When I was a kid I loved to learn. Like REALLY loved to learn. So much so that my teacher asked me to bring my dolly to school and do my work twice – once for me and once for her – because I was so voracious. So much so that I used to get my Mum to make me a mini-school in the garage in the summer holidays and set me Maths questions.
Somewhere along the way I lost that love of learning for a while. I hid it away and made up a fictional version of me. A version that I thought would make me popular. A version that cared more about fashion, smoking and punk-rock than maths and logic and learning. Turns out that was the most unpopular I have ever been.
Somewhere around 17 I had an epiphany. I decided to take down the barriers and let the world back in. Having flunked my A’Levels I found myself at Staffordshire University (then North Staffordshire Polytechnic) being interviewed by the wonderful Dr. Zambardino. We chatted about my love of languages and logic puzzles and he must have seen some kind of potential in me because he managed to persuade me that a degree in Information Systems with French would be a good fit. I think I maybe only saw him again twice, passing in corridors, but I have never forgotten his name.
I honestly believed I was going to be doing some kind of French and Business degree. I was utterly stunned when I found myself sat at the front, one of only 4 or so girls amidst 100+ boys, listening to the lecturer say what sounded like “blah blah buffer blah blah accumulator”. With no computer background at all I was that annoying dork at the front that asked stupid questions that everyone else sniggered at. I kept asking the questions. I started learning again. The first programming language I learned was 6502 Assembly language. I hated the language, but fell in love with the logic and nobody was more surprised than me when I left with a First Class Honours degree.
I got a job as a programmer with a software house. My interview technique then was the same as it is today. Be me. Be honest. If I am not enough then this is not the gig for me right now. I learned object-oriented programming from the talented guys at the IBM Object Technology Practice. I had imposter syndrome about a thousand times. I worked my way up the traditional career route from Programmer through Designer to Project Manager. Then I had another bit of a crisis. I didn’t like Project Managing very much and I wasn’t very good at it. It brought all my carefully unlearned behaviours flying back to the surface – I was the worst kind of command-and-control micro-managing PM. Plus, I was about to turn 30. I fled I.T., left the country, retrained as a scuba-diving instructor and travelled the world for a couple of years.
Then something strange happened again. I got bored. I yearned to use my logic brain. I found myself designing course scheduling software for scuba schools on little scraps of paper for fun. I realised I had to go back to my real passion. I started a PhD under the guidance of two fabulous supervisors, Prof. Benedict du Boulay and Dr. Pablo Romero at the University of Sussex in Brighton. I knew I wanted to look at psychology, expertise and programming and this thing called Extreme Programming/Agile had happened that looked fascinating. I got in touch with a bunch of organisations and asked if I could go and see what the heck this thing was that they were doing, meanwhile I learned about academic writing, attended the lectures and seminars for a Masters in Cognitive Psychology….oh…..and I had a baby.
Ten years on, I still love agile. I work as a consultant. I help people and organisations to make changes that I truly believe transform their working lives. Changes that I hope make the world of I.T. a little more ‘human’. Sometimes it’s pretty hard. Often it’s frustrating. However, it turns out through lucky coincidence that when people are happy they are more productive and vice versa.
Oh, and I have three children under 9. I’m militant about my work-life balance. I am lucky enough to have clients who understand when I won’t work full-time or holidays and a partner who understands that I sometimes need to disappear to work for days at a time. It’s all part of the package. I can never, ever give up learning and it turns out I can use that passion to help others and we can co-create organisations that flourish through learning as they go.
Did I mention that I have the best job in the world?
Very nice story! Isn’t it nice the meandering path we can take through life while staying ourselves?
Yes and that is part of what has amazed me. I tended to believe that success was only possible if one had a Master Plan and drove hard to achieve it, tredding on people to get there. So delighted that in fact, as in so many other places, a big detailled plan up front is more of a hindrance than a help 😉 and that being kind (to oneself as well as others) can work too.
Ah yes – the 5 and 10 year plan that will determine where we are going in life. What rubbish. I loved this post – reminds me of, well, me a bit I suppose. Not scuba diving, but drumming. Found that to be quite satisfying as a hobby, then a gig, now as a hobby again. The meandering is important in helping us understand who we are on the inside. Doing that, I believe, makes us better professionals and better people.
Thanks Peter, it’s interesting and very pleasing how the meandering path works out.
nice post, learning is one of the greatest joys in life I feel. 6502 assembler was the first language I learned (other than BASIC), the feeling of accomplishment getting a sprite on the screen has never left me, the joy of realising that you can in fact do ANYTHING you want to if you just spend some time at it is supreme, especially when you think that you can’t, not to mention all the other things you pick up along the way
Great post, and inspirational.
Do you think that there’s a correlation between clients who are sympathetic with the need to keep a work/life balance and receptiveness to Agile/XP techniques?
That’s a great question. I don’t know whether agile-receptive organisations are more open to flexible working. I guess it’s more that organisations undergoing vast changes can benefit from someone with a more external perspective. Sometimes it’s all too easy to acclimatise to things that are notably interesting or unusual to a bystander.