Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

There was a time when it seemed like this was a staple of every interview anyone attended. It seems to have, thankfully, gone out of style now but once upon a time it was the go-to question.

My standard answer back then was that I wanted to be Head of Web/Online/Digital for a major university. That was my ambition for the longest time – despite never actually having worked for an actual university web team. These days I just vicariously live through the work of Ross and his team at Bath Uni!

Five years ago I was coming to the end of my second spell at JISC and combined with a short but disastrous spell at Becta immediately previously it was a pretty bleak time for me work wise. My confidence was shot to pieces and felt that my career had permanently stalled.

Fast forward five years and things couldn’t be more different.

I have benefited significantly from the change of approach in Government digital thanks primarily to GDS and it was very much a case of right place, right time when I joined ONS. The last couple of years have really stretched me but for the first time since my early days at JISC I can actually see myself staying somewhere for five plus years…and this scares me.

I truly believe that despite the ups and downs my decision to seek out new challenges at new employers at regular intervals rather than settle for getting comfortable in one place forced me to constantly improve my skills and provided a much wider pool of contacts who could provide support and advice. It was all the chopping and changing, blogging and tweeting, meetups and barcamps that meant I was prepared when Martha called for revolution. Much as I loved my first spell at JISC I would never have learned as much if I had stayed put.

I’ve been at ONS more than two years and usually I’d be scanning job ads and looking for my next opportunity. Instead I am focused on delivering the new website, already planning the longer term roadmap for post launch, intrigued by the possibilities of a digital first Census in 2021, fascinated by the opportunities the Bean Review might create for genuine digital transformation and just enjoying being a part of the changes already happening at the organisation.

This is what worries me. I understand why people stay at ONS so long. There is always a new challenge on the horizon if you want to grasp it but I need the stimulation of that major change in circumstances to shock me out of the complacency that comes from staying somewhere too long. I fear I’d become less and less effective the longer I stay somewhere. Not that I often hang around to test this hypothesis – so I guess this will be the experiment.

Maybe the shocks I need can be provided in a controlled environment? Statisticians at the ONS often get secondment opportunities and maybe that is what I need to consider when I start to get itchy feet. I imagine a couple of months at somewhere like the ODI would send me scrambling back to ONS with my tail between my legs :)

My big ambition for years has been to work abroad for a bit – not as a long term lifestyle choice but just because I feel I’ve missed out a bit by not doing it – and given my general distaste for leaving Bristol that should be a significant shock and maybe our friends in NZ or Oz will extend an invitation some time. We’ll see.

So to get back to the question.

Where do I see myself in 5 years?

Today at least I see myself still at ONS, benefiting from all the technology changes that will have taken place over the preceding five years, leading a team that is prototyping new approaches to publishing Census data, working remotely so I don’t have to commute because video conference and collaborative working technology has finally met expectations (well a man can dream can’t he!)

Why I blog [at work]

Carrie, who heads the GOV.UK blog platform, recently wrote a post that provides a bit of an insight into the GDS approach to blogging. It is an interesting read and well worth a look. It shows a level of, I guess, discipline in how they handle things – I am sure it makes their Press Office much more comfortable with it all and given the level of scrutiny GDS are under I am sure it reassures people.

There has always been an unusual level of ‘professionalism’ about the blogging at GDS. The fact they have essentially had ‘ghost bloggers‘ in place since the early days has always seemed a little odd to me. Something about an intermediary crafting blog posts on behalf of others just seems against the spirit of blogging to me – but maybe I am old fashioned (heh..maybe!)

I love that GDS blog to the extent they do. I have written before how proud I still am of setting up the JISC Involve blog platform back in 2007 so I totally believe in the idea of using blogs to open things up and I have learned a huge amount over the last few years from the GOV.UK blogs – especially helpful to me due to my distaste for visiting London.

I guess I still primarily see blogging as an opportunity to think out loud and to learn (and share) your lessons in public. I set up the ONS Digital blog within weeks of starting – it is just on WordPress.com like this blog and like this one it is my Paypal account paying for the ‘premium’ services. I encourage everyone in the team to write and quite a few people have contributed over the last couple of years – even if I still write the majority of the posts. There is no strategy, no editorial calendar, certainly no videos. I am more interested in members of the team finding their voice and becoming confident enough to contribute than some wider objective. There are of course informal ‘guidelines’ — I trust the team but I’m not stupid.

