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Evolving signage

GDS (the Government Digital Service) just moved into a new building and I love what the Design team are doing with the signage. We moved in as soon as possible after the builders and things like toilets, prayer rooms and stairs weren’t sign posted yet. Instead of getting HR to put up wayfinding where they thought they should be people started putting up post it notes to mark important things, like where the toilets are. 


The Design team have been going around and converting those into signs and then updating them as people write feedback on them. 


So the signs in our building work for us and are in the places where people naturally look for information. 


It sounds obvious but it’s a really nice and organic touch. 

What is a “career” in “technology”?

I was asked recently at a women in tech event about ways to get children (particularly young girls) more interested in a career in technology. This seems to be coming up more and more at events at the moment and seems to be a bigger focus for people than “how we retain staff” or “creating inclusive workspaces”.

It’s an interesting question but every time I’m asked it I can’t help but want to break it down because, whilst improving the diversity of future generations that choose a career in the technology sector is massively important, I’m not convinced that it’s quite the right question to ask.

I think gender stereotyping of subjects, topics and toys from a young age has a hugely negative effect on children and their future choices. I don’t think that’s the only reason that young girls choose to not go into a career in technology, but it is the one that is most frequently discussed.

I think it comes down to a few things:

One: how do we define a career in technology?

There are a lot of studies, surveys and measures across the word that look at how many women, BAME, LGBT+ there are working in technology but each one has a different definition of what technology is. Are we just counting women working specifically as IT professionals? Do we consider everyone who works in a company specialising in digital to work in the tech sector? Does that include the people in that company who are HR or finance specialists? Are they still “technology” people?

This definition might seem pedantic but I think it’s a large part of the problem. Consulting firm PwC recently released research where they spoke to 2000 school and university-aged people about working in technology. A key finding was that only 27% of girls considered a career in technology. I don’t find that shocking when you consider the lack of clarity about what a career in technology actually is, or might look like.

Two: how do we define a career?

Traditionally in the UK, we’re taught that children do GCSEs, then A-levels, which in turn provide the best chance of doing a university course to ultimately get a job. We’re told that like our parents and grandparents before us, we will start a chosen career, work for a company for X years, then retire.

But work doesn’t work like that any more.

Opportunities to work have broadened, and work itself has become more flexible – people can work from home more, be freelance, work flexible or compressed hours.

At the same time, salaries have stagnated and the cost of living has increased. Lots of younger people need to juggle 2 jobs just to pay rent and boost their visibility to future employers.

Many of the perks that used to keep people tied to their jobs have disappeared. Things like final salary pensions, paid-for or low-cost housing, and healthcare.

It’s not unusual for people (especially those who do anything related to technology) to move between jobs more often, and to sidestep across careers and sectors. Transferrable skills are far more important than years of experience within one culture and one company.

So the definition of “career” is not what it used to be.

Three: what skills do I need for a career in technology?

These are things people have said to me about why they didn’t think a career in technology was for them:

  • “I don’t like coding.”
  • “I’m not a geeky, nerdy type of person.”
  • “I like creative subjects like art and music.”
  • “I like physics and biology but I don’t like chemistry.”

Large parts of society (schools, teachers, parents) still seem to think that the choices young people make at school somehow lock them into a specified career for life. Flexibility is frowned upon: changing your choice of degree subject half-way through, or dropping out of university to pursue something else, are both considered failure.

Working in technology is as much about creative skills as it is about any scientific or technological skills, and the best people will have a mixture of both.

If your child has tried coding and doesn’t like it (for whatever reason) don’t try and force them to do it. Find the things that they love. Find new opportunities for them. Find them a challenge or a problem that they need to fix. Introduce them to new and different people and situations.

Your child can learn new skills at any point, but they need to be curious. They need to understand that there are roles for them in “technology” (however it’s defined) even as a creative, dramatic, shy, or code-illiterate person.

I think these things are more helpful for a career in technology than having an A-level in Maths or a degree in Computer Science:

  • Curiosity
  • Flexibility
  • A willingness to listen to others
  • Courage and confidence to make your own decisions and speak your own mind

It’s never too late to learn something new or to try a new career.

And a few resources for parents/people who know kids:

http://stemettes.org

https://girlswhocode.com

http://www.nexttechgirls.com

http://www.teentech.com

And because it’s never too late:

https://codebar.io

https://generalassemb.ly

https://cylonlab.com

(There are others but these are the first ones that come to my head.)

On saying no

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while and like most things that are vaguely important I’ve put it off, waiting until I had the right words to write it down. I still don’t have the right words.

