Skip to main content

I write every day about living with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. I've written and published more than 1.3 million words


I Recant

5 min read

This is a story about irresponsibility...


I did something which I knew was wrong. I looked at my website visitor data and it went to my head. I acted irresponsibly.

I'm just one guy, writing in my spare time.

Even if I worked full-time at this, there's a very finite limit of what I can offer people one-to-one.

With the power of the internet, I can reach vast numbers of people, but there's not a lot I can do for them as individuals. The power of a website is to broadcast, and the ability to meaningfully reply is a problem which hasn't been solved by technology yet: there is no machine which can pass the Turing Test, let alone provide effective crisis counselling.

I never promoted myself as a crisis counsellor, but I did very vociferously talk about the need for people to be able to talk about their suicidal thoughts, without being shouted down with "YOU'VE GOT SO MUCH TO LIVE FOR" clichés. I did write, at great length, about the vast numbers of people who can't find anybody to talk to who's going through what they're going through, and isn't some well-meaning busybody whose misguided good intentions are actually driving some suicidal people away. It's undeniably true: people are searching for stories which aren't bullshit fantasy make-believe nonsense about how everything's going to be OK and "this will pass soon" because people know that's not true: they've lived with suicidal thoughts for so long, that they know that it doesn't pass, a lot of the time.

However, I am not equipped. I am not equipped to read and respond to vast amounts of people's tragic stories, all day, every day. I very badly want to be able to, but my mood and energy fluctuates wildly, and so does my ability to read and respond. I can't promise to always be available to chat. I can't promise to always be able to read and respond in a timely manner.

I'm not sure if I ever made a promise to anybody, but I suppose I got carried away, and I had increasingly encouraged people to write to me. I don't discourage it, but I think it was irresponsible of me, to be reaching so many people in crisis, but yet to be so ill-equipped to deal with that deluge... it's heartbreakingly tragic that there are so many people out there in the world, searching for the "easiest" way to kill themselves.

I'm not a wishful thinker. I'm not an idiot either. Although I applaud those who say "if I just save one life, that's enough" and indeed that attitude is theoretically enough to save everyone who needs to be saved, if we all adopted that attitude... unfortunately, the statistics and data points that it is not enough. That's not to say that those who volunteer to work on crisis counselling phone lines aren't working hard enough. It's a simple statement of fact: whatever we're doing in the world of suicide prevention, is not working.

So, I'm taking an unorthodox approach. I'm writing about my struggles, without trying to create any Disney Hollywood fairy-tale fantasy happy ending. There's no happy ending to my story. My story doesn't have an ending like: "and they all lived happily ever after". Nope. This is not a rags-to-riches story. This isn't a story of recovery. If you came here looking for that, you came to the wrong place. In fact, I know why people came here, and they are not looking for saccharine-sweet sugar-coated false hope, because there's plenty of that already in the world. So many people write to me to tell me that they're so glad that they found somebody writing with honesty in a relatable way, that I'm never going to stop doing that.

My mistake; my irresponsibility... that's been in getting greedy and actively trying to get more readers. My crime is in letting the huge number of readers go to my head, and starting to think that I was doing anything more than simply telling a relatable story, with honesty.

In short, I'm sorry. I don't have anything other to offer you than my story. I'll stop being so arrogant and pretending I'm anything other than an ordinary guy, telling his own story of depression and suicide attempts, for anybody who wants to read it. I'm sorry I got big-headed and thought that I might be making a different. I'm sorry for my delusion of grandeur.

I'm going to now delete one of the blog posts I wrote, which was definitely straying into the territory of delusional; written when I was thinking that I was making a difference, in some way... when I thought I was doing something useful. Now I see that it was irresponsible.

I'm sorry.




Would You do it for Free?

4 min read

This is a story about labour...


A reasonable test of whether or not you love, or even like, your job, is to ask yourself the question: would you do it for free? Personally, I wouldn't willingly choose to participate in ordinary organisational office life, which is not to be disparaging of my colleagues, but there are so many better, more humane ways, to organise ourselves versus large hierarchical organisations, with life revolving around going to a building for the majority of days each week, for a substantial percentage of your precious waking hours.

