I’m writing this all out here, mostly so I can point to it from a micro.blog post and ask for some suggestions.

What I Want

I like the idea that I post what I’m going to continue to call my ‘tweets’ to My Own Thing and that they are just mirrored into twitter (Someone Else’s Thing).  There’s some confusion there around replies.  If someone on twitter replies to my tweet and I go into twitter to reply back, thats not going to be on My Own Thing, but in general I like the idea of my posts, both long and short, being My Own Thing.

What I have

  • I have an existing blog, here, on WordPress.  Its available as both alancfrancis.com and alancfrancis.wordpress.com.
  • I have a twitter account @PossiblyAlan.  I haven’t switch micro.blog to mirror to it yet.
  • I have registered for micro.blog as acf.  I have a paid plan which gives me acf.micro.blog, which is not My Own Thing, its Manton’s Thing.
  • I have created a GitHub pages repo and sent micro.blog to mirror into it (though its not jekyll-configured yet).  So currently I post to Mantons Thing and then mirrored into My Own Thing.
  • I have the micro.blog apps for iOS and Mac, which can post to micro.blog or WordPress.
  • I have the WordPress iOS app for posting to WordPress.

Questions I Have

It seems like I should ditch the hosted micro.blog as it runs against the idea of posting to My Own Thing.  I’m currently just posting to Mantons Thing instead of Jack Dorsey’s Thing and then mirroring into Githubs Thing.

That means that I’d essentially just post to wordpress and have hit be mirrored into Mantons Thing which would then mirror it into Jack Dorsey’s Thing.

Does that then mean that all micro.blog would be is a way to put my WordPress posts into the micro.blog audience and the twitter audience?  I can’t see why I’d need the apps then?  They say they can post to WordPress, but I can already do that with more complete tools.  This feels like I must be missing something.

Maybe I’m confusing a bunch of use cases ?

Perhaps one use case is you stop using twitter, and you switch to using the micro.blog apps and a hosted micro.blog and you swap Jack’s Thing for Manton’s Thing, but you know you can get at Manton’s Thing via RSS or export it.  Thats one use case for someone, but not me as it’s still not My Own Thing, its just a safer and more open Someone Else’s Thing.

The other use case where I post to WordPress ( My Own Thing )  and just use a micro.blog username to consume the RSS and cross post to the micro.blog TL and the twitter TL is a separate thing that doesn’t require the micro.blog apps at all?

Assume I post direct to WordPress, then.  I am ignoring the micro.blog app and hosted solution and just posting to My Own Thing.  Do I keep posting short and long form posts to alancfrancis.com ?  Will micro.blog show short form posts inline and link to long form ones?  Maybe I should create a second WordPress blog micro.alancfrancis.com which is just the micro.blog?  That means its always ‘tweets’ and they can be duplicated into the micro.blog timeline and twitter, but it does mean its entirely separate from the main wordpress blog.


Anyway, analysis paralysis and thoughts welcomed.

UPDATE: I just cancelled my subscription.  The only story I could actually understand was the hosted one which mean I was just posting to Mantons’ Thing instead of Jack’s Thing and that didn’t seem worth the effort.  I’ll just keep tweeting on twitter and blogging here on WordPress.


I was looking for a job and then I found a job


Having written a couple of times about what kind of things I wanted and didn’t want to do, and having decided to really take my time an opportunity came along that ticked pretty much every box I had.

I won’t be starting right away.  I’m going to finish up my contract and LS work at the end of June, and then I promised myself and my family that I’d take all of July off.  Kids are on holiday so its a chance to spend some time together as a family.  Its also the anniversary of Jane’s accident so we’re not sure how that will affect us… whether we’ll want to go away or stay home.

But this post isn’t about that.  Its about the job that I’ll start formally on August 1st.

I’m absolutely delighted to say that I’ll be joining Bohemian Coding to work with the team on the award-winning Sketch.

So what kind of job is it?  How does it manage to tick my various boxes ?

My key goal was to find a place where I could parlay my “senior” skills in one area to allow me to be a junior in another, and I think I specifically mentioned Mac development as a thing I hadn’t done much of and would like to do more of.  Thats what I’m going to get at Bohemian.

