An Unusual Workday

Some days, my day job doesn’t seem like a job that a real person would have at all. It seems like something out of a sitcom. Today, I have:

  • Worn a bear mask in the office (panda in my case; seen below alongside my head of department, in a grizzly mask).
    Bears in the office
  • Chatted about popular TV shows that happen to contain libraries, for inclusion in a future podcast series.
  • Experimented with Web-based augmented reality as a possible mechanism for digital exhibition content delivery. (Seen this thing from Google Arts & Culture? If you don’t have an AR-capable device to hand, here’s a video of what it’s like.)
    Virtual Reality at the Bodleian
  • Implemented a demonstrative XSS payload targetting a CMS (as a teaching tool, to demonstrate how a series of minor security vulnerabilities can cascade into one huge one).
  • Gotten my ‘flu jab.

Not every day is like this. But sometimes, just sometimes, one can be.

Adactio: Journal—Code (p)reviews

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

I’m not a big fan of job titles. I’ve always had trouble defining what I do as a noun—I much prefer verbs (“I make websites” sounds fine, but “website maker” sounds kind of weird).

Mind you, the real issue is not finding the right words to describe what I do, but rather figuring out just what the heck it is that I actually do in the first place…

Just shut up and let your devs concentrate, advises Stack Overflow CEO Joel Spolsky

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

If you want to attract and keep developers, don’t emphasize ping-pong tables, lounges, fire pits and chocolate fountains. Give them private offices or let them work from home, because uninterrupted time to concentrate is the most important and scarcest commodity…

A Research-driven Recruitment Story

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

[It] was initially frustrating to not be able to tell you things about who I am and what I’ve done. But it’s great that it’s a level playing field. By the final interview I was liking the process so much that I was reluctant to share my CV and de-anonymize myself. – Successful Careers applicant…

recruit.ox.ac.uk Permalink Generator

If you’ve ever applied for a job with my employer, the University of Oxford, you’ll have come across recruit.ox.ac.uk, one of the most-frustrating websites in the world. Of its many problems, the biggest (in my mind) is that it makes it really hard to share or save the web address of a particular job listing. That’s because instead of using individual web addresses to correspond to individual jobs, like any sanely-designed system would, it uses Javascript hackery and black magic to undermine the way your web browser was designed to work (which is why, you’ll find, you can’t “open in new tab” properly either), and instead provides its own, inferior, interface.

Some day I might get around to writing e.g. a userscript and/or browser plugin that “fixes” the site – from a user’s perspective, at least. But for the time being, because this morning I needed to share via social media a link to a UX developer post we’ve just advertised, I’ve come up with a little bookmarklet to fix this single problem:

recruit.ox.ac.uk Permalink Generator

Drag the bookmarklet to your bookmarks toolbar, then - when on the recruit.ox.ac.uk site - click it to use it.

This tool makes it easy to get permalinks (web addresses you can save or share) for job listings on recruit.ox.ac.uk. It might be adaptable to make it work with other CoreHR-powered systems, if it turns out that this missing feature comes from the underlying software that powers the site: it could also form the basis of a future userscript that would automatically fix the site “on the fly”. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Drag the link below into your browser’s bookmarks (e.g. the bookmarks toolbar).

    recruit.ox.ac.uk permalink

  2. When you’re on a recruit.ox.ac.uk job page, click on the bookmark. A permalink will appear at the top of the page, for your convenience. If you’re using a modern browser, the permalink will also appear in the address bar.
  3. Copy the permalink and use it wherever you need it, e.g. to share the link to a job listing.

If you have any difficulty with it or want help adapting it for use with other CoreHR systems, give me a shout.

We Hire the Best, Just Like Everyone Else

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll get as a startup is this: Only hire the best. The quality of the people that work at your company will be one of the biggest factors in your success – or failure. I’ve heard this advice over and over and over at startup events, to…

One of my favourite hosting companies is recruiting using anonymous online interviews, in an effort to combat industry sexism

This link was originally posted to /r/girlsgonewired. See more things from Dan's Reddit account.

