It’s Monday morning, I am getting ready to leave the house, but this time something is different, instead than actually going to work, I am going to SwanseaCon an agile development and software craftsmanship conference based in Swansea. I have actually been very lucky, as this is the 3rd time that my company has allowed employers to attend this conference, and today I have decided to share my thoughts on, why sending your staff to a conference is actually a good idea.
The usual excuses
It is too expensive
We do not have time for this
I do not want my staff to leave (conference are always full off recruiters).
The topics are not specifically helpful for our workflow
You may have heard these sentences many times before. because these are the usual excuses used by employers to convince themselves that they have done the right thing. But the reality is different.
Extend your horizons
The main benefits in attending a conference, is that it extends your horizons, allows you to see outside the box, it connects you with the rest of the industry. All this can actually support a single individual growth, but also be very beneficial to the whole company.
Spending some time with people around the same industry, can be an eye opening moment. It can highlight point where the company is succeeding, for example in our case I have been able to find out that our current implementation of agile is actually in a better and more mature stage than I actually thought, or provide insight on your failures, highlighted by a single discussion with others attendees that have clarified our lack of microservices and continuous delivery that seems to be the norm around the room.
Speaking with other attendees is fantastic, but the strength of conference could actually be closer than you think. You may be working in a company for many years, and had the same colleagues for years, but how many time have you stopped and had a technical conversation with your tech colleagues that did not involve work related issue?
Allowing your teams to attend conference could be very beneficial in supporting them. It could enforce the team bonding and help team members share information that would otherwise been kept from the rest of the team.
Giving them a chance to go around will actually make people happy, and happiness increase productivity that it will directly affect your business.
Having very well structured team that feel unified and can work well together is priceless and should be encouraged when possible.
Do not give them reason to leave
The harder conversation to have with your manager is about recruitment and possibility of your staff being approached from other recruiter, and I would be a liar not to admit it. But maybe we should actually approach this subject in a different way.
Would the fear of loosing people, actually help us to see what the company is doing wrong? Denying an employer to go to a conference, it is not the actual solution to the problem, because it will not prevent him leaving, but just delay the inevitable.
This events should actually be used to analyse your position in the industry and see why your staff would ever attempt to leave.. Is is about benefits? are you underpaying them? are you pushing them too much, without proper remuneration? maybe this are the real problem and not actually granting them the chance to attend a conference or a meet up.
I cannot thank my company enough for giving me this opportunity, it support me immensely and in return I try to pay the company back in return.
Conferences can be expensive, and I am not trying to convince you to actually send your staff to every single one around, because that would not be manageable. I am really of the opinion that being active in the community, supporting your staff and making them feel comfortable to go around and share their knowledge and “advertise” your company should actually be encouraged because it will support not only the personal individual but it will also support the whole company.
When I was in primary school, I was always asked to write an essay about my holiday on my return from the summer holidays. At that time this seemed but a stupid task, that had no real need, but now that I am a grown up, I can see the benefit of writing up your own adventures. It lets you realise, how lucky you are on having an holiday, and in my case, how lucky I was to live in a fantastic Mediterranean country (Italy), full of culture, food and a fantastic sea.
This year, I have decided to share this experience with you all, I have gathered pictures during my stay and I am going to share the particularity of Italian summers and more particular of Puglia. You have probably visited Italy before, but I am going to share the insight from a place where tourism is very low, internet and computer are still own by few, and growing your own food is a must.
Puglia is situated at the bottom of the Italian peninsula and is blessed with a very hot Mediterranean weather and touched by two different seas, the Ionian sea and the Adriatic sea. The main industry for this region is agriculture, followed up by National tourism.
I have spent my vacation in Latiano a very small little town with a population of no more than 15.000 people. Puglia is full of these kind of villages, where culture is very strong and where you can feel a strong bonds between all friends and family.
When talking around with locals, people moral is very low and unfortunately even if the region is full of great natural and historical beauty.
Grow your own
I have lived in UK for the past 10 years now, and I have started to forget how things are done in the south of Europe. Many people grow their own fruit and vegetables and it is still very common to exchange goods between neighbours. On my arrival; to this heaven of nature, I have had immediate pleasure of taste by eating a freshly picked Figs, followed by a fresh pear both free from pesticide, and grown as nature commands. Of course there are farmers in UK too, but in here does not matter if you work in the council, as a lawyer or in the army, you will still have your own fruit and veg in the back garden.
The beauty is in the taste of this produce. There is no battle between something grown in your own back garden and the same product bought in a supermarket. The taste is so different, every fruit and every vegetable has its own strong fantastic taste, they are all so full of flavours that just one is enough to satisfy you. During my stay I had the pleasure to try melons, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, salad, figs, pears and peppers, all from the same garden.