The role isn’t quite defined yet, and that’s by design.  I’ve described the kind of work I do as the spaces in between the moving parts of a team.  Sometimes its oil to reduce friction, sometimes its glue to increase cohesion, but in both cases its moving through the people who do the real work and figuring out ways to make the whole better than the sum of its parts.  Thats the kind of thing I’m going to be doing with Bohemian.  Not really quite a project manager.  Not really quite a team lead.  Not even quite a coach. Luckily Bohemian doesn’t have job titles so I don’t need to even give it a name.

I’m going to be asking a lot of questions, trying to understand whats working and what isn’t, and how to help this amazing team be even better.  Thats my day job.  I couldn’t ask for a better one.  I’m also hoping that by being involved in the day to day operations of a Mac development team I get a chance to try a few small stories, or pair a little on some larger ones.

Bohemian is distributed by design, with people all over the world.  This means that the day to day practicalities of my job won’t change.  I keep my small office a couple of miles from the house.  I’m close to Jane’s work and the kids schools in case I’m needed (which I am more post-accident).

I’m glad I waited.  I’m glad I didn’t panic.  I’m glad I took the time to have a lot of conversations and be sure about what I was looking for.  I’m glad I didn’t go into a single interview desperate for a job at any cost.

I was looking for a job and then I found a job, but heaven knows I’ve never been less miserable.




Hunting High and Low

So while I figure out the longer term career stuff (conversations are ongoing) I thought I’d take the time to build a couple of apps I’ve had on my mind.  I’m procrastinating by writing, but also I’m trying to write more and this is whats on my mind.

I know what I should do is put Xcode away and try and think about what I want to build.  I should be making app definition statements (though I notice that idea is gone from the Apple developer site, but available in the wayback machine ) and thinking about designs and all that good stuff.  I should be way up high in the clouds, looking down at the landscape, trying to figure out if the app makes sense and how it might work.

What I’m doing instead is hacking on a model layer to support the first app I thought about building.  I’m down in the trenches building an engine in a framework that the app (and notification centre and the watch) can use.

This has the advantage that coding is something I’m good at, and product design isn’t.  It also has the advantage of the illusion of progress.  I feel like I’m busy making something.

Unfortunately without all that other stuff, I can’t really tell if I’m building the right model layer for the app.  I have a rough idea of the objects involved, and CRC lets me figure out pretty well the responsibilities of each in any given operation, but who knows if the operations make sense?  I can’t see enough to know if what I’m building makes sense in context.  I can’t see the wood for the trees.

I think I’m going to force myself to stop.  Just like the larger career questions, I don’t need to hurry.  I don’t need to demonstrate progress to anyone.  I can take my time and stay in the clouds where the view is better.

Know Thyself

One thing I’ve always been guilty of is honesty.

That might sound a bit weird, but essentially I am alway happy to be clear at what I’m not good at.  This is often interpreted as imposter syndrome, or typical scots self deprecation, but its not.  I’m also pretty clear on what I am good at.

I’ve been trying to find a nice clear way of summing it up, but I can’t really do better than “I’m a coach, not a manager” and like so much of the XP/Agile terminology, that can really confuse or irritate people, so I’ll try and explain.  This will certainly be rambly.  As Ron Jeffries has said “how do I know what I think until I hear what I say?

In the much maligned Myers-Briggs Type Indicator I come out consistently as INFP/ENFP, which is quite different from a lot of programmers who are often ISTJ/ESTJ.  I am intuitive.  I make a lot of leaps and guesses and many of them turn out right.  To quote Mr Jeffries again “I’m not smarter than other people, I just make mistakes faster“.  I try things.  I talk about how I feel about things, rather than how I think about them.  I worry about people.  The intangible is very important.

I like a tutorial rather than lecture setting when I’m teaching.  I’d prefer people to ask questions and see where the discussion goes, adjusting my answers to the same questions for different people.  Looking them in the eye and seeing if I’m making sense.  This jibes with using XP to build software.  Small steps, feedback informing the next steps.  Lectures feel too much like Waterfall and I suck at that.  If I have no immediate feedback I will overthink and worry and panic and never get anything concrete done.  There will be no software because I’m trying to make sure I get the design just right before I start,  There will be no lecture because I’ll rewrite and revisit the content over and over, aware I have to get it right before I start, rather than adjusting as I go.

I like short or multiple choice exams rather than essay questions, because I get bored planning an essay out and want to just write all the things I know and move on.

