Peloton of commuters

Five days into my new London job. As I expected – I cycle every day. Living and cycling to work is different in London to what it is in Wales. Oddly, London is pretty nice.

In Wales you cycle pretty much on your own, whereas here in the big smoke you ride in ad-hoc pelotons. Pelotons that may live for anything from few seconds to, ah, few more seconds. They form and disband in blink of an eye. Though you still get the benefit of a peloton’s visibility.

It seems that drivers here are very aware of cyclist. And though there’s a lot of traffic, people are looking for you, showing much more respect than expected.

Forty minutes is my average commute time. To work, as it is downhill and I don’t want to sweat it is a bit quicker. On the way home, on the other hand, I go all out, but the climb to Muswell Hill – is a decent climb. My legs judge it at at-least 10%.

Oh, and I cycle past this

Gooners live here

Gooners live here

Sheffield is closest

A bit long, this one. Sorry.

In the past few months I’ve been in a transition. Changing jobs, that is.

It was all going on quite fast. I got a call from an agent that he saw my profile on LinkedIN and he has a job for me. Usually I turn these down. But this time I’ve decided to talk. Talk led to a phone interview which lead to an Interview in London.

Circumstances dictated that the interview would be the next day. And then I realised – I don’t even own a suite I could wear in the interview. Looking in my wardrobe I quickly realised that the only jacket I own is ten years old, and at best looks tired. A dash to M&S resulted in a simple yet functional suite. And shoes. And tie. Now I am ready for a wedding. Preferably someone else’s.

End was two interviews in London. So the suite got used more than once. And I got to know the city a bit better. Yes, the interview was in the heart of the city.

One thing lead to another and I signed the contract. One minor thing left to fix – work permit. As I am a bloody foreigner I still need one.

Enter stage left – Mr David Cameron. New government changed the law. A cap was introduced on work permits, causing my future employer to stop and count – is it still within the allowed number of permits? This really put the spanner in the works.

Two months later the answer was clear – yes, they can request it for me.

As a lot of time has passed already, my work permit application was to go through the express-lane in the Border Agency. Instead of sending the application by mail and waiting for six to eight weeks – I’d go and submit it myself.

Oh, minor thing – I must take an English test. Well, it is the law. Only I took one two years ago. But apparently these tests have a short shelf life – two years and they expire. I guess if I lived in Essex it is quite likely my English would deteriorate.

So there I went again, to London, to take an English test. First time I took the lucrative IELTS test, in Cardiff. This time I went for the Pearson computerized test in London, as the results are immediate. Suite not required. Just me.

How did it go? It started like any alien examination of an earthling. Short of certain type of probing which it seems aliens are keen on. I needed to take everything out of my pockets, including kleenex tissue. A photo and scan of right palm were taken. My palm was scanned also when I entered the exam room, and when I left it. I was watched like any criminal through a window. No food or drink allowed. I did not have the right to remain silent.

Earphones on, keyboard at hand and the smallest dry-wipe note-board on my right: it has begun. Earphones were not good enough and I could easily hear all the other test-taker’s voices clearly. The keyboard was hard and stiff. But I type quickly anyway. What could possibly go wrong?

Two hours later, or one hour ahead of schedule I emerged from the interrogation exam room, having finished my test. I had plenty of time to walk across London to Paddington station, as my train was not due to leave for Cardiff for two hours.

Results came in.

I needed a 59. I got an 85 out of 90.  If you want to know what all the scores mean – press here. To sum it up – 85 means my English is good enough for me to teach in the English language. This goes well with what I got on the IELTS test – 8.5 out of 9.

There was a small issue…. spelling. I got a 19 out of 90. Now, I know I am not a great speller – but 19 seems quite wrong to me. Mostly because I got 80/90 for a 400 word written discourse. I also hardly use a spell checker.

I do make spelling mistakes, and get some typos. But 19? Pearson claim this is correct and I can pay them to automatically re-check my test. What’s the point?! Either they take a look and see if there’s an odd problem with the algorithm, or they tell me to bugger off. So I’ve decided to let go.

With the final obstacle removed we could finally apply for my new work-permit.

“Cardiff is full and the next closest one is Sheffield” I was told by the lawyer who is in charge of my application.

“Closest one is Sheffield”? Where’s the next one? Falklands?

So we all set for Sheffield. I’ll say that I haven’t seen a dirtiest, dullest and possibly the biggest waste of space than Sheffield. Not that it doesn’t have potential. It does. Only it is all dirty and stinking.

I am personally responsible for a KFC employee getting employee of the month. Yes, Sheffield is the place where I first ate at KFC. Four years in the UK and never made it into a KFC. But Sheffield presented the opportunity. This is all thanks to the kindness of the employees of Her Majesty’s border agency.