So, in May 2015, we made the huge decision to start an anonymous recruitment process. The biggest change compared to tradition recuiting is this – your first two interviews are truly anonymous. We conduct them over instant messaging and run our skills tests remotely too.

You won’t even have to give your real name or a CV in the initial stages. We don’t know anything about you that you don’t choose to present in the interview.

That makes us work hard for explicit goals. We want to know about your:

Most valuable skills
Ability to learn
Ability to work effectively in a team

We make decisions based on those factors. Avoiding the “X factor” of cultural fit, which we’ve seen as an excuse for all kinds of implicit and explicit bias across industries.

We also want to be respectful of your time, your enthusiasm and your interests – we’ll test not just what you know but what you can learn. Our focus is on letting you put your abilities to the fore, without fear that you’ll be judged on irrelevant things. We define the job, we define the skills, and we want to test those without bias.

Our culture comes from you, the best person for the job at the end of the process. Of course we still need to meet you, we want to meet you. But we will start our interviews on the solid foundation of anonymity. Only at the final stages will you be asked to come in for a face-to-face interview.

Club Lounge at Gatwick airport

This self-post was originally posted to /r/MegaMasonsLounge. See more things from Dan's Reddit account.

by an author

On the way out to the French Alps for a week of skiing, and we had enough air miles to upgrade to business class on the way out, so I’m sat in the lounge enjoying complimentary gin & tonic and croissants. 10 in the morning, and I’m already buzzed: after a long and hectic few months, I’m really glad to be off on holiday!

Aaaand…. right before I left I put in an application for my boss’s job, which she vacated a few months ago. Should hear by the time I get back whether I’m being invited to interview, so that’s exciting too!

Anyway: just wanted to share my excitement with my favourite MegaMasons. If I’m not online much this week, you’ll know why! Have a great week, folks: love you all!

A Small World Conspiracy

I keep getting caught up on small world coincidences, since I started working at the Bodleian Library last week. I know about selective biases, of course, and I’ve always said that coincidences happen nine times out of ten, but this is really starting to feel like some kind of amazing conspiracy that I’ve somehow wandered into.

The most recent chain of connected coincidences is also probably the most impressive. But to explain it, I’ll need to take you back in time by almost three years. Back in the summer of 2008, I went to BiCon for the second time, accompanied by Claire and Matt P. Among the various other things we got up to, we met a young lady called Ann (who, if I remember rightly, got along very well with Matt).

This morning I received an email from Ann. It turns out that she works in the Bodleian Libraries: she’s likely to be one of the very users who it’s now my job to provide training and technical support to! She saw my photograph in the newsletter I mentioned in my last blog post and looked me up: small world! I emailed back, suggesting that we get together for a drink after work, and she agreed: great! She also asked if she could bring a friend along, a colleague from the library. Sure, I said, sounds good.

This lunchtime I sorted out some of my holiday entitlement for the rest of this academic year. I booked off a few days for a Three Rings “code week” in the summer, and a couple of days around the time that I’ll be moving house next month. One of these days clashed with a meeting that I’d had planned with the Web/Digital Officer of one of the libraries (I’m doing a grand tour of many of the libraries that comprise the Bodleian, in order to meet all the relevant people), so I sent an email to this staff member to ask if we could reschedule our meeting to another time.

“Okay,” they said, “But I think I’m meeting you in the pub in 90 minutes anyway…”

It turns out that the person whose meeting I’ve asked to reschedule is the friend of the person who recognised me from the staff newsletter, having originally met me three years ago. Out of all of the people (I’m not sure how many exactly – it’s probably in the staff handbook I haven’t read yet – but I’ll bet it’s a lot) that are employed by this, the largest university library in the UK, what are the odds?

With The Bod

I know that there are about a million things I ought to be writing about; I’ll try to get time at the weekend. In the meantime, I thought I’d share with you this snippet from Outline, the internal newsletter of the Bodleian Libraries:

Welcome to Dan Q: a snippet from Outline, the Bodleian Libraries internal newsletter. Click to embiggen.