In many of my consulting engagements I have been glue, helping to bring disparate parts of an organisation together to share a single vision.  In others, I have been oil, providing a layer to ease the interface between parts that rub up against each other.

I’m a starter, not a finisher.

I don’t mean that I just want to have crazy ideas and not see them through, I mean that I enjoy being one of the guys running along behind your car, pushing, shouting, telling you whats worked on other cars, helping you get started on whatever journey you want to go on, then move on to the next car.  I like building teams that build software.

I feel naturally entrepreneurial, but my family responsibilities override that and keep me (rightly or wrongly) essentially risk-averse.

As a programmer I work best alone when in the early stages of a codebase.  I like to get something working in a hacky, spiky way, then refactor until its good enough to share.  I think thats a good model for the exploration phase of a project. Let individuals own a piece they’re playing with.   On more mature projects, during the expansion phase, safety is paramount and lots of pair programming and testing is a good way to spread that knowledge around.  (phase names courtesy of Kent Beck’s 3X theory)

The most productive I have ever felt is using IntelliJ to build Java code.  It perfectly fit my “just code it up till it works, then do the actual work of extracting and renaming and parameterising” mode.  Once you have the guts of the thing, thats the best time to start designing.  What makes sense here or there, is this thing a new object, how could these two similar bits be merged to eliminate duplication?  All these  questions are better answered once you have working software.  Then you’re making exactly the right design for the software you have.  Proper, reliable, natural refactoring tools entirely change the way you can write software.

I suck when I’m bored.

My first manager at Panasonic, Don Grant, once had me in a performance appraisal and said “I wish I could give you two marks for everything.  When you’re interested, you’re amazing.  When you’re not interested, you’re terrible“.  I was fresh out of college and horrified.  “Well“, he said, “its not necessarily a problem.  The question is are you only interested in doing things you’re good at?  Or are you only good at doing things that interest you?  If its the former, thats an issue for you.  If its the latter it’s just my job to keep giving you things that are interesting“.   Its definitely the latter.  I’ll have a go at anything as long as its caught my interest.  I might suck initially, but I’m good at figuring stuff out with limited information because of the aforementioned making mistakes fast.

I was the third independent signatory on the Agile Manifesto.  I was knee deep in XP for ObjectMentor when Agile became a thing, back in 2001 and as soon as Ward allowed people to sign up, I did.

My favourite thing I have ever achieved is bringing Zoe Keating to play at the Scottish Ruby Conference.  Twice.

I have nothing concrete to point to.  No big open source projects, no books written. My name is in a couple of the original XP books as a reviewer, but my one attempt to write a book for the prags failed because I’m an overthinker.

I’ve organised six Scottish Ruby Conferences and 4 NSScotland conference but I’ve only ever given two conference talks (one of them twice).  My entire career is based almost entirely on word of mouth recommendations.  “I worked with him and he added value”.

From one perspective I feel like thats what I’m proudest of.  It should count for the most.  From another it makes it hard in situations like now where I’m considering “cold calling” for something new.  If you don’t know me, or know someone who does, how can I convince you I’m a good hire?”.

I got into the ThoughtWorks interview because I put Kent Beck and Martin Fowler on my CV as references.  At one stage I listed a reference for every single job.  These days my CV is too full of jobs, so I just say “references available on request” and wonder who I’ll call if I get a request.

I don’t really have an ending to this.  I’ve just kind of run out of things to say.  I did mention I suck at planning and finishing.


Where do we go from here?

I will soon be made redundant from a job I’ve held for 6 years.  Thats the longest I’ve ever been anywhere.

The last time I found myself without a job, I was terrified.  How will I keep a roof over my family’s head?  What if I couldn’t ever find another job?  The fear of the unknown was enormous, mostly because the financial pressure felt crushing and imposter syndrome loomed large.  No-one will hire me because I have no idea what I’m doing.  Perhaps I should go talk to McDonalds.

This time round however, I find myself in the enviable position of having enough of a redundancy package to keep me afloat for 6-8 months.  If I find a job right away, thats a nice lump sum that I could do something useful with, either personally or socially, but if not, 6 months should be plenty of time to find something.  Anything.  So thats the financial fear taken care of.

And so we come, as we inevitably do, to imposter syndrome.  What am I worth?  The last time I did anything other than iOS development was about 10 years ago.  My Ruby/Rails skills are out of date, my Java is ancient history and my work consulting and training with XP/Agile process is almost certainly too old school.  I have, in 10 years buried in Apple tools and technologies, failed to keep up with pretty much anything else. The changes in web technologies, in process, in buzzwords and frameworks seem all too massive.

