From 2014 to 2015

I’ve had a couple of weeks off work and it’s been a good time to reflect on the year past, and the one ahead. And before I dive back into things on Friday morning, I wanted to get this post published. It’s a long one, and writing it was more for my benefit than yours 😉

On 2014

Cassie’s post on 2014 has claimed the perfect title already, but I’ll ditto that it was a hell of a year: New job, second baby, two house moves, one house purchase, one trip to Toronto, two to San Francisco, Mozfest in London, Mozlandia in Portland, finally finishing my degree and graduating, and continually adjusting our home-life around the amazing speed at which a two year old and a newborn can change in any 24 hour period.

Some reflections:

My job title might focus on Metrics, but I don’t just work with numbers, I work with people. And that makes me happy because people are the best. While I love finding ways to measure things, what’s infinitely more interesting is the process of connecting that measurement back to decisions other people make. I’m one year into this role and it’s turning out more like I imagined it from the job description than I thought would be possible, but perhaps that’s because I’ve been given the space to make it that way.

On that note, public speaking is still one of the best ways to learn something (though ‘public writing’ may be almost as useful). I’ve learned to not-hate giving presentations but I don’t rush into them either. I gave a talk in September on ‘Working with numbers and People / Human Beings’, which was a useful exercise in reflecting on my own work, and how I go about doing my day job (slides). It forced me to think about many things that will help me plan for 2015.

I’m in many teams, even though I’m in a team of one. I make a conscious effort to understand the culture, process and motivations of all the teams and people I work with, and I take it as a huge compliment when people forget I’m not just on their team, but rather I’m working with all the teams. This cross-team working is something I’ve gravitated to in my roles prior to Mozilla too, but Metrics is a topic that lends itself especially well to this kind of cross-team work.

Being on many teams can be exhausting. Especially if it’s a ‘planning workweek’, in say Portland, and you’re working with all the teams who are doing their 2015 planning and also working in the team who are specifically not planning, because it’s the End of Year fundraising campaign (which could more than fill the week’s working hours on its own). That looked a lot like working from 04:00 to 22:00 for a few days, though I reclaimed my downtime in party at the end of the week. That was a good night.

On that note, I exceeded my working capacity by the end of the year. There will always be more work than can be done, but it takes a while for a new role to settle, and for the organization to know what to ask of and expect from a new role like mine. And by the end of the year, I’d overstretched what I had the capacity to deliver. That’s normal, but I need to build working processes this year that expect more work requests than can be delivered rather than just saying yes to everything like I was able to do for most of 2014.

‘Janky’ solutions were the right thing in 2014 for most of my projects (and I absorbed the word Janky into my vocabulary). This year I built a lot of ‘temporary’ and ‘interim’ things, which were useful at the time and helped various people make decisions quickly but which weren’t designed for long term maintenance. For most of these projects that was the right decision, as so much strategy is changing in 2015. But moving forward, I want to build some more reusable infrastructure around this work.

I had an (almost) clean slate, technology wise. The role was new so I didn’t inherit a bunch of systems to maintain, but I also didn’t build up much infrastructure. As I think about technology solutions in 2015, I need to keep maintenance time for projects to a minimum, because it could quickly eat up my capacity to get new things done. This year I want to shift to longer term solutions though for some of the work that was ‘janky’ in 2014.

I learned (much more) JavaScript. Previously I’d dabbled in front-end JS leaning heavily on jQuery. But working on Webmaker.org projects, and building other apps and services around our contribution metrics projects I learned a fair amount about node.js development and also a chunk of D3, both of which I’ve come to like a lot. I also upped my git skills. So +1 for learning by doing.

I have loved and hated Bugzilla this year. It took me most of the year to get a Bugzilla based work management system in place and use this as my central record for all metrics work, but with a bunch of MoFo dev and planning work shifting to Github for issue management, my work and collaboration process is now in multiple systems. This is a headache for me, but I’ll find a way to make this work.

Working remotely is excellent, given enough face-to-face time. I’m fine with managing my own time at home, having completed my degree this way and having worked as a freelancer too, but keeping the work ‘real’ with video meetings is something I need. And while the face-to-face workweeks throughout the year are tough for taking me away from home and our young family, they are essential for building the relationships with the team. If we didn’t have the workweeks, the remote work would be much harder. And when it all adds up, I think I get more time with my kids than most working parents who never have to travel. This year, I was really happy with the balance.

Working across timezones is hard, sometimes. I love having the morning to tackle complex problems knowing I won’t get a phone call or email as everyone else is still fast asleep, but by the afternoon I hit a point where my calendar is quickly full of calls, and the people waking up are full of questions and I switch from ‘doing’ to ‘answering’ mode. This is usually fine, but it means my calls are back-to-back until 6pm my time when I instantly switch from a bunch of unresolved threads of work conversation in my head to step out of my office and play with son for an hour before he goes to bed. It’s amazing to get that time with my son at this age, but that context switch is really tough and I need a better process of recording those open threads while on the calls, so that I can relax until the following morning knowing things won’t be lost. When we hit busier periods across the org, I know I’ll lose more of my evenings to late video meetings, but I try to keep this in check with the rest of life’s needs.

I need to take more time off throughout the year. Otherwise it all piles up at the end of the year like it did this year (though the time off has been useful for settling in after our recent house move). Taking time off was hard in year one, when I was still finding my place, and working out what’s expected and required in a new role, but it’s important for long term productivity. It’s the time when you have room to breathe and think further ahead, and put the work into the context of personal life and the world we live in. I’m lucky to do work that I am personally interested in and committed to, but that can make switching off hard at times. When your work is online, it’s hard to avoid work without avoiding the internet.

I completed my degree this year, after a six-year-long year-off. I got myself a ‘BSc (Open)’. The ‘Open’ is because it was a ‘choose your own adventure’ type of qualification via the Open University. I’ve written about that story elsewhere, but the final qualification is a little bit of maths, a fair amount of computer science and finished off with some storytelling in a creative writing course. This was a combination which I thought was funny at the time when I registered, but now turns out to be what I do for a living.

In 2015

I want to learn more about learning. I am a compulsive learner but I know that doesn’t apply to everyone, and with Webmaker’s educational mission, I want to better understand how learning works. In part that connects to the metrics angle of my role via the scientific field of Learning Analytics, but also I just want to know more about this for myself.

I might try and write at least some code every day (how’s that for commitment?!). Though I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, because I generally like to set myself new challenges all year round, on New Year’s Eve I recalled John Resig’s post about writing code every day and told my wife I would do this in 2015. Then on 2nd January I got a vomitting bug and took to bed for the best part of 3 days, failing my goal pretty quickly. Since then however, I have been hacking on Done by When in my evenings and really enjoying it. I’ll see how this goes. Overall I’d like to be coding more regularly, rather than in short intense bursts.

I’ll need to say no to some things. As noted above, I’ve reached capacity so need to think about what does and doesn’t get done throughout the year.

I need to manage myself as though I was a team. I can’t just attack whatever is on top of the todo list and keep letting the list grow. I will adopt some of the heartbeat principles used by Webmaker, and try to be strict with myself about allocating separate time for planning, doing, documenting, and communicating. It can’t all be doing. I’ll write more about my processes as I work them out.

I’ll leave this blog post at that, as it’s grown to quite a length. I’m back to work from tomorrow morning, and this afternoon I need to finishing making the spare room into a suitable working environment.

Catch you online soon.

2 thoughts on “From 2014 to 2015”

  1. Reading that you completed a degree is especially great to hear. I’ve just started a program from a similar open university and it’s been tough to keep up with my day job, but I’m trying quite hard to make sure it works!

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