Now, normally if someone says the words “kindness” and “border agency” one would assume he is being sarcastic. Only, quite against nature, I am not. Everyone in the office of the BA was extremely nice and understanding. We’ve spent six hours there watching them deal with far too many people (student-visa high-season they said), while still maintaining a positive attitude.

I was there with four children, two who are babies. And they’ve done everything they could to help. Putting CBeebies on the telly being one, showing good spirit and will to help when it came to take a photograph of the (crying) babies is another.

Telling us to go out for two hours as the other option is wait right there was another. And this is what lead us to KFC, and to me being responsible for the potential rise to fame of a KFC employee.

I asked him to clean a table for us. The floor was black with dirt. And sticky. The table was dirty with what I hope was ketchup. Quietly, without even acknowledging my request the hero went to the kitchen, tore a piece of kitchen-roll, took some sort of spray and cleaned not only our table, but the one next to it.

Food was good, mind.

Once we’ve come back from our glorious trip to KFC we were happy to hear the application was approved.

London – here I come. Farewell Wales – you’ve been a great place to live in.

Like a preacher without a parish

Today I’ve attended a conference by Rally software. Driving there from Wales together with the development manager formally known as P provided me with plenty of opportunities to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of the way things are done in our company.

The conference is part of the Agile Success Tour which Rally are organizing. I will leave ‘is agile a good thing or just a hype” to another post. Promise.

But I will say that I really like Rally Software. They sell a software to manage agile projects and consultancy. But they do it in a very smart way, I think. They realise there are impediments that prevent them from selling these. Reluctance to adopt agile I assume is the biggest one. So how do they go about it? Brilliantly if you ask me, though only the future will tell. They support a community, the encourage it and they provide free seminars, with good food. If you want to learn – you just need to either attend or go to their website. If you’re not converted, they’ll talk and help and coach. So if I weren’t clear so far – I like their proactive approach.

So why do I go on about Rally? Well, this takes me back to the 3 hour car journey in each direction, and me preaching. It’s not that P is not a good audience. Actually he is good. Too good. We agreed about too many things. Well, that is not entirely correct; we’ve agreed about everything.Church of snail

I only feel that I have all that preaching to do… but no one to preach to. Occasional victim aside, no parish.

It is not that I always right. Lord knows I am extremely smart, as my mother once told me, but I can’t be always right. Can I? Every time I preach that we are doing something wrong I never get someone telling me that I am wrong. Which makes me wander if this is how it feels to be a woman.

It is not that I want to be a preacher. Quite the contrary. I want to have nothing to say, though if you know me it is unlikely. I want to look around and maybe just be able to comment on a few things. Not on everything. If someone would give me a parish to lead to salvation then I’d do it. Preaching the gospel of my vast knowledge and ability. And good looks. And flowing hair. Ahh, you get the point. Or at least let me try to not fail.

I want management to lead. I want to look up and say “wow”. I want to feel I can follow them through think and thin. I want them to look me in the eye and have a spark, a testament to the fact they are no plodders. I want development managers to actively manage. Not just give tasks. I want them to develop their people. I want team leaders to lead. To show the way. To push, to pull to shout “follow me, I know the way”. To coach.

I want the tendency to gold-plate everything to disappear. To get some sense of humility. Just because something can be done on paper doesn’t mean it should be done. Let alone by us. If it is not our company’s business, we should avoid doing it. If it doesn’t promote our business – let someone else do it. If we write a server and all our clients have their own web-screens, then it is ok to write several neat web-screens to showcase our genius server. We don’t need to write the most advance infrastructure that would enable my mother to add screens. My mother isn’t going to. And frankly, I don’t want her to as she lacks knowledge of our business. Let’s put some pretty screens in three months and not develop an infrastructure for two years.

By the way, my mother, even if she wanted, still cannot add screens as the result was, aham, complicated. And no one needed it.

I want our company to start learning from one another. The silo culture is killing us. No need for everybody to bang their heads on the very same bumps. A thousands times. My team – we scream and shout about these bumps. But no one listens. Heck, our managers ignore us instead of making sure knowledge cascades. We show by example and not just state claims.

In our team we believe that an Agile approach is good for our company. We turned a client that hated us to one that loves us. We adopted Agile concepts. We did it under the radar gritting our teeth to adhere to ‘protocol’. It worked for us, and it saved money and the client is happy after god-knows how long. So why is everyone so happy to ignore us?

I want to shake a rattle stuff and people. To take the group of extremely capable people and throw them out of their comfort zones. To take the comfortable sofa they’ve been sitting in and burn it. Make them stretch their limbs.

*******

Feel better? A little. Another session of preaching is over.

’till next time.