The part of my work which I will keep doing, whether I'm paid to do it or not, is technology. I have rejected technology a few times in my life, in an attempt to live a life which is more connected and in touch with the tangible: to see my work in physical form. The 'weight' of the entire internet, is estimated at little more than a tennis ball, if you add up all the electrons which are storing and transmitting data, across all the computers, networks, smartphones, tablets, telephone wires, airwaves... the whole shebang adds up to barely a whole lot of nothing. Some kind of massive solar storm could potentially burn out transformers and other parts of the electrical grid, but almost all the physical cabling would survive, along with most of the electrical devices. Conversely, data is mostly so ephemeral, that it barely exists physically, as evidenced by the tennis ball example.

The thing which I do so much of for free, that it might be worth considering whether I should figure out a way to make it pay, is writing. Of course, everyone wants to be a writer, or some kind of artist. The world has no shortage of writers. Plenty of people will do it for free. The same could be said of tech though: the world is full of tech hobbyists, and by my own admission, I would still be doing some kind of tech for free.

I think the vast investment in writing is paying dividends. A former work colleague often spoke of a force-field which he called simply "too much typing" which was the barrier to entry for most people wanting to get anywhere in tech. People are very happy to click a download button, or copy-paste something, but somebody, somewhere, sometime or other, has to do some damn typing.

I freely admit to having been pretty lazy for a lot of my career. Everything I've ever done in tech has been very easy and unchallenging, so there's never particularly been a need for a lot of typing. I'd be lucky if I wrote as much as ten lines of code per day, on average, during many long boring and unproductive days, employed by organisations who wanted to own me, as an intelligent ornament; to ensure that no competitor would have me, but keeping me for no other requirement except to deny others my labour. As such, I too couldn't be bothered to do much typing, because there were no interesting challenges.

It's strange how the job of fiddling with tools but never actually making anything seems to be the pitfall of so many. I was building something for a friend today, and I thought that there were a vast number of things I could be doing, which were attractive alternatives to doing the job in hand, which most other people I've worked with would have done instead. I built something pretty damn ugly and inelegant, but it worked and it delivered interesting and useful results, which the shiniest of shiny things never do. 'Perfect' systems do exist, but they don't do anything: as soon as systems come into contact with the real world, and are forced to do real, useful stuff, then the perfect imaginary world collapses, and the system turns into a big tangled mess. This is why engineers prefer to tinker and polish their tools, and never actually make anything; to stay in the safe make-believe imaginary world of perfection which they've created, bearing no resemblance to reality.

Similarly, I think now, I enjoy writing and publishing, but mainly I enjoy not having to debate or reason with unreasonable people; I don't have to persuade anybody or listen to dull, uninteresting and unintelligent opinions. I am, however, living in a fantasy world in which I can create 'perfection' so long as I don't have to come into contact with reality. That's just fine with me though... I'm doing this for free, so I can do whatever I want.




Humble Opinion

4 min read

This is a story about keyboard warriors...


You might be surprised to learn that I feel shame and regret for over-eagerly volunteering an opinion in the company of those who are more qualified, experienced and wise, who must surely have looked upon the ignorant tosh which I spouted as beneath contempt; the unintelligible gibbering of a moron.

My career has been exceedingly technical: I don't deal with the grey areas in life. My work is either right, or it's wrong. What I produce is either correct, or it's garbage. There's no "blagging" in my area of expertise: you either know what you're talking about or you don't.

Of course, most areas of life are not as black and white as my chosen career is. Most people do not work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and as such, they are not used to having to be correct; they have no use for right answers, because they can get away with wishy-washy rubbish, which isn't provably garbage; they can blag their way through life.

One of my favourite TV shows is called Scrapheap Challenge which is known as Junkyard Wars in the United States. On the show, contestants must build massive metal contraptions from old vehicles, rusting in a pile. It's a geeky show for geeky people. I can't speak on behalf of mechanical engineers, but I do know a former contestent, and one assumes that those who are engaged with building and fixing things for a living, would find it fun and interesting. I mention this show because sometimes there's a software engineer contestant, and I have observed - anecdotally - that they are pretty useless. The main skill required for being a good contestant, is being a good welder. I do very little welding, as part of my job as a software engineer.

Knowing one's limit is important. It's difficult though, not to extrapolate from expertise and mastery in one specialist area, and assume that success will be forthcoming in any other area. After a long while of continuously learning new technical skills, it's hard not to get carried away and assume that anything can be quickly learned and mastered. For sure, working in tech teaches us to continually learn new things; things which are hard and technical and can't be blagged.

