Saturday, 30 January 2016

Break-away for breakfast

Breakaway is a relaxed yet focused networking breakfast. It all kicks off around 7.15am. As people arrive they relax by grabbing a hot drink, chatting and greeting familiar faces and one or two new ones. From about 7.30 they sit down and  each member does ‘one minuter’, Some people talk about their business and some about current trends relevant to their sector. Paul spoke about The Norfolk Developers Conference (NorDevCon) business track which this year is better for business than ever before. The majority of conference delegates are part of an SME so the opportunity for B2B networking is extensive. Nick Applin said some very kind words to the group based on his experience from NorDevCon in 2015 and we hope to see a few more faces from Breakaway this year.

Most people at Breakaway opt for a lovely full English breakfast with locally sourced home made sausages. If an English breakfast isn’t to your taste there is a choice of pastries, cereal, yoghurt, fruit, toast and jams.

At every Breakaway breakfast there is a ten minute slot given by one of the members. On this occasion Kirsty Favell told us about cats, cardigans and copywriting. It was a funny and informative talk with great content, everything you’d expect from a very talented copywriter. Kirsty taught us that all writing must start with a SFD and if you want to know what that is you’ll need to ask myself or Paul!

Breakaway finishes off with another round robin with everyone talking about the referrals and the successes they’ve had in the last week. We always get a warm welcome from Breakaway and really enjoy going. The fun and good humour is usually as free flowing as the coffee and we can’t wait to go along again.

Words: Emily Jayne Crittenden & Paul Grenyer

Friday, 29 January 2016

Have a day off!

Sometimes I have to take an unexpected day off. Today is one of those days. It’s not something I like doing, but with a young family sometimes it’s necessary. I’m one of the few lucky people who really enjoys what they do, so I’m working on one project or another most of the time.  When I can’t work for whatever reason, I find it quite hard as it feels like all the things I have to do are mounting up. My solution is to put them all on my todo list and then it doesn’t usually take long to plough through them when I’m working again.

Some people tell me that I’m a workaholic, but I don’t feel like a person who compulsively works excessively hard and long hours. In fact I’m dreadful at long hours.

One of my favorite films when I was a teenager was pretty woman. In the film Vivian, played by Julie Roberts, talks Edward, played by Richard Gear into taking a day off. Complete shock ripples through Edward's office at the news he is taking a day off. Vivian takes Edward to a park and confiscates his mobile phone mid conversation. She succeeds in getting Edward to relax. He ends up, still in his suit, minus his shoes and socks, under a tree.  Pretty Woman is a Cinderella story where Vivian melts the heart of the hard nosed businessman. The park scene is where she begins to change him for the better.

I’m no hard nosed business man, but I am sometimes overly focussed when I should be relaxing. Taking a day off is not usually something I enjoy, but it often does me good and is good for those around me.

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Journey Continues

On Sunday I saw Threshold for the tenth time. To say they’re my favorite band is an understatement. I’ve seen them more than any other band, but Marillion, Paradise Lost, The Wildhearts and Skin aren’t far behind.

As is common with lots of bands at the moment, there were two support acts. I struggled to see the point of Damnation Angel, although their singer was clearly very talented. Spheric Universe Experience, from France, on the other had were really quite good. Proggy, heavy and well worth the £10 for an album.

If I’m honest, For The Journey is my least favorite of the recent Threshold albums, so I was apprehensive about hearing it all the way through. I was delighted, however, to find they were opening with Freaks and Mission Profile before diving into For The Journey. I shouldn’t have been apprehensive as live it was amazing from beginning to end. Although by no means the best song from the Hypothetical album, Oceanborn, which followed, is a superb live track and had me thinking back to when Mac was in the band. Then there was the superb and unexpected Pilot in the Sky of Dreams which had Damien Wilson splitting the crowd, walking among us and kissing a lady who had put herself right in front of him. Before the encore they finished with Ashes, which was, unfortunately, the only track from For the Journey’s predecessor, March of Progress.

The encore consisted of the Art of Reason and of course Slipstream. Both brilliant. Damien Wilson of coursed joined the crowd straight after and I was able to get the new album signed. I’d bumped into Pete Morton earlier and was able to distract Richard West for clearing away his keyboards too.

