Sailing goals for 2024: to be a (somewhat) competent member of a crew

Bye for now omg.lol, you were great

Finished reading: Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard 📚

Incredibly moving. First time reading Ballard so this was an eye opener as the book is quasi autobiographical. It focuses on Shanghai just before WWII starts in the Pacific. It is under Japanese occupation but the International Quarter is largely respected. The Brits still control this little area in the colonial way, with Jim living a life of luxury in amongst a hungry, poverty-stricken Shanghai.

This changes suddenly when the Brits and other expats are interned at PoW camp. The story is told through the eyes of Jim: a young, frenetic but endearing teenager, who never quite shrugs off childish ideas and questions, much to annoyance of the adults. This keeps him real and hopeful and even idealistic, despite being in a PoW camp.

One of the most interesting threads of the book is how these pompous and over privileged colonial-master type Brits and others find themselves having to live in this new reality where they are reduced to starving, desperate prisoners of war. All the trappings of their life, their power and wealth are shredded yet some cultural norms are still there.

There’s a hugely interesting thread in the book about the seeds of modern China emerging in this book.

It is the story of the subjugated local Chinese, who - except for the militias - seem to have to given up on life and resistance and live a pitiful life devoid of any meaning or dignity. No-one, neither the Brits or the Japanese value their lives, disgustingly.

There’s a telling line at the end of the book, after the war when Shanghai is back in Allied hands:

However, the heads of the Chinese were already turning to another spectacle. A crowd had gathered below the steps of the Shanghai Club. A group of American and British sailors had emerged through the revolving doors and stood on the top step, arguing with each other and waving drunkenly at the cruiser moored by the Bund. The Chinese watched as they formed a chorus line. Provoked by their curious but silent audience, the sailors began to jeer at the Chinese. At a signal from an older sailor, the men unbuttoned their bell-bottomed trousers and urinated down the steps. Fifty feet below them, the Chinese watched without comment as the arcs of urine formed a foaming stream that ran down to the street. When it reached the pavement the Chinese stepped back, their faces expressionless. Jim glanced at the people around him, the clerks and coolies and peasant women, well aware of what they were thinking. One day China would punish the rest of the world, and take a frightening revenge.

Finished reading: Luster by Raven Leilani 📚

Arresting novel about a woman who has a relationship with a married man and becomes part of his family. Big dynamics on race and power. She’s got serious issues which he uses for his benefit, unwittingly or not. His wife is the most interesting character and their friendship is crux of the book.

Side note: made me also think about what a NJ life would have been for my wife and I, had we stayed in New York. Unrelenting pressure of competitive burbs, living in indentikit, soulless houses in “safe” neighbourhoods. The feeling of guilt if you’re not doing everything all the time compounded if you feel that guilt for your kids. Totally beside the point of the story but nevertheless that was my personal reaction.

My whiteness and privilege probably means many underlying messages of the book go over my head. Enjoyed it despite that and learned things about being black in America that I had a low level awareness of but now have an appreciation that is slightly less shallow.

The prose is fast! Highly enjoyable to read, reads like a proper new yorker jabbering away at you a million miles per hour. Precise and funny but also sad.

Finished reading: Britain Alone by Philip Stephens 📚

Historical account of British foreign policy and geopolitical positioning from Suez to Brexit. Holding ourselves up to the “great power” mirror and seeing a real one reflected in the 40s and early 50s to a quickly diminishing one in the 60s to a former one in the 70s and onwards.

As a historical account kept me hooked. Lots of new detail I didn’t know about Suez, Polaris & Trident, the “Sterling area” and the rollback of Empire.

A large theme (and well trodden elsewhere), is that Britain having not lost the war, sees itself as different and apart from the “lesser countries” of Europe. In the post war period, it still saw itself as one of the “big three” of the US, USSR and Britain/Commonwealth/Empire. Whitehall in the 50s believed the terrible state we found ourselves in post war was merely temporary.

The first half of the book is the slow realisation that it was not temporary, with some fascinating insight into players like Harold Macmillian and the games he played with presidents and parliament. He knew that Britain could no longer act independently from the US and was becoming more economically dependent on the European Community. But post-war British “Great Power” pretensions, from both Labour and Conservative, means we miss out on the first wave of European integration.

