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I’ve known about ThoughtWorks for almost my entire career and three months ago, I finally got the chance to join them. I promised that I would blog about my initial impressions and here they are, although not quite so initial anymore.

The interview process had given me some insight into the culture and a glimpse of the people who I would be working with. I remember leaving the office that day buzzing yet exhausted, my first three months has left me with similar feelings.

The most striking thing about ThoughtWorks is the people, everyone without exception, has been friendly, intelligent and always willing to help. I’ve never worked in an organisation with such strong cultural variety. On my first day I met people from the UK, Australia, Brazil, US, India and Canada, amongst others, the blend of backgrounds and opinions is very appealing to me.

One of the aspects that attracted me to being a consultant was the variety of organisations, people and domains I’d hopefully get to work with, so far I have been involved in three different projects for two organisations in different industries and with different technologies, which has given me huge scope for learning and experimentation.

ThoughtWorks strives to have the minimum amount of management possible and to be as self-organising as possible, which presents many challenges for a rapidly growing business. This appeals to my interest in organisational structure and how this affects what work we do and how we do that work, I am looking forward to learning more about this aspect of the organisation. Something which is closely related to this and somewhat of a culture shock to me, is the onus and ownership for many aspects of my progress are mine. I have never had this amount of freedom before and as such, as much responsibility. Whilst this is taking me some time to get used to, I relish it, and every time I have sought out advice or assistance someone has always answered my call.

I am conscious of the burden travelling may put on my lifestyle and work life balance. So far, I’ve enjoyed most of the travelling which has come with my new role and only occasionally felt the desire to spend more time back at home. I’ve had great support with organising travel and accommodation, often at short notice, for which I am very grateful. The opportunities which have arisen from the travelling have far outweighed any drawbacks and although it is a challenge keeping the balance, I am confident in meeting this challenge and in doing so, both aspects of my life will benefit. I would like to find ways to use some of my new experiences to contribute more to the community in Sheffield.

All in all, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first three months as a ThoughtWorker and am happy that joining was the right decision for me at this point in my career. Two people have been instrumental in me joining ThoughtWorks and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Liz Keogh and Jim Webber for their support and encouragement.

This is my first blog post in over a year, so I especially look forward to your comments and feedback on this post.

On Saturday morning 9 people converged on the epigenesys building, and after much caffeine, that same day a brand new website for the Archer Project was created.

This effort was the first, of hopefully a long line, of BashMash projects, an initiative launched by Jag Gill following Bar Camp Sheffield. Its intention to bring together a group of like minded volunteers for a single day, with the aim of helping a charity or third sector organisation achieve things normally unavailable to them with they help of social technology.

We started the day with a plan, some initial designs and lots of motivation; we ended it with a great website and a lot more knowledge about WordPress, widget development, php, Facebook and Twitter integration, a day well spent I believe.

The website was created using WordPress with a number of custom widgets designed and built on the day. The site acts as a focal point for the organisations charitable efforts, showing progress on fundraising, current activities and needs and how the current weather effects the homeless people in Sheffield. This information is also published via Twitter and Facebook. The site should be self sustaining with the charity driving their own content. All of the widgets will be made available as open source, I will update this post when this is done.

Personally I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, though I admit to feeling quite tired after 15 hours of developing software, it was great seeing the whole site come together at the end of the day, roll on the next one. It might even have inspired me to do some PHP before then, anyone who knows me knows this is quite a accomplishment!

I need to say a big thanks to Jag for starting the whole thing, Chris for finding the Archer Project, Tracy for putting up with a room full of developers and to Jon for tolerating my continuous barrage of silly questions about php, macs and passwords (and for calling him Chris for half the day).

Whilst travelling down to London I got the chance to do some blogging and to watch some Ted. I’m a recent convert to Ted and its safe to say its an addiction, I’ve got some serious catching up to do. If every one I watch compels me to blog about it this might take some time, but here goes.

Majora has a very compelling argument that sustainable grass roots activities can benefit both the local community, be commercial successful and save people money.

Despite her talk being about a incredibly poor area of New York, I can see parallels to her approach within communities like GeekUp and Barcamp. These are not the same, this would do a great disservice to her endeavour and where she has come from but that does not mean the more affluent cannot learn from it, in fact that is, in part, her intention.

There seems to be more in common here than I first imagined, she makes reference to a perception that these endeavours cannot be beneficial to the commercial bottom line, that social responsibility has a negative effect on profitability and that decisions made from the top need, nay require involvement from the grass roots. These challenges and presumptions seem to be those encountered by many socially innovate groups. Whether they be from affluent or deprived backgrounds, we can all learn from this, and to echo Majora, the influential among us need to learn these lessons sooner rather than later.

Also I can’t help but feel that areas like the South Bronx is where the inspiration forĀ  the pragmatic programmers metaphor of broken windows in a code base, the idea that once even minor environmental neglect happens its a downward spiral, in fact Majora picks up on this point herself.

As I referred to in my general Ted Talks post, these observations are leading me on a path (which started not long out of university but has recently gained momentum) that software development and technical innovation are mostly about people and not so much about technology or engineering. It seems as though many of us may have forgotten which is more important?

At Barcamp Sheffield I was introduced to the TED Talks and I feel obliged to spread the word, I can’t believe what I’ve been missing for so long. Credit and much thanks have to go to Pippa and Guy who were influential in opening my eyes to such a vast and disparate amount of content. So far I’ve watched 6, each one a revelation and deserving of a blog post in their own right (some of which are coming soon). I doubt this track record can continue but I sincerely hope it does.