They’re still my favorites and I expect when they play again I’ll see them again. Hopefully they’ll do another set like they did at the garage a few years ago with a few songs from each of their albums. And you never know, they may even play in Norwich.

SyncNorwich: The Brandbank Story

I often find myself describing the structure of tech companies in Norfolk to people. In terms of size we have Aviva at the top, a lower layer of large SMEs such as Validus, Proxama, Virgin Wines and EPoS Now in the middle and then countless micro businesses and smaller SMEs at the bottom. I’ve been aware of Brandbank for a while, but they’ve always been a bit of an enigma to me. It turns out it’s not just me and this is something they’re keen to do something about. It also turns out that with a two hundred strong workforce in Norwich alone, they deserve to be mentioned in the middle layer.

To help raise their profile locally, Brandbank are engaging in a number of local activities with the tech and business communities in Norwich. Their CIO Jeremy Glenn has spoken at the Norfolk Network, the company is a partner sponsor of NorDevCon and on Thursday Jeremy spoke about Brandbank to SyncNorwich at Whitespace. Why do Brandbank want to raise their profile locally? They need more software developers. They need quite a few of them and they need them quickly to help sustain the company's growth.

The core business of Brandbank is to help retailers get their products online. They’re one of only a few companies who do this and they do it for a lot of large supermarkets as well as thousands of other clients. Following their inception in the late 90s, Brandbank have seen incredible growth in revenue, with very modest profits and only broke even in 2007. Since then they have seen steady growth in profits. In late 2014 they were bought by Nielsen.

Jeremy told us all about his background, how he came to join Brandbank and then how he became a director. He described many of the different things Brandbank has tried over the years, what had worked and what hadn’t and what they learned from it. Jeremy also described the horrific process of preparing to be acquired, the false starts and intensive due diligence.

Although clearly a shrewd businessman, Jeremy clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously. It was interesting to finally find out what Brandbank do and the delivery was entertaining. It will be equally interesting to see how Norwich’s previously best kept secret grows over the coming years.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Breakfast with John Beer of The Centre for Advanced Knowledge Engineering

What: Breakfast with John Beer of The Centre for Advanced Knowledge Engineering

When: 7.30 to 8.30am, Wednesday, 23rd March, 2016

Where: The Oak Room, The Maids Head Hotel, Tombland, Norwich, NR3 1LB

How much: £11


‘The Centre for Advanced Knowledge Engineering’ a catalyst for changing the Employment, Skills and Aspirations Landscape of the East of England 

Aspirations of the current and future generations of school students in rural areas is at an alarming low. Norfolk is no exception to this phenomena. The presentations objective is to outline these challenges and how we all, jointly, can strategically change the East of England regions Employment, Skills, Education and Aspirations landscape by creating a world renowned Centre for Knowledge Engineering i.e. AI and Deep Learning, Data Analytics, Bio-Informatics and Cyber Security. The East of England has now 3 world leading regional research hubs creating major breakthroughs in search engine technologies, Bio Med and food research but still not seen as a ‘powerhouse’. The objective is for the East of England to become the UK’s powerhouse of the Knowledge Engineering sector.

John Beer

After leaving school at 15.5 years I joined the GPO Overseas Telecommunications on a 3 year Telecoms Technician apprenticeship and then subsequently moving to senior management positions in Xerox, Fujitsu Europe and Canon EMEA responsible for Strategic Alliances, Mergers and Acquisitions, Strategy and Analysis. In 1996 I received a grant from the DTI to create a search engine platform for exporting SME’s engaging with Mike Lynch’s Autonomy team. I later co-founded an Unstructured Search API company based in New Zealand (later to become global) of which I successfully exited in 2011. I am currently an investor and advisor in and to a number of companies in the Search, Content Monetisation, and Knowledge Extraction space and since 2012 have been the CEO of Downham Market Developments Ltd the developer of ‘The Centre for Advanced Knowledge Engineering’ a new £350M commercial and education campus on the 80 Acre site of the Ex WW2 RAF Downham Market.

Event: The Miracle of Generators & Three years a full-time Go programmer.