We don’t say no enough and the importance of no is undervalued. There’s a negativity and a sense of fear attached to the word that seems to stop people wanting to use it and causes them to react with hostility when someone says it to them.

I’m not talking about personality clashes or when people say no to out of spite or the times when you have no choice but to say no to something because of external circumstances. Of course ‘no’ can be negative and it can be used to hold up progress but it isn’t only that.

I need to start by saying that I don’t see saying no as negative. Very few things or ideas are great right from the start, things are made better by someone saying that something isn’t right or that it doesn’t make sense. Yet.

For me:

saying no is a way of protecting ourselves in uncomfortable or dangerous situations

saying no is a protest against complacency or injustice

saying no is as powerful and positive as saying yes

 

Saying no is a way of protecting ourselves in uncomfortable or dangerous situations

Sometimes we need to say no to protect ourselves, sometimes that’s physically but most often we’re trying to protect ourselves from being put in situations that make us uncomfortable or that are dangerous for our wellbeing. If it’s important to say yes to new experiences it’s as important to feel confident saying no. That might be feeling comfortable saying no to a drink on a night out, or going home instead of going to the pub because you just really want to put on your pyjamas and watch TV without having friends or colleagues making you the butt of their jokes. Or it might be at work where someone tries to put you in a position that you think is wrong. It’s important to say no for yourself at an early stage rather than later when you feel trapped by the decision.

 

Saying no is a protest against complacency or injustice

Saying no can be seen as being difficult and at its worst it is. It’s a person in a position of authority refusing to move with the march of progress. But at its best it’s that lone voice in the crowd challenging the status quo and refusing to simply say yes without questioning. Saying no is difficult. It’s easier to say yes, especially if everyone around you is saying yes. Saying no to your peers is hard and it’s harder still to say no to those in a position of power, but in my experience they are the ones who need to hear it the most because they hear it the least. If you don’t have anyone to challenge your ideas and to help you to improve them you end up with leaders who think that they know everything, who don’t seek advice from experts, who make decisions based on little to no evidence because no one challenges them when they say or do stupid things.*

As civil servants (although this doesn’t in any way only apply to civil servants) I think we have a duty to say no, to question and to challenge. I don’t think that challenge should be viewed as brave or as being difficult. It shouldn’t be viewed as an unusual action. We should all feel comfortable (or able) to say no to things that are wrong, or that just aren’t ready yet. We have a duty to do it so that public money isn’t wasted, we have a duty to make sure that ministers have the right and best information. Honesty is part of the civil service code for a reason and the ability to say no is part of that.

 

Saying no is as powerful and positive as saying yes

When people come to me with an idea I say no 80% of the time. It’s not that I think that their idea is stupid, it’s that I don’t think it’s quite right or ready and I want create the best possible things to explain or showcase their work. Saying yes straight away or indiscriminately might make me popular but it won’t create better things. It will just create more things. And this world doesn’t need more things but it does need better thought out and questioned things.

Having people who feel empowered to say no challenges a project in the best way, it forces you to look at a something from a different angle or to push a concept further, or to speak to someone else outside of your team to seek advice.

Saying no is part of the process that gets you to yes.

If you’re writing a book you want an editor that’s going to cross out the bits that don’t work and correct your grammar, it should be the same no matter where you work or what you do. Not that you should want an editor, but that you should want someone to challenge you, to help you make your thing the best it can be. Or to stop it before you spend too much time and/or money on it.

If you’re building a team you don’t want people who are going to say yes unquestioningly, you want people who are going to question, who are going to stop you from looking like a fool by making bad decisions. Bosses who welcome being challenged and respect someone saying no make for the best leaders because they inspire their staff to strive for excellence.

Saying no shouldn’t be innately negative. It’s far too complex, too positive, too powerful for that.

 

*Personally I think this is partly why women at senior levels are so brilliant. We (we = those who identify as women) are so used to being constantly challenged over every suggestion (whether it’s brilliant, mediocre or terrible) that we are more likely to seek advice at an earlier stage, we’ll over prepare, making sure that we know our suggestion inside out, that all weaknesses have been considered and resolved or can be defended. Because we will need to defend them. But this is a side note and you know #notallwomenetc.

 

Wandering around the south

I love to plan but going away for the weekend without anything planned was one of the best things I’ve done in the past year. Heading out at 5am on Friday morning with overnight bags, a picnic and a desire to head to the south gave us a sense of purpose and adventure. Even if everything was terrible, if it rained for the whole weekend (which it almost did) we could find things to entertain us in museums, castles and country homes, if we couldn’t find anywhere to sleep we could bed down in the car, drive to somewhere that did have places or if worst came to worst we could say “bugger it” and head straight back home. There was a huge sense of freedom with having not planned anything at all and knowing that there was nothing that could go wrong that was unfixable.

