Let’s talk about mental health

The Firth of Forth, looking towards the Isle of May

One year ago today, I walked into work and burst into tears. I didn’t even make it to my desk. I felt the anxiety rising as I approached my office building. By the time I reached the top of the stairs I was shaking and hyper-ventilating. I walked past my office, sat in my boss’s office and wept.

Continue reading Let’s talk about mental health

I’m taking a short sabbatical

My former desk (on the right) in the digital communications team office

End of the beginning

This week marks the end of an era. On Sunday 5 August, after 4,480 days—12 years, 3 months and 5 days—I ended my employment at the University of St Andrews.

Changes

Over these 147 months, I’ve seen a huge change in the web development landscape. When I joined the team (of one—the perfect introvert’s team size) in May 2006 as assistant web manager/information architect, the second browser war was still going on. Internet Explorer 6 was still the dominant Windows browser, Firefox was a four-year old upstart and Chrome was still two and a half years away.

My first proper project—after dabbling with some designs for a Press Office website redesign that didn’t come to anything—was to wrestle with Saulcat, the University’s library catalogue system. Who can fail to be impressed with online documentation for a third-party system that you’ve barely ever used that runs to literally tens of thousands of pages? That was also the first project that ever made me cry.

There was an excitement back then. We were on the cutting edge. Pulling an almost all-nighter to get the new site launched in TERMINALFOUR Site Manager v5.0, only to discover that some part of the design didn’t work in IE7 as soon as we went live, and the frantic scramble to get it fixed.

Our focus was so much on the technology: the browser wars were still going.

LUKE SKYWALKER You fought in the Browser Wars?

OBI-WAN KENOBI Yes. I was once a Web developer, the same as your father.

LUKE SKYWALKER No, my father didn’t fight in the Browser Wars. He simply used Netscape Navigator on a spice freighter.

OBI-WAN KENOBI That’s what your uncle told you. He didn’t hold with your father’s ideals—an open, accessible and universal web.

Having come through some pretty hairy health problems (viral meningitis, anyone?), plus a divorce, wardenning in hall (“I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”), and then a recent bowel cancer health-scare (from January through to April), I realised that I needed to start looking after myself for a while. That’s not something that comes easily to me—I find it more natural to care for others.

I have worked pretty much flat out for at least the last 21 years—I’ve poured myself out into each job and given everything that I can. Earlier this year I simply felt broken, burned out with little left to give.

The last four months have provided a useful buffer to rest and heal and reflect on my future. When I was going through the pros and cons of leaving the University, the biggest pro of staying was being with people that I’ve been fortunate to call my friends, in some cases, for the last 26.24% of my life. But that wasn’t enough to keep me at St Andrews—I can always keep up with my friends outside of work-hours.

I am proud of what I have achieved at St Andrews, and what we as a team have achieved. I have been blessed by the friendships that I have made there. But it is time to change pace for a while and allow myself to heal more fully and gain a little more perspective. 

One phrase in particular has been going around my head for the last few months as I’ve journeyed towards this decision: “you cannot heal in the same environment that made you sick”, and in the words of Ozzy Osbourne, “I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.”

Solitude

So, I have decided to take a short sabbatical.

I will focus on my health, on eating more healthily, on cycling and walking, on resting and focusing on my mental health too. Then I will turn my attention to whatever is next.

As far as employment goes, it’s not as though I’ll be falling off the edge of the world. I have a few irons in the fire, as they say—all still in digital/web development. I’m excited about what’s next. All will be revealed in due course. In the meantime, I am simply enjoying life, enjoying being with my children, and with those I love. Feels good to me.

Fun fact: as I’m taking a sabbatical, I decided to use a lot of Black Sabbath (geddit?) song titles in this post. See if you can find them all.

Today, I’ve been working at St Andrews for a decade

University of St Andrews homepage in 2006
The University of St Andrews website that I inherited in 2006

Today is exactly ten years since I started working at the University of St Andrews. I joined the web team within Business Improvements as assistant information architect/web manager. There were two of us in the team. I always said at the time that I liked my job title because with the forward-slash it looked like a URL.

I remember getting offered the post and thinking, “Well, if I don’t know it now I can always learn it on the job.” You read my reflections on the job interview here on my blog.

Ten years on I am now the web architect within the digital communications team (part of Corporate Communications) we have a team of 10, and I work mostly in Agile project management and business analysis. Ten years on, I still love my job, and I love my team. I’m still being challenged, I am still learning how to do my job better, and I still growing.

Obviously, I’m now even more involved in the life of the University having taken up the post as warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. I will reflect on that in more detail in another post shortly, suffice to say here that I’ve agreed to stay on beyond my probationary period.

But today I’m celebrating ten years here… well, fourteen if you include my four undergraduate years from 1989 to 1993. I wonder where I will be in ten years from now.

Where The Guardian advertises developer jobs

Screenshot of code from The Guardian website with WE ARE HIRING written in ASCII art
Screenshot of code from The Guardian website with WE ARE HIRING written in ASCII art

This evening I was reading an article by Giles Fraser on The Guardian website and I was intrigued to understand how they coded the drop-cap at the top of the article:

Screenshot of dropped cap
.drop-cap > .drop-cap__inner

So being versed in the ways of the web developer I highlighted the letter, right-clicked and selected Inspect (I’m using Google Chrome, other browsers are also available). This opens a code inspector where you can poke around the HTML, CSS and JavaScript that builds a webpage, and it even allows you to edit it in situ to better understand how it all fits together.

I smiled when I saw, at the top of the HTML code, written in a comment in a combination of text and ASCII art:

WE ARE HIRING

WE ARE HIRING

Ever thought about joining us?
http://developers.theguardian.com/join-the-team.html

What a terrific idea! Brilliant targeted advertising.

 

My new role for 2016—warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall

Agnes Blackadder Hall (formerly New Hall)
Agnes Blackadder Hall, formerly New Hall. (Photo credit: Google Maps)

It turns out that when a couple separates it is customary — in the antithesis of the Spice Girls song — for one to become two. So next month I’ll be moving into my new flat at Agnes Blackadder Hall in St Andrews, where I’ve been appointed as the new warden.

I feel very honoured and privileged to be given this opportunity. It seems like a very natural move for me, drawing on past experience working in three residential homeless hostels in London, as well as in pastoral care roles in parishes, prison and hospitals, and my last nine and a half years working at the University of St Andrews, as well as four as a student.

(I’ve just realised that I’ve spent 30.6% of my life at St Andrews.)

I’ll still be working as web architect within the digital communications team, the warden role will be alongside that post: evenings and weekends mostly.

I’m really looking forward to the new opportunities, the new challenges, new experiences… and the enormously steep learning curve ahead of me.

As I said a couple of weeks ago: To quote Faith No More: “Life to [me] is a dashing, bold adventure / So sing, and rejoice, sing, and rejoice”.