During this vacation, we stayed in my Wife’s parents house.My wife’s mum, during her last visit in UK , decided to bring some Butternut squash seeds with her, because she really enjoyed the taste of them. It felt like something silly to do, because what is the point of going though all this hassle for a butternut squash, but the end result was fantastic. The end product not only was huge, it also tasted amazing.
Eat when it is ready
When I discuss Italian culture with people in UK, we usually end up mentioning the Mediterranean Diet. We usually tend to associate the healthy eating to the fact that people live longer and better. This is probably correct, but one thing that is important to clarify is that in many parts of Italy, people still eat only products that they know to be “in season”. In UK is quite common to find strawberries all year around, or be able to eat oranges and tomatoes during winter. But this would be something unacceptable in Italy, Watermelon is just available from August to September, figs where starting to fade out of the market and Grapes are starting to be ready to be picked up for the wine.
It is very hard to deprive ourselves from fruits or vegetables just because it is not in season, but in reality, we should question how these products are on our shelves all year around. Of course globalisation helps, but it is still debatable that something that was probably picked weeks before osn the other side of the globe is the right choice for us.
One of the pictures shown here is of “sun dried Figs”. As mentioned above figs are almost gone, so people get their reserve up, by creating jams, or other methods of conservation, and it was very enlightening to see these figs under to sun and see them dry during my short stay. The same happens with many other products like tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes and many others.
A land of Olives and vineyard
It is impossible for you to pass through this region without encountering an extensive olive farm or a vineyard. Puglia thanks to its particular soil,it is perfect for growing these products. Olive trees are immense, most of them are century old, and the method used today follow the same tradition used thousands of years ago, to produce the very well known Italian extra vergin Olive Oil. Olive trees are planted in a perfect grid system, and it is beautiful to see such precision across vast fields.
Vineyard of course are not just popular in Puglia and can be found everywhere in the world, but it is still fantastic to see this tradition and people being so passionate about the way they keep culture and tradition.
People may not be enthusiastic about work or the economic situation of the region, but you just need to hint in being interested in the “tradition” of the place to see a spark growing. It is fantastic how people continue to keep this tradition, to see young people still involved in family business and to admire that big shops (even if available across the nation), have not been able to move people away from their traditional way of growing and doing things.
Not only food
Italy is not only known for its food, but also for its fantastic historical monuments, and the Puglia regions is no different from the rest of the country. A walk in Brindisi will welcome you with a sign of two roman column. These are said to be the end of the “VIA APPIA”, a single road build by the Roman Empire, running all the way thought the italian peninsula.
A small car journey could bring you in Ostuni, also known as the “The White Town” for its particular white building. This town, built on top of a hill can be seen from miles away, and is home of lovely independents shops and a great tourism attraction with its old look.
Finally, I want to talk about the Sea. This region, due to its unique shape is blessed with miles and miles of amazing beaches. Locals have the ability to decide, depending from the Wind, which sea to go to (This allows people to always go where you can avoid waves). Beaches are still very rural and access to them can be quite tricky at times.
What I have just listed are just my personal experience of this amazing region, but I there is way more waiting to be discovered.
Espresso, La pennichella and lots of Gossip
I could have not written a post about Italy, without spending a few words on the way Italians spend their day to day.
Every day starts with an espresso. There is no Italian, that can be called so, if he doesn’t drink espresso. Whoever wakes up first, will be on coffee duty and will make espresso for everyone in the household.
After getting ready, the first stop is of course the BAR (the italian equivalent of coffee shops). In here you will enjoy a cappuccino or an espresso ( yes another one) with a lovely patisserie, that could be a croissant or a Pasticcio brindisino. A funny note about the drink, is that in Italy cappuccino and latte are just sold before 11am, you can ask for one after this time, but the barista will not be happy.
The day goes on, and you will probably have another coffee before lunch (just because you did not have enough).
Lunch usually involves Pasta, some side such as mozzarella with buffalo tomatoes or grilled aubergine all accompanied by local wine and bread and finish off with a choice of fruit. It is common for the mother to peel the fruit to everyone, so there is usually a little queue.
After lunch, due to the heat you cannot avoid “la pennichella”, also known as “la siesta” in Spain.
The is the little nap taken by almost everyone during the afternoon. It may seem to be something very lazy to do, but it is a very old tradition. Initially this nap was used by the farmers that were used to go out and work very early ( even before sunrise) and would have a rest in the afternoon, not only due to being tired, but also because of very hot weather, under which plants and trees should be left alone ( it is not suggested to water or work on a plant under very hot weather).
