Bootcamp for your brain

The muru-d bootcamp weekend is complete and it’s been amazing. I stand in the kitchen with a small group of fellow entrepreneurs, all of us hopeful to make it through the final pitching round tomorrow, and one asks me what kind of development I do.

As I fumble to articulate an answer, I realise that my brain is exhausted from the intensity of back to back sessions of pitching and getting feedback and fielding questions and sucking up the knowledge and experience of people who have been through similar experiences and so somehow, must have all the answers, until you realise that nobody has actually done this before in exactly the same way and that’s why we’re here, we need to focus, get traction, and jeeeeeeezus where did this weekend go and can I go to bed now?

This weekend started in the same way as most: with three cups of tea in front of my laptop. At 9am we joined the queue of bright-eyed, hungry start ups for visitor passes at muru-d, then filed in to the office space to listen to Annie, Mick, Rachel and Gordon tell us what we were in for.

In the office, a mosaic of huge screens for presentations greets you as you walk through the door, whiteboard walls are everywhere, and there’s a nod at the destition of start up life with the cardboard stools piled up in the corner for guests. This is more like Atlassian in it’s current day than its early days though, with a fridge stocked full of beer, table tennis tables in a huge kitchen, a small gym and a newly refurbished outdoor space with two shiny barbecues and lounging chairs. Sadly, it’s so new that it’s still out of bounds for us this weekend, and we’re quickly told that the beers are reserved for events and people who make it in to the program. Being here is a very special kind of start up life, in more ways than one.

The first thing that happens is that everybody has to do a one minute pitch for their start up. Liz had warned us about this, and that either Phil or I may have to pitch since everybody’s seen her do it before, but luckily we’re let off the hook and she stands up. Annie asks if she’s going to sing – I still think that we need to write a musical pitch one day, but since we haven’t done that yet she sticks to the basics. Amazingly, everybody manages to pitch in less than a minute – Gordon, who has been waiting to play the bad cop and cut somebody off mid sentence, is probably the only one who’s disappointed.

There are 22 start ups that have made it this far, and 15(ish) will progress through to Monday, with 10(ish) making it on to the program. There’s quite a variety in the types of businesses, although there are four based around recruitment. We’re the only ones in the food industry. There are just seven women among the startups: Tripalocal is formed of two female founders, 100 Foxes and Freight Exchange have female CEOs and one more start up has a female Chief marketing officer.

Over the next hour, we get the rundown of what to expect from this weekend and beyond, and get some advice for our pitches. Annie advises us against demos. She highly recommends that if we want to do a demo, don’t. And if we still want to, she says, have a plan b that you will probably end up using. Luckily for us, we don’t want to demo.

For the last hour before lunch, we have a Q&A session with some of the “graduates” of Class 1. We dance around the question we all really want to ask: how do we get in? We’re told – not for the last time – to expect an avalanche of advice and feedback, all of it sensible and probably right, much of it conflicting, and that if we incorporate all of it then we will end up with a camel instead of a thoroughbred. I decide it’s probably best not to think too much into that metaphor.

For the afternoon, we meet with a series of mentors – I lost count but I think it was about ten in all. We are assigned a meeting room as our space, which is delightful because 22 start ups in animated discussions with mentors creates a lot of noise, and being able to close the door against the cacophony makes up for the rise in temperature.

Our meetings start, and I can feel excitement and a touch of nerves, the adrenaline’s building and we’re waiting anxiously to see what we’re in for. Our first mentor is an ex-colleague of mine from Atlassian, and we unleash our energy in a bombardment of ideas, pitch and waffle. He looks slightly stunned and correctly points out that we may want to narrow our focus.

Next up in Jeremy from Vistr, and we take the opportunity to sound him out on how to get in and what their journey was like. I berate Liz for not giving people chance to speak, then feel guilty, but there’s no time for niceties here. It’s like speed dating – intentionally – at the end of each 15 minute session Gordon pushes the door open and waves the bell at us, we all stand up, frantically trying to finish answering that one last question as we’re shaking hands and they’re leaving the room.

Many of the mentors already know Liz, and they are not shy about telling us that they’ve heard the pitch too many times and want to talk about something else. We encounter one in particular who appears to have been briefed to be a bad cop and shoots down our scalability ideas one by one. He throws in a couple of random questions about the technology and asks if we are in the cloud, and I get quite excited for a moment thinking that I might get a chance to talk about tech, but no, it’s back to scale again.

And so it continues. There’s no breaks, no reflection time, just bam-bam-bam-pitch-suggestions-questions. We know our biggest issue is convincing people that we can scale, and we pick a lot of entrepreneurial brains, some already believe we can do it while others simply won’t be convinced. It’s difficult sometimes to not take it personally and stay positive, and eventually it’s difficult to even take in any more information. We have a break when no mentor comes in for one session, but somehow it works against me, because I slump down from the high I’ve been on all afternoon and lose some of my energy. Luckily Liz can always keep talking, so we make it through the final sessions.

We finally head home, tired and feeling a bit cranky, and with several hours of pitch rewriting still to do. We throw up flipchart paper and post its on the windows and try to distill the things we need to say about scalability into a five minute pitch. We find the energy for a lively debate about repeatable customer acquisition and vendor procurement, and we are starting to sound like we know our shit. I go to bed happy. And knackered.

