Clare: Hello and welcome to Making Tech Better, Made Tech’s fortnightly podcast bringing you content from all over the world, on how to improve your software delivery. For us, that means empowering your teams to collaborate compassionately on creating high-quality software that delivers value quickly, to the people that really matter, the users.
My name is Clare Sudbery, and my pronouns are, ‘she’ and ‘her’. I’ve been a software engineer for 21 years. I do a lot of speaking and writing on the topic of software delivery and I’m a Lead Engineer with Made Tech.
On the 6th of January I caught up with Paula Paul, who is a software consultant at Greyshore Associates. I’ve known Paula for a while. She was my mentor at ThoughtWorks. She has decades of experience. I don’t know many software engineers who are more experienced or capable than Paula.
She is particularly expert in the art of transformation and modernisation, which is something we see a lot of in the public sector; and she loves talking about it.
Clare: Today I am going to be speaking to Paula Paul on the topic of modernisation and transformation, which is a topic that’s very interesting to Made Tech. We’ve actually written a book about it, Modernising Legacy Applications in the Public Sector, by Luke Morton our CTO, and David Winter. I’ll make sure that there is a link available to people listening to the podcast.
So, to Paula. Paula is a distinguished engineer with Greyshore Associates, where she worked with organisations pursuing cloud adoption strategies and implementation. She has served this industry as a software engineer since the early 1980s. She has had roles in product development, engineering management, consulting, as well as corporate IT executive roles. She has led teams through several modernisation efforts along the way. I’m very excited to have Paula with us, she has been my mentor since our time at ThoughtWorks. Every time we talk, I always learn something new. She is enormously experienced, particularly in the area of modernisation, so this is going to be great.
So, Paula, Distinguished Engineer; is that your job title?
Paula: It is!
Clare: Fantastic. I don’t know if I’ve heard that exact job title before, but I think it’s probably similar to the concept of principal engineer, which is one that gets used a lot in the UK. Is that basically the idea?
Paula: I would believe so. My very first job as a software engineer was with IBM. You would rise through the ranks and the highest engineering rank was fellow. So, it’s almost something like a fellow or a principal engineer, yes.
Clare: Wonderful. It basically does what it says on the tin. You are a distinguished engineer, which makes it even more exciting that I get to talk to you. Before we get to talk about modernisation, I’d love to kick off by asking you; who in this industry are you inspired by?
Paula: That is a great question. Actually, two people came to mind. I’ll cheat a little. My favourite architect is a lovely woman named Ruth Malan, who writes of all things architecture; decision making, technology, strategy and hosts a number of workshops. I love Ruth’s writing. She is also an award-winning architect.
Then my second name that came to mind is foundational, Fred Brooks, the author of The Mythical Man-Month. If you really go back and read some of the writings like No Silver Bullet, you see a lot of things in those writings that are reinvented with different names today in the agile community. I think we’ve all been in the pursuit of software engineering excellence for a long time now.
Clare: Yes, I know both of those names. I follow Ruth on Twitter. I also find her to be enormously inspirational. Great choice. Okay, what exactly is a modernisation effort or project?
Paula: I think that’s a great question as well because when I look back in time, everything that I’ve done in software engineering has been for modernisation of something. The core of modernisation could just be automation or digitisation. My very first job at IBM was moving people from mechanical drafting boards, pen, and T-square to CAD systems. That’s modernisation. When you do that, then you have to have a different way of storing and sending the drawings around. We put them in databases, which is different than filing cabinets. Where we run into challenges today is these large-scale modernisation efforts that are more than just technology.
Clare: What would you say is the essence of modernisation these days? When people talk about modernisation, what kind of thing are they doing?
Paula: Well, we have a better way of doing things now, or things that we had to spend a lot of effort on as individuals working at a company, we may be able to get as a server software as a service from a cloud provider.
To me, it is still about changing the way of working and adopting better ways of working. Even from adopting something like Agile. Say if Agile or any of the variants of scaled Agile, those are modernisation efforts in and of themselves. I think we are all struggling with change management, and maybe perhaps in more recent days, the more rapid pace of change.
Clare: You talked about making things easier for people. One of the obvious drivers for change might be to make processes quicker. So, when companies are finding that they are spending a lot of people hours on a particular process, often the reason they modernise is because they want to reduce the amount of time spent on something. But that’s not the only reason, is it? What other reasons are there? What other benefits might people get from modernisation?
