Trusting people is really flipping important

I've been thinking about trust and trusting working relationships a lot recently. People trusting me to do things and me trusting others to do things. I've been thinking about it as it is something I am not very good at and something I am actively trying to improve.

Beating the Beta Blues

I found this as a draft from August. I thought I might as well publish it. Oddly, some still stands and some is very very out of date. Curious thing, agile and that. 

So. As was covered in Series 1 (aka. The Jukesie era) Beta is an important part of building a government thing. When I joined ONS a year and a bit ago, the idea of this discovery -alpha - beta loop all seemed a bit waterfall to me. Doing a thing for a definite length of time so that you can unlock another level seemed like you might be able to put it in its Sunday best and call it a milestone.

Open the data, save the world

I am a bad blogger. I write the  start to so many posts and don’t finish, but as I was walking to work this morning, listening to a song called Storm by G!YBE a thought occurred. ‘Maybe, to be more open, I need to write about being more open’. So here it is. 

Giddy with excitement

Doing things for the love of it is something I cherish in humans. I don't care if you’re obsessed with a football team, watch trains, answer the phone to people who need a chat or swim in the sea, I just find it exciting to see people giddy about things.

On that subject, this is a quick love letter from me to the Machynlleth Comedy Festival.

It started eight years ago with my wonderful friend and source of much magic, Lisa.
(Seriously. Most of my friends and an awful lot of the tea I've consumed in the last decade is because I once bumped into Lisa.) She signed me up to volunteer at a new comedy festival being put on in a town I had never been to and certainly could not pronounce. Machynlleth. This was the brainchild of two of my now favourite humans, Emma and Henry, who wanted to give something a go.

The first year was small and shambolic, but somehow we managed to put some friends and friends-of-friends on in a few tiny rooms and… it worked. It worked logistically, but most of all it worked because it was a bunch of friends giddy with the audacity that we could do this. And more importantly it worked because of Machynlleth.

Mach. Let me tell you of the ways you grabbed my heart.

It is a magical combination of deep Welsh history (it used to be the capital and is a heartland of the beautiful language of the nation) and is the home of the Centre for Alternative Technology, which attracts open minds and an ability to welcome new ideas. These things combine to create a town that didn't just tolerate the idea that comedy was being put on, but ran at it with open arms and pure joy.

Since then the festival has grown. Some of the biggest names and some of the funniest
people in the world have graced tiny rooms, steam trains, sweet shops, theatres and every other corner of this most magical of towns.

I've spent the entirety of my 30s as a tiny part of this festival. Sticking things down, plugging things in and (I hope) trying to ensure the wonderful army of volunteers (who give up their time for no reward beyond just being part of something) and audiences enjoy the experience.

As someone who has a laughably stereotypical grown up job (I am a computer geek whoworks in the office of national statistics) the whole thing is a revelation to me.

The ‘that time when…’ list would be indulgent, but to give a flavour of the adventures over the years: Arthur Smith making a radio 4 documentary whilst I tried to get him into a funicular railway carriage that would take him to the stage he was meant to be performing on. Tim Key making me make a giggling noise I didn't know I was capable of. Being hugged by a sweaty Nick Helm. Watching my festival brother Jonny being high fived by Josie Long for playing a Belle and Sebastian song at a shambolic indie disco. High fives in general actually. You end up wanting to enthusiastically say hello to a lot of people.

These, however, are a backdrop, a pleasing hum underneath the main thing. That thing, quite simply, is that if a bunch of friends try hard enough, give a little love and a little time, they can create something that is actually magic.

We have made a whole town smile for seven years and I’ve made some friends who I will
cherish for a very long time. We’re doing it again at the end of the month and you should all come along. Seriously. It could change your life.

It's been a T shaped career

The T shape


The T shape is something that often gets discussed within the digital world (and I assume other industries as well?) The idea being that someone has a thin (horizontal) set of skills in a range of things related to a job, but also is likely to have a deeper (vertical) level of knowledge about some form of specialism. What does this look like for people who think about services?

I didn't see it coming

1 year at the ONS

So after the really big moment (that day we had cake) the other much less important anniversary is here. I have been with the ONS digital team for a year. That is a year of me running the ONS website. A year of being hyper-aware that I need to be near a computer at 9.30am (the time at which most days we publish new statistics.) A year of hyper cubes, a year of charts and a year of learning. 

It has been a challenging and rewarding 12 months. Like Benjy I had been interested in working on a GDS style project for quite some time. Having spent my career in the public, third and whatever you call the BBC sectors, the call of a email address was strong.

A long-standing belief that London is not a city for actually living in meant that I wanted to focus on the geographical areas of South Wales and South West England. Of those, the ONS stood out a mile for being the kind of organisation populated with those who talk, share and openly discuss the work they undertake. Like so many more before and after me, the tireless work of Laura and Matt in being Out There, talking and sharing, was what made me want to join them. I cannot stress enough how important this was to me.