Sunday starts at 6am with tea – obviously – and keynote. I take the opportunity of being up early to get some time out, and go for a fast walk along the water in the early morning sunshine. At 9, we’re back on the cardboard stools, this time to hear from the legal eagles – we have a golden opportunity to hit up these experts for free advice on a variety of legal issues. Not surprisingly the Q&A could have gone on all morning, and all of the six lawyers are quickly booked out in 15 minute sessions.

We use most of the morning to write and rewrite our pitch and slides. At midday, we all file hungrily into the cafeteria ready to grab a sandwich and keep writing, but Mick has other ideas. We sit at the tables and look longingly at the cling filmed sandwiches as he talks – slightly ironically – about focus. Luckily, Mick is a good presenter and it’s an interesting subject, and one that You Chews certainly needs to keep in mind when we refine our pitch. As it ends, I grab three mystery meat sandwiches and scoot back to the desk.

We pitch to Annie at 1:30 for a spot in the final 15(ish). It’s still too long, which we knew, although Liz does an admirable job of fitting in about five hundred words per minute so that we get through all but one of our slides. Annie gives us a couple of areas to continue work on but generally positive feedback, so we walk out with smiles all round.

Back at our desks, and Gordon brings us a new mentor. Liz runs through the new pitch – again – and we have an indepth discussion. I get to talk a bit about the platform, and he asks me how long it will take to build, then why it will take so long. It’s the first time anybody’s actually asked, so I have to think on my feet – I’m used to justifying why things will take a long time when I need to convince my boss to understand, but this is a different ball game.

We meet four other mentors, all of whom are serious investors with decades of experience in business, and they all poke holes in our pitch and our business until we’re feeling wrung out and stacked full of information. I’ve barely had chance to digest and appreciate the calibre of people I’ve met over the last two days, but suffice to say this is why we are here – whether or not we make it into the final ten, it’s an unbelievable opportunity to get an audience of incredible people who we’d find it much more difficult to meet otherwise. Even as our pitch stands by the end of the afternoon, over time and incomplete, it’s a world away from what we’d started with on Saturday. This is what will happen to our company if we get in to this accelerator, week in week out for six months, and we’ll be unrecognisable by April. Bring it on.

The final part of the evening was when we were told who was in the final 15(ish), which I can finally confirm turned out to be 16. Gordon sends each company into a room as we sit patiently waiting until he has finished, then remind him that he’s forgotten us. We’re not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

We sit down across the table from Ben, who is wearing a serious face and I wait to hear him say sympathetically that we’re out. I feel like a reality TV show contestant, but thank goodness he doesn’t milk it for too long and tells us straight up that we’re in to the final! Hooray! And now we have to come back and pitch tomorrow …

I’ve quit my job to join a start up.

A few months ago, I remember having lunch at work, chatting with my colleagues about working in start ups. I was reminiscing fondly about my first job out of university, working as a developer in a small web design agency, in a team mostly made up of graduates or people a couple of years out of Uni. There were times when it was frustrating and hard, but I look back fondly on it being a lot of fun, the steepest learning curve, and among the most pride and ownership I ever felt in my work.

I left that job to go and find out how bigger companies worked, then I went on to work in a consultancy because I still didn’t have enough of a breadth of experience. And then the start up bug came knocking.

Somewhere along the way, I had got used to earning a good salary, travelling, living well, got financial responsibilities; then I moved to Australia and became dependent on having an employer to sponsor my visa. Those things aren’t really conducive to working in a start up. And yet, that bug was still there, nibbling away at the corners of my brain.

The perfect opportunity turned up … at a decidedly inconvenient time. I was waiting on my new visa, and had just taken on a management role in a team that was taking on a new project with all kinds of demands for learning new technologies as well as leadership skills – and so, it nearly passed me by. Somewhere deep down though, I couldn’t let it go – I had to try, and if I failed, at least I’d know it wasn’t right.

I had fallen in love with the idea behind You Chews almost instantly – a catering company providing quality, artisinal food for corporate events and meet ups – probably because I’d eaten pizza at so many meet ups, and encountered the mystery meat sandwich at many training courses, conferences and meetings. Or perhaps it was just the idea of being able to sample new suppliers … mmmmm.

I just had to convince them that I was worth waiting for …

Fast forward a little, and here we are: in two more weeks I will finish up to go and dedicate myself full time to You Chews. We’re in the final 20 for both muru-d and StartMate, so the next six months could take us anywhere. It’s exciting, and scary, and it’s pushing me to learn and do things at a speed I haven’t experienced in a long time. It’s bloody fantastic.

We’re part of a community of people who all know what it’s like, and even though they’ve probably got to do lists as long as both of their arms, they’re willing to spend time to talk about our difficulties and lend their advice – from investors, to fellow founders, nobody is too superior or too busy to lend an ear.

I’m on board the crazy start up ship! Let’s start the next adventure :)

My new commute … by bike.

Travelling to work from Prahran to Footscray during my first week took me across Melbourne on two trains. It’s not a terrible journey, but the first train is pretty crowded, and I really wanted to have a go at cycling to work a couple of times a week instead.

Self portrait

Self portrait

The total distance is about 13k, which according to Google would take me around 50 minutes. Melbourne is really bike-friendly so most of the route is along dedicated off-road cycle paths, with just a short ride on the road up Chapel Street, where there is also a decent cycle lane.