Paula: It is related to change as a company grows. We have a lot of modernisation efforts spurred by the need to scale. At some point, some system that was originally designed, where the amount of business that you might do when you were operating out of a small garage no longer supports the scale that the company has grown to. That’s a big driver for a lot of the modernisation efforts that I’ve been involved in most recently.
Clare: Scale, yes. Scale is something that affects all organisations. The ability to scale elastically and serve a sudden influx of demand is one of the massive benefits, isn’t it, of cloud technology? Also, one of the big reasons for modernisation is to create that ability for elastic scale.
Paula: Yes, exactly. Using a lot of the same technologies that companies like Netflix and AWBS, Amazon use for their sales engines. Those are now available to any business as services. And the move to adapt those kinds of services to run your own business at scale is really one of the big drivers for modernisation.
Clare: I suppose the other obvious one is cost. You could say that people hours are a financial cost to businesses, but they are not just a financial cost. There are other financial costs as well, aren’t there, that can be reduced via modernisation efforts?
Paula: Sure. A good example of that; just take server patching. That’s an immense effort, that as you grow and you add more servers there is more cost. At a certain point, it becomes worth looking at; do we really need to do this, or should we move some of this to a cloud-based SaaS offering where they handle that?
Clare: Yes, by patching you mean upgrading smaller systems and making sure that everything is up to date, and maybe fixing small bugs?
Paula: Yes. Keeping track of the operating system patch levels when security patches are issued by the vendors, so that you are not operating in a vulnerable position. All sorts of things that are not even about your own software, it’s about the software just running on the servers, as the operating system takes maintenance. It’s like a car.
Clare: Yes. So why was modernisation the topic that you wanted to talk about, when I invited you to be interviewed? Because it was your first suggestion, and you were very excited about the opportunity.
Paula: I think that my entire career has been about modernisation. I find it fascinating that it’s a huge industry phenomenon now. It’s like if you look at the Gartner’s and all of the pundits talking in technology, it’s about modernisation. Really, isn’t that what technology is for? To help people become more efficient, to help people become more scalable at what they’re doing, to help them offer more services on a broader scale at less cost. So, it’s normal to me that it’s become such a buzz word and such a focus in the industry. I tend to think that it’s about the rate of change, and the much more easily accessible SaaS services available to us in the cloud. That’s a big driver, I believe.
Clare: Yes, and I know that’s something that you are particularly experienced and expert in. In your bio, in fact, you talk about organisations pursuing cloud adoption strategies and implementation. That’s pretty much what you do, isn’t it?
Paula: Yes, I feel that I’ve gone from raised floors, and then there was an error of…
Clare: Sorry, ‘raised floor’? What does that mean, that’s a new one on me.
Paula: Oh, so in a mainframe world, the raised floor was where you put your equipment, and then underneath the floor, you would have all sorts of cabling and duct work for the cooling and so forth. So raised floor is – I’m definitely showing my age here. For those who have maybe come from a mainframe background in their origins, that was where we kept the mainframes, on the raised floor. I then moved into the era of – people would buy smaller computers and put them in server closets because that freed them from the raised floor.
Then the server closets became messy, and we put them in data centres. Now, data centres have become cumbersome because there is a lot of maintenance involved in the data centre. So, it’s like, oh, we’ll just put that in the cloud. It’s funny for me because the cloud is really almost like someone else’s raised floor. [Laughing] So I’ve come full circle.
Clare: Yes, I was amazed recently – I don’t know why I was amazed, it makes perfect sense – but my brain tends to be very literal. There is a part of my brain that thinks it is up there somewhere, that it is actually in the clouds, we don’t use data centres anymore. But of course, somewhere, there is actually physical hardware. The thing that I was amazed by, is that I discovered it is in the sea. Actually, there is physical hardware somewhere, and there’s a lot of it. It’s running hard and that creates heat, so being in the sea is quite a good way of cooling it down. It blew my mind.
