Welcome back to information agoraphobia

It’s only 6 months since I left Barclays but it feels like a lifetime. It seems like a long time ago that I was walking the dog at 6.30am in the cold, wind and rain trying to read and type emails on my company Blackberry. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I wasn’t a great fan of the company culture at Barclays for a whole variety of reasons that I won’t go into here. After a pleasant but brief stint at  LateRooms I recently joined the engineering team at Quantiv where I’m a lot happier with the culture. However, the culture isn’t the only way in which my working life has changed.

A few months after I joined Barclays I mentioned to one of my colleagues that I felt as if I had entered the software equivalent of Life on Mars. It was not the personalities, although it must be said that there were one or two characters with traits that would not have been out of place on Gene Hunt (no names, no pack drill). The main reason for likening it to Life on Mars was because of the approach to development and the age of the technologies being used. In many ways you expect a large organisation to be stuck with a variety of technologies that are creaking but the thing that I wasn’t really prepared for was the fact that the practices seemed to take me back to when I first started developing software. Releases were built on individual developer machines, work was very individual, work progress was not visible, knowledge was pretty siloed and developer testing was sporadic at best.

For the three-ish years I was there, I helped to create some pockets of more modern software development practices, despite the wider environment being hostile. One side-effect of this was that I spent the time working with the older technologies that were prevalent and in my latter days I drifted away from direct contact with the technology. Even though I got regular injections of current technology and practice at the SPA Conference, I had plenty of catching up to do when I arrived at Quantiv as part of a team looking at contemporary technologies and practices.

During my time as a Principal Technologist at QA Training I sometimes suffered from what I called information agoraphobia. The symptoms of this centred around the feeling that you only knew a small fraction of what you should know, never mind what you could know.  In the days before the internet, it was relatively easy to keep up to date as a developer. It was just a matter of reading a few books every year and you were sorted. While I was at QA the Internet really took off and my role meant that my area of concern widened considerably. There was always more to know than you could fit into the time available. Since then things seem to have accelerated to the degree that you cannot even read/view the content produced in a reasonably bounded area in the course of one day. Nothing in the past few months of looking into cloud-hosting, NoSQL databases and the latest thinking in agile practices has changed that thinking.

So, while it’s good to be back out in he sunlight, that old feeling of information agoraphobia is rising again.

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