Capital City Trail by the river

Capital City Trail by the river

I sold my rather rusty old bike before leaving Manly, it was never very good for cycling up hills anyway, so I went to a couple of local bike shops to find a new one. The first one I saw was very pretty, with a pearlised white frame, but the second one was a really good offer on a similar bike for half the price! Feeling a bit daft, I asked if they had anything I could use to mount my iPhone on the handlebars – I wanted to use the map directions like a sat nav to find my way to work! Turns out this isn’t such a crazy request, they had at least three different options, and so far I haven’t got lost either :)

Sat nav!

Sat nav holder!

I got kitted out with a rack with a bag and basket, lights, a strong lock, and most importantly padded pants – I felt like I was wearing a giant nappy, but my backside would thank me later …

On Sunday night, despite the weather not looking too amazing on Monday, I got all my gear together and on Monday morning I stubbornly jumped on the bike and headed up the road. The wind was crazy, and in my face, at times I felt like I was trying to cycle uphill even on the flat … but I made it in one piece to work, and it was actually great just being outside.

Approaching Richmond

Approaching Richmond

The Melbourne Wheel

The Melbourne Wheel

Along the Yarra River

Along the Yarra River

I took the bike home on the train, which wasn’t too bad, a bit awkward on the busier train out of the city, but it made the short distance home from the station even faster too. It wasn’t until the second week that the weather and daylight savings were on my side so I could bike home, and wow, that was even better than the ride in. The sun actually came out, and it sits behind me all the way, since I head West in the morning and East to come home. I get a great view of the city and all along the river!

Far end of Southbank

Far end of Southbank

From the top of Chapel Street, my cycle route takes me along the capital city trail by the Yarra river to Richmond, then past a bunch of rowing clubs to Southbank. Along the river it’s beautiful, grass verges with these small white wildflowers that look like snowdrops, bridges, and lots of rowing teams practicing, while their coaches bike slowly alongside them on the riverbank with megaphones.

Grassy verges

Grassy verges

As I pass the rowing clubs, I have to watch out for the rowers, often carrying their long boats out to the river – on cold days, it makes me shiver to see them in their swimsuits and rash vests, while I’m usually biking in long sleeves and gloves!

Rowers

Rowers

Southbank is a bit hazardous, especially on sunny evenings, because the cycle path is shared with pedestrians, who often don’t seem to realise that. Some people freeze when they hear the bell, and trying to weave a path through when it’s busy is not easy. I learned to be slow and careful on my second morning, when I skidded on wet pavement to avoid somebody coming off of the bridge.

Looking back along the Yarra river

Looking back along the Yarra river

The rest of the journey takes me past the Docklands on a dedicated bike path, where the views are pretty nice when the sun’s out. For the rest of the journey, I’m usually the only person biking out of the city, although I pass loads of people cycling in the opposite direction! On the way home, I’m also almost alone in heading towards the city while other people are coming home.

By the rowing clubs

By the rowing clubs

The last part is along Footscray road, past the Melbourne wheel and the back of the loading docks, lined up with huge metal shipping containers. At the end of my ride, I cross the Maribyrnong River, from where I can see the Lonely Planet office, and I’m usually pretty ready to park the bike and head up for a hot shower.

Maribyrnong River

Maribyrnong River

So far, I’ve had a few sunny days but got rained on twice and fought against the wind several times, but it still beats the crap out of the train! I took my camera along on one of the good days to take some photos, the morning clouded over a bit but the afternoon was pretty :)

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

First impressions, four weeks in.

A few days after moving to Melbourne, I started this blog post with the intention of writing about my first few days on the new job and in the new city. But then, you know, life happens, and suddenly I’ve been here nearly four weeks and I haven’t even finished writing my post yet … so now it’s going to be a bit more of a mix, of first impressions and how I feel after four weeks in.

With all the excitement of the move, I didn’t have much time to get nervous about starting a new job. I was due in around 9:30 on Monday, so we didn’t have to rush, in fact there was plenty of time to enjoy a cup of tea and some breakfast before heading out to the station.

My new office

My new office

One of the reasons I wanted to work for Lonely Planet was that the developers work a lot in pairs, in fact all of the workstations are set up for it and nobody has their own computer, which has the added bonus of not having to spend any time getting software and stuff sorted. I spent most of the first morning working with one of the other developers, trying to cram as much information into my brain as possible. It was overwhelming, as it usually is starting a new job, but things seemed to be making sense at least. I joined in for some meetings and even spoke a few times, which I was rather pleased about.

Travel books everywhere

Travel books everywhere

I met the CTO in the morning, and to my surprise he greeted me with a hug – I didn’t even have time to protest that I’m British!

Although the office isn’t really close to anywhere, the cafe onsite is really nice, so I went in for lunch on the first day. Since then, I’ve mostly brought my own lunch, but I’ve discovered that the chips (fries, not crisps) are really good, so quite often I balance a healthy salad with the less healthy option :) This week, there was also a free BBQ lunch with sausages and salad, which was pretty yum!

Outside lunch area

Outside lunch area

They even have a huge pot outside where they grow herbs and veggies that they use in the cafe. There’s one ripe strawberry in there right now, not sure who’s going to get that one.

Veggie patch

Veggie patch

The people on my team often eat together upstairs, which is pretty nice. I’ve finally broken the habit of eating lunch at my desk … my poor keyboard at Atlassian was getting quite disgusting. When the weather’s good, we sit outside, although it’s usually pretty windy. The views from the cafe are amazing: I can see right across the river to the city, and out as far in the other direction too – some days, I’ve seen rain coming across, heavy enough to blot out the city skyline.

