Important Steps

Tony hovered behind Simon’s chair for several seconds. He bobbed to the left, then to the right, trying to move gently into Simon’s eye-line, but Simon’s view was fixed firmly on his screen, which was filled with a complex series of XML commands. Simon was muttering inaudibly as he scrolled slowly down the page. He was wearing his noise-cancelling headphones. Eventually, Tony tapped him gently on the left shoulder.

Simon reacted as though he’d been punched. He rose about three inches out of his chair, twisting to the left as he did so, and then froze. “Fucking hell, Tony, what’re you trying to do to me?”

Tony took a step back. “I just came to talk to you.”

“Well, give me a bit of warning next time. Good thing I wasn’t in the middle of a game of Assassin’s Creed.  I might have been so in the moment, I’d have taken a swing at you.” Simon mimed an uppercut.

“I did try to…” Tony tailed off. “Anyway, I just came to…”

Before he could finish the sentence, Simon had taken off his headphones and jumped out of his chair. Turning his back on Tony, he paced towards the opposite end of the large open plan office. Tony stared after him. Nobody else in the room took any notice.

When he got to the door, Simon turned, and strode back towards Tony. “Might as well get a few steps in, since I’ve been interrupted anyway,” he said. “Keep talking.”

Tony turned towards the door he’d used to come into the room, following Simon’s progress. As Simon returned, he tried again. “I just wanted to…” Again, he tailed off as Simon headed back to the far end of the room. On the next pass through, Simon paused. “You can walk with me, if you like.”

Tony fell into step with him. “Well. I just wanted to ask you about yesterday’s meeting.”

Simon glanced at his wrist. “Just a sec. I need to…two six two oh, 80 for the return, I need to do another four, no, five, runs.”


“Forty paces for the whole room, I need to get up to three thousand steps before I sit down again, I’m on two six two oh, no, two six two two, now, so I need to do another five, well, four and a half now, runs up and down the room.”

“Oh. When you say you need to get up to three thousand…?”

Simon waved his wrist at Tony. He was wearing what looked like a large wristband, or a small watch. “FitBit.” he said. “I need to do twelve thousand steps today, or I’ll fall behind in the league table.”

“League table?”

“I’m in a league, with other people I know, we’ve got a target of sixty thousandsteps each for the week, first one wins a pint, but I’ve got behind. This bloody integration with timetabling. I never get a break to walk.”

The mention of integration reminded Tony what he’d come in for. He parked the league table for another occasion. “Anyway, Simon, I came in to ask you about the Student Record System meeting.”

“Oh? The stakeholder one? Went alright, didn’t it?”

“Um, yes, I guess so, but I wanted to ask you if you thought we should maybe put in some extra sessions, to explain some of the decisions in a bit more detail?”

Simon slowed down. “How do you mean?”

“Well, I thought that, maybe, we should consider providing some sessions, to, er, explain some of the, er, jarg…the terminology that the suppliers might use. To help people to engage more.”

Simon checked his wrist. “Just one more for now. I’m not sure I follow, Tony. I don’t see how it could be any simpler. These are all intelligent people, you know. They work for a university, and I wouldn’t want to patronise them.” He shook his head gently.

They were approaching Simon’s desk again. Simon sat down. He looked at his other wrist. “Christ, is that the time? I need to be somewhere else. Um, I don’t really think there’s an issue here, Tony. I’ve only asked them to list their current as-is integrations for the moment. We’ll introduce things slowly. Are you sure you’re not inventing a problem?” As he spoke, he was shutting down his laptop and unplugging all of the cables. He put the laptop into a sleeve and stood up. He checked his wrist again. “Great, I’ll get at least another 800 in going over to Registry. Got to go. See you at the next meeting.”

Tony watched him go. He sighed deeply. What a waste of time. Although he’d apparently walked three hundred and eighty steps. Was that a good thing?



Impostor Syndrome

Niall took a few moments to pack away his stuff at the end of the meeting. He was feeling a little disorientated, and he knew it was his own fault. He’d tuned out of Simon’s presentation pretty early on, and had spent most of the meeting sorting out his emails. He suspected that he wasn’t the only one. He tried vaguely to remember what the key points of the presentation had been. Something about planning out a process…mappings? As is? To be? He couldn’t understand why none of it had seemed to sink in. He sighed.

Simon was deep in conversation with Tony. Niall signalled ‘goodbye’ as he left the room, and mouthed ‘Thanks, Simon’. He received a gracious wave in return.

In the corridor, Jenny was waiting for him.