If you have things to do, and no one invite himself over your house, you may have the chance to go out and pass over the BAR for a coffee and a quick chat over the counter. After this you may end up doing shopping, because people eat fresh product, the shelf life is quite short and therefore you are constantly shopping.
Differently from the UK, people in Italy do not just stop to one big department store, but they go around many different specialised shops. Fish, meat, vegetables are all sold in different places, all scattered around town, so this simple task ends up being a very stressful operations.
Your nap will probably be interrupted by one of many visitors that you will receive throughout the day. People visit friends constantly, usually without any warning. Main topics of discussions are Football, politics, the weather ( that affect the harvest so very lively conversation), all this are usually discussed on a warm espresso! (probably your 5th).
All afternoon and evening are usually spent gossip around, and dinner time is usually very late ( people prefer to eat after sunset when temperature ease down and this could usually be around 10pm.
Because not many people have gardens, big houses or air conditioning. If is very common to see people sit outside their houses on the pavements with wood chairs to avoid the heat in their houses. This is such an unique experience, sit outside is an invitation for anyone passing by to stop and chat. Truly simple and beautiful.
It is very unfortunate that the economy is in distress, but maybe this is the main reason why this region is so beautiful so see. I have tried to share my experience as best as I could, but there is nothing that can actually replace the taste of fresh products or the lively discussions that take place with people that you do not even know in the middle of the street.
I really hope that the new generation will get a spark of entrepreneurship and start to make this part of the world more accessible to people and this piece of heaven cherish with the success that it deserves ( it can be very hard to live my same experience without knowing the language or where to go).
In the past decade work from home has increased steadily, becoming now one of the “must have” when seeking for a new job opportunity. This report from the Bureau of labor statistics, shows that in USA there was a 5% increase in people telecommuting from 2013 to 2015. Reaching a peak of 25% (Full report here)
This trend is powered by the fact that both the employer and the employee gain from the use of it.
Few years ago, it would have been very hard to convince your board members that working from home, would have increased productivity, because there was a layer of doubt across managers to accept that having an employee sit in his own home would have ever been beneficial for them.
But luckily, thanks to big companies such as google, amazon and Apple that have driven this trend, and tons of statistics and success stream produced by remote workers it is becoming steadily easier to convince your company to allow to work from home.
The good stuff
There are plenty of resources from around the internet to convince you or your employer to swift toward working from home.
For personal experience the main advantages for both employer and employees to offer work from home are:
Save money on office spaces
Allow to employ people from all over the world
Increase people morale and productivity
It make the company more appealing to employee
Statistically proven that employee work longer and harder
No need to commute
Save of travel expenses
More relaxed due to familiar environment
Allow to seek for job from all over the world
The bad stuff
Even if work from home is a fantastic trend, there are some part of it that can really affect you, either if you are the company owner of an employee.
I have personally experienced a small degree of work from home and I have noticed that not all grass is green.
work from home is very good on the tin, but it comes with its own disadvantages and these are:
Extra set up/ software needed for work from home
Need good organisation with inventory, because scattered accross the globe
Employees could be on different timezone and this can affect the business
It is not easy to transition to remote working when you are using to deal face to face
You may inadvertently work too much
Hard to switch off because work and life environment is the same
Different timezone may affect you (eg. company meeting)
Lack of socialisation
It is not easy to transition to remote working when you are using to deal face to face
I personally think that is not easy to transition to work remotely, and I also believe that is not something that may actually suit everyone’s needs. Telecommuting, surely has its own advantages and can be very useful in some circumstances (eg, for people working in very remote areas or very focused individuals), but I am very sceptical that working in your own house is actually going to be the norm across the industry.
A tangible example to show how difficult could actually be to adopt this trend, has recently been announced by IBM, that even if it was one of the early adopter to offer its employees the ability to work from home, has now started to move all its workforce back into offices, as shown by this report of the newsobserver.
I had the ability to do remote working, but unfortunately, I really missed the face to face, the chat in the kitchen, hearing people conversation and start a office wide discussion.
Nowadays, software like Microsoft Teams and Slack are facilitating the transition offering great communication and visual features, but I personally think it is still not enough.
Today, in case you have not noticed, we have been invited to be part of History. It may seems confusing, but I am meaning it. The UK government has today announced that sale of Petrol/Diesel cars will be stopped by 2040.
I know it may seem a long time form now, but if you think ever meet a car with a registration number starting with R, well, that was build in 1997, that is 20 years ago, and ruffly close to the deadline announced by the government.
If you are reading this post, you are more than luckily going to be part of this “transition”. Fuel engine have been part of our lives since the early 20th century, and for many years, people have been calling for a change in the use of this engine, to be swapped with something greener.