View from the cafe

View from the cafe

On my first day, I got to have a look around the onsite gym. It’s small but pretty well equipped, with decent showers and room to keep toiletries. There’s a small soccer pitch outside on the roof, although soccer games are not allowed there though, because of the risk of balls – or people – going over the side. After a couple of pretty pleasant workout sessions there, I decided to cancel my Virgin gym membership – I can’t face stopping off in the city just for the gym, and it’s pretty cool being able to go whenever I want during the day, even mid-afternoon. I was really enjoying warming up and cooling down outside, until the door suddenly started getting locked :( so I tried one afternoon session down by the river, but felt a bit looked over by the offices opposite! Maybe next time I can find a better spot …

View across the river

View across the river

Walk to work

Walk to work

Walking back to the station at sunset

Walking back to the station at sunset

It’s been an interesting change, going from travelling from Manly to Sydney CBD, to travelling from Prahran to Footscray. Prahran has much more of a city feel, with plenty of people, shops and cafes, and a buzz in the air. Although Footscray is close to the city, it feels more like a distant suburb. As I get off the train, I walk down residential streets lined with trees, bursting with new green leaves, and grass with wildflowers. Unlike walking to work in Sydney, stuck impatiently behind a dawdler who doesn’t walk at my speed, and weaving through the crowds at the Wynyard exit, the streets are almost empty – certainly nobody to slow my pace!

The roads are mostly quiet – my short walk from the station takes me straight down to the river, then a half kilometre by the water, along old, disused train tracks. On the far side of the river, there is a busy wharf, with the constant noise of traffic and huge containers loading, arriving and leaving.

Inside the office, one of the first things I noticed on my first day was the noise of the seagulls. I thought that it was somebody’s ringtone, the noise was so close! Turns out the roof of the building is thin enough to hear the gulls as though they are right next to me – and when it rains, it patters on the roof as loudly as though I’m in a caravan. The noise from the wind is something else too – and Melbourne springtime gets pretty windy – there’s a legend that one corner of the roof once blew up in a very strong gust, but since I’ve been there, it’s been pretty secure. I love hearing the noises of nature, especially the rain, and with the birds it sometimes feels almost like working outside, it’s great.

The rain often hammers on our roof at work

The rain often hammers on our roof at work

So those were my first impressions, mostly. Since that first week, Silvio’s spent most of his time working in Sydney, which is ironic, since it was his project in Melbourne that really pushed me to make the move here. Our weekends have been filled with trips to IKEA and Bunnings, picking up bits and pieces to finish off our home, and we’re almost there – if only I could convince him that we really do need more cushions …

Armed and dangerous

Armed and dangerous

We have made time for some fun though, especially some good food – there’s nothing quite like getting stuck in to a massive brunch after a Saturday morning trip to the gym. The food tastes even better after working up an appetite – and it’s guilt free!

Brunch at Yellowbird

Brunch at Yellowbird

I’m enjoying the new job – having suggested in a retrospective on my first day that we spend a week paying off tech debt (aka Engineering Week at Atlassian), I’ve been enjoying getting stuck in to some refactoring this week.

My second week in was spent on firefighting duties, during which time I released code to the production site, a pretty terrifying prospect so early on; this week I’m on call and praying that my phone doesn’t go off – I have definitely jumped in at the deep end!

Evening drinks on the balcony

Evening drinks on the balcony

The technology has been a refreshing change, and a refreshing challenge too – so far, I’ve found Ruby a lot of fun, and I’ve barely touched the CoffeeScript stuff! But that’s enough tech talk – I’ll try and find time to add something to the tech blog one of these days.

Last week, Andrea came to visit. After too much wine and plenty of gossiping and catching up when she arrived on Monday, she made an amazing barbecued barramundi on Tuesday night, which went down beautifully with, yes you’ve guessed it, WINE.

Out with Andrea

Out with Andrea

Later in the week, we headed out to discover the Mexican culinary delights of Prahran. Andrea is apparently known as a Mexican food snob, and despite not being impressed initially, she was won over when our food arrived at Fonda!

Crazy basil cocktail

Crazy basil cocktail

We headed out afterwards in search of a bar, but as we walked past San Churro, the chocolate smell was too tempting … we had to go in for some churros and chocolate dips. We had also persuaded Andy Tam – who was on his way home, having left Prahran earlier that evening – to come back out, and he showed up just as we were digging in, and ordered more churros, with an amazing caramel sauce. As Andrea says, I think living in Melbourne is a recipe for becoming fat and broke!

Churros!

Churros!

Saturday was for shopping! I finally got to meander down Chapel Street and poke around in some of the shops – I found a lovely vintage 50s dress in a fantastic vintage shop called “Shag”, perfect for Yolly’s vintage themed bridal shower next weekend.

Later that evening, we headed out for “salumi” (I still don’t really know what that is) at Ombra bar in the city. The food was incredible, in both the taste and the price … some of the best antipasti I’ve eaten, my mouth is watering just thinking about it! We finished off with sharing four deserts including a tiramisu cake, profiteroles, and a peach tart, before Andy insisted that we go next door to ?? for chocolate souffle.