What: The Miracle of Generators & Three years a full-time Go programmer.

When: 6.30pm to 9pm, Wednesday 3rd February, 2016

Where: The King's Centre, King Street, Norwich, NR1 1PH


The Miracle of Generators
Bobil Stokke (@bodill)

The ECMAScript 2015 specification introduced iterators, which generalise iteration over common data structures, as well as providing an interface for allowing you to iterate over any custom data structures using common language constructs. ES2015 also introduced generator functions, which make writing arbitrary iterators a lot easier and less boilerplatey.

But generators aren’t just for making simple iterators over data structures. Because they’re bidirectional—they don’t only produce output, they can also take input—they’re actually coroutines, which means there’s no end to the sort of fun you can apply them to. We’re going to explore how we can use them to make asynchronous programming in JavaScript a lot more elegant—to chart a path out of callback hell. And then we’re going to take a look at what we’ve really discovered: one of the most fearsome mysteries of computer science, suddenly laid bare before us.

Three years a full-time Go programmer 
Elliott Stoneham (@ElliottStoneham)

The Go programming language (search term "golang") turned six years old last November, for around half of that time Elliott has been writing in Go day-to-day. In this talk he will share why the novelty of such a new language hasn't worn off yet, and in particular why he thinks Go is actually about saving development time and cost. But most programmers are not attracted to Go not for the long-term benefits, initially the ease of creating parallel code is exciting ("go myFuncName()" will do it). So Elliott will use some live examples to illustrate coding patterns for concurrency and parallelism, which is always fun. He will finish by talking about how organisations typically start using Go by creating some small peripheral service, then give examples of organisations that have gone well beyond this to use Go at scale.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Don't promote your developers

Yes you read correctly. Don’t promote your developers. They deserve to stay where they are.

Having worked for a number of companies who believe the only way to show their appreciation for hard working developers is to give them more responsibility, I am a firm believer in doing the exact opposite. Companies move successful developers into other areas of their business, often into people management, and take away what makes the developer good at their job, or at the very least dilute their skills by asking them to focus on people rather than code. But there’s a reason your developer is good at what they do. Most developers are not ‘people people’, they are software people and for very good reasons.

If the software development team is writing the core product or system the business is using day-to-day, moving those developers away from developing will have a significant impact on productivity and quality. Even promoting a developer to an architect, for the purposes of paying them more, is often wrong. Software architects are not the same as building architects, they still need to code and code regularly. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule and a developer may want to make a career change. If they want to move to something very different, let them. If they want more responsibility, make it over the design and or make them the team or project technical lead, but make sure someone else does the people management of the team.

Perhaps some companies feel the need to justify the pay rise on offer, giving the developer more diverse responsibilities in order to do so, but why would you move someone from a job they excel at into a job they’ll struggle with just to pay them more money? Tech firms need to understand that their software developers are at least as important as their people managers, if not more so, and recognise the importance of technical excellence. The solution as a business owner is to keep talking to your developers, make sure they’re doing what is best for them, and your business, and regularly increase their pay in line with everyone else in the company. A good developer is a valuable asset, so reward them by letting them shine in their role. Listen to what they have to say and let them manage code, not people.

Ideas: Paul Grenyer
Words: Lauren Gwynn

Monday, 18 January 2016

Norfolk Chamber Careers Focus Group

On Friday 15th of January I attended the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce’s careers focus group at the invitation of Caroline Williams. The focus group was looking at the careers service in schools and what could be done to get schools and businesses working together more effectively. Joining us to hear and collate our views were two members of the British Chamber of Commerce. The remainder of the focus group was made up from members of the Norfolk Chamber, leaders of local businesses, schools and colleges. There were 17 of us in total.

Before I arrived I wasn’t really sure who was going to be there or what to expect. However, it turned out be a great opportunity to catch up with a couple of people I hadn’t seen for a long time and to make some great new connections. The real eye-opener was what I learned about the school careers system in Norfolk, what many of the forward thinking schools are achieving and how businesses like mine can help to make a difference.

I also had the opportunity to talk to some of the further education establishments in Norwich and to try and help influence which new skills they offer to their students. There is a major shortage of software engineers in Norwich and Norfolk and one of the ways we need to address this is to produce more homegrown talent with the right skills for local software companies.