Paula: Yes, I think it’s fantastic. I feel as though a lot of modernisation has always been about moving something somewhere; moving drawings from paper to CAD and then moving systems from raised floors to server closets, moving systems from server closets to data centres, consolidating data centres, networking remote data centres together over a global reach. Then of course now, it’s moving data centres to clouds and then now even a poly cloud – which is another buzz word of do you just leverage one major cloud provider like AWBS, or do you have splits of your capabilities across multiple different cloud providers and what does that mean? So, it’s just been a lot of moving things around, for me.
Clare: Yes, so why do we even need to modernise?
Paula: There’s always a driver, or they wouldn’t call a consultant in. The ones that I’ve seen lately a couple of times now, a company has been either spun off or purchased by private equity. That is, an investment firm picks up the company, but their goal is to sell that company again at a higher multiple of their revenue within a few years. So, one of the ways that you can demonstrate that the company is worth paying for, is whether they are a modern technology-based company. It’s also much harder, I think, to sell a company that has a lot of sprawling data centre assets because there is a lot of expense involved there.
Clare: Is it always the right thing to do? Because I know that what can happen is that companies who are suffering from various problems, various malaises, can think that the answer is to replace everything. Make everything new and shiny and then all of their problems will go away. So, when is it not the right answer?
Paula: Yes, right! I do believe that some companies do it when it’s either not the right time or not the right reason, and that they try to attack it with a technical solution. If you are just doing it to say hey, we’re now operating in the cloud, that’s probably not enough of a reason.
Clare: Yes, okay. So, when we talked about this prior to this official interview, one of the things that came up was the concept of their being two types of problem. There are technical problems and adaptive problems. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Paula: Yes, it’s one of the biggest barriers, I think, to successful digital transformation (if you want to use the industry words today). I think that a lot of times companies will hire a lot of very technical people and say, please move this to the cloud. We need to scale, we need to save costs, but what is often overlooked is the amount of effort needed for the people involved in those activities.
I always say that the technology is the easy part, and having the people think about their roles differently is quite complicated, that’s an adaptive process. Technical problems tend to have a very concrete solution, adaptive problems require change of people and change of thinking. You’re seeing all of these cloud-native companies like Amazon and everybody is like, I want to be like Amazon. Well, if you have twenty years of operating your business or your service, say as a public service, there’s a high-touch, high people component to it. It’s not just becoming Amazon; it’s rethinking your business.
Clare: Yes. So, what techniques do you use to help people to identify the adaptive problems there are, and find solutions to those problems or find ways of addressing the adaptive side of transformation?
Paula: I start with the business or the service itself, coming to a common language about the activities that this business performs, that either make them revenue or help them reach their goals. Maybe it’s the degree of service that they provide or the number of people that they touch. There is some goal. Most of the time I do work with for-profit companies, so their goal is revenue. What are the things that they do that generate revenue? So, it’s not rocket science, but often times it can be even a challenge to get people in an organisation to agree on what their primary revenue streams are, and arrive at common language around them.
Clare: I would suggest as well, that when you are talking about revenue streams, you can go to a slightly higher level of abstraction, and say that what you’re talking about is helping organisations to identify why they do what they do. Where does the value lie? So, we tend to work with what we call public sector, which is not-for-profit organisations. So, it’s not necessarily revenue that is their main driver but we come up against the same problem, which is helping them to identify why they are doing what they are doing. If you ask them, ‘What is your ultimate goal?’, they struggle. Or they don’t agree with one another. Different people in the organisation will have a different view.
As you say, we are often brought in at a point where if we try to have those conversations, our clients will get impatient and say, ‘Listen, just fix this problem. Stop talking to me about that stuff, that’s just distracting and you’re confusing me. Just fix this problem.’ Which brings us right back to the technical versus adaptive.
Paula: It’s definitely an interesting position to be in as an engineer. Some days I will close the laptop and it’s like, goodness, I’m an engineer not a psychiatrist. I’ve often joked that I wish I had taken more psychology and psychiatry when I was studying.
I do think that one of the most underused techniques is open-ended questioning with the intent to seek knowledge. Often times, I will just remind people that one of the least expensive things that you can do is thought exercise. Especially in this day of ease of access to computers. My goodness, access to computers – crazy! So, you have to go through this exercise of if you were starting this company again – when you started it twenty years ago, there were probably just a few people. They had an idea and maybe they just stood up a little server under a desk and they tried some things. If you were going to do it again, what would you do, now that you have this ease of access to storage and computers and networking, and all of the great things that you can do, like machine learning? If you can get the people to open their minds to that, you find that a lot of the value in many of these companies is their twenty years of experience in the industry. Their value is not very often in their technology, their value is in their experience and their insight.