It was very upmarket, so posh in fact that when you quietly mention you might need the bathroom, somebody materialises by your elbow to show you the way (yes, that actually happened). They brought our souffles in tiny individual pans with chocolate sauce, so delicate, and totally delicious, with glasses of dessert wine.
It was an amazing, amazing meal, one of many in this city I hope!

So that’s how my first few weeks here panned out. There is one other exciting thing that I’m saving for the next post, which has been my new commute – cycling to work!

Last days

Wednesday: my last day at Atlassian.

Since the news of my departure became public, I’ve been really surprised at how many people have said that I’ll be missed, and commented on the impact I’ve made. I mean, of course, I know I’m awesome ;) but it’s come as a really pleasant surprise to hear from others that I will be missed. Maybe it’s part of a big guilt trip conspiracy?

My last day was a mix of feelings. I’m sad at leaving behind a place that I wouldn’t have chosen to move on from yet, but I’m excited – and a little anxious – about the future and the unknowns that await me there.

In this final Sprint, my team had decided to try not having stand ups, but there was one scheduled for my final day. I was a little suspicious – in fact, I had wondered if they would do something to my desk on my last day, like wrapping it in tin foil or something. I was relieved to arrive and everything was as it should be.

At 9:45 the team gathered, and I was trying to compose an update – why is it that in those few minutes of walking to the stand up, I always forget what I’ve been working on? Luckily this time, I didn’t need to, to my surprise, the team presented me with a gift: a beautiful Wedgewood teapot! I wasn’t really expecting anything (well, maybe some jelly beans!) and I was impressed that a team of guys could choose something that suited me so well and was really pretty. It was so well packed I didn’t want to take it out before it got to Melbourne so I haven’t tried it yet, but I can’t wait to find a shelf or somewhere to put it out in the new place.

IMG_0011_2

As the day went on, other people stopped by my desk to chat, and I made slow progress on my final work trying to complete an upgrade task. After lunch, a last packet of jelly beans from the lolly bar, and a final check in, I was done. My team lead presented me with a card (so many signatures, I was pretty blown away), I packed up my things, returned my swipe cards and signed out of HipChat: “BAAAAAIIIIIII!”

Leaving was strange, I don’t know what I expected. As I walked to the ferry, I hoped that the upgrade task I’d been working on would finally get through QA, and it was weird to think that there was nothing else I could, or would, do to make it happen now.

Thursday: my last day in Manly.

All week, I’d been saying that if I could go back, I’d have finished work last Friday and had a week off. Today, I was glad that I didn’t, because I really wouldn’t have known what to do with myself.

I spent the morning finishing off the packing, labelling the boxes and tidying up. There isn’t that much left to do, except to stand in front of the stack of boxes, sigh, and wonder where we’re going to put it all. I think that if I’d had a week off to do that, I’d have driven myself insane.

I headed to the beach at lunchtime, and wandered along the Steyne, paddling in the shallow water. It was a little too cold for me to go for a dip – there were loads of people in the water, but I’m just a big wuss when it comes to the cold, I’ll leave them to it. It was nice to just get my feet wet and sandy.

By the surf club, I got a cup of tea – no fridge in our apartment, so no tea for me there – and sat on the beach, drinking my tea and reading my kindle. It was lovely and sunny, warm, comfortable, except for the sand blowing across me.

I met Andrea for lunch in Jellyfish, salt and pepper squid with aioli, yum! And wine, double yum! I had promised myself that on my last day in Manly, I would buy a picture from Saltmotion, a lovely photo gallery that specialises in pictures of Manly beach and waves, so after lunch we headed over – I’d already picked out two that I wanted! The first was a beautiful underwater shot with blue tones that would look amazing in our bedroom, and the other one was a sunrise shot across to Shelly beach, that would remind me of Manly from the new apartment.

Back home with the post-shopping glow, I sat out in the garden reading but it was so hard to relax. In the end I went back into town and found a new “Manly beach” keyring (my old one was rusty!) … and a half bottle of Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay, well that’ll keep me going in the garden for the rest of the afternoon …

By the time Silvio got home, it was too cold to sit outside, but the blogs were almost done – result :) we packed what we could of the things that were left, and headed out for a meaty dinner at Ribs and Rumps …

And that was it, my last day and night in Manly, for a few months anyway. I’ll be back for a visit before too long, providing Andrea will have me to stay! ;) I’m now sitting in the wharf bar on Friday afternoon, whiling away the last hour or so with a glass of white wine. Today has gone from sunny and warm to windy and cold, so I’m the only person braving the jetty bar for once, but it’s nice to watch the choppy sea across the wharf and hear the light rain spattering across the umbrellas.

IMG_0020_2

Our things are already well on their way, and it won’t be long now until I say farewell to Manly too. It’s been awesome, but now it’s time to find out what the next chapter holds. I can only hope it’s as good as the last one :)

Moving on … to Melbourne! Part 1: Job Search

Two years ago, with no idea that I would come along and turn his life upside down, a slightly grumpy Italian man – who vaguely resembles Aragorn – looked at a plan for an apartment in Prahran, Victoria, and decided it looked like a good place to live one day. Yesterday, that deal was finally sealed.

And that’s why, in just over six weeks’ time, and after nearly two years living by Sydney’s northern beaches, I’ll be packing up my life again and heading off on a new adventure.

I’ve had a long time to get used to the idea of moving to Melbourne, and a few visits to get an idea of what life will soon be like. Fewer beaches, better bars and restaurants. Less sunshine, less humidity. Queen Victoria Market, a new job, and a home of our own, well, Silvio’s own but close enough.

