Today is my last day at W+K London.
Starting next week, I join the Government Digital Service. You might already have heard of GDS and the single government domain (GOV.UK beta) project, which is rather exciting. If not, here’s Danny O’Brien writing about poacher turned gamekeeper, Tom Loosemore, which should set the scene nicely.
I’m joining a brilliant department. They’ve been bringing in some seriously good developers and building an exciting multi-disciplinary team. Most recently, Ben Terrett (also ex W+K) joined as Head of Design, and Russell Davies is now lending a hand too. Exciting times.
What will I be doing? Well, I’ll be product manager for the Innovation team. Last year they launched the e-petitions site, which in its first 100 days received an impressive 18 signatures per minute. I hope to work on some similarly interesting problems and make some interesting and useful things. There’s a lot to do, and having fun with government services is an opportunity too good to miss.
Leaving W+K was a difficult decision though. Especially because I know that I’ll miss it, and the people there, very much. Leaving after 14 months, just when things are finally falling in to place and I feel at home, feels like a very strange thing to do. On the other hand, it’s good to be leaving on a high. Things have never been better. It’s been a privilege to work with such amazing people on such a wide range of projects, from the Kaiser Chiefs album launch to Cravendale’s ‘cats with thumbs’ and everything in between. There are some seriously good things coming up later this year too.
I’ve learned a lot in the past year-and-a-bit, and I learned more from my mistakes than the things I got right. Perhaps the thing that stuck with me most was some advice for new joiners that I read on my first day, which said, if you are wondering whose job it is, it’s probably yours.
When Ben left W+K, he wrote about what makes W+K great. Like the BBC and IBM before that, it’s a place I’ll remember fondly, full of people I’ll miss seeing around.
Goodbye, W+K. Hello, GDS.
Today, I’ve mostly been making polar panoramas. They please me greatly. Thanks to Dirk Paessler for a great tutorial.
I’m excited to announce that I’ve accepted the position of Head of Emerging Platforms at Wieden+Kennedy London, where I start on the 1st of December.
Wieden+Kennedy are an advertising agency with an amazing track record. You’ll know them for Honda ‘Cog’, Nokia ‘Dot’, Nike ‘Write the Future’ and (of course) lots more. Recently, you might have noticed them doing some rather interesting work with things like Nike Grid and ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ for Old Spice. Clearly a company with big ideas and, I was happy to learn, a desire to get even deeper into helping their clients explore what’s next.
Joining Wieden + Kennedy is an incredibly exciting opportunity. I’ll be building on my experience of heading up social media at BBC Vision, and am looking forward to helping W+K continue their journey of learning how to communicate in new and inventive ways which reach and excite people. Joining the London office and getting to work with the amazing talents in both the planning and creative teams is going to be an awful lot of fun, and I can’t wait to get started.
While in many ways the decision to leave the BBC was a relatively easy one, I’m still going to miss it greatly. It’s been two-and-a-bit years since I joined, and in that time I’ve been fortunate to have worked on some brilliant projects with an amazing range of clever and creative people.
The small but perfectly formed social media team in Vision which I built from scratch probably represents my biggest achievement. They’re all amazing, and the way they support BBC Vision (both the multiplatform teams and increasingly the TV types themselves in Vision Productions) is fantastic. The nice things people say about me these days are usually because of them. They de-mystify and de-risk the strange world of ‘social media’ for the BBC every day, making sure it’s more than just a scary unknowable concept or a meaningless buzzword, and they do this with and for the people who work on some of the most well known TV brands in the UK. Rowan, Fiona, Dan and Gary (and Kat, who recently moved in to a new role in BBC R&D) you are my heroes and I’ll miss having you around to make me look good.
I won’t list all of the (literally hundreds) of projects I’ve been involved with since I joined, but Buzz, the BBC TV Blog and Games Grid deserve a special mention. Though in all three cases the credit is due to others, I’m more delighted than I can express to have had responsibility for them. Thanks everyone, and good luck with the future.
It’s been my privilege to have worked with and for some amazing people at the BBC. As you’ll know, it’s an organisation in the middle of some difficult times at the moment, not least in defining the scope of its mission online. I hope its leadership will be able to act bravely and set a clear direction that matches the breadth of the BBC’s charter in delivering its public purposes as well as the ambition and creativity of its staff.
