anthony galvin


I'm a technolgist at TodayTix, the posts below are about work, but probably don't reflect my employers opinions. If you want to connect about work related topics, then this is probably the best place to do it.

Yesterday evening, I finished work, had dinner with my family and then cycled up Alpe d'Huez.

Not the real, physical one, but a simulacra of one in Zwift, the virtual cycling app / game / training tool. I wasn't on my own, there were thousands of other cyclists on the mountain. Well not on the mountain - in their garages, sheds and living rooms.

Over the last few months there's been a lot written / spoken / tweeted about the Metaverse. Especially since the company that makes Facebook (previously also called Facebook) changed it's name to Meta. Of course nobody who regularly uses the Metaverse is calling it "the Metaverse". They are spending time in Roblox. Or playing Minecraft. Or even Second Life (for the retronauts).

This concept of a virtual world where people can interact in a 3D way has been around for some time. I remember working on virtual cafe for Nescafe, as a graduate at a small web agency all the way back in 1999. It was slow. People still had dial-up. Nobody was really interested in a branded cafe experience. Especially one sponsored by an instant coffee company.

The other day someone asked me if TodayTix Group had a Metaverse strategy. I can imagine the company selling tickets for virtual events. But so much of what the company does is about getting people together at live events. It sounded odd even verbalising it. For me the hours spend in Zwift are a means to an end. An attempt to do some exercise and get a bit less unfit in a fun and convenient way.

So what's next for the Metaverse? Maybe people will spend even more time in these places - the price of hardware will fall and faster internet connections become more ubiquitous.

Will people choose the Meta over reality? With better 3D googles? And more painfully realistic recreations of alpine climbs? I'm not so sure. I can't see people choosing the Meta in-place of reality. If you offered me a week cycling in France or 7-days on a virtual trainer I know which one I'd choose. But as a facilitator of convenience or entertainment there's a place in our connected world for these virtual spaces.

#cycling #metaverse #technology #3d #zwift #work

25/02/2022 permalink

No 10 plans to lower salary level at which graduates start repaying loans

Government believes too many students are racking up debts studying “soft” 3-year university courses in arts and social sciences, and is looking to funnel more 18 year olds towards technical training that is cheaper and will pay a faster economic dividend.

It probably was “soft” compared to some degrees, but I learnt an awful lot of “soft” skills that have proved way more important than the technical skills that I learned on the job.

#links #education #work #creativity #politics

27/09/2021 permalink

The Mentorship Diamond

The idea that one person, your manager, is going to be the oracle on your career is a bit optimistic. Mentees all round!

#links #work #tech #careers #mentoring

16/09/2021 permalink

The Case for ‘Developer Experience’

If you're an engineering lead business and you make vendor and toolset choices that don't take account of the impact on the team it's not likely to go so well.

#links #work #tech #strategy

16/09/2021 permalink

Optimizing a homepage image from 10MB to 78KB

Great deep dive into image optimisation - and a reminder that really delivering on web performance often takes expertise and diligence that's hard to deliver at scale.

#links #web #work #images #optimisation #performance #internet

15/09/2021 permalink

The best way to validate an email is probably to send one

Feels like every few months I end up sharing this link. Email has been around for 40 years and it's still catching us out.

#links #work #email #coding

15/09/2021 permalink

It's taken me a while to come to this realisation, but I've spent a huge chunk of my life trying to achieve things with teams. Sports teams, software teams, bands, orchestras, actors and product teams. To be fair not all of these notional teams have been successful - but when they work well, teams are awesome.

It's a cliche to say that "being a team player" is important at work. Most of the time this is just a platitude for people who don't rock the boat. A way of saying that the person in question is no trouble. I don't always buy into this team of mates dynamic.

To continue the cricketing viewpoint, Mike Brierley, arguably the greatest exponent of captaincy and understanding the psychology of teams sums it up nicely "If individualists are too powerful, too divisive and too selfish, the team suffers. If they run riot, the notion of team scarcely exists. At the other extreme, some teams can become flat, conformist and dull. Far from running riot, individuality is suppressed."

So there's plenty of scope for the right kind of discussion and a team that's able to sometimes hold divergent points of view, at least for short periods of time.

It's not always easy to identify the right group dynamic from the inside, never mind on the outside. In my experience it's one of the reasons why agencies often struggle with consistently casting high performance teams. Even if resourcing is operating beyond the principle of "availability as a skillset", the people making the decisions when pulling together new project teams are on the outside, and from there the signals of a genuinely good team are almost impossible to detect. In an agency it can sometimes feels like the approach is "We've got this project team performing really well. Now we've delivered everything we should break the team up and make sure this group of individuals never work together again".

I've written recently about some of the challenges in scaling teams across multiple locations, but as well as geography having a significant impact, more people also comes with a time cost.

More people doesn't have to mean your people. As the number of integrations, partners and vendors increase the time cost of managing, motivating and co-ordinating all these different folks can have a significant impact. A small team that has many thrd-party integrations doesn't just have a scope challenge, it also has team management challenge as well.

Perhaps this is the ultimate team challenge - when the team in question isn't just your team, but other teams as well.

#work #teams #agile #remote #software

25/02/2019 permalink

Do you still write code?

Some thoughts on technical leadership and coding.