The event was chaired and well structured; the allocated  two hours just flew by. The conversations were engaging and informative as well as there being a lot of laughter from a group of people clearly committed to making a positive difference to the young people in the education system in Norfolk.

And of course an excellent lunch helped too!

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Microsoft & The Guardian Join The 2016 NorDevCon Line Up

I thought you'd like to know that Microsoft and the Guardian have joined the NorDevCon 2016 line up!

Building applications using the Universal Windows Platform (Friday)
Paul Foster (Microsoft)

Windows 10 introduces the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), which further evolves the Windows Runtime model and brings it into the Windows 10 unified core. As part of the core, the UWP now provides a common app platform available on every device that runs Windows 10. With this evolution, apps that target the UWP can call not only the WinRT APIs that are common to all devices, but also APIs (including Win32 and .NET APIs) that are specific to the device family the app is running on. The UWP provides a guaranteed core API layer across devices. In this demo rich session, we will have some fun exploring how to build an application to run across several device families.

Read more

Deep Impact – Agile and Analytics at the Guardian (Saturday)
Dominic Kendrick (The Guardian)

The talk will showcase the improvements and benefits that come from putting data analysis and measurement at the heart of your agile processes.

I will talk about the techniques we have used on various projects across The Guardian to help us save money and improve the impact of the work we deliver, and explain how you can use these to get all aspects of your business thinking hard about what features and projects they want to deliver.

Read more

Get your NorDevCon 2016 tickets here.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Why I want a Lamborghini

When I was younger I always favored the underdog, often for no good reason, but I usually managed to invent one. For example I always build my desktop PCs with an AMD processor instead of an Intel processor. When everyone else had the vapourised Maroon Raleigh Mustang, I got the black and white one. All my friends at school had a ZX Spectrum and I had an Acorn Electron. I even had a betamax video player once, but that’s another story.

My dad loves and has always taken part in motorsport. Hill climbs, sprints, classic car trials and more. He even started the local branch of the TR Register (a group for Triumph TR enthusiasts). So I grew up with fast cars all around me and I’ve always liked speed. I often joke that the way I live my life is bigger, better, faster, more. Now I’m approaching 40 it feels more like just bigger! Before I got married I used to have a green Triumph TR 7 with a 3.5ltr, 175 bhp V8. Maybe now is the time to get another one, but that is also another story.

In the summer of 2005 I saw Mark Knopfler at the Royal Albert Hall and as I walked up from South Kensington tube station there was a Lamborghini parked on Exhibition Road. A little later on I saw it driving around the edge of Kensington Gardens. It looked and sounded amazing. I was hooked.

When I worked at Canary Wharf I was surrounded by Ferraris, Aston Martins and even the odd Maserati. Expensive fast cars were everywhere, Michael Schumacher had won his seventh world championship a couple of years before and the last five were with Ferrari. Even the road going supercars tend to be rather highly strung and need a lot of maintenance and Lamborghini’s are no different. So I decided there and then that when I got to the point in my career I could afford a supercar, it needed to be a Lamborghini. It just wouldn’t be a yellow or an orange one. Besides, my dad is constantly toying with the idea of getting a Maserati so my chance with one of those will come.

Things are different now. For example, I have an iPhone because it’s the best tool for the job. If I was still blindly supporting the underdog, I’d have an Android or a Windows phone. I try to always make sensible decisions, based on fact, reason and sometimes gut feeling, but when it comes to a supercar, I still intend to favour the underdog.

Thank you to James Neale Photography for the image.

Monday, 11 January 2016

The Hateful Eight

As with so many other things, I was late getting into Quentin Tarantino. I tried to watch Pulp Fiction in the 90s as a teeanger, but I quickly got bored. I did see from Dusk Till Dawn as a teenager too, loved it, but didn’t realise at the time it was Tarantino. Many years later, I don’t remember how, I came to be watching Kill Bill and wow! It blew me away. I’ve been a fan since and even rewatched Pulp Fiction. Kill Bill remains his best work but I loved Inglorious Bastards too (despite the subtitles).

