Friday, November 21, 2014

VelocityConf EU 2014 – Day 1

TLDR; Velocity is a great conference for web and operations people, and why didn't you go already?

Is TLS Fast Yet?

This was a talk by Ilya Grigorik full of practical, actionable things that you can do to serve your site over TLS, and make it fast.

Monitoring: The Math Behind Bad Behavior

Theo Schlossnagle gave an excellent talk (which didn't involve much maths) about the problems that Circonus see with handling massive amounts of data, and reliably detecting anomalies. I found this quite hard to take notes, and it wasn't as practical in my context as the first talk, but still really interesting.

Design Reviews for Operations

Mandi Walls of Chef showed us how operations should be involved early on. She did a great job of emphasising the importance of having the right people having the right conversations at the right time.

I felt a little over-qualified for this talk, given that I've worked with Gareth Rushgrove for most of the last 3 years, and helped write some of the user stories for operations that GDS published on GOV.UK. Not everyone has had that privilege though!

What Ops Can Learn From Design

Rob Treat of Omniti brought together The Design of Everyday Things and The Art of UNIX Programming to show how designing with empathy to create intuitive interfaces can be easy to overlook, but can have a massive impact on people using your stuff.

Statistical Learning-based Automatic Anomaly Detection @Twitter

Anomaly Detection seemed to be quite popular this year (see Theo's talk and Baron's proposed talk). Here, Arun Kejariwal talked about the state of the art, how it didn't quite fit for Twitter's usage, and what they did about it. The tools and code should be open-sourced in a few weeks, so people can plug it into their own problems.

Your Place or Mine: A Discussion of Where to Host Your Site

This was an emergency panel convened since the originally planned speaker had something come up. Nice end to the day, talking about cloud and similar issues. Michael did a nice job of not answering someone that seemed to be either aggrieved, or trolling quite hard. He's a proper civil servant.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Things GDS doesn't tell you

Working at the Government Digital Service (GDS) changes a person. It’s not a thing we highlight; just acknowledge internally in furtive conversations. This post should expose a few truths about that.


Words are really important. A common effect of working at GDS is that large parts of the internet become unusable for you, since the writing is so poor. Caring about serial commas is the norm.

New ideas

Content design. User research. These are all things that were new to me, and it turns out they have a massive impact in creating award-winning web sites. Another portion of the internet becomes blacklisted since it fails to meet your minimum standards for user experience.


Working with amazing people every day has a horrible effect on an individual. Working with less talented people becomes very unattractive. This is a deliberate retention policy strategy, and seems to work very well.


Presenting well is a learned skill. Once you’ve learned it from one of the best there is, you start to notice things. Bad things. Powerpoint things. You cannot unsee these things.

If these side-effects repulse you, make sure you don’t apply to work here.