The other day someone in the team asked me if I still write code. Which got me thinking about how, especially in agency land, senior technologists often don’t. Faced with the growing need for Technical management and client facing technologists, many larger digital agency environments have a fork in the road where people can pursue a less hands on route.

Over the years I’ve worked with lots of senior folks who continue to be practitioners. People from an engineering background who are still, at least some of the time working with software. This isn’t unusual in other fields - nobody expects the top brain surgeons to do all the operations, but they are expected to do some. The same is true for lawyers and in agency land often true for strategists and UX / design folks.

That’s not to say that management and leadership aren’t skills in themselves, skills that require practice and a significant time commitment. As an engineer the way you scale and produce a better output is (or at least should be) by having a team. The team is your unit of awesome.

There’s code, and then there’s code. On the projects I’m involved in the amount of real technical output I contribute varies significantly. Often the things I’m doing are prototypes, setting a direction - more like someone doing a sketch that communicate an approach or a style. It’s not about being ‘the best developer’, firstly because defining best is difficult (fastest, fewest bugs, most code, least code, best collaborator etc..) and also because that’s probably not your role on the project.

Sometimes it’s just about chipping in with a bug fix, picking up a few tickets and helping when the deadline is looming and JIRA is looking a bit unpleasant. It’s fairly unlikely that I’m going to be picking up lots of dev work across any of my client work, but it is an aspect of how I go about solving problems in my  day-to-day work.

That’s not to say it’s easy to stay on top of the ever changing technology landscape, but for me it’s not a binary choice between management and coding. They are part of the dynamic of technical leadership, and it’s important that you make time to develop your skills in both areas.

#work #technology #coding #leadership #management

2017-11-15 14:47:11 GMT permalink

Adventures with Voice Interfaces

Recently I’ve been doing lots of work with voice interfaces. Globally AKQA has been working with clients on VI since it started to go mainstream, and in the UK we’ve helped Jamie Oliver and Arsenal get onto the Amazon Echo platform.

VI is also a lens to use when looking at system or service and figuring out what an MVP really is. By it’s nature VI is a paired back user experience - so if you have an experience that works well for voice users then you probably have a good idea of your core use cases. 

From a technology perspective it also starts to place some new demands on engineers. It forces technical teams to think differently about infrastructure, code and server less at scale. The separation between code and infrastructure can get messy when working with AWS Lambda (and similar services), so it’s extra important to focus on code and build pipelines for anything but the most trivial use cases. 

Developing for voice also highlights something I think is increasingly important for engineers - the ability to bring service design thinking into software / sprint planning. There’s an increasing overlap between writing software that doesn’t have dead ends and handles exceptions well, and managing the user through options and occasions frustrations of voice interfaces.

Test automation, unit and integration tests are even more important than usual (though I’m not sure how much more important you can make these kind of tests!). Manual testing of voice services is slow (you can’t really speed it up), so you need to have good test coverage to have high confidence in your software and for the team to be able to work at a decent velocity.

It’s also important for everyone on the team to spend time using voice services and to understand the emerging design patterns and expectations of regular users. In the early days of television it was apparently common to meet people who appeared on TV shows but refused to own a television set. The same approach won’t work if you’re developing VI. Using an Echo or Google home on a regular basis is the only real way to understand the possibilities and frustrations of voice interfaces.

#work #voice #akqa #alexa #servicedesign #engineering

2017-05-17 14:25:25 GMT permalink

Self-driving cars: moonshot or beer wagon?

Almost every day there’s some new buzz, hype and occasional factual statement about self driving cars. The intersection (pun intended) of technology, user experience and transport policy is an interesting place. 

From a technology perspective it feels like autonomous vehicles could be the equivalent of the space race for our times. As a side effect of getting people on the moon, NASA is also credited with inventing everything from Nike Air to better dentistry. Whilst the self-driving car industry is still in its infancy, innovations in detailed mapping, artificial intelligence, motion detection, capacity planning, battery technology and machine learning (to name but a few) have already started to have a  significant impact on the technology we use everyday. 

But transport and mobility matter a lot more than as a way to get a more accurate vacuum cleaner. The relationship people have with cars is complicated. Much of what has been written about vehicle ownership, usage and urban planning doesn’t take into account the irrational choices that people make around transport everyday. How autonomous vehicles fit into real world scenarios  is going to be complicated, and based on how politicians handle most rapid technology change, I’m not optimistic about how smoothly the polity will adapt. 

In many ways the motor car has been one of the most liberating inventions of the past 150 years. If I was so inclined, tomorrow morning I could pile up the car and drive to the South of France (or more likely the west coast of Scotland) with a level of ease and freedom not possible 100 years or so ago. Yet, despite having a car I don’t really self identify as a driver. It’s something I do, but I’m more likely to say I’m a cyclist or walker. But I’m conscious for many people driving is a very important part of their identify, and for some people the self-driving car represents a challenge to the idea of what it means to be human.

As with most complex technology problems, it’s easier to get to grips with them if you start by trying to build your own version. A self-driving car is a bit of a leap, but the next step for the location aware drinks trolley I build last year is probably autonomy. Even if I don’t get as far as a universal product, a beer wagon that can navigate my office is probably a pretty good place to start.

#self-driving-car #autonomous #ai #cars #transport #mobility #words #robots #driving #work

2017-01-30 22:28:23 GMT permalink

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