It felt different the second we drove away from home. There was no time pressure to get anywhere because there was nowhere that we were supposed to be. We left 40 minutes later than we meant to, but it didn’t matter. We weren’t late because there was nothing to be late for. Usually when we go on holiday or off for a weekend away we’re focussed on getting to our final destination, spending our time thinking or talking about what is going to happen when we get there, or complacent about what is to come because we already know that we’re heading to see so and so and our journey is merely the bit inbetween having done something and doing something else. This time the journey was the holiday, the drive was part of the experience, not simply a means of transport. And so we talked. Not just as a way of filling the time, a distraction from the monotony of driving for the driver or the opportunity to complain about the stupidity of someone’s decision at work. It wasn’t a deep and meaningful conversation. No grand life choices were made in those moments. We just chatted, and laughed. Talked about the silly things and connected over shared moments. I don’t remember what we talked about, there’s no pivotal moment but I felt lighter as we headed away.

By 6am we’d cleared the M25 and were making strong progress along the M3. We chose to head towards Exeter down the A303 (going around, not through) and then onwards to the first place that grabbed us on the map. A flying visit past Stonehenge

“Do you want to stop?”

“It’s a long walk to look at some stones.”

“I haven’t been since I was a child.”

“The stones haven’t changed but they’ve got a shiny new visitor’s center.”

And we carried on our way. We made the choice to head towards Shaldon in Devon as Robin had fond memories of staying there one summer when he was little. After a brief stop for toilet breaks, coffee, bacon sandwiches, a stroll along the harbour front, booking into a little bookshop with a huge dog, writing a postcard to the parents and a hunt for the hidden postbox we were back in the car and heading onwards along the South coast. By now the weather had moved from grey to a state of constant but light drizzle

We headed onwards to a place called Blackpool Sands just along from Dartmouth. We planned to stop off at some deserted beach along the way and take some coastal shots and then have lunch. But the weather had other plans in mind, the light drizzle turning into constant rain by the time we arrived at the beach. And whilst it was deserted there was no way that we eat outside without getting soaked, so we travelled on to Slapton (I honestly believe that the south of our country has the most wonderfully British and comical names, but I acknowledge that I may be biased) where we could sit in the car and eat our packed lunch with a view of the rain and the sea. But Robin refused to simply sit in our seats, instead the back seats were flattened, the boot opened, heater on and a blanket laid out. Our picnic would go ahead no matter the weather!

After such a brillant lunch and our early start you won’t be surprised to hear that we were both soon fast asleep, lulled into slumber by the sounds of the rain and the sea (and the warmth of the heater) only to be woken an hour later by a hideously loud alarm telling us that our battery was now flat.

Luckily we weren’t the only people that had pulled off into the beach’s car park so began attempt number one to start the battery, a very kind 30 something man in a shiny 4×4 with two small kids in the back and his partner in the front, last year he’d bought everything he’d ever need in case he broke down, blankets, flares, jump leads, a triangle, emergency water and he’d never had the chance to use them. He was so excited by the prospect of helping us get started, but for all his desire to help and all his gear he didn’t know how to get to the battery in his car. Attempt number two was a lot more successful, although it’s probably best that I never read a car manual again, not being a driver I had no idea how easy it was to blow up a car and kill yourself or possibly just lose the use of your arms.

Body parts intact and death avoided we decided to wander back to Dartmouth as evening was approaching and we needed to find somewhere to stay for the night. Dartmouth, if you’ve never been is delightful, and as though the town wanted exaggerate the point, the rain stopped and the sun appeared as soon as we parked up and started our hunt for accommodation. Even late in the year there were still a number of tourists wandering along the harbour, and it was easy to see why after a day stuck inside in the rain. The view out to sea in the evening sun was beautiful.

We stayed at the Hill View House B&B for £70, the owner was friendly, the bed comfortable and the breakfast simple but filling. Although to be honest I’m happy just with a cup of coffee first thing in the morning.

The next day we took a quick tour round Dartmouth Castle before heading onwards to Port Isaac for a dinner reservation at Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant. When we started our trip we’d thought that finding somewhere to stay would be simple since we were travelling out of season, but finding a hotel of any sort around Port Isaac proved to be a nightmare and we were faced with a lack of signal and phone reception. But after two hours of searching and calling (may I recommend the Yo Sushi in Plymouth for putting up with us whilst we abused their wifi) we finally had somewhere to stay.