Joining just after the launch of a big website redevelopment project was tricky. It was an amazing achievement for them, but it meant I was walking into a team that had just given their all – everything – to a service, team and project that Matt built. 

Big Shoes

Now those of you who have met Matt and me will know that we are both very different and oddly similar people. My love of cycling, twee indie music and pretentious coffee is not his tempo (and unlike him, my love of comics starts and stops with Scott Pilgrim), but we both really really care about building teams and doing the ‘right thing’. Having him around as I joined made the process of picking up running a team of 50 feel more manageable (though his comment of “to be honest mate, I am not sure this is actually possible” when talking through his take on what I should focus on has stuck with me.)

I joined the ONS as a Service Manager having most recently been a product manager in/on/around the good ship Ageh. I want to talk about the role of a service manager in a different post, as I recently had a moment where I think I finally understood what they are, but it is safe to say that the switch from product to service felt like A Thing.

The work for the last 12 months has been equally exhausting and amazing. What has been most striking is that the calibre of people I get to work with is so very high. I was nervous walking into the civil service and what that might mean, but Laura is *the* most kick ass boss, Sam the most patient and calming peer and the direct team I have around me are universally experts in what they do. I challenge anyone reading this to beat having Benjy, Darren, Ian, Matt, Rachel and Rob as the folks actually making stuff happen. 

I have been lucky enough to head across the UK, to Amsterdam and, for a memorable few days, Jordan to talk about the work we are doing and (because the vision is so clear?) I have found this to be something that comes pretty easily. I am sure I sound horrifically self righteous when I say this, but I do think this work has meaning. Presenting statistics, openly, honestly and as *part* of the web feels like something too important to mess up. (I suspect this is a theme I will come back to. I found my self saying the other day, with a straight face, that this is the information the country makes its choices based on.)

In terms of what this year has taught me… 

Things that could have gone better:

GDS faff. Not what I am involved with, but seeing things play out… I am not sure twitter is healthy sometimes. Watching a bunch of people leave online and others snipe from the sides is hard. Sometimes just wanting to build good web means having to block out the nonsense. 

From my own work point of view, this is my first time around a government discovery - alpha - beta - live loop and as far as I can see this has been covered by a million and one blog posts, not all of which are very helpful. You can learn more from doing than you can from reading about how the things everyone was using last month is now awful and we should now be using a new thing instead. (Come at me with your Double Diamonds and Enterprise Agile focus. I dare you.)

I need to get better at where I spend my time. Line managing a team of 50 takes a bucket load of process to just keep people in the building, let alone training, developing and nurturing them in the way they deserve. Looking after several teams within a service means that I am forever feeling like I should be spending time with a different one. A greater discipline in what I am focusing on, one at any one time, is something I need to build on. 

Things that went well:

Nothing broke. It was damn close at times, but we met the need to publish statistics every day for a year. We continued to deliver features and were open about the way we did it. An open roadmap, open code, open performance information, open user testing, open development. I don’t know if everyone agrees, but this is one of the things I would like the service to be known for. Not seeing ourselves as experts, not showing off, but showing our working out so that others can help us. 

Most importantly:

Be humble. It makes you less of a dick.

Anyway, I previously had a distaste for blogging, but I have gone and started now. This will be similar to my twitter feed I would think. It will skip over a range of disconnected topics, but ones I care about. I have drafts that include a review of stats delivery in the Middle East, welding, open data and my attempts to ride a few 1000km this year. I hope I get around to publishing them.  

Lost in France

I watched the wonderful Lost in France recently. A documentary about the mid to late 90s Scottish indie music scene and more specifically, the record label Chemical Underground.

Growing up in a sleepy corner of Devon meant that I didn’t really have music scene to call my own and for reasons of four boys in there corduroys, I was drawn to be something of a fan boy for what was coming out of Glasgow at the time. The film was interesting in reminding me how much music can trigger memories. Just seeing the artwork for a collection of 7” singles and the opening bars of a Delgardo song took me back to my university days in Leicester and an immense sadness that I could not remember where my ‘every good cyclists takes drugs’ tshirt that I lived in then has now gone. (The Delgardos really stood out to me in playing with the imagery of cycling way before it was seen as a trendy thing to do)

The other thing that stuck with me from the film was how the contributors had a differing take of the past and future. For some it was a magic moment in time to look fondly back on, for others a cry into the void about why the here and now couldn’t still be like those late 90s First Big Weekends of the summer. It struck me that the kind of scene established then, with a group of bands geographically clustered is less and less likely to happen now. In part (and maybe only a small part), because of the web. This could be seen as bad in taking away some of the energy from a core group of people being in the same place at the same time, but also (from my point of view) positive, in that the web is a wonderful, democratic concept that means defining by geography is less and less of a way of defining a creative process.

Maybe the past works because it is the past. It is not a model to apply to the future