Clare: While I’ve got your attention, let me tell you a bit about Made Tech. After 21 years in the industry, I am pretty choosy about who I’ll work for, but there’s lots to love about Made Tech. We’re software delivery experts with high technical standards. We work exclusively with the public sector. We have an open-source employee handbook on GitHub, which I love. We have unlimited annual leave. What I love most about Made Tech is the people. There is a real passion to make a difference and they really care for each other.
Our Twitter handle is Made Tech, M-A-D-E-T-E-C-H. If you go to madetech.com/resources/books, you’ll find that we have a couple of free books available; Modernising Legacy Applications in the Public Sector, and Building High Performance Agile Teams. We are currently recruiting in London, Bristol, South Wales, and the North of England via our Manchester Office. You can find out more about that if you go to madetech.com/careers.
If you join our mailing list, you’ll get extra podcast content as well as finding out more about Made Tech. You’ll find a link in the description.
Before the break, we were talking about identifying technical problems as opposed to adaptive problems. Paula recommended asking, what if you started again from scratch? What value would you be generating? As a way of finding out where does your expertise and insight lie?
Clare: So, what are the most important principles to keep in mind, when you are approaching modernisation?
Paula: I’ll go back to value. I used to think it mattered where you started. Lately, I think it does not necessarily matter so much where you start, but you have a way to move forward from the starting point. Otherwise, sometimes you will make a start at a modernisation, and it will get reabsorbed into old ways of working. I call it reverse strangulation.
Clare: So, you’re saying that reverse strangulation is a bad thing?
Paula: I believe it is, because you invest a lot of time into moving one small piece forward into a new way of working or a new pattern, more of a test-driven development pattern. But if the people involved don’t change their ways of working, it can often be treated the same way as existing systems, and fall back into the same problems of release cycles and slow change. So again, it’s technology plus people, is the holistic solution.
Clare: Just for the benefit of people who haven’t come across the concept of strangulation before, people talk about the strangler pattern. I have a very visual image of that because I spoke at a conference in Valencia a couple of years ago, where in the public parks there are a couple of strangler vines. I’d never seen them before, they are bizarre. Basically, what happens is that this plant called the strangler vine will plant its seeds in the canopy of an existing mature tree. It will then sink its roots into the trunk of the existing tree – I believe that’s correct – and will grow in the existing tree, and will gradually, over time, completely encase the original tree with itself, strangle the original tree and replace the original tree with the new thing.
The idea is that you surround an old system with a new system and you gradually choke off the old system, by putting the new system between the old systems clients and the old systems. So that eventually, the old system can just die off and be replaced by the old one.
Paula: That is a great example of what my career has been like for the past decade or two; inserting new ways of working, new technologies and then gradually strangling out the old. The other quote that I have used with a customer that became a favourite is a Buckminster Fuller: ‘In order to change something, build the thing that obsoletes it.’ You know, if you have a few people in a garage, what would they be doing to disrupt your industry right now? It’s often the case that the people you are working with could do that same thing, they just don’t see themselves as working in a garage and doing something quickly to learn from.
I do think that it’s much easier to sell value streams that can be generated purely in the cloud, like a Netflix, right?
Clare: There would be an analogy for ease of scale, for ease of transfer, that would be relevant for the not-for-profit sector, particularly in large national organisations that are spawning. That is a lot easier, isn’t it, when things are in the cloud?
Paula: Yes, transfer the subscriptions. There’s a little more to it than that, but those are interesting challenges for organisations today because many of the organisations I work with are vertically integrated. They manage their own data centres, as well as provide products or services. We have this opportunity now, to say do we really need to manage all of our own computes, or is that something that we really can leave to a managed provider at a large scale? So, it’s causing organisational change. Just saying let’s put everything in the cloud doesn’t really, or rarely in my travels so far, address all of those adaptive challenges.
Clare: So, the concept of lift and shift, that’s something that is often seen, particularly when people have really complex systems. They’ve got a lot of different servers in a data centre and they want to move to the cloud. But rather than changing the way that they work, they just take that configuration of servers and replicate it in the cloud. That’s what we mean by lift and shift; just take the whole thing and copy it. How do you feel about that?