Obviously I don't "know my limit" or indeed "know my place". I have opinions on almost everything, but I must say that those opinions are not the usual ill-informed ignorant gut-feel of the morons who plague the comments section on the internet. In order to have an opinion, I have to have at least read the Wikipedia page, or suchlike. Also, I have to be interested in the subject in question, sufficiently to have done some cursory reading on the subject. I like to think - arrogantly - that my opinions are grounded in reason and logic, given that my whole working life and a lot of my childhood has also been grounded in formal logic; I'm literally paid to think logically. My whole career has been quantitative and as such, my opinions are qualified with hard numbers, most of the time.

A lot of what I do could be considered quite a dark art, I suppose. I'd be lying if I didn't use gut feel and intuition to make decisions, during my working day, but I can guarantee that my decisions are backed by experience, and that experience could be expressed as statistics which bolster my claim that my decisions are data-driven. Sometimes I'm challenged to provide the firm numbers which allowed me to reach an opinion, and I can do that: I can prove why my opinions 'add up' to reach the answers I give.

There is an overlap between the black-and-white world of data science and technology, and the fuzzy world of human emotion. If I say that something can't be done, on a project, I'm often challenged to prove that 9 women can't have 1 baby in one month, for example. Sometimes, whatever being asked could be done, technically, but it would be bloody awful for all involved; sheer misery. For sure, at some point, the limitations of our biology - and even psychology - have to be considered.

I have opinions and I will not stop sharing them.




Stock Footage

5 min read

This is a story about creativity...


If you were to ask 100 people "can you draw?" most of them would answer that they cannot. If you were to ask 100 people "can you paint?" I expect that more would answer that they cannot. If you were to ask 100 people "can you compose and play music?" then most would say that they could not.


If we asked 100 people if they could do a dot-to-dot picture, or paint-by-numbers, or indeed play a piece of music which had already been composed, then most people would say that they could do all of those activities.

What's the difference?

I suppose it must be self-confidence. Since smartphones became ubiquitous, most people would consider themselves to be professional photographers, curating their Instagram pages full of their 'art'. What happened, to change photography from an art into something which the masses think they're brilliant at, and would have no problem answering "yes" if they were asked if they can take photographs. It seems to me, that having taken away the complexities of shutter speed, aperture, film speed, lux levels, considerations about depth-of-field and whether the subject is moving... now that photography is point-and-shoot, everyone thinks that they're brilliant at it.

Why not painting?

I suppose we take photographs all the time. If you have children and/or pets, your phone will be filled with photos of your progeny and/or your fur babies. If you are a youth, your phone will be full of selfies and suchlike. We are, perhaps because of the social changes which have occurred due to technology, getting a lot of practice taking photos, but we are still getting almost no practice painting, unless you are a professional fine artist.

Why not writing?

I find it unusual that, given how much screen time we all have now, writing isn't going in the same direction as photography. For sure, I suppose that people have a Twitter account, but not a blog. People have a blog, but don't write for a newspaper or magazine. People write for a website - like Buzzfeed - but don't have any published books. Perhaps everyone is writing more, which - like photography - makes it seem like people are still rubbish at it; amateur (myself included, of course).

An interesting thing happens when you make a piece of art and put it into the public domain: people who lack the confidence to be creative, connect with that artwork; they are moved by the artwork. If you love a particular song, why don't you learn to play the instruments so that you can make more of that music? It seems a little mad, to think that we each possess the ability to scratch our own itch, but perhaps it isn't true: maybe the world really does divide into creators and consumers.

I wonder why I don't include more quotations and references in my work. It's not because I'm not well read, or I can't think of where my thoughts and ideas came from: I know my source material, almost without exception. However, while my influences are well known to me, I don't see any value in parroting the authors whose work I admire. For sure, I could write a lot about other people's ideas, but it's the amalgamation of the accumulated wealth of knowledge in my mind, which is interesting. I'm not here to masturbate the dicks of the academics who had the good fortune to be afforded the time and space to formulate their own ideas, and publish. No, I already paid for their books; they already got my money. I took the best bits - cherry picked - and used that knowledge to build my own worldview.

I think to attempt to be original is foolish; a childish mistake. When we are young and immature, we choose unusual hairstyles and wear atypical clothes, in an attempt to achieve originality. Of course, there's nothing original about red trousers or a leather skirt studded with metal spikes: those superficial and pathetic attempts at originality are, in fact, the very opposite; the classic clichéd attempts of immature insecure people, to appear original.

