Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘work’

Changing jobs

Or, something new on the horizon

Back in the day, back in the mists of time when I first started writing this blog, I wrote quite a lot about work. If you go into the appropriate category there are many, many posts of slightly-disguised stories about the various characters I worked with: Big Dave, the cute one from the Accounts office, Wee Dave, Big Dave, the office tea fund lady, and, well, usually Big Dave. It all backfired somewhat in the end: it turned out that they all knew about it, and eventually the office tea fund lady complained I was being too sarcastic about her and I was asked to stop. I’m glad to some extent that I did it, but I’ve never risked being quite that open about the people I work with again.

It’s on my mind at the moment, though, partly because I’m changing jobs soon. I’m almost at my last day in my current position, and as part of that I’m considering, when I write to everyone to tell them how to keep in touch, giving them the address of this website in case they want to read it. If I did do that and you’re reading this, rest assured, there is absolutely nothing about you on here; and none of you have interesting slightly-fictionalised names either.*

There’s a new job starting for me very soon, and it’s going to be a whole new world: people I have no idea about yet, new things to learn, things to do, and hopefully worlds to change. I’m apprehensive about it, partly because I have no idea at all what is around the corner for me. But, moreover, this is an unusual change of job for me, because I genuinely have regrets about it. I really do love the people I work with, in a sense. Collectively, they’re one of the best groups of people I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside, and going forward into the unknown means leaving them behind. I’m only a small cog there, and my departure won’t really have any effect on the company as a whole, but they’ve been a big part of my life for the last few years.

Naturally, I’m not going to write about the new job either, although if we do anything particularly earth-shattering I might drop hints about it occasionally. When we do anything earth-shattering, of course, I mean. If I write about tech stuff on here, it won’t be anything that relates directly to work; it’ll be general tech stuff like “how the git version-control system works” or “tips I’ve learned from working in tech that are also useful in daily life”.

I’m scared, I admit, of exactly what’s around the corner. Soon, though, I’m going to find out. Whatever happens, it’s going to be an adventure, and I’m sorry I can’t bring all the people who currently work around me, with me on that adventure. I’m sure they’re going to do their own great things too, though. I’m sure they’re going to go out and change the world.

* If I do ever write about that workplace, which I doubt I will, I’ll just call everyone Matt. Most people there were called Matt at one point, so it’s probably right.

I like your idea of fun

Or, doing things in your own way

So, we’re coming to the end of a strange and challenging year. And I know it’s been a strange and challenging year, because at the office we’re in the middle of our end-of-year staff reviews and the phrase “this has been a strange and challenging year for all of us” features prominantly when summing up what’s been going on.

One aspect of this strange and challenging December, though, is something I’m actually quite enjoying. The death of the Office Christmas Party, where you and all your colleagues squeeze in to a cramped and busy restaurant for some mediocre food and the chance to pull a cracker. They do vary, of course: some are better than others. The year we went to allegedly the biggest all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant in Europe was a particular low point: at any time of the year, eating there involves so much queuing and slowly shuffling around under neon signs holding a plate that by the end of the evening you feel like an extra in a cyberpunk remake of Oliver! Wherever you end up, though, the food is never great, the music is always awful, and there are far too many people around who are very, very drunk. This was even the case a few years back when due to a double-booking mix-up we ended up having to have our Christmas Party in early November, way before anybody had even had a mince pie.

This year, though, no cramming into a crowded restaurant! Hurrah! Instead, we’re having a Remote Christmas Meal—order from wherever you like and expense it—and various other events spread through the month organised by different departments and teams. I’ve ended up booked into about four pub quizzes because quite a few teams have gone for that as a default option,*, but there’s plenty of variety and choice, and, more importantly, it’s all optional. There are enough different Christmas activities going on that I can dip into a mince pie eating session one day, a pub quiz the next and help judge a tree-decorating competition the day after. Because it’s all optional, none of it seems at all forced.

I know a lot of you don’t really feel like remote socialising is real socialising at all; find it more stressful than the pre-2020 in-person kind of socialising. For someone like me, though, it’s a comfort to know I can just switch Zoom off and I’m back in my own room again. Even in-person, though, I’d always have much preferred this idea of a slate of smaller Christmas events that you don’t have to go to if you don’t want to, than the traditional standard Everyone Goes Out office party. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to eat a mince pie and tomorrow watch someone try to disguise their cat as a reindeer. Cheers!

* In fact I’ve already won one of them at the time of writing.


Or, a free-ranging post

Has anything happened so far this month?

Work has been the sort of place when I get irritated, because of people approaching to ask stupid questions when I’m trying to concentrate. It’s at moments like that that I start to answer the questions undiplomatically, if not unprofessionally. No, I don’t know anything about the issue you are asking me about. No, I don’t mind if you rewrite the workflow in the ticketing system, because negotiating the workflow will still be an unhelpful distraction from actual work.

