One Year Later


Friday was exactly a year since I finished at the ONS. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently — partly because I’ve caught up with Laura a bit lately and partly as my recent diabetes diagnosis sheds a bit of light on how I was feeling back then as well.

I remain very proud of the work we did there and I still miss my team (though many have since moved on themselves) but it wasn’t easy towards the end. It led to me making a bit of a rash decision leaving to join Defra but the reality was I had found myself betwixt and between at ONS and increasingly detached from things. My holiday in New Zealand (which I wouldn’t have missed for the world) was poorly timed from a professional point of view and when I returned I really struggled to reconnect. The knowledge that Andy was coming in to be Service Manager meant it felt a bit like 4pm on a Friday when you don’t want to start something new 🙂

In an effort to take less on after taking on too much and pretty much breaking previously I ended up shedding pretty much everything I found interesting in my job and found myself lacking anything to get my teeth into. This was on me — everyone was incredibly supportive and generous in trying to find a new role for me but I just couldn’t engage fully with anything.

There were some reasons for this other than my own ennui*. The digital side of the organisation was going through massive change — a large scale reorganisation was in effect and while I was broadly supportive of the direction of travel there were a number of things I was a little uncomfortable with and a new culture was emerging that was different to the one I had been nurturing.

Some of this is inevitable when big change programmes kick into gear but the need to commoditise approaches — particularly around agile — in search of ‘scale’ is something I just don’t really think is useful. This need to build processes and procedures around everything wasn’t something I was particularly interested in being a part of. Also I think there was a bit of a lack of understanding of the skills and experiences needed for some of the (in my opinion) specialist digital roles. Actually that isn’t fair — the understanding was there but somehow it got lost in some of the decision making as the need to assign roles and write job descriptions became more urgent. I think it created a situation where a lot of smart people found themselves in unfamiliar roles with steep learning curves and not enough experienced peers to mentor them through it. To be fair I see now this is what I should have been more vocal about and more proactive in doing but..

…rightly or wrongly I started to see less and less of a place for my own particular brand of agile and delivery. There were roles I was interested in but (a) they were earmarked for others and so there would have been internal politics to deal with and (b) they would have meant a different line manager and I’d long since decided that I was sticking with Laura or I was going.

I also just couldn’t get excited about the ‘data science’ activity that was fast becoming a priority and outshining the broader transformation piece. I could see why it was important — still do — but there was limited capacity and capability and still huge challenges that needed facing up to without attention shifting to something else. It didn’t massively effect me but it did gnaw at me a bit.

The other big thing was the Census. While it was/is years out it is an all consuming project and like a black hole it sucks in light from everywhere it can. To be honest if the Census team had been in Newport I might have been tempted to dive into that despite all the massive challenges involved but it wasn’t and I wasn’t up for a life in Fareham hotels. If you aren’t in it though you still have to consider it in relation to everything and it is pretty exhausting and at the time I simply didn’t have the patience.

Now I realise I was probably (almost certainly apparently) already suffering from diabetes back then so that clearly played a part. I was tired and irritable much more than seemed reasonable. That now makes more sense.

The silly thing is that the thing that tipped me over the edge was that the Severn Tunnel was closing for six weeks which would have made my never fun commute a total nightmare…but only for six weeks. This was the final straw though at the time and it lead to me jumping in a bit blind to the Defra job. The reality is with hindsight I should have just made other workplace arrangements for a bit but hindsight is 20/20 and all that!

Anyway I left the job I am most proud of in my long and varied career. Why I left was a mistake and where I went was also but it made it easier to make the eventual (pretty rapid) move to mySociety which I in no way regret so alls well.

I also completely believe Andy was/is much better suited to take things forward in the work I started. I have too much baggage when it comes to the detailed data side of publishing and it needed fresh eyes and a different approach.

I don’t miss the commute, the office or the travel to Titchfield. I don’t miss some of the troll-like ‘stakeholders’ out in the wider community (I was going to write more about that but still cannot be suitably detached).

I do miss work though — it was hard but it was worth it.

I miss being a part of that wider team with that bunch of people and I suspect that will stay with me a long time.

*come on I deserve a few claps just for slipping ennui into a blogpost 🙂