By the way, I should be clear: this isn’t redundancy and my role at the BBC isn’t going away when I leave. Next month, someone else will get to have all the fun – and of course the frustrations – that I do now. And no doubt they’ll have their own ways of doing things. Probably better ones. :-)
Goodbye, BBC. Hello, W+K.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to help out the BAFTA online team during the Film Awards on Sunday. I spent the afternoon and evening tweeting as @baftaonline and helping their team keep their Facebook page updated.
Initially, I was mainly sharing photos from the red carpet, which meant wandering around with an ‘access all areas’ pass and trying grab pictures of the buildup while staying (unsuccessfully) out of the way of various live news cameras. Here are a handful of the photos I uploaded to Twitpic during the afternoon.
I was only slightly hampered by not having much of an idea of who everyone was, and during the busiest time on the red carpet it was a struggle to get a photo and tweet everything. Fortunately, the Bafta/BBC TV crew I was embedded with were very helpful in confirming names of people I was unsure of, etc. Conscious of a fast-depleting iPhone battery, I was alternating between an iPhone and my Canon camera, grabbing snaps and video of whatever looked interesting.
Once the ceremony began, I went upstairs to the media room where I sat with the BAFTA online team watching the ceremony and backstage interviews live. I was updating their Twitter and Facebook presences with the award winners as they were announced and the response to these live updates was overwhelmingly positive. Rob (BAFTA’s online editor) had proposed a very clean, cut down style for the announcements which worked really well for giving it an official, definitive tone. Keeping it short meant it was more likely to be retweeted too.
During the ceremony, I had a list of who was announcing what, and had to fill in the blanks with the winner as they were announced, tweeting and updating Facebook as quickly as possible. This was pretty stressful, though obviously also an awful lot of fun. I soon found a rhythm and was pleased to be using a laptop where I could quickly copy and paste blocks of text between various windows. The iPhone is nice, but it would suck for this sort of work.
There was some frustration, among people watching on TV, that the twitter stream was acting as a ‘spoiler’ for the event (though I should point out this was massively outweighed by vast numbers of people expressing supportive, grateful thanks for the instant updates). I think the call (which was, of course, BAFTA’s to make) to announce live, rather than in sync with the TV coverage, was the right move. People were looking to @baftaonline for the definitive results when rumours were circulating on Twitter, and it wouldn’t have made sense to wait. We should probably have been clearer as the ceremony began that the tweets were going to be out of sync, to reduce the risk of people being surprised by spoilers.
Once the ceremony was over, and I’d reluctantly handed back the iPhone, I found myself on the stage itself. This was, frankly, even more surreal than the rest of the day. Watch this video below to get a sense of what it was like.
Later in the evening, my wife and I attended the Film Awards party, which was great fun.
On returning home, I discovered I’d been seen by the BBC News cameras 3 times. As Ian H pointed out, it’s a bit like playing ‘Where’s Wally’.
So, all in all a fantastic day and what little stress I did feel was entirely exciting. Thanks to everyone at BAFTA for a brilliant time.
Back to work tomorrow after a great few days holiday. If you’re even in Pembrokeshire, I recommend St David’s, and Porth Clais. Between Thursday and Saturday the weather way very fine and we enjoyed long walks with the dog along the stunning Pembrokeshire coast.
Early Sunday morning, however, it turned not only very wet but also very very windy. Not a great combination when you’re sleeping under canvas, and we kept waking up slightly intimidated by the way our tent was being thrown around. Ray got out the camera to capture the moment (note the dog laying between our sleeping bags, 38 seconds in).
We had a lovely stay though, despite the final night. In fact, clambering out of an inside-out, soaking wet tent is a happy moment one that will stay with me for a very long time.
I took some photos of the G20 protests around RBS and the Bank of England today. I had a quiet afternoon after a meeting in Soho, so decided to head to Bank to take a look at the square mile and see what was afoot with the much discussed G20 protests. It ended up being anything but quiet.
Arriving at St Pauls (I’d already heard that Bank tube station was closed), I overheard various police officers informing people of the best ways to avoid Bank, saying that much of the area was closed off due the protests. Deciding I’d just get as close as I safely could, take some photos and then go home, I started walking towards the Bank of England.
I soon realised that the officer’s advice was sound. There were police blockades on every single street leading in to the Bank of England.