Paula: If you have an organisation that wants to adopt cloud, at one end there’s just; take everything I’ve got as it is and move it to virtual machines in the cloud. If you do that, you haven’t really gained any efficiencies. I would say that’s not a really good reason to adopt the cloud. At the other end, is completely reinvent or reimagine everything with pure cloud native capabilities. That’s another extreme, and many organisations don’t have the luxury of doing that. Most of the efforts I have been involved in arrive somewhere in between. If you really get to the point where you can reduce a colocation cost or a data centre cost by just moving that system as it is, from one server in a data centre to a couple of virtual machines in the cloud, that’s worth that cost benefit analysis. Sometimes you will get those tensions between the people involved because if you lift and shift, you get to preserve more of your original ways of working. If you truly modernise and take full advantage of cloud-native, there is more adaptive change involved.
Clare: Yes. It’s interesting, you talked about completely reinventing, effectively starting from scratch. That sounds to me very much like what I would call the big bang. It’s equivalent to the idea that if you have a legacy code base that you’re not happy with, rather than trying to change it, you just throw it away and replace it with something brand new. The problem with the brand-new thing, is that it has to be developed from scratch. That’s risky and costly and time consuming.
I know that in my experience, what we’ve often recommended to people is actually, the big bang thing, because it is so risky, costly and time consuming is not necessarily the thing that you want to do. That’s where we get into the strangler pattern; replace your system piece by piece, make it iterative, make each change as low-risk as possible and then actually, you’ll probably have a better outcome. You’ll have something that continues to function, rather than having something that is limping on while you’re waiting for its replacement. Then the replacement hasn’t been properly tested because it hasn’t been put in front of users, so actually, the replacement won’t necessarily work either.
How do you feel about that idea, the idea of avoiding the big bang in the context of lift and shift and of moving to the cloud?
Paula: Exactly, yes. It’s a terrific and really interesting topic because every client has this problem of how you get to the new place. Big bang is never good, it’s very high-risk, but there’s also levels of strangle pattern. You can use a strangle pattern and a single code base and strangle out things from within that code base. There’s also a system level strangle pattern.
An example for me was a client that, let’s just say this client offers a service, so this was one system, scheduling eligibility and registration. So, we can say what pieces of that process are commodities, these days. Whereas you can go out to the market and get API driven events scheduling systems. Can we take that piece or that module out and leverage an API driven piece, but leave the piece that’s unique to the business and maybe put some tests around it, then break things apart at a system level? If we say we’re just lifting and shifting some things, that’s almost like a strangle pattern or idea centre. So, I think you always need to take the big picture into account.
Clare: Often I think one of the reasons that people do tend up to end up with a lift and shift when we’re talking about moving to the cloud, is because there are real constraints. They have a data centre provider which wants them to enter into a long-term contract. That contract is going to come to an end, and they don’t want to renew it. So, they feel like they have to get everything out as quickly as possible. They don’t have time to reinvent everything, so that’s why you end up with the lift and shift. What would you say to people who were in that situation?
Paula: I’ve never met a vendor who would not negotiate a shorter extension. You will pay a higher fee on a per-month basis for something like that, but if you look at the overall cost benefit of moving out of your data centre versus that additional cost to get the shorter contract, things are never totally this or that.
Clare: And the principle there, is don’t panic. Stop and think. Are we really in that much of a rush? Do we really need to move everything? What impact is it actually going to have if we don’t think carefully about how we do this? And don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. You can do it a bit at a time and that’s more effective.
I suppose another thing you can do is not take everything.
Paula: You can leave systems in what I call run-off. You maintain it until it’s no longer valid.
Clare: Yes, and inevitably you’re going to have a ton of little ancient systems sitting around that actually, nobody is using anymore.
Paula: I have seen a lot of companies struggle with – they’ll hand me a spreadsheet of hundreds or even maybe thousands of small systems and they’ll say, where do we start? Well, that spreadsheet is not where we start. I’ve lived in this house now for twenty years. There’s a little area of the house that’s the closet you never want to clean. I would never start by just looking at that closet and saying, where do I start?