I often worry that perhaps I'm trying too hard to be original, making the same immature insecure attempts to deliberately avoid the typical; the common; the ordinary.

I hope that what I'm achieving, is a kind of beautiful simplicity. The authors who I admire the most are the ones who have mastered the English language to such a great extent, that they don't feel the need - driven by insecurity and pomposity - to pepper their prose with long and obscure words. As [George] Orwell wrote: Never use a long word where a short one will do. I know it's a fucking cliché to quote Orwell, which is why I'm fucking doing it: because to deliberately avoid quoting him, in a desperate attempt to appear like more of an original thinker, ironically achieves the opposite.

Of course, there's always a danger whenever we start thinking "I know enough now" and that we can stop reading; stop looking around for influential figures. My worldview is, however, difficult to substantially influence now that I'm older. My mind isn't closed, but don't expect me to suddenly U-turn on some views which are quite integral to my personality and identity, such as being a socialist; a scientist. Don't expect me to suddenly find God, or start writing about how poor people are lazy and we should kill them (or at least let them die; same difference).

To write about writing is a self-indulgence which I too frequently embark upon. Apologies.




Maybe I'm the Muppet

5 min read

This is a story about software development...


Maybe I'm the problem, but wherever I go, the projects I work on are delivered on time (or early!) on budget, and they work. Everywhere else in the IT industry, projects are late, overbudget, and they are a disaster zone: security problems, performance problems and full of bugs. Maybe I'm the muppet though, for reasons I'm about to explain.

My approach to large complex software projects, is to decompose the problem into smaller easier to handle pieces. If the problem can't be decomposed into small chunks, it's probably not going to succeed. As a non-muppet who I admire once said, you wouldn't build a heart pacemaker or some other piece of technology which was a matter of life-and-death, with a design which couldn't be built and tested with certainty that it would perform its safety-critical functions perfectly. Heart pacemakers and suchlike are highly complex, sure, but they are built from lots of very thoroughly tested and well-built smaller components, which work together.

A watch, is of course, a very complex piece of mechanical machinery. The idea that we are just cogs in a big machine is a good analogy: the machine is fucked without one of the cogs. A good machine has exactly as many cogs as it needs; no more no less. Another non-muppet who I admire is oft-quoted as saying that everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. No non-muppet ever said "I like this, but wouldn't it be better if it was more complex?".

I know that arrogance and delusions of grandeur are - unfortunately - big problems that I have to deal with, as a result of my mental illness: bipolar disorder. I'm sure there are plenty of quiet, unassuming and humble people out there in the world - somewhere - who suffer from bipolar disorder, but I'm one of the more common ones: I have a lot of confidence in my skills and abilities, which is frankly justified, because I don't think I'm a muppet, because every project I work on is a big success. But, as I said before, maybe I'm the muppet.

Of course, there's no "I" in team but there is a "me". There's also a hole in the "A". If your team doesn't have an a-hole in it, you're the a-hole. I often think that I'm probably the a-hole. Etc.

I know that we're all supposed to think of ourselves as the humble tiny cog, meaning that we're replaceable and not very important. I know that we're supposed to believe that our individual contribution is negligible. Frankly, that's a load of horse shit.

Sure, if you just want to turn up at a place for a few hours, in order to get money, and you really don't give a shit about what you do there, so long as you don't hate it so much that you kill yourself, then yes, you probably are "just a cog in the machine" in the way that most people mean. However, if you care about delivering successful outcomes and take pride in your work, then you too are a cog in the machine: that is to say, the machine is fucked without you.

Of course, capitalism has attempted to turn all workers into de-skilled automata, instead of highly sought after, valuable craftsmen. Instead of having some highly skilled scientists, mathematicians, engineers and suchlike, who are experts in their field, and experts on the particular projects they are working on, capitalism would prefer it if everyone was replaceable at the drop of a hat, so that anybody who's not kowtowing to their paymasters can be unceremoniously ejected from the workplace.

In my particular profession - software engineering - capitalism has succeeded to some extent, in that vast quantities of extremely poor quality code is produced, most of which will never be assembled into any kind of working system, delivering any kind of tangible benefits as intended, because fucking muppets are in charge, and muppets think that they're the brains and they just need a bunch of programmers to be typists for their 'perfect' requirements.