Many streets had not just one line of police but two, with a gap in between them, essentially keeping a safe distance between two crowds. Skirting around the cordons in busy side streets, I got as close as I could get.
Plenty of flag-waving, singing, cheering and jeering. It seemed peaceful and good-natured and I found the police to be largely friendly and helpful. People were having fun.
The guy on the right was being interviewed by Radio 4. When asked why he was dressed as Satan, and which group he was represented, he thought for a moment and said, “RBS”. The interviewer couldn’t help but grin.
2:20 – Note the gap between the two crowds in the photo above. Looking in from the outside, I could come and go as I pleased, as long as I didn’t want to get any closer to the central area filled with protesters. Equally, the people on the inside couldn’t get out. They were hemmed in by the police on all sides.
2:40 – Just as I’m getting a bit bored and thinking about heading back to the office, the central crowd starts pushing and shoving the line of police which is penning them in. Scarily (for me), within a couple of minutes they had managed to break through the line, and were surging in my direction. I moved back a few paces, fearing a stampede, but all that really happened was that two bits of the crowd (the inner bit, and my outer bit) had joined up.
2:41 – But… the police had pulled back and regrouped, forming two new lines, one on either side of me. I ask nicely about leaving.
- “Excuse me officer” (I’m nothing if not polite). “I think I’d actually like to be on that side of you…”
- “Sorry mate, not happening.”
- “Really? I just…”
- “No. No-one gets in, no-one gets out. Those are my orders”.
I’ve suddenly gone from being an outside observer to being one of 2000 people (not all of whom were protesters, I can assure you) trapped in the middle of the square mile.
2:50 – After the surge, things were pretty peaceful. I started checking with officers at the various (9?) blocked streets and alleys that they really were not letting anyone out, and was slightly horrified to learn they didn’t even have any idea of when they would start letting us leave. Frustrated, but trying to go with the flow, I a) rang my wife and b) started looking around at the stuff I couldn’t previously get to. There were no groups shoving at the police now. In fact, perhaps because there was more room, everyone seemed pretty relaxed.
3:00 – It felt pretty much like a carnival really. Singing, dancing, sound systems blasting 3 different sorts of music, lots of friendly, people being happy.
3:10 – Bloody hell, they’ve smashed RBS. This must have happened a while ago. Before I arrived, even? There are mounted police here, and the atmosphere is different here, on Threadneedle Street. There’s still a lot of anger focused here. I don’t like it.
4:00 – Heading back in the other direction, I find some shade and sit in a shop doorway, pull out my 3G dongle and check my email. People ask if there’s any news. When are we getting out? No idea. The news doesn’t know. The police blocking us in don’t know, so why should the news?
4:30 – Hot and tired. Annoyed. Thirsty. Bored. Restless.
4:45 – The general mood seems to be shifting and worsening. I’m not alone in wondering when those of us who don’t want to be here will be allowed to leave. Portaloos have arrived, which is certainly a good idea, but what about food? And water? This part of the city is pretty handy if you need a cash machine, but there’s certainly nowhere open in here to spend any of it.
The police line starts moving people back down Queen Victoria Street (past HSBC) back towards the centre. Once it starts, it happens quite quickly, and in quite an ugly way. BBC News 24 captures the confrontations, while I stay well back from the shoving.
Some protesters were throwing bottles, and I saw one flaming newspaper hurled. A handful of the scary hardcore anarchist-protester-types just stood there, squaring off with the police, intent on being forced back rather than just retreating. From the police’s side, the violence mainly involved shoving people along the street with their riot shields, but I did see the batons did get used a few times. This was the ugliest part of the day. (That I saw). The crowd went wild with shouts of “shame on you! shame on you!” whenever any sort of police violence was seen.
I’m still not sure why it was considered a good idea to compress the crowd back in to a smaller area. It certainly did the police no favours in the eyes of the more neutral observers.
5:30 – Free at last. I finally got out by showing my BBC ID card to a police officer (who I think probably assumed I was press). I was told “Ok. You can go this way to Cannon Street, but you won’t be able to get back in”. I don’t want to get back in. I want to go home. Except that I felt very bad for everyone else still penned in there, and seeing Pete Blakemore’s increasingly worrying updates (and the fact he was in there for at least a further three hours) made me even more glad to be back, but also even more uneasy and a little angry.
