Yearnote for 2015
This is the one time a year where I force myself to write more than 140 characters in a single sitting about stuff I did in the past 12 months.
2015 to-do list recap
Firstly, how well did I meet some of my aims I set at the end of last year? Sadly I didn't make huge progress with my to-do list, for reasons explained in more detail below. However, 2016 is full of potential so all is definitely not lost. To recap, here's what I had aimed to do in 2015:
I did take on a larger mentoring role at R/GA, and we felt we were making progress. But due to geography much of it was done over video-conferencing, which is always a less than ideal communication medium.
More Code Club and educational things for young people
Unfortunately I had to stop running the Leytonstone Code Club due to time constraints. I will find a replacement Clubber for them this year. In the meantime I have a large education-focused project to work on as part of my new job, so I haven't abandoned the computer science education area completely.
More side projects with my friends
Ugh. I managed to spend a pathetically small amount of time on Badonnathon 2.0, now called Good Tunes and relaunched for Ben's New York marathon. In the end the heroic Ian Huntington did 99.999% of the work, and Ben raised a staggering amount of $$$$$. I would still love to package Badonnathon/Good Tunes as an easy to customize, simple set up fundraising campaign for all charity runners. Maybe this year we can all pull our fingers out and make this happen?
London Tilde Club
So anyway here's what I actually ended up doing in 2015:
At the start of 2015 I did a few months of research, planning, architecture and hiring for an iOS app and website for an international fast-food franchise, aimed at producing a casual gaming platform for 7-12 year olds. We worked with another agency called Preloaded for the build of the app itself.
It's called Happy Studio and it finally came out in December, and it's really great. It contains zero fast food references. Actually don't think it contains any mention of the international fast-food franchise at all. But it's truly entertaining, full of personality, and encourages and rewards exploratory play rather than competitiveness or acquisition. Enormous amounts of childrens education research went into the app, and I'm incredibly proud of the team who delivered it. My kids love it, and we often spend time playing it together. Download it here and give it a go.
I also did some work rethinking the meaning of masculinity for a fast-selling consumer goods company in order to sell more deodorant. If you ever want to get a true sense of what working in an advertising agency is like, try spending three months endlessly presenting decks titled "Masculine Identity In Tribal Subcultures" before ultimately imploding under the weight of your own lofty ideas and delivering yet another stop-gap Tumblr site with a comically tone-deaf tagline.
I helped run R/GA's second STEM In A Day event, this time welcoming young women from Lambeth Academy and Shenfield High School in Essex to learn about combining creativity and code. It was another very rewarding session, with everyone enthusiastically brainstorming creative technology approaches to a brief, before putting together wireframes, user flows and app prototypes to demo to the whole group.
This age group understand technology as now being so pervasive that even niche as-yet-unreleased hardware like Oculus Rift is seen by them as an entirely natural, sensible and feasible solution. Stemettes are a great organisation, and I hope we were able to encourage some of the students to consider studying one or more STEM subjects at school and beyond.
In 2015Suki and I officially formed a design studio and gave it a name: antipattern. Finding a work/life/antipattern balance continues to present a challenge, but it's one we're keen to take on. Since then we've worked on projects for Ninja Tune, the Association of Independent Music, an online music startup called Juice VCR, and also launched the 3rd year of the Convergence festival. More details of each project are below:
In April we launched our biggest project to date — a brand new platform for Solid Steel, the longest running mix show in the world, produced in association with Ninja Tune.
Solid Steel wanted to relaunch their website to celebrate running for 25 years. They also needed to add support for mobile devices, search and filtering functionality and tight integration with Soundcloud.
The site is perfectly minimal, totally balanced in form and functionality. Tech details: front-end is Ember, backend is Rails, MySQL on Ubuntu on Digital Ocean. I really enjoyed working with Ember. The development environment and workflow they have produced is extremely productive (once you're past a fairly steep initial learning curve), with local server, optimisation, tests and scaffolding functions all built in.
Indie Label Cup
We produced an interactive website for a charity football tournament involving the music labels Ninja Tune, 4AD, Bella Union, Heavenly and more, raising money for Crisis. It features real kickable footballs and realistic crowd sounds!
Jessica was impressed with our Solid Steel work, and asked if we'd like to be involved in the launch of her new music broadcasting platform, Juice VCR. The focus is 100% on curated music videos and independent artists, and the site delivers on this vision with an interface that gets out of your way ASAP. Tech details: the front-end is Backbone, with Video.js handling the music player and wrappers for YouTube and Vimeo APIs. Backend is Craft CMS, a really nice, easily customisable PHP CMS with a pretty friendly authoring UI.
