Establishing digital at the heart of the University from IWMW 2016

I had a bit of a surprise this afternoon when I spoke with my sister Jenni on the phone.

“I saw that lecture you gave at the university, on YouTube,” she said.

“What lecture?”

Jenni sent me the link.

It turned out to be the one above, a talk given to the Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) at John Moore’s University in Liverpool in 2016, on the eve of the infamous Brexit referendum.

There was an electricity outage at Lime Street station on the day we were meant to return to Scotland, so we hot footed it down to the Liverpool docks, hired a car and I drove back to Leuchars station where I’d parked my own car. Then I drove to Anstruther to place my vote firmly in the box that said: no I do not want to leave the EU.

Anyway, this was my talk, illustrated with a lot of LEGO-related slides.

St Andrews class of 1993

I’ve just received my 30th anniversary graduation gift from the University of St Andrews: a short video clip of my graduation on Thursday 8 July 1993.

So, I uploaded it to my YouTube channel to share with the world.

In the video, I can be seen walking across the stage in the Younger Hall on North Street after my name is called, kneeling before Sir Kenneth Dover, the then-Chancellor of the University who taps me on the head with what are supposedly part of the breeches of John Knox while saying “Et super te” (and also on you), while Jim Douglas places my Bachelor of Divinity (Honours) hood over my head.

Then there is what my son Joshua referred to as the ‘action replay’.

The video ends with a view of the graduates congregating outside Younger Hall in the rain. These days after the graduation there is a procession down the middle of North Street from the Younger Hall to St Salvator’s quadrangle for photos and celebrations.

This brought back fond memories of my graduation day.

There is no such thing as a stupid question

St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, 1990–1991

One of the most important lessons I ever learned was while I was in my fourth and final year at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews and it had nothing to do with what I was studying, practical theology and Christian ethics.

The lesson I learned was, there is no such thing as a stupid question if you don’t know the answer.

Continue reading There is no such thing as a stupid question

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.