When I did C++ for money, I did Java for fun.  When I did Java for money, I did Ruby for fun.  When I did Ruby for money I did iOS for fun, and then I kind of stopped.  Family life meant there was little time for programming outside of work, so I stopped having an eye on the new things, and which of them might be interesting as a future direction.  Back then, each transition seemed obvious.  I knew what I was interested in before I had to look for a job doing it, and each time, because I was interested and made friends in that space, I didn’t have to look hard to find a place to do it for money.

This time though I find myself a little lost.

How can I find a job with skills so out of date and irrelevant ?  I don’t know any of this stuff?  I need to buy books on Elixir and Go and a 10 volume set of Javascript frameworks.

But wait, I know how to build good software.

I know how to build good software and I’ve done it in FORTRAN and C and C++ and Java and Ruby and Lotus Notes for goodness sake and C# and ObjectiveC and Swift.

I know how to build good software and I’ve done it with UML and XP and DDD and Scrum and using Jira and Pivotal Tracker and Rational Rose and index cards.

I know how to build good software and I’ve done it for banks and startups and research labs and electrical retailers and power stations and Coca Cola and telecoms.

I know how to build good software in anything.

So.  The imposter syndrome is kicked into touch this time too.

I feel strong.  I feel ready.  I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m going to do next, but thats a blessing, not a curse.

It might, as I’ve said, be lovely to spend the next 6 months as a junior Mac developer or Project Manager or devops engineer and be the worst guy in the band.  To focus on the small and the specific.  It might also be lovely to finally take a step up into technical leadership across a small organisation.  To think bigger and work harder out of my comfort zone.

Its a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy.  Let’s go exploring.



The Worst Guy in the Band

In Chad Fowler’s wonderful Passionate Programmer book (which you should buy), theres a chapter called “Be the Worst”.

Legendary jazz guitarist Pat Metheny has a stock piece of advice for young musicians, which is “Always be the worst guy in every band you’re in”

Chad spins this musical advice into advice for programmers.

Being the worst person on the team has the same effect as being the worst person  in the band.  You find that you’re unexplainably smarter.  You even speak and write more intelligent.  Your code and designs get more elegant, and you find that you’re able to solve hard problems with increasingly creative solutions.

I’ve tried to make a habit of this, and so far I think I’ve succeeded.  You’d need to speak to my co-workers to confirm.  I’m looking for a change in work right now, and its got me thinking.

The advice above is essentially saying be around people who are better than you, so you’re always learning.  But there are a couple of issues with this.

Firstly, you’re good enough to be in the band at all.  Chad talks a little about this in context.  You want to be the worst guy in the first division, rather than the best guy in the second, but that assumes you have the requisite skills to be in the first division.  Secondly, it assumes some relevance or connection between you and the others.

You can become a better saxophonist by playing regular jazz with a really good pianist, drummer and bassist, assuming they let you in to their band, but what if you really want to play drums.  You can’t be the worst drummer in that band.  They already have a drummer who’s good.

Maybe you go join a drumming group.

You’re surrounded by drummers who are better than you.  You are the worst drummer and every day you work with better drummers and get better at drumming.  But now you’re a junior drummer, and you’re getting paid as a junior drummer, and you’re playing basic stuff all the time, which is improving you as s drummer, but not really stretching you as a musician.  Your expert saxophone status does not buy you recognition in that drumming group. You’re a beginner.

What you want is a bigger band.  A band that already has a great drummer, but can hire you for your saxophone skills 6 days a week and indulge your desire to be a junior drummer 1 day a week.

A couple of times in my career I’ve wanted to change direction, and both times I’ve been lucky.  My first proper Ruby job, my Java experience and Agile consulting work was enough to pay my way while I was a junior Ruby engineer working with a team of experts.  My first proper iOS job, that Ruby (and the Agile work again) was enough to justify a senior engineers position and salary while allowing me to essentially be a junior iOS guy and learn the ropes.

I’m feeling like its time again.  I’d like to be a junior something.  Maybe Mac development, maybe project management, maybe something else entirely, but I have to find the right band.  Someone that’ll happily hire my saxophone while I learn my crash from my splash.