Although our conversation with the lady who answered the phone left us puzzled over whether we actually had a booking.

“A room for two people for the 3rd. Of course we have something. Wait, the 3rd. That’s tonight! I’m sure we have something, come along, we’ll see you later.”

But since that conversation was the closest thing that we had to a room, we thought we’d go with it and see where we ended up. The journey between Plymouth and Port Isaac was, or should have been, delightfully scenic  but the constant rain and rather ordinary (I’m sure they’re lovely) villages and towns had started to wear on us by the time that we reached our hotel for the night.

We arrived at Lanartuh Hotel in the wet afternoon gloom and parked in an empty car park. Inside the front door the hotel was dark, all the lights off, and empty. The sort of space where you find yourself speaking in a whisper so that you don’t disturb the emptiness. We rang the bell and after waiting a short time a little old lady (imagine the housekeeper from an Agatha Christie novel (or imagine how a casting director would cast the housekeeper from an Agatha Christie novel) and you wouldn’t be far off) appeared from a door. She was very sweet and led us up the stairs to our room for the night before leaving us alone to freshen up and head out to dinner.

I’m afraid to say that we were rather judgemental about the hotel. The house was huge with doors that led to wings that you never saw, there were seemingly endless different types of flocked wallpaper and patterned carpets, the sort that you expect to see at your grandparent’s house and everything had a worn and tired feel about it. It felt like we were stepping back in time. We joked at dinner that we might wake in the middle of the night to  a scream and find ourselves transported into a murder mystery where we’re cut off from civilisation and awaiting the police with a dead body, probably in the middle of a storm.

But the hotel ended up being one of our favourite parts of the weekend. Whilst there was nothing modern about the hotel, no wifi, no mobile signal, all the fixtures and fittings were from a previous time. Everything was impeccably kept and clean, we slept like the dead on one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on in a hotel. In the morning sunshine everything that had seemed faded the night before had a certain hand-picked charm about it. When we went down to breakfast we were greeted by a younger woman who took our order and returned with two delightful fry-ups. We packed up and paid feeling full and light of heart and spirit, and only £60 worse off (and completely off the grid since we could only pay in cash and our receipt was addressed to Mr and Mrs Robbins). If you’re ever in the neighbourhood I would recommend staying here instead of any boutique hotel with a sea view. Although don’t worry if you hear a scream in the night, it will just be one of the many, many peacocks that roam the grounds.

Having only seen a small amount of Port Isaac the night before we headed back there to do the coastal walk. As we drove in and saw the coach parties heading off on their Doc Martin walking tour we discovered why it’s so hard to find a hotel around Port Isaac, but aside from the many fans of the show (that we have never seen) that we were mainly able to avoid (they move in packs) we spent an hour and a half walking through the town and up the coastal path on the other side.

(I didn’t talk about it in detail but Restaurant Nathan Outlaw is simply wonderful. The food was a delight from start to finish and everything that I couldn’t eat had been replaced with something that I could. Their gluten-free bread was one of the most delightful and fluffy things I have ever tasted. Their staff were attentive without being annoying and they were naturally knowledgeable. Nothing felt stuffy and the clientele were a mix of locals and tourists that had come because of the well known chef or the star rating. Go, you won’t be disappointed.)

Having sampled the delights of Port Isaac we got back on the road to begin our journey home, but first we had one last thing that we wanted to check off since we were down that way.

We stopped off for a visit to Tintagel since Robin had never been. For me it was like stepping back into a warm childhood memory, unsurprisingly very little had changed from the last time I’d visited and for the first day of our trip the whole day was clear of rain. Without planning a thing we ended up with a beautifully clear day at low tide so that we could even head down into Merlin’s Cave.

The trip gave us both time to pause and reflect. We’re both so busy with work, with  planning a wedding, meeting friends, planning holidays and with the constant rush of living our lives in London that we’d ended up existing together but not really taking the time to listen to each other or take time out just to be with them. Not doing anything. Not planning anything. Just being present together.

This break gave us the space and the quiet to listen to each other again. To connect over shared problems instead of both being wrapped up in our own problems. Our relationship has always been strong but it’s something that you have to work to keep, and taking the time out every now and again to renew that relationship and to realise how much you like the other person is crucial.

Of course since being back we get distracted by other things, we get busy, we watch TV instead of talking or get caught up planning our holiday to Japan next year or lost in the details of our wedding. But it’s all a little bit easier and a little be calmer now, because we’ve reaffirmed that partnership, and even when we have our own problems to deal with we know that we’re in it together.