack; Pocket; folder with messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, iMessage); Safari
  • Bottom row: Facebook; LinkedIn; Ulysses – for bashing text in during idle moments; Twitter
  • Dock: Phone; Hangouts; Google Calendar; Gmail – the last three are all logged into my work Google account

The layout of apps regularly changes – I try and keep my most regularly used apps towards the right hand bottom corner – easily in thumb reach.

The second screen has other stuff on it, but I don’t use them on a regular basis really.

The main change over the last year or so is that Evernote has dropped out of this completely. It’s still there, but I hardly use it anymore – even to revisit notes previously made (which rather begs the question why I bothered making them in the first place).

Hope this has been useful and/or interesting!

Anti-patterns of behaviour in big organisations

Michael Coté has written an excellent post describing seven anti-patterns of behaviour in big organisations.

Number six is a particularly egregious crime, in my view:

Pay people to ignore them — BigCo’s love hiring new employees, paying them well, and then rarely listening to them. Instead, you hire outsiders and consultants who say similar things, but are listened to. In fact, the first task of any good management consultant team is to go interview all those bright, but ignored, employees you have and ask them what they’d do. The lesson is to track how many ideas come internally vs. externally and, rather than just blame your people for low internal idea generation, ask yourself if you’re just not listening.

Go read the whole lot – it’s good stuff.

How much does your technology define what you do?

A fairly quick thought this, but one than keeps occurring to me. It feels like a self evident truth that the technology an organisation uses should follow that organisation’s purpose, and not the other way around, but I wonder how often that is actually the case?

I’d argue that for many organisations, with legacy infrastructure and applications that have been in use for many years, technology is defining the way they run.

This is because the technology locks in ways of working, the design of a service, perhaps even the entire operating model of the organisation.

I’ve been involved in many projects in the past where radical redesign of services was scuppered because the technology wasn’t flexible enough to deliver the new vision.

So while it is vital to rethink how services are delivered and how the organisation works, sometimes you need to fix the technology first to enable that change to happen.

Interesting publications on design, technology and change for ‘good’

I’m pulling together a list of interesting, thought-provoking reading on how design, technology and change (the three things that, for me, define ‘digital’) can help organisations that work in the community, voluntary, charity, non-profit, social enterprise type space.

Is there a less clumsy way of describing these organisations? I think under the last Labour government, ‘the third sector’ was adopted, but that seems to be used less these days. Have heard ‘civic sector’ and ‘civil society’ bandied around, but don’t know how well established those terms are. Any help on that one?

Anyway, I’ve found a few I will point to here:

Any others? Leave a note in the comments or on Twitter and I will add them.

Rehosting podcasts

Last year I recorded a bunch of podcasts that people seemed to enjoy. They were hosted on a service that needed paying for, and when I stopped paying, they dropped off the internet! Oh no!

So, have rehosted them on Soundcloud, which is free. I’ll go back over the original posts and update them when I get a chance, but in the meantime you can find them all at https://soundcloud.com/davebriggs, or you can use the embedded player below.

Eleven years a blogger

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According to the archive on this site, I’ve been writing this blog for eleven years today – since September 2004.

This is the 2,646th post and there have been 4,263 comments on them over the years.

Lots has changed in that time, personally and professionally. It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be where I am now without having started it.

It’s done three things, I think:

  • helped build my profile over the years, creating all sorts of opportunities
  • helped me develop my ideas, from the half baked to the barely lukewarm
  • helped me build my network of friends and collaborators

There’s a bunch of other bits too, in that I’m sure I must be a better writer now than I was when I started, and eleven years of fiddling with WordPress have taught me a load about technical stuff (mostly to leave well alone).

I’m so grateful for the folk who read this blog and respond, for the occasional kind words of encouragement I get.

On the very odd occasion that folk ask me for advice on getting on the world of digital and/or government, I almost always suggest people start blogging.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to continue for at least another eleven years.