At lunch, a woman at the next table was showing her colleagues pictures of shiba inus she’d favourited on her tumblr.

At home, we have been rearranging the furniture. On Tuesday I bought a couple of safety gates. We had one across the door of the front room; now we have a wide one to go across the archway that separates dining room and kitchen, and a narrow one to go across the stairs. I am not supposed to refer to the stair gate as “SG1″, incidentally. With these gates, and with some rearrangement of the dining room furniture, we’ve been able to take down the front room gate, to give the kids free roam throughout front room and dining room. Of course, their first response was to rearrange furniture themselves, pulling the nappy box in front of the TV so they could climb up and scratch the screen of the TV with a screwdriver I’d forgotten to put away.

Disassembly, Reassembly

In which we try to use metaphor

The past two days at work have largely just been the long slog of writing unit tests for a part of the system which firstly, was one of the hairiest and oldest parts of the system; and secondly, I’ve just rewritten from scratch. In its non-rewritten form it was almost entirely impossible to test, due to its reliance on static code without any sort of injection.

For non-coding people for whom this is all so much “mwah mwah mwah” like the adults in Peanuts: a few weeks ago I was doing some interesting work, to whit, dismantling a creaking horror, putting its parts side by side on the workbench, scraping off the rust and muck and polishing them up, before assembling the important bits back together into a smoother, leaner contraption and throwing away all the spare screws, unidentifiable rusted-up chunks and other bits that didn’t seem to do anything. Now, though, I have the job of going through each of the newly-polished parts of the machine and creating tools to prove that they do what I think they were originally supposed to do. As the old machine was so gummed-up and tangled with spiderwebs and scrags of twine, it was impossible to try to do this before, because trying to poke one part would have, in best Heath Robinson style, accidentally tugged on the next bit and pushed something else that was supposed to be unconnected, setting off a ball rolling down a ramp to trip a lever and drop a counterweight to hit me on the head in the classic slapstick manner. All this testing each aspect of the behaviour of each part of the device is, clearly, a very important task to do, but it’s also a very dull job. Which is why an awful lot of coders don’t like to do it properly, or use it as a “hiding away” job to avoid doing harder work.

Nevertheless, today it did lead me to find one of those bugs which is so ridiculous it made me laugh, so ridiculous that you have a “it can’t really be meant to work like that?” moment and have to dance around the room slightly. I confirmed with the team business analyst that no, the system definitely shouldn’t behave the way the code appeared to. I asked the team maths analyst what he thought, and he said, “actually, that might explain a few things.”

Doubling up

Or, doing more than I should

Yesterday, I did a full day at the office, went home, then an hour later went back to the office and did another 6-7 hours. Bed at 1am.

The office is big and echoing; in the day time it’s always busy, and the chatter of the various contact teams travels between floors and runs around the building. Last night was the first time I’d worked so deep into the evening since I started this job, and it was interesting to see how sound dropped off as the evening progressed. At 8pm the last contact team on my own floor took off their headsets, put their coats on and went home; and the noise from the teams below us dropped off a lot too. At 10pm the last contact sections on the floor below went quiet, and after that it was just me and my colleagues sprawling over our own corner of the building, eating pizza, and doing our various out-of-hours tasks. With nobody else about, I felt free to walk around the desks as I tried to solve problems, the way I always like to when I want to concentrate.

Today, I worked from home; or rather, hid in the kitchen with my laptop whilst the children stayed in the front room. If they see a laptop, they immediately become so excited they insist on getting close to it, climbing on chair, climbing on people, shouting “PUTER! PUTER!” and getting close enough to it to bang their hands on the keyboard as hard as they can. So when I work from home, I have to work out of sight.


In which we get annoyed with AWS

The problem with writing a diary entry every day is that most weeks of the year, five days out of seven are work. It’s hard to write about work and make it interesting and different every day; and also not write about anything too confidential.

Writing about work itself would quickly become pretty dull, I fear, however interesting I tried to make it. Today, I wrestled with the Amazon anaconda. Amazon have a product called Elastic Beanstalk, which is a bit like a mini virtual data centre for a single website. You pick a virtual image for your servers, you upload a zip file with your website in it, and it fires up as many virtual servers as you like, balances the load between them, fires up new servers when load is high and shuts down spare ones when load is low. If you’re not careful it’s a good way to let people DDoS your credit card, because you pay for servers by the hour, but all-in-all it works quite well. The settings are simple, but deliberately fairly straightforward: how powerful a server do you want to run on, how many of them do you need at different times of the day, and a few other more esoteric and technical knobs to tweak. Elastic Beanstalk isn’t so much a product in itself, as a wrapper around lots of other Amazon Web Services products that you can use separately: virtual servers, server auto-scaling and inbound load balancing. The whole idea is to make tying those things together in a typical use-case a really easy thing to do, rather than having to roll your own each time and struggling with the hard bits. The only thing that’s specifically Elastic Beanstalk is the control panel and configuration on top of it, which keeps track of what you want installed on your Elastic Beanstalk application and controls all the settings of the individual components. You can still access the individual components too, if you want to, and you can even change their settings directly, but doing so is usually a Bad Idea as then the Elastic Beanstalk control layer will potentially get very confused.