Clare: Yes. I have boxes full of cables and electronic equipment that I think is probably not needed anymore, but I’m not sure. There’s a concept you can use there where you say, right, I’m going to put it in a box with tape over it, and I’m going to give it a time period. If nobody ever opens that box within five years or ten years or whatever, then probably I don’t need that stuff.
Okay, so what do you enjoy most about modernisation and transformation?
Paula: It’s funny, for as much as I say that technology is the easy part and people can be the hard part, I actually enjoy working with the people who help me serve the customers struggling through these endeavours. I enjoy watching the team and supporting the team in these adventures. We are definitely on a lot of adventures.
Clare: Fantastic, yes, I love that concept of adventure, brilliant. We are running out of time. I’ve got this extra question that I am asking people just for fun, really. Can you tell me one thing that’s true about you and one thing that is untrue?
Paula: True and untrue. I’ll give you two things about myself. I spent two weeks in a convent in the Netherlands learning the French language. And, I have a third-degree black belt.
Clare: Wow, a third-degree black belt. In which martial art?
Clare: Wow, okay. And you spent two weeks in a convent, did you say?
Paula: In the Netherlands, learning French.
Clare: Learning French, in the Netherlands, in a convent. Why would you choose to go to a convent in the Netherlands in order to learn French?
Paula: I was sent an assignment in my early days. One of the companies, I’ll give you the hint, one of the companies I worked for is named Map Info. In order for us to expand into Europe, you may know that the digital map data in Europe, the government does not necessarily give it out for free. I did spend time in Europe sourcing digital data, at one point in my career.
Clare: Right, okay. How long did it take you to become a black belt in Taekwondo?
Paula: About ten years.
Clare: Okay, I can’t tell which of those is true.
To end on a high, what is the best thing that happened to you this month? It can be either work related, or non-work related.
Paula: I gave myself a Christmas present, late, so it’s this year. My youngest son is studying music and plays the bassoon. He’s studying it professionally. I actually enjoy music myself and I bought an English horn. I’m learning to play the scales on the English horn.
Paula: I’m starting to turn a little bit into Sherlock Holmes. I’ll sit and my computer and work and I’ll get stuck on something, then I’ll just walk over and pick up the English horn and play scale, so it’s like Sherlock Holmes and the violin, but nowhere near as good.
Clare: I hadn’t thought of the Sherlock Holmes connection. One of the things that I’ve enjoyed about working from home is that there’s a piano in the room below me. I’m in an attic when I’m working and when I have a break, I just go and play the piano for a little bit.
Paula: Isn’t it great?
Clare: And I have re-taught myself a lot of pieces that I learned a long time ago. I hadn’t really played the piano for years, even though we have one. But I’ve started playing frequently again.
Paula: That’s great, I call it a brain vacation because when I’m doing that, I can’t be thinking about anything else that I’m puzzling on. It’s like a little vacation for my mind.
Clare: Lovely, good for you.
Paula: That will be the subject of a podcast someday.
Clare: Yes. Well, thank you so much for talking to me, Paula. You know, the amazing thing is that you and I have known each other for a few years now and we’ve never met in person. We’re used to doing this thing remotely, but I do very much look forward to the day when we finally meet because I know it will happen.
Paula: I do as well. This has really been my pleasure. I always love to talk to you, I always have such great conversations.
If you would like to hear more of my ramblings on this subject and others, I do publish on Medium, the URL is medium.com/simply-technology. I’m looking forward to having more discussions with you, Clare, in the future. It’s great to speak with you.
Clare: So, as always, in order to help you digest what you just heard, I’m going to attempt to summarise it. Paula’s entire career has been about modernisation and transformation. It’s changed over time, it’s now a lot about moving into the cloud, but at its core it is still the same. It’s about adopting better ways of working, responding to scale, and moving systems around. What’s always been true is that it’s about technical problems versus adaptive problems. Technical problems have concrete solutions and adaptive problems involve changes of people and changes of thinking.
You can find a starting point by asking what generates value for you. Then you can find a way forward by asking how your ways of working need to change, as well as how your technology needs to change. That way, you can solve the technical problems and the adaptive problems. Instead of going for a big bang, try to use approaches such as the strangler pattern so that you can gradually introduce new ways of working, and strangle out the old.
