I was honoured to be asked to speak at two internal conferences recently — the first for GE Oil & Gas in Florence last week and the second in Amsterdam at Booking.com’s Annual Meeting. I gave an extended version of my OpenTech Practical Diversity talk, diving into more detail on the challenges and practical approaches that we can take to make our workplaces more inclusive.
Interested in my giving this talk or running a workshop or seminar on Practical Diversity for your company or event? Get in touch by emailing [email protected].
A couple of months later, the Dare Conference still swirls into my head at least once per day. Great experiences are like that — they don’t just affect you on the particular day, but for months and years afterwards. Kathy Sierra recently wrote a brilliant piece about how great talks are a user experience (and so the speaker is really just the UI).
Dare Conf was one hell of a user experience.
I still can’t really articulate everything I learnt. Everything I heard. Everything we experienced as a group. Dare felt like early SxSWi. Like you were connecting with people who just got it. Who were simultaneously so different and so like you. Who were taking the time to learn some pretty hard shit, together as colleagues rather than as combatants. Who were deliberately opening themselves up to the scary change, the frightening ideas, the things that might just change the world.
[I appreciate that if you went to much more recent SxSWi you are probably wondering what I'm smoking: read this excellent post by Anil Dash on the web we lost.]
I know I’m doing things differently. Whether it’s realising when my amygdala is hijacking me, remembering to “get in the car” as my friend Neil exhorted, or using Dave Gray’s culture map to illustrate to an organisation why the delta between what they SAY they believe in and what they ACTUALLY believe in is hurting them.
Karen was highlighting that in our industry we have (and highly prize) technical skills, but to be really effective we need the others too — we need to be able to work with others (External skills, as she puts it), and we have to have to be able to work with ourselves (Internal skills).
I’ve been managing people for a number of years now. I repeatedly see this play out: someone who is technically brilliant slowly becomes incredibly frustrated that they don’t have the impact they want to have. If they’re lucky, someone helps them to realise that they need to not only be clever and technically brilliant, but they also need to have the soft skills (External) to get other people involved and they need the self-compassion (Internal) to manage their internal frustration at this not being as easy as the stuff they’re already good at.
The only difference between those who managed to develop those skills and those who don’t? Belief in the Soft Skills Fairy.
The Soft Skills Fairy has a wand, and if you were touched with it at birth then you have soft skills. If you weren’t you don’t and can never develop them.
Sounds silly, right? Seriously though, people seem to believe this. The people who believe that anyone can be taught to code, that design skills can be learnt, honed, developed, these same people believe in the Soft Skills fucking Fairy.
The truth is much harder to face: everyone can develop these skills. But it is hard, it takes work, and no one has a magic wand to wave over you to make it happen overnight.
Do yourself a favour: reject the Soft Skills Fairy. Invest in yourself. Make time for learning some of those soft skills in between the technical skills; they are both essential to being awesome at your job. Find people who are good at this stuff and ask them how they learned. Find ways to practise, outside and inside of work. Find people who will tell you the truth about whether you’re getting better and then ask them.
It’ll be hard. It’ll be worth it.
If you want a ready-made safe environment to learn some of these things, come to Dare Conf Mini in January in London. There’s still a £100 discount if you grab an early bird ticket by Monday 18 November.
As you’ll see from the line-up, I’m speaking (and running a full day workshop on Practical People Skills) but honestly, I’m hugely excited about what I’ll learn from the other folks speaking and attending. I imagine Dare Mini is going to be another incredible experience and I’ll walk away doing things differently. Better. And I’ll continue to utterly reject the goddamn Soft Skills Fairy.
Today I spoke about people management (and how frankly terrifying it is) at the wonderful Dare Conf.
Here are my slides:
UPDATE(2): The nicely edited video is now up: Studies in Terror: Becoming a People Manager. You can also view many of the brilliant Dare Conf talks. They’ve been made freely available, but if you find them useful please donate so that Dare can return next year.
Books Mentioned in This Talk
- First Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
- Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World Class Performers from Everyone Else by Geoff Colvin
- Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
- Not listed in the presentation, but an excellent couple of coaching books are The Inner Game of Tennis and Coaching for Performance
My Upcoming Book
I’ve got a book coming out on this topic late 2013 / early 2014 — if you’re interested in hearing about it when it’s ready, please sign up here for updates about the book and occasional bundles of interesting links: Geek Management tinyletter.
I spoke today at the Eduserv Symposium 2013, giving an overview of DevOps to the largely public sector audience. I’ve uploaded my slide deck to Slideshare: DevOps in the Wild and they’re also embedded below.
The further reading links I suggested are:
The original DevOpsGuys post about anti-patterns:
Niek Bartholomeus’ excellent presentation about introducing devops to a more traditional environment:
The DevOps section of GDS’ Digital Service Manual:
Anna Kennedy put together a brilliant list of resources after DevOpsDays:
DevOps Weekly newsletter: http://devopsweekly.com/
You might also be interested in Gene Kim’s The Phoenix Project, a novel about DevOps.
Tonight I spoke at the London Content Strategy Meetup, an excellent group sharing best practice in the content strategy & development arena. I really enjoyed hearing about Age UK’s research & understanding of older people (or “people in later life”) from Rob and then Chris‘ fascinating approach to figuring out a content strategy for building advocacy for mental health de-stigmatisation amongst young people.
I was quite nervous about talking about agile to this audience, particularly since I’ve only really gotten good exposure to content strategy, design and management in my year at GDS. But they were a lovely friendly bunch and I’m really grateful to Sarah Richards & Graham Francis for suggesting me to the organisers.
Essentially I subtitled my talk “a magical mystery tour of Meri being an idiot” and talked through the various lessons I’d learnt about how agile is actually a pretty brilliant approach for content development.
The book I recommend at the end is an absolutely BRILLIANT summary/primer/refresher on Scrum — I heartily recommend you buy at least a copy for yourself and possibly one for everyone you know who needs more agile in their life. You can get it at Amazon or on Kindle (I promise you the Kindle version will be the best 77p you ever spend. Seriously.).
Faced with plenty of long haul flights and long train journeys whilst on my current sabbatical, my iPhone, iPad and mifi were all annoyingly short-lived in terms of battery life. I was delighted to discover the PowerGen Mobile Juice Pack, which is my favourite gadget purchase so far of 2013.
What is it?
A battery pack that you can charge other devices from. It has a micro-USB lead built in and two USB ports — one juiced appropriately for charging an iPad, the other normal mobile phone type devices.
How Does it Fare?
I’ve been very impressed with it. It will fully recharge my iPad, iPhone and Kindle on just one charge — and if I use it mainly for phone and Kindle it will do them each about 4 or 5 times before it needs to be plugged in itself. When I’ve just used it for my iPhone, I’ve managed to get up to 9 recharges out of it.
It weighs a little more than my iPhone, but slips easily into a bag or pocket — I generally just leave it in there and only take it out to charge it every week or two. To charge it up from completely empty to full takes a few hours, but the LEDs keep you apprised of progress and happily it charges off a micro-USB cable rather than bringing another custom cable into your life.
At the moment it’s still just £25 on Amazon — seriously good value. Being able to recharge wherever, whenever has been a great productivity boost, and after some friends were impressed with it today I thought it might be worth sharing
One of the best bits of career advice I ever received was from one of my first Directors, who said she actively decided each year whether to recommit to the role and the company. I’ve done the same ever since — evaluating whether it’s the right job and organisation each year and either actively signing up for another year, or choosing to make a change. As a way of ensuring your own engagement in what you’re doing, it’s an effective tactic. Working at GDS has been a very exciting journey and a team that I adore, but I came to the conclusion back in November that staying was not the right career move for me and so gave early notice that I’d be leaving.
Though looking after the Delivery team (70 civil servants and an additional 70 contractors at times) was very rewarding (they are a group of vibrant & brilliant people), I missed being directly involved in products & programmes & strategy work a bit too much. I love managing people and improving processes to make workplaces a better place to be (and I think doing those things right is an incredibly important thing for any organisation), but found that doing PURELY that felt like the wrong balance – I’m a leader of technology organisations, not an HR specialist after all. I’m eagerly anticipating getting my teeth back into projects & programmes, operations & strategy again, in addition to growing a world class team.
Those who know me won’t be surprised to hear that I also found the opacity & pace of the Civil Service something of a culture shock, coming from a very efficiency- and delivery-focused corporate background. Frankly, I know many of my old colleagues at P&G are amazed I lasted this long I will say that I think things are changing and getting better, but the starting point is so fundamentally different that I admire the progress that has been made all the more.
So what next?
I’m in the lucky position of having rather a lot of holiday saved up, so I’m taking a six month sabbatical – both to travel and to write another book (didn’t know about the first one? Here it is: The Principles of Project Management, also on Kindle and available from Amazon). I’ll be visiting Austin, San Francisco, Amsterdam, various cities in the UK (home in Newcastle for a bit, London and likely Brighton) and then spending a month in Portugal, after which I’ll be going home to South Africa for a while too as my cousin is getting married.
If you’re in one of those cities, we should hang out! Drop me an email / DM and I’ll let you know when I’ll be in town (or the details are on Dopplr if we’re connected there). During this sabbatical time I also have some limited availability for short engagement work – so if you’d like to work with me, let me know.
I’ll announce what comes after that in due time. I have to say I’ve been impressed at how flexible the organisations I’m talking with have been willing to be – it’s been a very pleasant surprise to see companies ranging in size willing to accommodate time off to travel before starting a new role.