A year ago, I was pretty fresh out of the process of applying for a new job with Atlassian and a new visa. The entire process took around two months from start to finish, and I had no desire to go through it again. Moving to Melbourne, I declared, was definitely a long term plan, to happen when I didn’t have to go through the visa changeover again. This was no problem: the completion date for the building was moving back and there was no rush.

Over time, the memories faded and the promise of a new home became more real. On weekends in Melbourne, we visited the site, where the shell of the building was slowly breathing life into the artist’s sketches I’d seen. As the completion date became more concrete, we began to talk more about the possibilities of moving, and gradually our plans moved further forward, until we were considering how soon we could move after returning from our trip home in November.

I liked my job though and I didn’t really want to think about finding a new one. For a long time I nurtured the hope that I could stay with Atlassian and work remotely. I tried to ignore the warning signs of restlessness when I worked from home – I still wanted to believe I could do it every day, even when I accosted Silvio as he walked through the door in the evening, desperate for company after just one day alone.

In May, Silvio was posted to Melbourne for two months, and with the completion date looming at the end of July, this somehow triggered everything to fast forward. We started to consider moving before the trip home, perhaps in September, and I began to consider whether changing job would be an option after all. I still had no idea if working remotely would be a possibility, and much as I wanted to believe it was, I was starting to admit to myself that it wouldn’t be ideal, either for me or for my team.

For the first weekend of June, I travelled to Melbourne to spend the long weekend in Sydney, then work from Melbourne for a couple of days so that we didn’t have to spend quite so much time apart.

On Saturday, we headed over to Prahran to visit the show apartment – the building was virtually done, although the inside of it was very much still in progress. I was thrilled to see the huge, “rain” shower heads in the bathroom! It’s the little things :)

On Tuesday, I sat working at the kitchen table in Silvio’s corporate apartment, with a view out of the twenty-fifth floor window across the city, feeling lonely and restless. By Wednesday afternoon, I couldn’t sit still, probably partly because of the gallons of tea I’d consumed, but I felt like I was going crazy. I watched HipChat waiting for conversation, tried desperately to find the zone, but failed. At some point during those two days, the “remote” in working remotely struck home. I need to be around people. Sadly, but not without some excitement … I thought, it’s time to start the job hunt.

I was lucky, in many ways: I’ve spent time at some very good companies, I have good contacts, and it seems that there’s a shortage of developers in Melbourne, so there are a bunch of great companies who were willing to train me in something new. What started out as feeling around for opportunities very quickly turned into several serious job applications – all working with Ruby on Rails.

The start of the process was intense: for nearly three weeks I spent my evenings crafting solutions to code tests, sitting up until midnight fretting over why my Cucumber tests wouldn’t pass, or trying to learn how to use the Ruby option parser. The hard work was worth it when I was invited for interviews – yay!

I had expected the whole process to take far longer than it did in the end. I had an early offer, which significantly reduced my stress levels. I was determined to all of the applications through to the bitter end though, despite being tempted many times to just accept it. I’m glad now that I didn’t – I met so many people that I feel like I’m almost part of the Melbourne Ruby scene already :)

Attending interviews was an experience: I found myself leaving each time thinking, “that place is my new favourite”. By the end of the process, I had to force myself to take the time to let everything settle before making a final decision – and I found that my heart was pulling me towards a place with a passion for travel and a reception area full of books of possibility: Lonely Planet.

So that was the job sorted … well, except for those awkward details like signing documents and sorting the visa (again). Oh, and the sad conversations with my current colleagues at Atlassian – that wasn’t so much fun either. On the plus side, at least I was there for the (once again, amazing) End of Financial Year party!

greenhopper

Time to celebrate? Well, maybe – but actually, the rest of the stress was only just starting …

Popcorn.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been fairly pleased with my cooking skills. I’ve made some well received meals for my friends and I’m enjoying trying some new things.

However, apparently there are still some basics that I can’t manage.

The directions on the popcorn packet said not to leave it for more than five minutes, and not to leave it unattended. I put it in the microwave at work, set it to four minutes and returned to my desk where I could hear it popping. After about three minutes I returned to the kitchen to find smoke seeping out of the microwave …

I panicked, and ran out to find somebody who would know what to do. After my previous experience with pine nuts catching fire in the oven, I was reluctant to open the door to the microwave in case the sudden rush of air made it burst into flames. I did remember (finally) that turning it off was probably a good move …

When one of the guys at work did open the door, luckily it wasn’t actually ON fire, but there was plenty of smoke. Inevitably, this set off the alarms, and our entire floor was evacuated into the hallway until the firemen arrived and declared the area safe for us to go back in. I stood sheepishly with my colleagues and couldn’t meet the eyes of the firefighters …

I guess all’s well that ends well, I’m now facing various teasing including the accusation of trying to burn the building down (I really wasn’t!) or just wanting to see some Aussie firement to brighten up my Friday afternoon (not true either).

One thing’s for sure though, I won’t be eating popcorn for a while …

My intranet post after the event – the photo is from google images, not the actual event!

New job – two months in.