Missing that first wave of European integration ends up being crucial to everything that happened next. The UK arrived too late and too poor. The rules of club were set, the direction of travel known. Next up: 40 years of sailing against the wind, demanding opt-outs, rebates.

A self important square peg of an island refusing to bend to the new European destiny that started in Sicily in the 50s, while we were begging the Americans for rockets to shoot nuclear weapons.

Finished reading: Imperium by Robert Harris 📚

I have a new hero: Cicero

Finished reading: Helgoland by Carlo Rovelli 📚

I don’t know what it is about Rovelli, but I find his writing so relaxing and perfect to read before bed.

Finished reading: Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis 📚

Zorba personifies my best and longest friend and this touched me because of that. I plan to go to Greece with him, rustle a sheep and eat it on the beach.

Finished reading: The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli 📚

Heavy (for me) but super interesting and, weirdly, relaxing.

Finished reading: Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet 📚

Really recommend this, great read.

Finished reading: The Wolf-girl, the Greeks and the Gods by Tom Holland 📚

Great story, beautifully illustrated, read to the kids and they loved it.

Finished reading: Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov 📚

Interesting idea, although I found the plot meandered a fair bit

Finished reading: Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan 📚

Loved this, made me cry. Mates eh.

It’s that one and only time of year that I look at my blog, make all sorts of promises that _this is the year _ that I finally take it seriously. Oh, the lies we tell ourselves😆

Currently reading: Babel by R 📚

Great fiction: Termush (Faber Editions) by Sven Holm 📚

Dark and engaging short story about people locked away in a hotel after a nuclear disaster

Great fiction: The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe 📚

Brilliant story about racism and privilege in 1980s NYC

Finished reading: Barrow’s Boys by Fergus Fleming 📚

Brilliant real life adventure mixed-up with the politics of a lonely super power looking for something to do.

Top books of 2021

Here’s some of the books I read in 2021 that stood out:

Britain Alone - Philip Stephens

Historical account of British foreign policy and geopolitical positioning from Suez to Brexit. Holding ourselves up to the “great power” mirror and seeing a real one reflected in the 40s and early 50s to a quickly diminishing one in the 60s to a former one in the 70s and onwards.

As a historical account kept me hooked. Lots of new detail I didn’t know about Suez, Polaris & Trident, the “Sterling area” and the rollback of Empire.

A large theme (and well trodden elsewhere), is that Britain having not lost the war, sees itself as different and apart from the “lesser countries” of Europe. In the post war period, it still saw itself as one of the “big three” of the US, USSR and Britain/Commonwealth/Empire. Whitehall in the 50s believed the terrible state we found ourselves in post war was merely temporary.

The first half of the book is the slow realisation that it was not temporary, with some fascinating insight into players like Harold Macmillian and the games he played with presidents and parliament. He knew that Britain could no longer act independently from the US and was becoming more economically dependent on the European Community. But post-war British “Great Power” pretensions, from both Labour and Conservative, means we miss out on the first wave of European integration.

Missing that first wave of European integration ends up being crucial to everything that happened next. The UK arrived too late and too poor. The rules of club were set, the direction of travel known. Next up: 40 years of sailing against the wind, demanding opt-outs, rebates.

A self important square peg of an island refusing to bend to the new European destiny that started in Sicily in the 50s, while we were begging the Americans for rockets to shoot nuclear weapons.

Luster - Raven Leilani

Arresting novel about a woman who has a relationship with a married man and becomes part of his family. Big dynamics on race and power. She’s got serious issues which he uses for his benefit, unwittingly or not. His wife is the most interesting character and their friendship is crux of the book.

Side note: made me also think about what a NJ life would have been for Sal and I, had we stayed in New York and moved there. Unrelenting pressure of competitive burbs, living in indentikit, soulless houses in “safe” neighbourhoods. The feeling of guilt if you’re not doing everything all the time compounded if you feel that guilt for your kids. Totally beside the point of the story but nevertheless my personal reaction.

My whiteness and privilege probably means many underlying messages of the book go over my head. Enjoyed it despite that and learned things about being black in America that I had a low level of awareness about but now have a slightly less shallow appreciation of.