What does this tiny appearance on page three mean? Well; it means that the many libraries that I’ll be visiting over the next few weeks (I have a surprising number of meetings set up!) will know I’m coming, for one.

The article mentions geocaching, because the editor asked me for “something personal about me”, and it was the most family-friendly thing I could think of on the spot. I was also asked “what I did”, which I struggled with a little because, despite having been here a week, I’m still not entirely sure what it is that I do. That said, I achieved the first productive parts of my work, yesterday, helping a user with a self-inflicted (probably!) bug in the Libraries’ CMS system. Apart from that, I feel like I’ve spent most of my time running around the city meeting people and networking! Lots of new faces and names to learn!

Two things keep coming up in conversation with people, upon discovering that I’m new here:

  1. Several people have asked “What university I worked for before?” The majority of people here were either Oxford undergrads or worked at other universities: to have somebody come in from the private sector is a little… unusual, it seems.
  2. People keep telling me that I shouldn’t expect (or be expected) to achieve anything for the first six months or so. Six months! It’s taking a while to get started, certainly (I’m still finding my way around all of the systems I’m now responsible for), and I still don’t have logins on half of the computers and services that I’ll need them on, yet, but that’s just ludicrous!
The main Bodleian Libraries website; one of about 32 websites for which I now find myself responsible.

On the other hand, I’m seriously enjoying the comparatively-relaxed attitude that everybody seems to have, here. And I’ve been given a bugs-list as long as my arm that I’m sure they’ve been saving up for me to arrive, so there’s plenty to sink my teeth into even if I will have to go through half a dozen committees before I can implement any of the new features that these websites so desperately need.

The Final Hours

With all of the rush and busyness of this last week, wrapping up a great number of projects, it’s been easy to forget that these are my very final days as an employee of SmartData. As I mentioned last month, I’m soon to start a new job with the Bodleian Library here in Oxford, and my time with SmartData must come to an end.

This, then, is my last day. It crept up on me. In a teleconference with my boss and with the representatives of a client, today (a regular weekly “check in” on a project I’ve been involved with for some time now), we came to the point in the call where we would set an agenda for the next meeting. It took me a moment to remember that I won’t be at the next meeting, and I had to stop myself from saying “Speak to you then!”

In accordance with tradition, we SmartData boys should knock off early this afternoon and go down to the pub to “see me off”. But, of course, I’m not with the rest of the SmartData boys – they’re back in Aberystwyth and I’m working remotely from here on Earth. Instead, I shall try to arrange to visit them – perhaps on one of the upcoming long weekends – and we can go out for our traditional “goodbye pint” then.

I shall be knocking off early today, though! There’s nothing like taking a few days off between jobs, and what I’m doing… is nothing like taking a few days off between jobs. My weekend will be spent in Lancaster at the North-West Regional Conference of Samaritans branches, representing Three Rings. Three Rings now represents the rota management interests of over half of the branches in the North-West of England (and getting-close to half around the UK and Ireland in general), so I managed to wing myself an invitation to go and show the remaining 47% what they’re missing! Then it’s back down here in time to start my new job on Monday morning!

It’s a good job that I’m of the disposition that would rather be busy than bored!

On This Day in 2002 (New Job!)

This will be the first time I’ve ever written an On This Day post where I haven’t been able to link back to a blog post that I actually wrote in the year in question. That’s because, in 2002, I was “between blogs”: the only thing I wrote about online that I still have a copy of was the imminent re-launch of AvAngel.com, my vanity site at the time. In that post, however, I did mention that I’d re-written my CV, which was relevant to what was going on in my life in March 2002…

Looking Back

On this day in 2002, I first began working for SmartData, my primary employer for the last nine years. A few months earlier, Reb – my girlfriend whom I’d moved in with in 2001 – and I had broken up, and I’d recently found the opportunity to visit Aberystwyth and visit friends there (the trip during which I first met Claire, although we didn’t get together until a little later). On that same trip to Aber, I also met Simon, who at that point had recently accepted a voluntary redundancy from the Rural Studies department of the University and was getting started with the launch of his software company, SmartData. He’d recently landed a contract with the National Dairy Farm Assured Scheme and needed an extra pair of hands on board to help out with it.