Update: the Guardian has a great video and story which sums up the day, plus a balanced look at various videos springing up on YouTube after the event.
As you might know, I’m enjoying a relaxing couple of weeks off, wrapping up the year with family and friends. Staying with family means bonfires, Rock Band and eating copious quantities of rich and delicious food, like this:
My wonderful Mum made them my combining a broken up Christmas pudding with dark chocolate, rolling it into balls then topping with white chocolate and cherry. Quite indescribably good.
Hope you’re having fun. See you in 2009.
My last engagement of the year was also one of my proudest. On Wednesday, I was invited to be the guest speaker at my old school’s presentation evening. This is the annual event at which GCSE and A-Level students collect their certificates and awards for academic excellence. I helped award some of the certificates and prizes and, toward the end, give a fifteen minute talk about.. well, whatever I wanted, but it ended up being a potted history of what I’d done with myself since school plus some words of encouragement for the awardees. I wish I’d recorded it. Everything that follows is an abbreviated summary of what I said, based on the 6 pages of notes I used going into it, plus memories of the bits I improvised…
I broke the ice by reminiscing about an afternoon almost exactly 11 years ago in which some friends and I ‘borrowed’ some sort of evergreen tree from the local park in order to make our sixth form common room more festive. It certainly wasn’t a christmas tree, and it smelled of cats.
It’s hard not to be sentimental about coming back to the school. Partly because I have some genuinely warm memories of it, partly because it’s where my Dad now works (as a counsellor, offering a drop-in service for young people who need help) and partly because it’s where I met my wife, when we were taking our A-Levels together.
What do you want to be when you’re older? Have you ever been asked the question? Have you ever asked it of someone else? Do you know what your answer would be?
When I was 15, I knew exactly what I wanted to be; a lawyer. Specifically, a barrister. But it didn’t work out that way. In the end, choosing a degree ended up being about picking a subject I knew I’d enjoy more, and my hobby since I was quite young had been tinkering with computers and programming them. This was before the school offered an A-Level in ICT, so all the way through school it was purely a hobby for my own enjoyment.
In case that sounds strange, or you’ve never experienced the satisfaction of getting a computer to do exactly what you want, here’s a quote from a new book by Cory Doctorow, ‘Little Brother‘ from the end of chapter 7:
A computer is the most complicated machine you’ll ever use. It’s
made of billions of micro-miniaturized transistors that can be
configured to run any program you can imagine. But when you sit
down at the keyboard and write a line of code, those transistors do
what you tell them to.
Most of us will never build a car. Pretty much none of us will
ever create an aviation system. Design a building. Lay out a city.
Those are complicated machines, those things, and they’re off
limits to the likes of you and me. But a computer is like, ten times
more complicated, and it will dance to any tune you play. You can
learn to write simple code in an afternoon. Start with a language
like Python, which was written to give non-programmers an
easier way to make the machine dance to their tune. Even if you
only write code for one day, one afternoon, you have to do it.
Computers can control you or they can lighten your work if you
want to be in charge of your machines, you have to learn to write
When I was picking a subject in which to take a degree, I realised that if I wanted to really understand computers, and maybe even get a job doing the things I most enjoyed, I could study Computer Science. I found a few really good courses which looked like they’d be a lot of fun. Even better, I found one which was sponsored by IBM; 3 days a week at university, 2 days a week at work, less holiday than most students, but also fewer debts.
After I graduated IBM offered me a full-time job and I accepted, working first as a tester (finding bugs), then service (fixing them and keeping clients calm), then development (writing code and creating the bugs), then emerging technology (first-of-a-kinds and proof-of-concepts, with a lot of freedom to explore new stuff). That freedom to explore brand new territory is how I ended up calling myself a Metaverse Evangelist; I got interested and involved, together with my friend Ian and eventually with a wider team across the world, with how IBM and its clients could use virtual worlds.
Earlier this year, I joined the BBC as Portfolio Executive, Social Media – BBC Vision. Social media includes tools for discussing and sharing information, and BBC Vision is the division of the BBC that handles TV. So I look after social online stuff for BBC TV. Half of the room I’m speaking to (that is, the half that are not parents and teacher) probably live their lives on some combination of Bebo, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, MSN, etc. It may seem strange to think that a huge part of my job is understanding how the BBC can use those things, plus other social stuff (blogs, message-boards, chat, rating, comments, games, …) effectively. That job exists now, but a few years ago I could never have guessed I’d be doing it.
Which leads us back to the question, what do you want to be when you’re older? I pointed out that it’s very hard to answer, because you’re making a prediction about what you’ll enjoy in the future.
My ‘career’ has included software testing, service, development, emerging technology, social media. Each of those things has, for me, led to the next, but it’s not a map, it’s a history. It’s one possible route to have taken to get somewhere I didn’t even plan to go in the first place. The job I’m doing now didn’t exist last year. The virtual worlds role was one that a colleague and I created ourselves.
So what would I have wanted to know, if I were in the room having just received my certificates? Well, I’m going to share some secrets from the so-called grown-up world.
It’s OK not to have a plan. In fact, there is no plan.  Your parents and teachers may look like they know what they’re doing, and they may expect you to have your life mapped out, but here’s the shocker: they’re all making it up as they go along! It’s perfectly OK to do what you think is fun and interesting. Of course, choosing the things you want to focus on means you’ll need to know enough about the world to know what you find fun and interesting, which means you’ll have to be open minded rather than passive. Most importantly you’ll need to be flexible and prepared to change.
I ended by saying that I hoped they’d have as much fun as I’ve had. I’d been wondering about a closing line (everything I’d thought of leading up to the event had been sickeningly trite and glib. “What do you want to be when you’re older? I hope you’ll be happy” just wasn’t going to work), but somehow, just as I was finishing off, I got into a nice little “I hope you… ” pattern. I hope you’ll have as much fun as I’ve had… so it felt quite natural to end on “I hope you’ll change the world” .
1 – Last month, I shared what I was planning to talk about during the speech, and asked what other people would have wanted to tell their younger selves. The response was staggering. I could have spent hours going through it with them in detail, and really wanted to. If you’ve found this post because you saw the talk, please do take the time to read it. At the risk of sounding like a grown up, I wish I’d seen all of that when I was your age.
2 – As I sat down, I realised where I’d seen that recently; the introduction to Little Brother ends with “He [Cory Doctorow] hopes you’ll use technology to change the world”. Considering that I was unintentionally borrowing Cory’s phrase, I’m glad I missed the bit about technology.
I have owned many computers, and not all of them have had names. The Commodore 64 and BBC Micro B I grew up with didn’t ever have names. Nor do I remember giving one to the first PC my parents had (a second hand 286 IBM PS/2).
I think I’ve forgotten a few, but here are the names of the computers I have owned, named and remembered:
- Patience (my first desktop, bought during the first year of my degree, and named after the attribute I felt I had demonstrated while selecting and purchasing it. I had a love/hate relationship with the shop, the name of which I’ve now forgotten Something Squared? M², maybe?)
- Portaroo (my first work laptop while at IBM, a ThinkPad 760, as seen on the International Space Station). I still love this name. like Portaloo, with my nickname built into it. Oh, you got that already? Sorry).
- Parity (so-called because I was catching up with my friend and then-housemate Cheesy, who had upgraded his machine at the same time. I think this is a photo of me building it, with Cheesy to my right and Mark sat behind me. We had a lot of fun in that house)
- Quiss (a work desktop, named after a character in an Iain Banks novel)
- Roochelmini (Not the best name, but Roo + Rachel’s Mini = roochelmini. The Mac Mini we had in our living room. It’s a bit poorly at the moment).
- Rupert (a ThinkPad T42p, and now returned to the big warm blue bosom of IBM)
- Shuttle (a Shuttle mini-ITA PC. Not very imaginative. I should have at least called it Apollo or something. It’s now significantly unwell, often taking ages to start up only to power itself down in the middle of playing a game. I have not touched it for a couple of years, but I expect that if I wanted to I’d need to replace the power supply and/or motherboard)
- Sebastian (MacBook Pro. Bought this January. I love it. Looks a bit like this)
- Tristan (MacBook Air. A work machine. It’s less powerful than the Pro, but so light that I love commuting with it. Looks like this, though I should grab a photo of the stickers on the lid. Notice the alphabetic sequence here? My next machine will probably have to begin with ‘U’)
- Moby (named not after the musician, but the great white whale. Strictly speaking, I didn’t actually own this, I just borrowed it for a few weeks.