The prose is fast! Highly enjoyable to read, reads like a proper new yorker jabbering away at you a million miles per hour. Precise and funny but also sad.

Empire of the sun - JG Ballard

Incredibly moving. Never ready Ballard before so this was an eye opener as the book is quasi autobiographical. It focuses Shanghai before WWII starts in the Pacific. It is under Japanese occupation but the International Quarter is largely respected. The Brits are in control in a very colonial way, with Jim living a life of luxury in amongst a wider Shanghai or total poverty.

This changes suddenly when the Brits and other expats are interned at PoW camp. The story is told through the eyes of Jim, a young frenetic but endearing teenager, who never quite shrugs off childish ideas and questions, much to annoyance of the adults. This keeps him real and hopeful and even idealistic, despite being in a PoW camp.

One of the most interesting threads of the book is how these pompous and over privileged colonial-master type Brits and others find themselves having to live in this new reality where they are reduced to starving, desperate prisoners of war. All the trappings of their life, their power and wealth totally gone.

I think there’s a hugely interesting thread about the seeds of China in the 21st century in this book.

The story of the subjugated local Chinese, who - except for the militias - seem to have to given up on life and resistance and live a pitiful life devoid of any meaning or dignity. No-one, not the Brits or the Japanese value their lives.

There’s a telling line at the end of the book, after the war when Shanghai is back in Allied hands and fully of British and American navy:

However, the heads of the Chinese were already turning to another spectacle. A crowd had gathered below the steps of the Shanghai Club. A group of American and British sailors had emerged through the revolving doors and stood on the top step, arguing with each other and waving drunkenly at the cruiser moored by the Bund. The Chinese watched as they formed a chorus line. Provoked by their curious but silent audience, the sailors began to jeer at the Chinese. At a signal from an older sailor, the men unbuttoned their bell-bottomed trousers and urinated down the steps. Fifty feet below them, the Chinese watched without comment as the arcs of urine formed a foaming stream that ran down to the street. When it reached the pavement the Chinese stepped back, their faces expressionless. Jim glanced at the people around him, the clerks and coolies and peasant women, well aware of what they were thinking. One day China would punish the rest of the world, and take a frightening revenge.

Ballard, J. G.. Empire of the Sun (pp. 278-279). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Engineering career ladder

This note was orginally written for the Wonderbly dev team in 2017. At the time, the team had about 20 devs, split into three squads, each with a tech lead who was also the line manager. I have since shared it with a few other folks within other companies, who have found it useful. Adding here for posterity.

This document is to help you understand how engineering career progression works at Wonderbly. It explains our principles, roles within engineering and how to make progress.

Defining a linear career progression is not the point of this doc. It’s impossible for a single title to describe you and where you are in your career. There are no accepted industry definitions to follow and what denotes seniority at one company can have mean something very different at another. It’s also perfectly possible for two people with different but equally valuable skills and have the same title.

So therefore the goal of this document is help you understand your next move and provide guidance to your manager to help get you there.

Underlying principles

It’s helpful to have some principles to help us think about titles, careers and progression and the like. These principles reflect our culture, a desire to not constrain people and finally reflect industry experience.

  • We’re all engineers - software development is a complex business and requires all kinds of people with different skills and sensibilities to make it a success. Whatever role you fulfill you are first and foremost an engineer, treated on equal terms to all others

  • Jobs not titles - we don’t believe titles can act as a label to wholly represent who you are. As much as possible the title should represent the job you do. Statue and authority come by doing

  • Grow in any direction - there’s no set path. People and businesses move non-linearly and it’s perfectly possible, even preferable, that career paths do the same.

  • Working here is a badge of honour - having Wonderbly on your CV, regardless of your title, should be the best signifier of your talents. To do that we need to strive to make Wonderbly a renowned place to work in London

  • Help others first - always prioritise others; helping each other encourages learning for everybody, spreads information and break down silos

Engineering Roles

The following descriptions contain an outline of what we expect to see from each role. This is by no means meant to be exhaustive and instead intending to act as guide for career planning.

The numerical suffixes (eg Engineer II) need not be public - they are there to help you and your manager with career planning to allow you to master the role and ultimately progress.