Maybe I'm a muppet, because I could accept a meagre wage, doff my cap at the muppets and pretend like they're not muppets. I could pretend I'm a lowly programmer instead of a highly skilled, experienced and seasoned veteran software engineer. I could pretend like I don't see the utter stupidity. I could allow the projects I work on to be late. I could allow the projects I work on to go overbudget. I could allow the projects I work on to fail. If I just wanted money, why would I care? I'm a muppet -surely- for not shutting my mouth and just taking the money.

Of course, lots of people care; lots of people want the projects to be on time, on budget and to succeed... but only the skilled craftsmen - the engineers - can make that a reality. No amount of spreadsheet monkey muppets can turn a failing project into a success, but one or two excellent engineers can.

Anyway... I guess I'll be looking for a job again soon. The muppets don't like it when I attempt to do things the right way and make their goddam project a success, weirdly, and they can't wait to get rid of me when they think they don't need me anymore. About to be unceremoniously ejected from the workplace, I think.




Who Am I?

6 min read

This is a story about identity...


I'm always rather taken aback by anybody who asks who I am, given that I've written and published more than 1.3 million words, which have exhaustively documented who I am... or so I thought.

I suppose for an ordinary middle-class person, the question "who are you?" is really one of a few standard questions, which allow a person to be quickly bracketed; pigeon holed. Let's explore those questions, and the answers.

"What do you do?" - this is the classic middle-class question. The question could be rewritten more accurately as "how do you sell your labour to the capitalists?". The thrust of this question is to establish whether a person has a respectable job. If you're a solicitor, an accountant, a doctor or suchlike, then you are a person of interest because several assumptions can be made, which means a lot of subsequent questions can be skipped. Really, the question we'd love to ask is "how rich are you?" but it seems a little vulgar, so middle-class people take a rather indirect route in an attempt to establish an answer.

My answer to "how rich are you?" is that I have £26,000 in my bank account, I own a car worth £1,500 and a handful of possessions worth no more than a few thousand pounds. My salary is £732 per month. I am not rich.

My answer to "what do you do?" would rather obfuscate the fact that I am not rich, because I am a company director and IT consultant.

"Where did you go to university?" - this is another classic middle-class question. Obviously an Oxbridge education means that you're most likely rich, because most Oxbridge students are rich. There are the red-brick universities, such as Manchester and Birmingham, the Oxbridge reject universities like Durham and Exeter, and the highly regarded universities such as Imperial, UCL and suchlike. Then, there are the Russel Group universities, which are respected. If you went anywhere else, you're probably poor and/or stupid. It would seem more direct to ask "are you stupid?" but this is considered rude.

My answer to "are you stupid?" is no.

My answer to "where did you go to university?" is nowhere, which is rather confusing, as this would seem to suggest that I wasn't clever enough; my exam results weren't adequate. Nope. I had unconditional offers from some of the best universities in the UK. I didn't go because I wanted and needed to earn money, which I did by getting onto a graduate training programme with the UK's number one aerospace and defence company, age 17, despite not having a university degree. See - not stupid.

"Where do you live?" - yet another middle-class cliché. Of course, the real question is "how much is your house worth?". Through indirect questions, the questionner is attempting to establish whether you own a big house in a desirable area, which is likely to indicate that you're rich.

My answer to "how much is your house worth?" is that I don't own a house. See earlier answers.

My answer to "where do you live?" is a leafy suburb of Cardiff; certainly an extremely desirable area. Oh, and for a bonus, I live in a 4 bedroom house with period features, worth about £350,000... but of course, I don't own it. Well, frankly nobody owns their house, do they... except old people. The bank owns the house and they let you live there as long as you pay the mortgage. It's not yours. The title deeds at the Land Registry state who the owner is: the bank.

"What do you drive?" - this is one of the more shallow and transparently money-obsessed questions, but one that very often gets asked; a surefire attempt to socioeconomically bracket somebody... to feel the thickness of their wallet. Again, you might as well ask "are you rich?" but we already asked that one, so maybe the question should be more "what status symbols do you own?".

My answer to "what status symbols do you own?" is none. I don't have an expensive watch. I don't have a flashy expensive car. I suppose my pedigree cat perhaps qualifies as a status symbol, but I don't think of that cute little ball of fluff in that way.