“Niall.” She sounded anxious. “Have you got a minute?”

“Can we walk and talk? I need to get back to the office. We’re processing timetabling requests for next year.”

Jenny made a sympathetic gesture. “How’re you getting on with actually getting them in?”

“Oh well. You know. Not that many people have met the deadline.”

“Tell me about it. I’m still waiting for a massive course specification from Marine Engineering, with I don’t know how many routes and options, and the panel is in two weeks.” She sighed. “I don’t think they realise how much work we have to do to actually get their documents into shape.”

They continued silently for a couple of steps.

Niall broke the silence. “Anyway, Jenny, that probably wasn’t what you wanted to talk to me about, was it? Was it about the records system?”

“Oh. Yes.” She paused for a moment. “The thing is.” She stopped again. “The thing is, Niall, I didn’t understand anything about what’s going on. I don’t think I should be on that group. I feel so stupid. I thought we were going to look at what the manufacturers have got available, and then pick a system that has the features we need.”

“That’s what I thought, too. Isn’t that it?”  Niall wondered if he’d been more tuned out than he’d realised.

“I don’t think so.” Jenny stopped for a moment and opened her notebook, which she’d been carrying in her hand. “Look at my notes.”

Niall took the book from her. The page was filled with what looked like scraps of text. Overleaf were a couple of half-finished diagrams which seemed to have been partially copied from the screen. Simon had skipped through his slides fairly quickly.

Taken as a whole, there was no sense to it at all. On the other hand, it was a pretty accurate reflection of his own impressions of the meeting.

He shrugged. “To be honest, I’m not really sure what today was meant to achieve. It was just a kick-off, wasn’t it? Maybe we’ll get to grips with it at the next meeting.” He handed the notebook back.

“What about our homework?”


“That’s what Simon called it. Weren’t you listening?”

Niall shrugged again. “I might have tuned out for a while.”

“He said we needed to…” Jenny opened the notebook and read from one of the pages. “To go back and consult with colleagues, and make a top two list of the integrations in the as-is system that we couldn’t live without.” She looked at Niall. “What’s an integration? What’s the as-is system?”

Niall glanced at his watch. “Look, Jenny, I really need to get back. I don’t know what he wants us to do either. I’m sure it will all get clarified. Shall we just wait for the meeting notes to be circulated, and then work from there?”

Jenny didn’t reply.

Niall waited for a moment, then gave a little wave and strode off.

Jenny was still standing in the atrium, clutching her notebook. She bit her lip.  She’d been so pleased to be invited onto this working group; it should have been great for her CV to contribute to an important project like this, and now it was obvious she was totally out of her depth.  She would never be worthy of progression to a more senior role. She set off slowly back to the office.

Back in the Student Spot, Niall ambled into the kitchen and put the kettle on. He felt a twinge of guilt. Why hadn’t he made it obvious to Jenny that he was also completely confused about Simon’s working group? Maybe that wasn’t just because he’d been doing other things during the meeting. Maybe the whole thing was a case of Emperor’s New Clothes?  Had everyone been sitting there wondering what the hell was going on, apart from Simon and Tony? Should someone say something before the whole project got any more bogged down in their worldview?

Just then, one of Niall’s team burst into the kitchen area. “Thank goodness you’re back, we were starting to panic!”

Niall raised an eyebrow. “Timetabling emergency?”

“Yes! How did you know?”

Niall turned towards the kettle to hide his face. “I couldn’t think what else would be causing you such concern. OK, I’ll be with you in a minute.”

Anna scuttled out. Niall filled his mug. He was still smiling. Timetabling emergency. As if. Honestly, his team couldn’t manage half an hour without him.

By the time he’d walked out into the main office, he’d forgotten all about Jenny, Simon, and the new student records system.


I have very bad feelings about this project. Can anyone help? if you can!

Student Record System rebuild

Inspired by a challenge from @RowlstoneS, the lovely people at Burston Central are going to renew their Student Records system. Exciting, or what? I’m not exactly sure how to make this amusing, but we’ll see how it goes. Meanwhile, suggestions welcome in the comments box, or via @wadingtreacle on Twitter.

Simon looked round the table. He felt almost excited. His first significant development project since he’d arrived at Burston Central, and it was a corker: replacing the student records system. Mission-critical, stakeholder-sensitive, multi-platform, future-proof, enterprise class development*. If this wasn’t a passport to a Senior Applications Developer post, he didn’t know what was. Unconsciously, he stretched out the fingers of his left hand and pulled hard on them with his right, cracking his knuckles loudly. The conversation died away and everyone turned to look at him.