I loved Paula’s quote from F. Buckminster Fuller. ‘In order to change something, build the thing that obsoletes it.’ When moving to the cloud, avoid lift and shift, negotiate with vendors for longer transitions from data centres so that you can truly modernise and take full advantage of cloud native approaches. Acknowledge that in order to do this, there will be more adaptive change involved, but you don’t have to move everything. Watch out for that closet full of junk in the corner.
Finally, I think my favourite takeaway from Paula is that change can be adventure. The great thing about transformation is the satisfaction of helping people.
Every other episode, this last short segment will be devoted to Hack of the Month, where one of my colleagues, and in the future our listeners too, will share a life or a work hack. This time we have with us Bella Cockerel, who is one of the engineers who has graduated from our academy programme.
Bella: Hi Clare, thanks for having me.
My hack today is all about how to make notes. When I was in uni, I studied English Literature. The way I made notes was, the professor would tell us about the subject, and I would just write verbatim, or as a stream of consciousness, everything that they were saying. Through the act of writing, all of this would sort of meld into my psyche, I would absorb it in that way. But coming into programming I found that wasn’t really possible anymore because everything was new, everything had its own context. I needed to do my own research in my own time afterwards.
So, I have recently found that the way I started to make notes has really helped me. I’ll give you an example. Recently, I was working on an unfamiliar part of code base, totally new. I had to understand it, but also it was really fiddly. As the task was being explained to me, I made lots of handwritten notes. This was what I was doing during uni. I would write the notes, I’d absorb it. But then what I would do, because it was more of a conversation, I would check my understanding with my colleague. So, if I’d written a note that I didn’t fully understand when I was reading it over, I’d say okay, I’ve written this, does this make sense or is this correct? They would either say yes, you’ve understood that, or no, let me explain a bit further.
Whilst I was doing that, I was also taking screenshots and adding those to a separate file. Then when everything was done and I had made sure that my understanding was correct, I decided to go away and then write up all of my notes. This actually was the most important part of it, which I hadn’t done before when I was studying literature at university. I wasn’t really writing everything in my own words. I found that if you wrote everything in your own words, you would be forced – it’s almost like you are trying to explain to someone who isn’t there. It’s like rubber ducking. You are trying to explain the problem in your own words. Then by teaching, you realise that you understand. So, I would find that if somebody had used a word in a context that I didn’t fully understand, I would then check my notes and reply back to them, and say, is this what you mean? If that is what they mean, then that’s great. But if it wasn’t, then I would add in the new definition, or somehow try and check that both of our understanding was in the right place.
I found that my notes were a living proof that actually, I am learning and there is progress. It’s my progress and it might not be the fastest progress available, but progress is what matters. I can see that this time last week I didn’t know anything about this or that. So yes, that’s my tip for today; make notes, they are really helpful.
Clare: Working in the public sector means that at Made Tech we really care about making a difference. So, for this final Making Life Better segment, myself and my colleagues will be sharing suggestions for small things we can do to make the world a better place. This time, the suggestion comes from me. It’s something I have been doing for twenty years or more now, and I’ve almost certainly saved some lives.
As of March 2021 I have donated blood 35 times. There was a gap for a few years when I had my children. You can stop or start at any time. Not everyone is able to do it but it’s worth checking if you don’t know. I’m quoting from their website right now and they are saying, ‘We are facing extra challenges to provide hospitals with the blood plasma and platelets that they need.’ Donation is allowed despite Covid, it is as safe as it has ever been, and I’ve donated more than once since the pandemic started. They are so nice to you, it’s so easy to do. I don’t like needles, but I just look away. It’s only a pinprick and then that’s it. They even give you free biscuits and it feels so good to have made a difference.
If you think that you might be able to give blood, you can go to myblood.co.uk/preregister and I highly recommend it.
And that’s the end of another episode. You can find me on Twitter, @claresudbery, which might not be spelled the way that you think. There’s no ‘I’ in Clare, and ‘Sudbery’ is spelled the same way as surgery, with E-R-Y at the end.
You can find the podcast on Twitter @makingtechbett2. That’s; making, T-E-C-H-B-E-T-T-2. You can say hello, give us your feedback, give us any contributions you have for future episodes, or just have a chat with us.
Thank you to Rose for editing and thanks to Richard Murray for the music. You will find a link in the description. Also in the description is a link for subscribing for extra content. We will be releasing new episodes every fortnight. Thank you for listening and goodbye.
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