Upon leaving university I believed I had the necessary education to be a good (possibly great!) software developer, how nieve and wrong I was. This realisation, made on my first project, led me to concentrate on becoming better, mainly by practice and lots of reading. Whilst this single minded obsession has led me to make significant progress, it has come at the cost of losing perspective. Why am I trying to become a good software developer?

Opening my mind again to wider interests is helping (I’m not done yet) me to become more balanced, to remember why I wanted to do this and to decide where I want to go. A completely unexpected side effect is that this wider perspective has also had a dramatically positive effect on my understanding of software development, who would have thought it was all about the people!

Last weekend I attended Barcamp Sheffield 2.1 much fun was had by all. This was my first barcamp and I have to admit it had rather a profound effect on me (as some will have noticed on the day or from my tweets).

The barcamp format is unlike any traditional conference, there are no prearranged sessions or talks, its all arranged by the attendees there and then. This invigorates the event with such a dynamic social energy, everyone seems to be drawn to it. I knew what to expect from a barcamp, but I never expected the commitment, openness and friendlyness of all the attendees.

Barcamp Sheffield was a little different to many barcamps, there was no camping and the event ran from Friday to Sunday rather than Saturday to Sunday. Some barcamps use the Friday night as a pre-party, but this tends to preclude virigin attendees, Sheffield used this as an ideal ice breaker and created a big kick of activity ready for Saturday to start in earnest, which helped a lot seen as there was high proportion of barcamp virgins.

I know some of the oganisers, so I was asked to volunteer (disclaimer: this may make me biased, but everyone I met said it was excellent!), turning up just about on time on the Friday night, it wasn’t long before the event was in full swing with some very amusing adhoc presentation voice overs and much beer (some free) being consumed.

The sessions started in earnest on Saturday morning, after much coffee and necessary breakfast. I think I only attended 4 or 5 over the two days, all of which were very interesting. I’d completely forgotten how much functional programming blew my mind, found out how hard it is to organise a barcamp or train students in agile programming and how complicated friendship and language can be.

Equally as important as the organised sessions were the adhoc conversations I had all weekend, I can’t remember the last time I met so many interesting people, full of insights and amusement all in one weekend. I came away feeling refreshed in the spirit of the geek community and hopefully with a number of new friends (and some shocking tiredness, having fun and chatting takes a lot of energy).

Barcamp Sheffield confirmed two things for me, that self organising social groups can and are very effective and that Sheffield (and the UK) has a thriving geek society which I deeply want to become more a part of.

The only downside to all of this, is that I’m completely exhausted and craving more!

Some developers have a natural passion for development, some have to work really hard ad strive for it, and some just don’t seem to want it. Readers of this blog will most likely fall within the first two of these categories. It might seem like an oversimplification, but for an initial thought it seems to hold up. Rather than debate who has it, who doesn’t and who doesn’t want it, I rather talk about whether its a positive thing for a developer to have and whether all developers should strive for it.

I’ll set my stall out up front, I’m passionate about software development (because I enjoy it, I enjoy solving people’s problems and I get a kick out of it) and sometimes this over spills into anger and frustration if I believe something I am doing is not right or if something is more difficult than it should be. This is not to say I’m offensive, just that I need to take a few minutes out occasionally to collect my thoughts, though I am still diplomatic when confronted with an issue. This may mean I’m biased in some of the topics below but I will try and remain objective, I can see how sometimes the results of my passion are not ideal.

Good thing or bad thing?

I’d been writing this blog post for a while when I stumbled upon Ron Jeffries’ post about Passion and I think he says it better than I ever could. Its about wanting to make a difference and if that means provoking strong reactions then so be it, love and hate is better than nothing at all.

That said, I’ll make an attempt to add to it. The stronger I feel about something the more I want to communicate these ideas, the more I want other people to see what I see, alas this cannot always be, at least not without effort and this path can lead to frustration. I have found this can lead to take a dictatorial tone rather than a leading tone, something I will come back to in another post, but for now I can say its no good telling them that something is right, at best they’ll respect you and half heartily accept it but not understand it and at worst they will fight it with all their will.

Passion is largely a positive attribute which leads to creative, inventive and highly motivated developers, however sometimes this passion can spill over into frustration and anger. Debate is healthy but when it turns into personal, angry arguments it is no longer healthy it is counter productive and unhealthy.

Should all developers have it?

I’m not sure about this, personally I need it, it drives me and if I didn’t have it I don’t think I would be a developer and certain not as effective a developer as I am and I enjoy being surrounded by other passionate people. However I feel there is still a need for people who are more reserved, reliable and consistent who can provide that backbone to a team or department, finding (and keeping) this balance is crucial to any team achieving big things for any length of time.

Shun or Share?

Developers who do have passion tend to be more vocal, creative and inventive in there solutions and ideas, sometimes the frustration of these half formed thoughts can be demotivating and crippling to performance, often the only way these ideas can improve is to share them, to express them to others and be open to criticism. This isn’t easy and certainly isn’t fun all the time, but it is healthy and, to quote from Ron Jeffries again, ” will come back to me manyfold”.

Roll on the free and expressive sharing of ideas between mutual respectful peers.