I blog because I enjoy it and it allows me to share the ups and downs of our work. Hopefully doing that changes some peoples perception but honestly that is a side benefit.

I have on one occasion (massively) misjudged the tone for a particular post that caused some consternation and needing resolving but otherwise we have quietly built a small, but loyal, audience without the need to make it in to a big production.

There is no doubt the blog would benefit from a bit of sub-editing (Laura, the boss, would agree!) but I usually rely on the ‘many-eyes’ principle – someone usually spots a mistake in minutes & then it gets fixed…it is the web after all – not print.

So I will continue to rather haphazardly blog away mindless of any grand design – happy in the knowledge that variety is the spice of life. So GDS can continue to carefully craft their content and I’ll continue to chaotically contribute to our blog :D

Day Note

Quite a while ago I read this ‘day in the life’ post from somebody at 18F in the States, enjoyed the post a great deal and decided at some point I’d have a stab at the format myself. Today is finally that day.

Like most days I dragged myself out of bed just before 06.30 – I haven’t used an alarm of any sort since I was a teenager but somehow I just wake up. My breakfast consists of a pint of squash and a couple of paracetamol then I start my commute.

20 minute walk –> 25 minute train journey –> 10 minute walk –> 20 minute bus trip. It rains. Statistically there is always a high probability of it raining while I am commuting. I have commuting rules;

  • No moaning about public transport on Twitter
  • No reading the Metro free newspaper
  • No work email
  • No Slack (mornings)
  • Read fiction only (on book 27 so far – currently reading Gangsterland)

I get to the office around 08.20 today. According to the Financial Times that office is

“..a nondescript office block in a windy industrial park on the outskirts of the Welsh port.”

It isn’t all bad. They do a great cooked breakfast.

Like so many of us I am a slave to my email and after waiting the requisite 10 minutes for Windows & then logging in to Lotus Notes (yuck!) I quickly triage my inbox. It doesn’t seem to matter how late I work or how early I start there is always new email to process.

The most important is that, as usual, I am late with my project status report for our Programme Management team – considering it is our Delivery Board this week this was a bit of a slapped wrist for me (from me) but I was able to pull something together pretty quickly. The benefit of (a) being a bit control freaky and needing to at least be across every aspect of the project to some extent and (b) blogging constantly is that I was able to copy and paste something I’d written elsewhere and just polish it up a bit.

09.30 we have a daily standup with my Transformation team. Today there were about a dozen of us and we do the standard ‘what did you do yesterday / what are you doing today / blockers’ format and manage it in about 15 minutes usually. Today was no exception. I then spend the next 15 minutes or so quickly catching up with team members about anything that piqued my interest and if need be arrange time for longer conversations.

10.00 I had a call with a team lead in our other office. Since the loss of Alan Smith to the Financial Times I have taken responsibility for our Content team as well as the Transformation team but as of yet I haven’t really been able to give them the attention they deserve so this was an hour well spent updating each other on the state of play, upcoming priorities and in particularly recruitment issues. Our content team particularly concentrate on the brilliant Visual.ONS and while that was my idea in the first place it has long since outgrown my initial concept so it is good to get my head back in to this work.

Another day another recruitment. At noon I interviewed a candidate for our vacant Visual Journalism role. If you have ever read this blog before or follow me on Twitter you’ll know recruitment has been a challenge for us. This has led to us experimenting with using a recruitment agency to source candidates for permanent roles – something I’ve never really done to be honest. I am feeling my way through it a bit and remain a bit unsure of the process and procedures but have been pleasantly surprised by the candidates to date. I find even informal interviewing draining – so much hangs on making the right decision.

The main success over lunch (chips and beans at my desk – classy!) was scoring tickets to Dismaland, the new Banksy show, for Bank Holiday Monday.

The afternoon kicked off with a sprint planning session – we run them a little different from the norm I think in that we combine a little element of show & tell from the completing sprint with the devs demoing their work and we talk through the user stories in detail but don’t estimate individually at this stage – I find it more valuable to get insights from the team about whether they have a feel for the problems and understand the user needs rather than getting down to discussing potential solutions and how long they might take. The work needs doing whatever however and we quietly track velocity away from this conversation.