Position Influence Behavioural traits Ownership
Software Engineer Yourself and their work Implements well defined tasks fully / Takes on guidance and mentoring when needed None yet; currently learning with others. Expected timeframe to progress: 6-12 months
Software Engineer - II Their project and team Trusted to deliver features end-to-end / Improves overall quality / Provides useful feedback through code review / Valuable contributor to team design discussions Co-owns areas within team responsibility, with some guidance. Expected timeframe to progress: 1-3 years
Software Engineer - III Their project and team Reduces complexity, not adds to it / Routinely unblocks others but also knows when to seek help Fully owns key area within teams responsibility. Expected timeframe to progress: 1-3 years
Senior Software Engineer Their domain Uses experience and charm to steer tech strategy within domain / Always on-hand to provide guidance to team / Creates momentum for tech initiatives / Resists poor quality Ownership of 1 key system and contributes to others. Expected timeframe to progress: 3+ years
Principal Software Engineer All of Engineering and relevant community Uses experience and charm to steer tech strategy for entire org / Owns long-running, complex initiatives (eg multi-year) / Key voice of Engineering to rest of co and community Ownership of systems across the org. Last point of failure in emergencies
Tech Team Lead Their domain, team and product owner Disseminates requirements into manageable workstreams for engineers in their team / Develops people as well as they develop code / Defines a smooth, light touch development process that works for their team Ownership of delivery of business roadmap on behalf of POs

Describing your title in public

Engineers can specialise in certain areas, such as a specific domain like QA, Infrastructure or Payments, Front-end etc. If you feel it represents you better then feel free to use that specialism can be used in your title, as a prefix.

There’s no need to seek permission to add a prefix to your Engineer title on social profiles, Linkedin etc. Just remember that we’re in a rapidly changing business and industry and the term might become out of date.

Examples:

  • Engineer, Front-end
  • Engineer, Platform
  • Full stack Developer
  • QA Engineer

It tends to make less sense to call out specialisms the more senior you are. For Seniors and Principals the focus is at a domain level, so generally there’s always some element of front-end, back-end, infra etc in the role.

Difference between “developer”, “engineer”, “hacker”, “bit twiddler” etc

We make no distinction between those terms. We default to Engineer but refer to yourself with whatever term you feel is more appropriate.

Creating a career plan

A career plan is

  • An agreed set of quarterly goals that enable you to exhibit qualities we expect to see of a person in their next role
  • Generally the plan is over 6-12 months
  • The outcome is a recognition of your personal development (eg title/salary etc), depending on how the goals are met
  • Everybody’s plan will be different because we come from different places, but the overall goals are largely the same
  • Crafted between you and your line manager

Mastering the Engineer role

The first crucial step in your career is to master the “Engineer” role by incrementally taking on more responsibility by meeting the scopes of level II and III.

Remember the use of numbers, eg “Engineer II”, is a step in your progression towards mastering the Engineer role. It’s not something we expect to put in a contract or callout on social media. Instead it will be used to guide career planning, generally around annual review time.

Remuneration we will reward your progress towards mastery of the Engineering role with your annual raise, decided at your yearly review.

Moving to Senior Engineer

To move to senior you will need to first master the Engineer role (see above).

Then, if your TTL agrees that the opportunity is available within the team, and you are ready, you can work together to create a career plan for a move to senior. This will won’t be easy and we will be looking for you to take on challenges that reflect increasing levels of responsibility and stewardship. A promotion to senior marks an important milestone in your professional development.

Remuneration we will celebrate this promotion with a change in title, a raise to reflect your increased responsibility, rounds of applause and lots of treats.

Moving to TTL or Principal

From senior onwards there are two paths open to you, depending on your interests and needs of the team. You can either grow to take responsibility for a tech team and the engineers in it by becoming the Tech Team Lead. Alternatively you can focus on growing your technical responsibilities by becoming a Principal and help shape our technical strategy.

To move on to either requires the same plan as moving to Senior, except agreed with Head of Engineering.

It’s also perfectly fine to move between roles. People’s situations change as the does the company’s. There’s no defined route that you must take that can never be looked at again. It’s more to do with providing a structure to ask the right questions.