Sorting out premises was coming along somewhat slower than he’d planned, though. As part of the SpinOut Wales scheme, SmartData had been offered cheap accommodation in a University-owned building, but they were dragging their feet with the paperwork. On our first day working together, Simon and I crammed into his tiny home office, shoulder-to-shoulder, to hack code together. The arrangement didn’t last long before we got sick of it, and we “moved in” to the room (that would eventually be legitimately ours) at Peithyll, a former farmhouse in the village of Capel Dewi, near Aberystwyth.

The entrance to Peithyll, where SmartData established itself for much of the first six years of its life. It was quite a cycle to get out there every day, but in the summer it made for a great office: not many people can sit at their desk and watch red kites hunting outside, or go for a lunchtime walk up a hill with a picnic.

Over the last nine years since, as the company has grown, I’ve always felt like a core part of it, shaping it’s direction. As we transitioned from developing primarily desktop applications to primarily web-based applications, and as we switched from mostly proprietary technologies to mostly open-source technologies, I was pointing the way. By working with a wide variety of different clients, I’ve learned a great deal about a number of different sectors that I’d never dreamed I’d come into contact with: farm assurance schemes, legal processes, genetic testing, human resource allocation, cinema and theatre, and more. It’s been a wonderfully broad and interesting experience.

Looking Forward

When I began making plans to move to Oxford, I initially anticipated that I’d need to find work over here. But Simon stressed that my presence was important to SmartData, and offered to allow me to work remotely, from home, which is most of what I’ve been doing for the last year or so. Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, this has worked reasonably well: VoIP phones keep us in touch, tunneling and virtual networks allow us to work as if we were all in the same location, and webcams help us feel like we’re not quite so far from one another.

But this wasn’t to be a permanent solution: just a way to allow me to keep contributing to SmartData for as long as possible. Last week, I was offered and accepted a new job with a new employer, here in Oxford.  Starting in April, I’ll be managing the administration and the ongoing development of the website of the Bodleian Libraries, the deposit library associated with Oxford University.

My new office, right in the heart of Oxford. It looks a lot less green, and a lot more prestigious, than Peithyll.

It’s a huge change, going from working as part of a tiny team in a West Wales town to working with hundreds of people at one of the largest employers in Oxford. I’ve no doubt that it’ll take some getting used to: for a start, I’m going to have to get into the habit of getting dressed before I go to work – something I could get away with while working from home and that might even have been tolerated in the office at SmartData, as long as I threw on a towel or something (in fact, I have on more than one occasion taken a shower in the SmartData offices, then sat at my desk, wrapped in towels, until I’d dried off a little).

This feels like a huge turning point in my life: a whole new chapter – or, perhaps the completion of the “turning a page” that moving to Oxford began. My new job is a brand new position, which provides an exciting opportunity to carve a Dan-shaped hole, and I’ll be working with some moderately-exciting technologies on some very exciting projects. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I’m settled in, but for now I’ll just say “Squeee!” and be done with it.

Oh: and for those of you who follow such things, you’ll note that Matt P has just announced his new job, too. Although he’s a sloppy blogger: he’s actually been working there for a little while already.

This blog post is part of the On This Day series, in which Dan periodically looks back on years gone by.

New Site Preps For Launch

The new version of AvAngel.com is under full developmental swing… and within a week or two it’ll be uploaded. Of course, you know what we’re like for deadlines, so don’t hold your breath – but if you don’t believe us, catch Dan online (e-mail him for his ICQ number) and he’ll show you what he’s working on!

The new site will include a brand new interface and a host of new features… I’m not going to give away too much unless you catch me online or come round to my house, but I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.

Oh, and for the time being, I’ve uploaded my new CV, ‘cos I’m looking for a job…