My answer to "what do you drive?" is an 11-year-old car, with a big dent in it where an idiot drove into it in an otherwise empty car park, which I haven't been bothered to fix yet... because, well, it's an 11 year old car, so who cares? Of course I like cars. I could spend some of my £26,000 on a fancy car, but I won't, mostly because I hardly drive anywhere.

Those are pretty much the only questions that seem to matter to the middle-class people who are trying to size me up. They're certainly not trying to get to know me so these questions are sufficient to bracket me, somewhat.

Of course, the real answer to "who are you?" is much more complex. So complex, in fact, that 1.3 million words doesn't even begin to answer it.

If you think that I'm a self-centred narcissist, you're probably right, but I've lived with suicidal depression and come close to dying enough times to feel that I'm somewhat entitled (emphasis to underscore my extreme self-centred narcissism) to leave some kind of record of who I was behind, to survive me after I'm gone. I don't have any easily recognisable and understood label, which I can affix to myself: my profession is poorly understood and often labelled as "geek" or "nerd" or something else undesirable, even though it powers the modern world; without IT consultants - software engineers like me - you wouldn't be reading this right now, because the internet wouldn't exist. You're welcome. I'm an alumnus of a prestigious technology accelerator programme, which was held at the University of Cambridge, but of course as you know, I can't claim to be a graduate; I merely beat thousands of other applicants for one of ten precious places; I merely wowed Cambridge Union Society and some packed lecture theatres. What label should I wear?

Loser, I expect.




Give a Job to a Busy Person

6 min read

This is a story about workload...

Gas Meter

The original idiom - which I have adapted to make it more inclusive - says that if you want a job doing, you should give it to a busy man. I notice that this is fairly true, from my anecdotal observations: the busier I am, the easier it is for me to deal with extra work being given to me.

One year ago I had the intolerable task of sitting quietly trying not to get noticed, and trying to keep my mouth shut. I knew that the very best thing I could do for my career and my bank balance, was not to rock the boat; not to attempt to say or do anything useful. The best thing I could do was act as a very expensive seat warmer. I was paid for being present, not for being useful or productive.

One year ago, seemingly minor things made me exceedingly anxious. If I had to get my car tested for roadworthiness, have a haircut, deal with the gas company, or any one of a million ordinary everyday tasks, I would find it unbelievably stressful, and I struggled to cope.

I have started to work 100+ hours a week again. To say that I'm busy would be a massive understatement. I am hyper-productive for the maximum amount of hours which human physiology allows for, without sleep deprivation causing me to have a psychotic episode. Unable to sleep, it's quite usual for me to open my laptop and start working in the middle of the night. I wake up well before my alarm clock. I am running in overdrive mode at the moment, also more commonly known as a manic episode.

Of course, with mania, I get very impatient and irritable about things which are not on the critical path. For example, I was asked to update a spreadsheet which detailed the activities I've been doing during the past couple of weeks, and how long I spent on each activity. To me, this is the most ridiculous waste of my time, given that 100% of my time has been spent on productive activities for one single organisation, so I really don't give a toss about how it's sliced and diced - all my valuable time has gone to benefit the organisation who wants me to waste time on an unproductive exercise, which leaves me less time to do productive activities. It's idiotic to get your highly paid staff to spend their time doing activities which are not valuable, when instead they could be doing something useful.

The argument would be that timesheets and suchlike are the way that we calculate how much to pay people, but this is demonstrably absurd. If the number of hours worked had any kind of relationship with the value delivered, then I would agree that it's important for us to record or time worked on task accurately, but there IS NO relationship between remuneration and hours worked. If I work the same number of hours as some of my colleagues, I am paid 5 or 6 times as much. Am I 5 or 6 times more productive and valuable? Sometimes I am less valuable, sometimes I am more valuable, and sometimes - although it's exceptionally rare - my remuneration tallies with the value that I'm delivering.

One of my colleagues said to me "you've got too much time on your hands" when he saw something I'd been doing, which he thought was a waste of time. Later, that piece of work I'd done turned out to be one of the most valuable things that anybody in the team ever produced - something that benefits every member of the team every single day, and perhaps many many other members of other teams, and indeed the whole organisation.

Value and productivity are very hard to measure. "Bums on seats" culture is dreadful. The number of hours that staff spend at their place of work has no bearing on how productive and valuable they are.