The Hateful Eight is different. Very different and very good. In the middle it’s slow and I went to a late showing after a long day, which made it a bit more difficult. It has one of the most engaging character building opening parts of any film I’ve seen. Often the character building in films is slow and boring, especially if it’s the first part of a trilogy, but not the Hateful Eight.

About half way through it feels like it’s nearly over. Then it goes back to a different thread of events early that day, which put the later events in context. Then as the main thread is picked up again it turns into a typically Tarantino blood bath.

I find stories where everyone dies at the end disappointing (and I love Blake's 7!) and a lot like stories where someone wakes up and it was all a dream. It would have been a much better ending if Mannix had somehow walked away.

Tech event: BBC Micro:bit - What is it & What can you do with it?

Come to the University Technical College Norfolk in February to hear about the new BBC Micro:bit, an exciting new piece of mini-tech to be handed out in schools across the country. The small, codeable device will be given to pupils in year 7 throughout the UK in a bid to introduce them to technology and coding. The small-but-perfectly formed computer will be Bluetooth enabled, have scrolling LEDs as well as an accelerometer and magnetometer.

Find out more and register for the event here, which also includes a tour of the Technical college.

Date: 4th February 2016 from 6.30pm - 8.30pm

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Dependency Injection: Don't Overdose!

I first encountered dependency injection, a pattern that implements inversion of control for resolving dependencies, when I was investigating the web application frameworks available for Java and decided to go with Spring (of course J2EE has dependency injection as well). When you start off with a golden hammer like dependency injection, suddenly every one of your software development challenges looks like a nail. And, as you would expect, all the books and documentation encourage this, although I suspect not consciously.

Dependency injection is a fantastic tool if you have multiple components you want to bring together to form a myriad of different applications. The perfect example is of course the Spring framework, because it is exactly that and dependency injection works very well in that context (no pun intended).

However, dependency injection should not be your default pattern for every project and if you are using it in a project, you should only use it when it’s really needed. Don’t load every object in your application into the container, you don’t need to.

Dependency injection is great for reducing the dependencies between components in your application and for allowing you to plug custom components into frameworks, as well as many other things, but one way or another it adds a further level of complexity to your application. Most dependency injection frameworks use either one or more files containing something like XML or a declarative method using something like annotations directly on classes to build the container at runtime.

Each method has its own drawbacks. With XML files you have a second place, other than your code, to understand and potentially to debug. With the declarative method you have no easy overview of exactly what is going into the container at runtime and you have to be careful about objects being instantiated and injected unintentionally.

And of course over full containers can result in very slow application startup and tests. If you have to fire up the dependency injection runtime and load objects into it every time you run a test it makes your tests slower and more complicated. Then you won’t run them or maintain them.

So what’s the solution? As the ‘Effective’ series of programming books are so fond of saying, be judicious. When you’re tempted to put an object into your container, first consider whether it really needs to be there. It might be better served, for example, being orchestrated with other objects behind a facade which is loaded into the container if necessary. That way you’ll find yourself with simpler code which is easier to maintain and test and it may just even perform a bit better at runtime.

Cutting & Sticking

Sandler have a very different approach to selling to the traditional methods. I’ve been enjoying and have made good and successful use of a lot of the techniques I’ve learned over the last twelve months or so. Never before have I been armed with Norfolk Voice, Metal Hammer, The Guardian, scissors and a gluestick! Neither have my wife and children been invited to the President's Club before.

When Ermine told us that the first session of 2016 would be cutting and sticking and we could bring loved ones, including children, I was intrigued and not sure what to expect. However, it turned out to be a very enjoyable session. I took my wife and our youngest, Eddie (4), who was fully engaged throughout cutting and sticking Thomas the tank engine.

The task for the grown-ups was to create what is best described as an annotated collage of our aspirations and goals for the year. I always need to make more of my family time, but if there’s one other thing I learnt last year it was that I need to focus more on my business and not get sidetracked by other projects, while learning to say no to people (sometimes). I also need to do more things for me and make the most of the professional bodies and training I’m receiving by being more active. Flicking through Norfolk Voice and seeing the pictures of the Norfolk Chamber’s recent technology event also made me realise I want to be more like someone who is very prominent in our community. I included him on my collage, but I won’t embarrass him by mentioning his name here.