On the first day of my new job at Atlassian, after a couple of fairly intense but pretty standard induction presentations, I was shown to the desk that would be mine for the next couple of weeks. It was in the middle of the 16th floor, in a pretty spacious office (especially compared to London standards) with windows all the way around, so I could look across the room and see across the city. Pretty nice :)

On my new desk was: a branded t-shirt (a pretty nice one actually), a box of Lindor chocolates (didn’t last long), a bag of jelly beans (didn’t last much longer), a cup for my tea, shiny new Mac Pro with two huge brand new monitors, and a notebook and pen. It was such a nice welcome!

First day

Most of my first week was spent doing two things: attending “Boot Camp” presentations, and slaying dragons. Not real ones … but that was the name of the exercise! As part of my induction and in order to learn about the different products I’d be working with, I had to set them all up on my computer, which actually took quite a while. Apparently, I can now get a t-shirt proclaiming myself as a dragon slayer :) There is a big culture of having company branded stuff here which I really like.

Aside from that, I spent a lot of time getting lost inside the maze of articles and blogs on the wiki. Like ThoughtWorkers, Atlassians often have quite a bit to say (so if you judge me by this blog, I’ll fit right in) so there is a lot to keep up with.

What with the dragons, presentations and wiki, by the end of the week my brain was buzzing with all the new information I’d taken in – so much so that I woke up on Sunday morning from dreaming about JIRA (the product I’ll be working on).

On Friday evening, I headed downstairs to the 15th floor, where the rest of my team was located. I was supposed to sit in the bootcamp area for my first two weeks, but after spending half an hour or so downstairs I didn’t want to wait any longer – it was nice to be around the people I’d be working with, and a bit cosier and noisier than upstairs.
By Tuesday of my second week, my new desk on the 15th floor was arranged. One of the advantages of being a female in IT is that you can usually get people to help you move your equipment :) Actually I managed most of it myself, except for the Mac Pro, those things are heavy!

Moving all my stuff

So over the last few weeks, I’ve settled in rather nicely. It’s a nice change to have a permanent desk, and to be working as part of a product team again, rather than always being the outsider working on a client site. Over the time I’ve been at Atlassian, I’ve completed their induction program called “Bootcamp”, an overview of all aspects of the company and the products and their development, culminating in a short “graduation” presentation last Friday.

The talking token

I’ve started out working in a team for the Bonfire product, and now my days are now mostly spent coding in JavaScript. What’s really cool is that we have a REAL SWORD that we use for a talking token in stand up meetings – the product started out known as Excalibur, so that’s where the sword came from. We’ve already completed one new release, and the next one is nearly ready to go – it’s very cool seeing things that I’ve worked on ready to go out to the customers, I just hope they like it!

We have a real sword!

One of the other amazing things about the office is the amount of free food. I’ve grown accustomed to free fruit, crisps, snacks and chocolate at ThoughtWorks, but here there is cheese, ham, and salad stuff for lunch, breakfast cereal, even some microwave meals. I was warned that most newcomers put on weight, and so far I’ve stuck mostly to the healthier snacks, although yes I did nail those chocolates on my desk within two days.

There are also vending machines for drinks, which is pretty special, there’s something cool about not having to put any money in before you press the button and get a drink.

The view from my desk

I’m now just starting to not feel quite like the new kid anymore, although when I mention my upcoming holiday people keep telling me I’ve only been here five minutes, and how can I have a holiday already?!

As for what’s coming up: I was originally allocated to a team known as Kick Ass, who work on the JIRA product, but after a shift in priorities I’m going to go and work on Greenhopper instead, in September when I get back from my long trip to the UK. I’m looking forward to getting the chance to get into some Java code as well as the front end stuff!

The Waiting Game.

When I was skyping my cousin Julia recently, she mentioned that I hadn’t been doing very much on my blog recently. She wasn’t the first person, I think Mum had mentioned it too, a week or two ago.

I’ve been meaning to post for some time about my new job, but other than that, I haven’t felt like I had very much to say. Over the last six weeks, I’ve been trying to get my head around some significant changes in my life: a new job and a new relationship, both of which are fantastic, but bring their own stresses – like being six thousand miles apart from the person I most want to be with, most of the time.

And if that wasn’t ENOUGH excitement, in one more week I’ll move house. I always seem to try and do everything at once, but the last few months seem to have been one long waiting game :) Maybe this year I will finally learn patience. Andrea has also spent the last two months travelling for work, so my social life just hasn’t been the same!

Since getting back from Malaysia, it seems like most of my time when I’m not working has been spent either on Skype or exercising. After several months at Fight Gym, I switched to Virgin Active, an old friend from the UK – much as I liked the Fight Gym, I needed to do something different. VA manage to change it up with new stuff pretty regularly, so now I’m “enjoying” body attack, body pump and cardio routines on the powerplate – although the boxing classes are not as good as before.

Exercising at 7am on beautiful beaches like Dee Why is a great start to the weekend … but hard work!

I also flirted for a little while with outdoor fitness classes at 7am on a Saturday. For three weeks, I got up before 6 and rode my bike up to 10km to varied locations along the northern beaches, where trainer Penny Walsh shouted at a surprisingly large group of us to run up sand dunes and hills in between crunches, push ups and step ups – with REALLY big steps.