In May while we were on half-term holiday in Derbyshire I got an email from Google. They asked if I was interested in talking to them about a job. I assumed it was spam at first. But about a week later I wrote back and said yes, of course I'd be interested. A phone call swiftly followed, then a face-to-face with my hiring manager, Dave, in Google's quirky, thickly carpeted Covent Garden office. He explained what he was looking for. Then he said he wanted me to go to Mountain View to talk to some more people. OK!
Google's travel agency sorted out flights, hotel and hire car for the 5-day visit. Kate kept asking me if there was atually a job on offer at the end of all this. Good question! I wasn't sure. I had two days before the interviews which I spent swotting up on things I wanted to talk about, looking around Palo Alto, Stanford and Cupertino, doing trial runs to the main Google campus in my hire car, and squeezing in a couple of visits to In-N-Out Burger. I wandered longingly around Bev Mo, an enormous craft beer shop the size of a standard Waitrose, for about an hour. I put together a massive bag of crazy American sweets to take home for the kids.
I had all four interviews scheduled on one day. The HR person emailed twice to say the location had been moved. The campus is huge, strecthing over dozens of blocks in Mountain View, so each time I would have to check the map to make sure it wasn't so far away that I'd be late. In the end I was pretty early, but still struggled to find a parking place. Everyone drives to work I guess. I walked onto the campus, noted the volleyball court, the giant dinosaur statue, a tour group which contained two uniformed military officers, and the rows of multi-coloured bikes which Googlers use to get around the offices. At this point I did a LOL and said myself "What the hell am I doing here?!".
—This is me on a Google bike—
I was met by a recruiter at the office, and we chatted for a bit while we waited for my interviewers to turn up. I met the Global Tech Lead for the team I was being interviewed for, plus its Managing Director, Director and a software engineer. Everyone was completely charming, and took so many notes I often had to pause speaking to allow them to catch up. I had a technical interview where I had to hand write code with a pencil and paper. We talked about a broad range of subjects, from security to creativity to managing engineers. Halfway through I got to take a break and have an "off the record" lunch with a Googler related to the team I might be joining. We joined a queue at a salad bar, where chefs tossed together any combination of three-dozen ingredients for you. The food was all free, and amazing. We ate outside in the sun and my co-luncher talked about the importance of self-direction and motivation at Google.
These were the most interesting, relaxed and enjoyable interviews I've ever had. Everyone was fully briefed on me and my background, there were plenty of opportunities for questions, and the conversation was relaxed and interesting, wandering far and wide like it might if you were meeting someone at a bar for the first time. I said goodbye, took one more walk around the Googleplex to take it all in, then headed for San Francisco airport.
Flying straight home immediately after the interviews was a big mistake! I spent 11 hours in the air fretting about whether I'd said the right things, about whether they liked me or not, whether I'd been too casual, or not casual enough. I was stuck a mile up in the air without any internet or anyone to talk to about it. The next day I landed and went straight to Weymouth to catch up with my family, who were on holiday again.
I heard back from the London office a few days later. Everything seemed to go ok. They kept me quite up-to-date over the next few weeks, as my "packet" made its way through the recruitment system. This process is documented very well in Laszlo Bock's book Work Rules!. Laszlo is SVP of People Operations at Google. There is also an excellent series of questions and answers about Google's hiring practices by an ex-Google engineering recruiter on Quora.
Very basically, when interviewing at Google you will normally have one phone interview, one face-to-face interview with a hiring manager, and four or five face-to-face interviews with people closely related to your job. Then all the notes and scores from all your interviewers go into a "packet" which goes to a hiring committee for approval (or not). Then it goes to a remuneration committee, where some clever maths is done to make sure you're offered the right amount of salary and benefits. Then everything goes to an SVP to get rubber stamped. My packet got delayed twice because the recruiting committee meetings got moved. Eventually....my recruiter called me, confirmed there was an offer, and talked me through all the details on the phone. It felt so good to finally hear it! I went to the pub for an extended lunch.
My hiring manager kept in touch during my notice period, including inviting me to an offsite with the whole team about two weeks before I would officially start working with them. I didn't want to miss the chance to meet the team, so I junped at the chance. We had a fantastic two days in a rambling Oxfordshire mansion, with amazing food and wine, great company, lots of fun and some pretty intensive prototyping sessions run by Marina and Zak, two Googlers from Mountain View.
A few weeks later I started work, and it's been crazy ever since. I just got back from my third visit to Mountain View, and next week I'm meeting the Deep Mind team to talk about potential uses for their machine learning capability. I'm on the Expeditions team which takes Cardboard into schools to demonstrate VR technology to students and teachers. We've designed and launched two amazing websites since November: a Petra Streetview and an immersive Performing Arts 360-video experience.
I haven't quite had time to catch my breath and think about aims and ambitions for this year. But when I do I'll update this page. In the meantime here is a picture of Jacob at a restaurant in June 2015: