A little bit about my new job…

Three ducks beside the Kinness Burn in St Andrews
Ducks by the Kinnessburn in St Andrews, which I pass each day on my walk to work.

Journey to work

I can hardly believe that it has now been three weeks since I started work at the University of St Andrews. I’ve deliberately not posted much about work on my blog as I’ve been settling in and getting my head around the job, … until now.

Each morning I leave the house here in Cellardyke sometime between 08:20 and 08:35 (depending on the usual variables: the time I got up, how long I spent in the shower, the number of places I have to look for my ID badge, etc.) and walk past the beautiful Cellardyke harbour (sans swan) to my car. It’s a view that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of, looking out towards the Isle of May in the Forth. My drive to St Andrews takes about 20 minutes, and so far has been accompanied by a soundtrack from Metallica, Iron Maiden, Anthrax and Megadeth. It’s a very metal road, it would appear.

I park on Kinnessburn Road, a creatively named road that runs parallel to the Kinness Burn, and then walk from there to North Street, to Butts Wynd, where Business Improvements (BI) is located. In fact, BI is located in the creatively named building called the “Butts Wynd Building”. Bright people who named these streets and buildings. And I certainly approve of that level of usability.

What I do

My job title is Assistant Information Architect/Web Manager, and at present comprises of two main tasks: helping to oversee the redesign of the University website, and assisting the Schools and Units with their websites.

So far I’ve written a report on the Press Office website, and made some updates on the Estates’ Environment and Sustainability Development website. Today was the first time in about six years that I’ve had to deal with nested <font> tags!

Despite having been in post for only three weeks, I must have attended nearly 25 meetings so far. I certainly hit the ground running, with hardly a minute to catch my breath and trying to think strategically about what I might need to prepare for the long-term in this post. That will come, no doubt. And now that the University Web Manager and I have moved into our own office that will certainly help.

My new office

The furniture arrived for the former seminar room on Wednesday, and I finished moving things in this afternoon, with some kind help from a couple of new friends in the Business Improvements office. On of the challenges in getting the room set up is that there is a PC Classroom at the end of the corridor, where there are examinations being held all week. For some reason (I’m sure there must be a good reason) the invigilator doesn’t close the door to the classroom, which means that every time I open the door at the end of the corridor he pops out of the exam room like some kind of meercat! This morning I took some WD40 in and oiled the hinges!

Anyway, here’s my new work environment:

Photograph of my new office.  A desk in the corner of the room, beneath a window.  A table in the foreground, and a bookcase to the left of the desk.

And here’s Steve’s desk — although he hasn’t seen it yet, and I know that he reads my blog, so I don’t want to spoil the surprise!

A pixelated photograph of Steve's desk.

Did I tell you how much I’m loving my job?


View of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Murrayfield.
The Church of the Good Shepherd, Murrayfield, Edinburgh. Where I had my leaving service on Sunday.

The last few days have been very special and enjoyable.


On Sunday Jane and I woke up in Selkirk (which is fine because that’s also where we fell asleep) and drove my Mum up to Edinburgh, to the Church of the Good Shepherd, Murrayfield, to attend my leaving service. Somehow it just didn’t feel like I was leaving. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps because I felt like I was simply surrounded by friends and family; perhaps because we’d already moved to Cellardyke. I’m not sure.

It was nice to have all five (including me) members of the team involved in the service, and to have the honour of preaching and presiding. That was very special to me. I enjoyed preaching my sermon, and from the feedback I got from people afterwards they enjoyed it too.

At the end of the service there were a couple of presentations, and then a wine and nibbles reception in the hall. I felt blessed and touched by people’s generosity. Jane and I have still to decide on what to spend the money that we received, but it will likely include a new digital camera.

Mum, Jane and her parents ended our celebrations with a meal at Tusitala. The meal was delicious, but sadly the service slower than we’ve ever experienced there before.


Jane’s Mum, her sister Pauline, husband Paul and daughter Skye visited us on Bank Holiday Monday (May Day), which was lovely. Even though they filled our tiny house it didn’t feel overcrowded. It was lovely to hear people’s voices throughout the house, upstairs and down.

Meanwhile, I was in my study still working on the SEC website documentation. I managed to get the main document (all 100 pages of glorious monochromatic A4) finished late in the evening, and get the PDF file bookmarked and linked appropriately.


And today I began my new job at the University of St Andrews. I had a really enjoyable first day.

I arrived early. My ID card didn’t arrive at all. I spent much of the day installing software on my PC (IBM 3.2MHz, dual 17″ (1280 x 1024 px) monitor, keyboard, mouse, and everything™!) and trying to remember people’s names.

It was a little odd being back in St Andrews, but odd in a nice way. My previous experience of starting a new job involves wandering around lost for the first month trying to find my way around, trying to locate particular shops, etc. It feels odd that I don’t have to think twice about where certain streets or shops are. Although they’ve moved Boots since I was studying here. How dare they!

Thanks for the prayers and supportive text messages dear friends: very much appreciated. Anyway, it’s off to bed early for me tonight.

Meeting in St Andrews

Photograph of the Butts Wynd street sign in St Andrews.
Photograph of the Butts Wynd street sign in St Andrews. (Photograph by Todd Iceton.)

This morning I drove over to St Andrews for a meeting with my soon-to-be colleague, Dr Stephen Evans, and a meeting of the University Website Steering Group.

The drive over was fine, through typical Scottish driving rain and low mist as I drove over the hill from Upper Largo along the A915 towards St Andrews. I’ve never taken that road before, and my is it winding! (It is.)

I met Steve at the Business Improvements office on Butts Wynd, which runs between St Salvator’s Quad on one side and the Old Union Diner and the main Univeristy Library (which sits behind the BI building). This is where I’ll be based, so it was good to get my bearings and get a bit of a feel for the lie of the land, and meet a few people.

It was a good day. Obviously I can’t divulge anything that went on in the meetings, except to say that I didn’t realise that you could overclock a server CPU’s thermocouple diaphragm anywhere into the region of 2.85 Gigaflops.* But that’s what it’ll be like working at the cutting edge of Web technologies.

What was really helpful, apart from spending time getting to know Steve a little, was starting to get an overview of what is going on Web-wise at the University and where I’ll fit into the picture. It’s exciting; I’m looking forward to it, greatly. I feel that there will be parts of the job that I’ll can immediately offer my experience and knowledge and opinion, and aspects that will push me and challenge me, and areas where I’ll have to develop new skills and build on existing competencies. And that has to be a good thing.

The next time I drive home from St Andrews it will be towards a new home in Cellardyke.

(*By the way, all that stuff about thermocouple diaphragm whatnots: I just made it up. Well, I couldn’t just write nothing there!)

The job interview

View of St Andrews town from the pier
View of the Royal and Ancient town of St Andrews, taken from the pier.

Start date

Having spoken on the telephone this morning with the Unit Director of Business Improvements at the University of St Andrews, I now have a start date for my new job: Monday 1 May 2006.

I would have wanted to start much sooner than that, and so would they. Had we not been approaching Lent and Easter, and had I not have been covering at St Ninian’s, Comely Bank, and had I not been committed to getting as much of the Scottish Episcopal Church website done before I my appointment ended at the end of April then I would have said that I could. But I felt that I wanted to see my commitments here through to the end.

It’s now beginning to sink in that I got the job. I’m really getting quite excited about this new post, in what is a fairly new discipline — most people I speak with ask me “What is an Information Architect?!” I’ll explain that in a well-structured post soon, but if you can’t wait there is an article about Information Architecture on Wikipedia.

The interview

So, a few people have asked me about the interview on Wednesday.

Before I write about that I’ll just say a quick, presumptious hello to any members of the Business Improvements Unit who now may be following my blog with interest. Here’s how it was from my perspective.

As it happened my interview date coincided with my good friend Peter Leeming visiting from Aberdeen. I was at St Mary’s College with Peter from 1989-1993 and we’ve remained firm friends ever since.

In fact, Peter is the only person I remember from my open day visit to St Mary’s and I remember thinking how clever he must be while we visited the main library because when the group were asked for the name of a theologian he suggested “Karl Barth”; I’d never heard of him — Bart Simpson, yes; Karl Barth, no. Anyway, kindly Peter offered to change his plans for the day and travel up to St Andrews with me; I took him up on his offer.

The first part of the interview consisted of a two-part written task. Part one was to write out — on paper, with a pen — the HTML code for a web page. On the way home Peter asked me why, given that St Andrews is The Finest Academic Institution in Scotland™, they do all their Web coding on paper! It took me ages. I only had 30 minutes for both tasks, and writing out HTML in long-hand took me about 20 of those. Give me a PC and a copy of Notepad and I’ll tap it out in about a quarter of that time. Give me a PC and a copy of WeBuilder 2005 and I’ll do it in 2 minutes!

As it was, I couldn’t remember the exact tags for ensuring that the code would validate as XHTML 1.0, so I simply explained that I knew the code should be there, even if I couldn’t remember if from memory. If you’re interested it is:

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd">
<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">

Which is partly why I found the final cell of yesterday’s Dilbert cartoon so funny.

The second task I ran out of time for, but managed to scribble some ideas down. Scribble being the operative word. I’d forgotten just how much I rely on my PC for writing and organising my thoughts. I write, edit and re-edit, which is fine on a PC because the delete key doesn’t leave the same trail of squiggles and cross-outs that I left on that sheet of A4. On reflection I should just have been bold and used a mind map.

University of St Andrews crestTime up, I was accompanied to another building for the interview itself. What I remember most about the interview room itself, apart from the three people who interviewed me were the blue sofas complete with University of St Andrews crest embroidered on them.

The interview I guess went well, because I got the job. But I remember coming out of the building afterwards thinking “Aww… I’m sure I’ve blown that!” I was still feeling quite washed-out having had that 24 hour bug the day before, and so wasn’t entirely myself, but the three who interview me welcomed me warmly and helped me to relax as much as I could.

I enjoyed delivering my PowerPoint presentation, with not a bullet-point to be seen, almost as much as I enjoyed writing it. When we gathered back around the table — which felt good that we were around the table rather than a ‘them vs me’ arrangement across the table — I struggled a bit with getting out what I wanted to say. It was like there was so much information that I wanted to share it was hard to get it all out coherently.

There was one point where I misunderstood — or misheard — the question and tried to explain the difference between XHTML and XML when I’d in fact been asked to differentiate XHTML from HTML. D’oh!

Still, despite my fearful response after leaving the interview room, I had enjoyed the meeting. But then, what isn’t there to enjoy about meeting new people and talking about a field that I have a passion for?

Getting the news

After an enjoyable lunch at PizzaExpress — I had the Pollo con Funghi, thanks for asking — we drove back down the road to Edinburgh. Reaching Kirkcaldy at about 16:40 I realised that I was very near my brother Eddie’s new place of work. He now works as a Health and Safety Officer for Fife Council, seconded to their Fire and Rescue Service.

I gave Eddie a quick call and went to pick him up. Shortly after passing Thornton railway station on the way back my mobile phone rang. I threw it to Eddie on the back seat who answered it chearfully.

“Hello! Gareth’s phone. Gareth’s brother Eddie speaking…! Ok … well, he’s driving just now … ok … ok … Gareth, it’s Heidi from St Andrews.”

Checking the rearview mirror I stepped on the brake and parked at the side of a long, straight road, with the hazard lights on and took the phone back from Eddie. This is it, I thought, thanks but I’m sorry you were unsuccessful. But to my absolute delight (and pleasant surprise) I was wrong: I was the successful candidate. We arranged that Heidi would telephone me on Friday morning to arrange a start date and salary and then she checked that my contact details were right.

Heidi: Would it be easier to phone you on your landline or mobile on Friday?
Gareth: Either is fine. I should be in, though.
Heidi: Let me just check I’ve got your home phone number correct: 0131 …
Gareth: That’s right.
Heidi: Alright, I’ll telephone you on Friday.
Gareth: Have you got my mobile number?
Heidi: I’m phoning you on it right now.
Gareth: [Slightly embarrassed pause.] Oh yes. Well noticed!

Meanwhile Peter and Eddie were killing themselves laughing, quietly in the background. I hung up the phone and turned to them, “I got the job,” I said simply.

About half a mile further down the road I pulled over again. “I’ve got to phone Jane!” She was at the Gyle with her Mum. “Are you sitting down?”
“No. Just tell me!”
“I got the job!”
The phone went silent. “I think I’m going to cry. I’m so proud of you.”

For the next couple of miles down the A92 whenever I looked in my rearview mirror all I could see was Eddie smiling wildly, his face held between two hands giving me the thumbs-up.

And that was it — or at least part of it, the rest I’ll keep to myself to treasure if you don’t mind. I feel a new sense of confidence about myself. And I have no doubts that this is the area I want to work in. Because even though there is a good helping of geeky stuff in this field and this job, at the end of the day it’s still all about caring about people: presenting information in such a way that anybody can access or update it easily and simply. Because if it’s not arranged in a user-friendly way, if it’s not organised in a way that people can find it it might as well not be there at all. Put another way, what is the point of hiding your light under a bushel? As someone famous once said (Matthew 5: 15).