On the fourth week though, sitting in the Wharf Bar with Viv on a Friday night, the temptation of a second bottle of wine to share was too much … luckily I was off the hook when I discovered the class was cancelled anyway (it was, honestly!). That was over two weeks ago, after that I was attending a conference on a Saturday which ruled out the morning workout, and last weekend I just couldn’t face it. I was so tired and needed a nice, long lie in! In a funny way I do like the 7am class, the beaches are beautiful and empty and I feel amazing afterwards, but it’s really hard to get past the fact that the mornings start off so dark and freezing cold! Maybe I’ll try it again when it warms up a bit more :)

One thing I have kept up is running: from being able to just about manage the 5k from home to Shelly Beach and back, I’ve worked up to now running over 10k on a fairly regular basis. I’ve found a small group of guys at work who come running on Thursday lunchtimes, and they’re all faster than me, which has had a positive effect on my speed. Last week was the best yet: ~7.5k in 42 minutes, well over 10kmh which was my original target.

Lastly, I keep promising myself – and other people – that I will go climbing some time. There is a wall at the gym, and a group at work who go every week, but so far I’ve bottled out. This can’t last forever though: Silvio is a keen climber, but perhaps this is something to save for later in the year :)

All of this is paying off though: I still have a little way to go to my target weight but I’m closer than I have been for a long, long time. With the big wedding looming in just a few weeks, this is definitely a good thing!

As part of the new routine, I also tried (hard!) to cut back on alcohol – but there’s still been room for indulging!

I’ve spent many happy nights at the Wharf Bar putting the world to rights with Viv and Rach, including the night when Lucy, still jetlagged after just getting back from the UK, locked herself out putting the rubbish out … poor thing! I’ve also had some lovely chilled evenings cooking at Viv and Rachel’s, and discovered that I can actually rustle up some pretty good dishes, given time, wine, and good company. I can’t wait to try my skills out on Silvio when he gets back from India … luckily for him, I haven’t yet learned how to cook curry :) Anyway, hopefully there’s a future blog post coming up on that!

The next few weeks are looking promising: moving house this weekend, Andrea returns on Thursday, the end of (financial) year party at work, which is currently shrouded in mystery, and then my first ever Christmas party in July, just before I head off for a few days of skiing in Falls Creek. So hopefully I’ll have lots more inspiration to actually write some posts again!

A big change.

I think my feet first started itching in early February, but they had been tingling for a long time. After nearly four years working for ThoughtWorks, the time had come to make a change.

The last time I started looking for a new company to work for, I wanted to get out and work across a range of different projects and companies. I wanted to see how things were done in different environments and work with people who truly believed in Agile software development. In every interview at ThoughtWorks, I was asked if I minded travelling, told that this was a key part of the job. I had no ties, no reason to stay in one place, and although it sent butterflies through me, I was excited at the prospects. Before I even started, Heather called me to tell me that my first project would be in Dublin, and those butterflies went mental.

Nearly four years on, I’ve spent time working in Dublin, Manchester, Berlin, Edinburgh, Sydney and many parts of London – around the corner from Borough Market, within walking distance of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, and in the heart of the west end. I’ve had some incredible opportunites and I’ve made the most of them all – and the memories are all over my Facebook timeline (am I the only person who actually likes it?). Most of all, I feel like I achieved the goal I started out with.

Somewhere along the way, I decided to switch from doing business analysis back to writing code. It was the hardest career move I’ve made – at least starting out as a developer after university with very little experience, people had much lower expectations. ThoughtWorks helped me get there though, and I haven’t looked back since.

But goals shift, and always being the outsider on a client site eventually wore me down. I missed being part of a team, I missed seeing and working directly with my own ThoughtWorks colleagues every day, and now I want to spend more time writing code and get really, really good at it. I never quite managed to get used to the uncertainty that goes with consulting, of “where will I end up next and what will it be like”. My poor mum, she had to listen to me worrying about the next unknown project time after time.

So eventually, I started to take notice of my itchy feet and look around. I knew I wanted to stay in Sydney, and I also knew there was a very specific kind of company I wanted to work for – one with a culture with many things in common with ThoughtWorks (as I described it to Steve Gilles “the kind of company that keeps beer in the fridge in the kitchen”), where I could do hands on coding, work with really smart people … and one that would sponsor my working visa. I was really lucky that I already knew a company that would fit that bill, and they were recruiting: Atlassian.

Three months, seven interviews, a whole heap of stress and a brand new visa later … and I am almost ready to start next week!

As a bonus, I wasn’t assigned to a project when I resigned, so for the first time in my life I had “Garden Leave”. I haven’t spent much time in the garden though.

On my last day at ThoughtWorks, those three empty weeks loomed ahead of me like a big void. I had some ideas of how I would fill them: I booked a trip to see Yolly and Claudia, I wanted to finish Seven Languages in Seven Weeks, read some technical books, lots of exercise, cooking nice food, maybe blog a little.

It didn’t take long to get used to getting up after nine am and catching up on TV (MasterChef Australia started just in time …)

I did make it Brisbane though, and I also managed to do quite a bit of exercise, including some circuit sessions on the beach and meeting Viviana for a bit of boxing with an ocean view! But I have to admit that most of my other lofty ambitions went out of the window fairly fast. It only took a couple of days for my brain to switch off completely and go into holiday mode, and I didn’t fight it. I’m hopeful that I will feel very refreshed next week.

With just one week left to go, I’m heading off to Malaysia for a pretty special trip tomorrow, before I have to get my brain back in to work mode next Tuesday. Hopefully, I’ll have enough time before that to write a quick post about the time I spent with the girls in Brissie.

Wish me luck :)