What does it means for us
The example that I posted above (about the car build in 1997), highlights that many cars that are going to our of factory today, may still be in circulation when the deadline occur. In the next years, many motoring will “automatically” transition to electric cars, because by a new car that runs on fuel would be economically incorrect, as they will loose value quickly as the deadline approaches.
The latest release of the Tesla Model 3 has probably played an important role in this government decisions. Tesla has managed to start “mass production” of this new car model, and this has helped to start and push the prices down, and started a economic war between all big car manufactures.
Tesla model is around £ 24.000 that is around the same price of a medium range car. This will not allow buyers to be able to make their choices depending on model preferences and not just price (until now all electric cars have always been considerably more expensive).
What does it mean for the government
Even if the news have sparked excitement around the country, there is still lots that need to be done for this to actually happen.
Electric cars are not only cleaner than cars fitted with fuel engine, but their are also considerably cheaper to run. On average an electric car will use around 3-4KWh for every 10 miles. That translate to around 48p (applying a general cost of 12p for KWh).
The government has two main duties to facilitate this transition. First they will have to provide enough electricity ( more details below) and create enough charging station around the country (maybe give incentive to people that may supply this service). Next, they need to continue to push incentive, by providing scrapper scheme and grants to buy new electric cars. Having too many Fuel car still around by 2040, could create market instability due to the quick market value volatility of fuel cars.
How much electricity is required when all cars turn electric
Unfortunately this has its side effect. In fact the Guardian wrote that there are around 90k electric cars in UK right now, and if we change all cars to be electric, this number will peak to around 9M. This could add an extreme demand on our national grid, requiring up to 30% extra energy. (Very simplistic calculation found on the quora website).
This figure is huge (Thousands of TWh), there would be need over many nuclear plants and hundreds of wind farm, all would need to be build in a short amount of time (build a power plant take a long time).
It is amazing, that we will be all part of something so amazing. Our generation, will be remembered for this amazing change ( and hopefully also for landing on mars :).
If you are a developer, you have surely once in your career, started a little side project either because you had a “great” idea, or because it was a very gloomy rainy day outside and never finished it. In many industry, included the IT one, this is called “the curse of unfinished side projects”.
This comic, is probably one of the most shared across the social media, and it summarise this topic perfectly.
Many people see this has a complete failure, a waste of time and energy, but I see it differently and in this post I will share my idea with you.
No idea is a bad idea
Side projects are hidden pearls. It may be time wasted for many, but in reality any minute spent in a side project is worth way more than a minute spent in your day to day routine. Maybe after spending a night coding an horror game, you realise that it is not for you, or spending your two weeks holiday on the perfect APP made you realise that it wasn’t that perfect or unique, but all this time has an unique purpose. It forces you to think outside of the box, it brings you into unfamiliar ground, and forces you that focus and solve a problem after another, and this is what make this time unique.
The power of a side project does not live within it final product, but in the process required to achieve every small step. It is a free invaluable learning progress.
Since using a scrum methodology in work, I have started to retrospect (scrum retrospective) any work I do, that is a small one day project or a month long. I try to analyse all my actions as often as possible. This helps me understand what need improving and what really could be avoided in the future.
Share the knowledge
Too often, this unfinished side project are not shared with colleagues and family. We too quickly discard these to be a waste of time, without actually having other people opinions and I have learned in recent events that the power lies in sharing these ideas with people, side project are not always left unfinished just because we are lazy, but it may be because we have a full time work and a family to look after, and not enough time to spend on them. But this does not mean that it was the wrong idea or that it should not be brought forward.
Side project are usually created when our body produces an overwhelming dose of adrenaline after having an idea and this is what enable us to stay awake all night.
This is not sustainable, and sharing the information with other could actually help you. First, speaking with others and getting their opinion could actually make you realise that the idea, was not that silly overall and build some more adrenaline. Then, having open discussion with people and keep them updated will actually help you in setting a routine to continue to work on the project. Lastly, it could actually help you find some support, that may be just morale, technical or another pair of hand to share the work.
One in a million
So far we have spoken of unfinished work, and given enough reason to continue to have this small experience. But what if, the project you started this weekend is really its the “one in a million” project that is not going to be left unfinished.
This is another great aspect of side projects, there is always a possibility of creating something that is actually worth all sleepless night. That could one day help you create the next unicorn company (definition of unicorn company).
This blog and website started with a side project, a big feature implemented in the company I work was originally a side project knowledge, and a close friend is actually leaving the dream on what was a side project.
Side project are hidden pearls, we just need to learn how to harvest them. With a bit of organisation and help from others, these projects could actually turn in something tangible and useful.