By the time I press “Publish” on this entry, my employment at the Guardian will be over after just shy of five years working as a developer there. I’m also days away from leaving London, the city I moved to in order to work at the newspaper. I’ll be moving to Birmingham to start a new job with the BBC. This post is a reflection on the road that’s brought me here.
It feels a bit strange to think of my time at the Guardian as being “in the past”. It’s still only my second job and the longest time I’ve spent working anywhere. It’s changed an enormous amount since 2010, not least the new editor whose stint began during my final week. Most of the changes are for the best, but some of them less so.
Ultimately I left because I felt under-utilised and bored. I have to take responsibility for these things myself, at least partly: I could’ve pushed to be placed on more dynamic projects or kicked up more of a fuss when I fell through the cracks a bit after stepping down as a manager last summer. I didn’t, though, and it was when I realised that I was beginning to feel negative towards the company and my department there that it was time to go.
I was asked last year to mentor a talented young chap on the Guardian’s graduate scheme and the experience really brought home to me how much my own career was missing someone in that role who could look objectively at what I was doing and give me a nudge in the right direction. The Guardian does have a line management function (indeed, I was a line manager for three of the five years I spent there) but in my opinion it’s poorly defined and implemented.
The Guardian has a fantastic reputation technically and people are always attracted to it as a workplace for tech/software as well as the obvious journalism draw. This is all completely valid and I’ve worked with some of the smartest, most intelligent people I’m sure I’ll ever encounter. On the other hand, I often felt the dreaded imposter syndrome as people made assumptions about my experience and knowledge which were widely off the mark. Similarly, several times I had the unpleasant experience of way smarter people than me pouncing on things I’d been doing and telling me how wrong they were. Again, this is down to me: better communication could’ve avoided these things, but equally, my department over the last year saw a rise in the pursuit of senior engineers, which I think exacerbates this aggressive mindset towards coding ability.
Really, I just didn’t feel like I was fitting in: I’d had a go at being a manager because I thought I could at least get my head around working with people, if not senior software engineering. That was a challenging experience which I don’t regret but definitely reached my limits with (for now). When I saw the Creative Technologist role at the BBC advertised, I knew that this was closer to what I wanted to be doing: using tech to make things. I’m never going to be the super-smart engineering guru who can grok monads while debating the finer points of graph theory. But I can usually hack something up which does what I need, and even learn how to do it better next time if I’m lucky enough to be working alongside someone who’ll explain it to me and not just do it themselves.
That brings me to the current day. I resigned from the Guardian, worked out my notice and am about to begin my next role at that other big liberal media organisation, the BBC.
It’s going to be hugely, dramatically different. The team I’m joining is (I think) seven people strong – my immediate project team at the Guardian had eleven of us and that was in a department of 130+ people. I’ll also (as far as I’m aware) be the only developer. This is both terrifying and liberating.
The stuff we’ll be building won’t be directly related to news journalism, which has been my bread and butter for the last five years. This, too, though, feels exciting: the Twittersphere and the London media bubble do a great job of sucking you in until you end up feeling like either a) everybody else in the country experiences things just like you do, or b) who cares what people who aren’t in it think?
I took a few months off Twitter while I worked through my job frustrations and it was really valuable: I stopped missing it pretty quickly; found myself thankful I wasn’t there when things like the Jeremy Clarkson sacking took place; noticed the proliferation of media reporting on what essentially boiled down to Twitter drama (whereas before I’d usually find such write-ups relevant and newsworthy). I also stopped going to London media meetups which tended to be overly schmoozy/cliquey. This helped me remember why I got into writing code in the first place: to make cool stuff that people would look at and enjoy, not to fart around in a filter bubble with the same few dozen faces.
Before I get too self-righteous, I also should be clear that I’m about to start working at the BBC so I’m hardly some provincial everyman. I’m super excited, though, to be part of what’s unquestionably the greatest broadcaster in the world: it still hasn’t really sunk in yet but I got a little tingle of pride when they emailed me my staff ID number.
And that brings me to London—or to be precise—makes me leave it. I’ve written here in the past about my frustrations with the capital and it seemed the right time to try going somewhere else.
I love the city and I’ll never regret the years we spent living here. I’m sure I’m going to miss it hugely too: while I’ve reassured myself that Birmingham has all the things I need for my daily quality of life, it’s not London and never will be, and I’ll miss the capital for its abundance of random interesting events, unbeatable culture and sheer scale: it’s been inconceivable to me to imagine being unable to travel to some part of the city at an unusual hour, buy something outlandish even on a Sunday evening or sample the cuisine of a nation on the other side of the planet as I wander down my local high street.
But then, London doesn’t have the monopoly on such things, and indeed, that’s the snobbish attitude many Londoners have about the rest of the country. I’m proud that the BBC is bucking the Londoncentric trend and excited to see what living somewhere that’s definitively up-and-coming (compared to the less salubrious parts of London I’ve lived in that have doggedly been claiming just that for the better part of a decade) is really like.
So, what’s next? Well, Maddy and I are both 28 (well, she has a few weeks left of being in denial about graduating from Club 27) and starting to think about what’s next for us. I’d like to start thinking about having kids one day and this is all just another step on the path of settling down. Probably. Let’s see what happens, right?