Simon returned to reality. It must be time to start. cleared his throat, and took a swig of water from his filter bottle. He glanced down at his checklist.

1. Welcome the task-and-finish group

He smiled broadly, but without sincerity, and launched into his introduction.
“Well, hello, everyone, and many thanks for giving up your valuable time to attend this inaugural meeting of the Student Records System Replacement Task-and-Finish Group. It’s lovely to see you all today to work on this critically important enterprise system.”
He was pleased to see that one or two people were already taking notes. Emboldened, he went slightly off-piste. “It’s not often that a big organisation like this gets a chance to really do a root-and-branch update of one of its underpinning technological systems and I’m sure we’re all going to work together with great synergy and, er, er….er, get the job done in style.”

He took another swig of his water and glanced at the checklist again.

2. Introductions

“Right, well, as you know, I’m relatively new here, so it would be great if we could just go round the room and introduce ourselves. Usual drill. Who are you, and why are you here?”
One or two people pressed their lips together at this. “Don’t be shy!” Simon had seen this kind of reticence in his previous job, working on customer relationship management for a large retailer. Some people were very nervous at being asked to contribute to big projects like this. He’d been like that himself, once.
He smiled encouragingly. “I’ll start, if you like. My name is Simon Edgerton, and I’m the senior applications analyst for registry services. I’ve been at Burston Central for about eighteen months, which I know makes me a very new boy by some standards.” He paused to allow for his joke to sink in. There was no perceptible response. “My role here is to co-ordinate the requirements of the UI, or user interface, and get those translated into some applications specifications for the new system.”

He looked to his left. “Shall we go clockwise?”
Shannon gave a self-conscious wave. “Hey, everyone. Shannon, Head of planning. I’m here to make sure that the new system collects the data we need for the HESA return.”
Simon looked a little sorrowful. “Shannon, sorry to pull you up in the first few minutes, but would you mind spelling out the acronym. Not everyone will be aware of what it is.”
Shannon raised her eyebrows slightly, and looked around the table. “Oh. Sorry. HESA is the Higher Education Statistical Agency. We’re legally obliged to send them data about our students and staff annually: the HESA return.”
Simon nodded encouragingly. “Brilliant, thanks, Shannon.” He looked at the next person to Shannon’s left.

“Anna, Head of Registry Services. We’re responsible for individual records in the system and making sure that all of the graduation information is correct.”

“Critically important, Anna, glad you could be here.” Simon’s gaze moved on.

“Niall, Professional Services. I’m here to provide input on the data input needs for new courses and modules.” Simon nodded slowly. He was already starting to look a little glazed.

“Jenny, Quality Officer from Faculty of Engineering. Here to explain how we approve new curricula elements.”

Simon brightened a little. “Great, so you’re going to be able to specify the workflows.” He nodded enthusiastically.

Jenny shrugged. “If you say so.”

“Yeah, workflows.” Simon noticed the blank looks around the table. “Well, we’ll get to those. All in good time!”. He smiled encouragingly and turned his attention to the next person.

“Gina, Head of Marketing. We need course information from the system to feed through into the prospectus.”

“Tony, applications interface architect. I’ve got an overview of all of the feeder and output applications which will need to interface into the new system.”

Simon nodded enthusiastically. “Brilliant. Key stuff, Tony. Glad you’re involved.”

Jenny put up her hand. “Um. Simon. Sorry to seem dim, but I didn’t really understand what Tony meant.”

Simon smiled kindly at her. “Fair enough, Jenny, fair enough. Well, Tony is responsible for making sure that all of the feeder and output applications will be adequately served by the new system. OK? I’m sure you’ll get up to speed with it all soon. OK, let’s keep going.”

Jenny’s eyes widened. She flicked her eyes round the table, but everyone was staring fixedly at Simon.

They moved on.

“Lawrence, Students’ Union President. Just keepin’ my eye on y’all, makin’ sure you don’t forget to put students at the centre of the system, y’all.” He put his thumbs up.

There were some weak smiles, and Simon dutifully provided a fake-sounding chuckle. “Good to have you with us, Lawrence. Just let us know if you don’t understand anything.”

Shannon winced. Lawrence was a systems engineering graduate. He would probably be better able to keep up than some of the others. He caught her eye and grinned. She felt sure he was plotting something. At least, she hoped so. Otherwise this group was going to be seriously tedious. She grinned back at him.


*thank you to for inspiration here