We wrapped the meeting a little early which gave me 15 minutes to discuss some UI changes with our UX lead. We have a bit of a balancing act to perform around short term usability gains and longer term improvements both to usability and sustainability of the code (also some nice aesthetic improvements). Basically we decided the front-end team would essentially perform a small, but practical, spike to see what kind of commitment it would be to get things sorted properly now. Fingers crossed. I really like some of the proposed improvements and would love to get them out in to the world.

I finished the day with a 1–2–1 with my boss, Laura. Having our meetings at the end of the day is probably a bad idea as they inevitably over-run. Despite speaking pretty much everyday we always have considerable amounts to cover in these catch-ups but I always come away from them reassured. Today we covered recruitment, budgets, the product roadmap, some post Beta horizon scanning and my dreadful diet.

My commute home primarily consisted of reading the notes our User Research lead was posting to Slack after a day of meetings with members of our ‘critical friends’ list and chatting to him on Slack about his findings. These are expert users who are heavy users of the ONS site and have very specific needs and they always provide food for thought. There is another full day of meetings tomorrow but already a major trend is emerging that we will need to think through – it is not without its challenges either.

Right that is it. Got home about 19.00, opened a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and started writing this. It is now 20.02 and time for something to eat. Can’t imagine why anyone would have read this far but if you did – well there is no prize but I do appreciate the perseverance :)

#jukesiejobs 23rd August 2015


Quiet week. Not much really caught my eye so only six jobs made the cut. I assume everyone was on holiday or trying to get tickets to the Banksy exhibition instead of advertising jobs.

Also it is pretty much all London again – just one up in Scotland. I have to be honest while I was always aware of the concentration of interesting jobs in London compared to everywhere else it is starting to become a bit disheartening the more I do this!

There are a couple of the jobs I just wanted to highlight – the ‘Open Standards’ role at GDS has the potential to be hugely important if the concept of ‘Government as a Platform’ manages to get support in the Spending Review. An agreed set of open standards will be the glue that holds it all together and the battle will be to avoid the ‘not invented here’ mentality that is often an issue in the public sector.

The other is the job with the EPIC team at DfID. For a start who wouldn’t want to working for a team called E.P.I.C. – you’d start everyday thinking you were in a 60’s spy movie! More seriously DfID have been doing amazing work in the digital/data space for a while now and it is important stuff.

As usual the other jobs are a mix of data, product and user research roles at places I am probably working in various alternate universes :)

Senior Product Manager at BBC News Online
Broadcasting House, London

Technology Policy Advisor – Open Standards at the Government Digital Service
Aviation House, London

Head of Innovation and Digital Team in the EPIC* team at the Department for International Development
London or East Kilbride

Research Impact Lead for the Open Data Institute
Shoreditch, London

Director – Innovation Lab (Digital Education) at Nesta (maternity cover)

Head of User Research for dxw
Shoreditch, London

*Emerging Policy, Innovation and Capability (EPIC)

An #OftheGovernment linkfest

At the weekend Jason Caplin from the UKTI wrote a post on Medium as a bit of a call to arms for those still involved in digital transformation in the public sector/civil service as a response to the perceived turmoil after the GDS resignations. It seemed to strike a nerve with people and reminded a handful that you could write more than 140 characters at a time on the web :)

So here are links to a few of my favourite posts inspired directly or indirectly by Jason’s call and the events of the last couple of weeks. It has been a pleasure to read them and reassuring to know that nobody is rolling over any time soon.

If I have missed any posts let me know and I’ll add the links..

OfTheGovernment, not on the government @xcaplin

‘It shouldn’t need a war this time’: a short story about data and digital. @ad_greenway

People come and go all the time but.. @carlhaggerty

My thoughts on being #OfTheGovernment @cholten99

The Quiet Revolution in the Department for Work and Pensions @BillyStreet

Plenty more to do @dafyddbach

Let’s get better at making government better. @rebeccakemp

Government services aren’t done yet, so neither am I @LouiseDowne