In the teams I get involved with, I try to instill a culture of "think it... do it". I want people to implement any innovative ideas the moment they have them. If the ideas turn out to be duds, so what? It only takes one or two great ideas that really pay off, to more than outweigh the small amount of wasted time doing things which had little value. So much time is wasted talking about priorities, and the pros and cons of doing something, and agonising over whether it could or should be done. The culture I bring to teams and organisations is one where everybody's encouraged to build stuff, even if it gets thrown away; even if it's silly!

It's much better for people to be productive and have their brains being kept busy, than looking busy. It's so much better for people's sense of job satisfaction, sense of purpose, sense of pride, sense of ownership, and a multitude of other great qualities that we want from the people in our teams and organisations.

There's no obvious value in the text-based adventure game which I hid inside one of our systems, as an easter egg, but the value is in the cultural tone that it sets: it's OK to build stuff; don't be afraid; don't be so serious... this is supposed to be fun and intellectually challenging.

As it turned out, now we have several tools which imitate the game I built, which perform useful functions for the organisation. Instead of attempting to "win" a "game", the objective is to find and fix problems, using the available clues, which is pretty much what every IT professional does for a day job, but it's a lot better if there's a half-decent interface to help with that task. Computer games are always brilliant at having the learning curve set to make them accessible, and they take advantage of the best available features: if all you have is a computer terminal that can print text and accept typed commands, then you can still create a brilliant game, even without fancy 3D graphics and sound.

I'm busy as hell, and you might say that the 2 hours I spent writing an adventure game were wasted, but in fact it was time well spent. The 5 minutes I spent battling with a spreadsheet where I had to record the hours I spent working on things, was a total waste of time and quite corrosive to the great working culture I'm trying so hard to create.





5 min read

This is a story about being horrible to people...

Hand wash

One of my bosses, from 18 years ago, has been a source of inspiration. He is - or at least he was when I knew him - one of the bluntest, rudest and most intimidating people you'd ever be likely to meet. I have never aspired to be rude, mean or to treat people badly, but I don't suffer fools gladly and I get rather impatient and intolerant of the hard-of-thinking.

It struck me that I had written quite a lot that could be misconstrued as harshly critical of my colleagues. I wanted to address that.

Firstly, I do suffer from bouts of delusions of grandeur, as a result of my bipolar disorder. I can quite often, during episodes of mania, decide that I'm a virtuoso; a genius. There's little to burst my bubble, in terms of evidence, in that I can easily point to multiple great achievements throughout my career, and I haven't yet been defeated by a technology challenge. This means I'm good but not necessarily great. I have no idea what the distinction is, but my brain tells me that I'm great when I'm in one of those moods. In fact, my brain tells me I'm the best and in the absence of another person who makes me feel inferior, it's hard to deflate my ego and get my rampaging delusions of grandeur under control. I'm sure that I'm not the smartest person in the room but without concrete evidence to the contrary, I can get carried away.

It sounds like I'm making excuses; blaming my mental illness. Well, I do try to stay humble and keep some perspective. I do try to stop my head from swelling too much; stop my ego from getting out of control.

Secondly, I'm under a lot of pressure. Work is not just a job to me - it's an opportunity to prove that I'm not a no-good waste-of-space washed-up has-been useless junkie alcoholic homeless bankrupt mentally ill enemy of society. If I can prove beyond all reasonable doubt that I can make a substantial, exceptional contribution to a major project, then I will have a massive achievement to point to as proof that I have some worth, which will help my self-esteem enormously.

Thirdly, I'm equally capable of being a "dull-eyed dim-witted brain-dead zoned-out zombie trudging along with the herd". I'm equally capable of becoming demotivated and just turning up for the paycheque. I'm equally capable of doing a half-assed job. I'm totally capable of being very unproductive. I can spend forever procrastinating; not producing anything useful. When I make disparaging remarks, I'm not criticising individuals - I'm criticising the dreadful effect that working in a big organisation has on people, in terms of robbing them of any opportunity to learn, develop and get passionately involved in a project where they feel like they can make a difference.

I do see incompetence, which annoys me, but the people who I am angry with are the highly paid consultants who claim to be experts, but are clearly a waste of money. It annoys me that I work with brilliant graduates and rubbish consultants, when the graduates are so underpaid, which is unfair. It annoys me that I have to waste my time cleaning up mess made by people who should be the best of the best. It annoys me that I have to do extra work, because of a highly paid consultant's incompetence, when the organisation and the team really would be much better off without them.