Today, I found I couldn’t update one of our applications. A problem with an invalid configuration. Damn. So I went to fix the configuration - but it was invalid. So I couldn’t open it, to fix it. It was broken, but I couldn’t fix it because it was broken. Oh.

That’s how exciting work is. One line of work held up, whilst I speak to Ops, get the broken Elastic Beanstalk replaced from scratch with a working one. In theory I could have done it myself, but our Ops chap doesn’t really like his part of the world infringed unilaterally.

The woman at the desk opposite me is on a January diet. One of those diets that involves special milkshakes and lots of water all day. Personally, I’d rather have real food.

Milk (redux)

In which we get a reluctant refund

A couple of people have, for reasons best known to themselves, asked how I’m getting on with the office milk lady since we fell out. Well, I don’t think I’m any more popular with her than I was. Fed up of there being no milk, and fed up of the woman in question – Administrator Of The Tea Fund – refusing to accept that tea supplies were anything to do with her, I told her that in that case she could give me back the balance of what I’d put into the fund, and I’d make my own arrangements from now on. Which might have been a bit petty, the balance being only 20p, but there you go.

She said “I’ll give you it later.” A few hours later, she phoned me up.

“Have you stopped chucking your little tantrum yet?” she said. “We’ve got some milk in – are you back in the fund or do you still want your money back?”

“I’ll have my money back, please.”

“You’ll be very thirsty this afternoon then.”

“Er, no I won’t be.”

“Well it’s very silly of you, you’re cutting your nose off to spite your face.”

There was a pause. I wasn’t entirely sure what she expected me to say, other than possibly start begging for her forgiveness.

“So are you back in the tea fund now?” she continued, persistently.

“No, I’d still like my 20p back please.”

“Well, I gave you one last chance. I’ll get some change and bring it down for you in a few minutes. You said you don’t want your 20p back?” A nasty little switch at the end there.

“No, I’d still like my 20p back please.”

“Fine. I’ll see you later.”

So, a few minutes later she came downstairs, slammed 20p on my desk, and went away again. And since then, all has been peace and quiet. I can see why some colleagues, those who have to work with her more, don’t like her very much, though, after that conversation. This is someone whose job is to talk to customers over the phone, take orders, and so on – it makes me wonder if she tries doubling back on herself and making quickly misleading switches when she’s on the phone to customers as well as to colleagues.

Everyday Life

In which the truth is told

The last couple of years, I’ve posted “guess which bits are true” posts on April 1st.

I didn’t particularly feel like trying to fool anyone this year. Things have been a bit too stressful, lately, for me to spend much time writing here; for me to spend much time writing true things, never mind about making things up.

Work has been rather busy lately; a lot of upheaval. I’ve heard it said that when you see people under stress, it can bring out new qualities in them. It hasn’t seemed true, to me. It’s pushed people to become more extreme versions of their ordinary selves. The tetchy people are tetchier, the people who flap around panicking panic more, and the arse-lickers use their tongue ever more often. And, on the other hand, the nice friendly people are just as nice and friendly as ever.

At least everything else is going well. And we didn’t get too snowed-in, camping. I could tell it was a good sign when K – who had never been camping before – started saying “the next time we go camping, we’ll have to…”

Stress and strain

On being unmotivated

Work is wearing me down again. We have several projects on our menu, for different divisions of the company, and of course everybody thinks their own project is urgent. Our manager’s opinion of the most urgent depends on who he had last talked to.

When people ask me: “have you done X? When will Y be ready?” over and over again, I get annoyed and irritated. Unfortunately, most of the other managers in the company seem to think that this is the best way to go about motivating people. Of course, some go further, and lie directly: “I know Z is supposed to be ready by the end of the month. I’m sure someone told me that. I’m not sure who, but I’m sure someone did.”

The Return Of Colleague M

Or, someone has a plan to improve my love live

Colleague M has a cunning plan. A cunning plan to help me get a date.

This cunning plan is based around M’s theory that people suddenly get a lot more attractive when they’re unavailable. Bluntly put, if someone’s already taken, you’re much more likely to start crushing on them.

So, to help me look more attractive, M has invited me out for the day. “It’s not a date,” I was immediately told, “and I’m not going to snog you.” But, once word surreptitiously gets around the office,* however much we say “we’re just friends” noone will actually believe us. Therefore, everyone will think I’m taken, and will therefore be more likely to try to pull me when they get drunk at the Christmas party next month.

I’m not entirely convinced that this is going to work. If it does, though, I’ll keep you posted.

* And, indeed, it already has. It hasn’t even happened yet, and people are already raising eyebrows and saying things like: “have a good weekend, you two“.