When my brain gets accelerated up to top speed, I can be incredibly productive, but I can also be incredibly mean. I start to believe that I can do everything myself and that everybody else is just an annoyance; a hinderance. That's wrong. That's a symptom of my illness. I do need my team. I do need other people. I am glad to have my colleagues... well, most of them anyway.

I can say all sorts of stupid regrettable things when I'm suffering an episode of mania. I can be really mean and harsh when I'm in full swing. I really hope that nobody's suffering too badly when they feel the sharp end of my tongue. I really hope none of my colleagues are reading this and thinking that I believe they're useless idiots, because the truth is that I think almost all my colleagues (with the exception of one or two aforementioned overpaid consultants) are brilliant people who I'm really lucky to work with.

I know that it doesn't matter how much of a brilliant engineer you are, if you can't get along with people then your skills are useless. People with amazing technology skills are plentiful, but the valuable ones are the people who place nice with others. I know I struggle at times, and I really hope I haven't done too much damage and that my colleagues can forgive me.




Ticks in Boxes

3 min read

This is a story about form filling...


So my project is delivered and the giant form-filling SurveyMonkey exercise has begun. Today was supposed to be exciting, but it wasn't. It was boring. If I do a good job, then this part of the project is boring. If I do a good job then everything's supposed to work and run smoothly. I expect there will be problems, but at the moment there aren't any, mainly because nobody's doing the damn survey.

It's a little anti-climactic. I got up super early this morning, hoping to see the first users using the system, but there've barely been more than a handful of people who've stumbled upon the system. It won't be until tomorrow or the day after that people are notified that they have to do something, and their survey results will start flooding in. After so many months of hard work, it's a little hard to sit and watch a flat-line graph, showing virtually zero activity, the whole day. What a disappointment. At least things are working though, so far as we can tell.

I can't go into too much detail, because I'm bound by codes of conduct, privacy & confidentiality contractual clauses, and indeed other rather scary-sounding laws which restrict me from spilling the beans, but the good old general public are about to be asked to do a cool SurveyMonkey, and this is jolly exciting... except it isn't because nobody's doing it yet.

I'm exhausted.

It's been a long old slog to get to this point.

With so much nervous anticipation, it's hard to maintain the same level of energy and enthusiasm when nothing is happening. I found myself nodding off at my desk so I had to come home early. I'll try to get an early night and lots of sleep, in the hope that tomorrow is a more exciting day, providing some adrenalin to carry me through an otherwise pretty anti-climactic period.

It's supposed to go smoothly. It's supposed to go well. There aren't supposed to be any problems.


Having worked so hard for so long, to meet a very tight deadline, I really don't quite know how to re-adjust to life without that pressure; without that goal and sense of purpose. It's difficult changing mindset, from push, push, push, to now wondering what fire is going to break out that will need to be put out; what crisis is going to emerge?

Still very obsessed with work and project, but the waiting is now mostly over, and we'll soon know whether some bold decisions I made have paid off, or whether they'll cause terrible problems and turn out to be disastrous.





2 min read

This is a story about co-operative play...


What's the game I'm playing right now? Well, it's called "get the massive software system to work before the damn hard deadline". It's a multiplayer game. It's fun.

I've spent all evening chatting to some genuinely delightful colleagues. Instead of trash-talking the overpaid fuckwits, I should be raving about what a pleasure it is to work with some brilliant individuals.

I'm not so sure I would go as far as to say "I love my job" given that earlier I very much wanted to down tools and give up until the morning, in the face of overwhelming technical obstacles. I was inclined to wait for a couple of more skilled individuals to be on hand to offer some real, tangible, useful assistance, but I lucked out on being able to take a couple of nice shortcuts.

The joy has come from the camaraderie of working with the select group of individuals who really care; who really know their onions and are used to working under pressure, having to solve nasty problems with a gun to their head and a crazy number of people breathing down their neck.

The chips are down. This is sink or swim time. This is where shit gets real. I love it.

Earlier I thought "is it only Monday?" and I thought that I should give up and take it easy, because it's going to be a long week. Then, I got creative and found a way though. I've been doing work-related stuff up to 10pm but I don't care, because we're making progress; we're kicking ass.

This is fun. It's sociable.