Again I learnt a lot and it helped me focus a bit more for the year ahead. Apparently, in December, the next session will be in the school holidays and I can take all three of my kids. Who knows, one of them might become the perfect salesperson.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

2016 Means Growth for Naked Element

2015 saw a lot of changes for Naked Element – some good, some not so – but change often makes way for growth and this is what we’re focusing on this year.

Undoubtedly the best decision we made last year was taking on our apprentice Lewis. He has handled his own projects with ease and continues to meet every challenge we throw at him – including being on camera! We know he will continue to be an asset through 2016.

This new year also holds lots for Naked Element as a whole, as we aim to expand our team and diversify the skills and services we offer. We are always looking to take on more clients and grow our business through networking and research, but we run a referrals scheme too. If you send some business our way, we’ll pay you for the favour! We already have a bunch of fantastic clients that we’re looking forward to working with this year, both large and small, and the next twelve months also sees the development of new services and products, which we are excited to introduce to you later in the year.

Next year holds big things for Naked Element, we hope you agree, and we look forward to working with you throughout 2016 and beyond.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Poseidon's Wake (Poseidons Children 3)

ISBN-13: 978-0575090491

I have this problem with collections of things (trilogies, all the albums by a band, TV series, etc), I have to own and consume them in their entirety. Another problem I have is remembering what happened in early parts of a collection when consuming the later parts. With TV series like Babylon 5 or Game of Thrones it’s easy to sit down and rewatch them in anticipation of the next part coming out. Not so, for me, with books. My reading time is limited and I don’t want to waste it by rereading books I’ve already read when there are so many other books I haven’t read. The exceptions to this were Revelation Space, Redemption Ark and all of the Chronicles of Narnia which I have read twice.  So you’d think that the Poseidon’s Children series would be perfect for me as each one is intended to be read as part of the trilogy or as a stand alone book. Not so. In my ignorance I read Redemption Ark before Revelation Space and spent the whole book wondering about the previous events, which turned out to be from Revelation Space. It was the similar with Poseidon's Children, but I still loved it.

Since departing from the Revelation Space series Alastair Reynolds has written a lot of very good books which feel like just the start of the story. For example Terminal World and House of Suns. While the entire Poseidon’s trilogy presents unanswered questions which may be answered in the next part, the trilogy as a whole suggests no answers to many of the fundamental questions posed by the series. This is fantastic because it keeps me wanting more. However, I suspect Alistair will keep me waiting for the rest of my life with many of the stories he has started.

All three of the books in the trilogy are very different. I feel that On The Steel Breeze is the best one, but Poseidon’s wake is excellent. It’s well thought out and there are twists and turns I didn’t see coming. What really made it so good were the characters, especially Kanu with his convictions and view of humanity and the Tantors.

If I could change one thing it would be for the trilogy to be one book I could have just consumed in one go. Of course I could just have the discipline to wait for them all to be published and read them myself in one go.

I’m already looking forward to Slow Bullets (desperately trying to find the Kindle edition) and The Medusa Chronicles (out later this year). When Stephen Baxter wrote with Arthur C. Clarke it transformed Clarke’s stories. I wonder what the effect on Alastair Reynolds will be.

In the meantime I’ll be reading Brave New World.

Friday, 1 January 2016

How is technology helping you work remotely this holiday season?

I’m a business owner, software engineer and innovator. Technology is at the absolute heart of everything I do. To allow me to live the sort of life I want to live and work around my family time, I have to be able to work anywhere and at anytime.

Going Mobile

One major step I took towards this was a few years ago was to ditch my desktop. Working in different places in a pre-Dropbox world meant conscientiously making sure the files I needed were on the computer I needed them on. This meant putting files on a memory stick, copying files to an FTP server or pushing code to a repository before it was ready. There was also a certain amount of phoning and emailing people to ask if they could retrieve and send me a file I’d forgotten.

Many people cling to their desktops in the name of performance and because they have a real keyboard, mouse and one or more monitors, rather than an awkward and small laptop keyboard, small screen and trackpad. I fell in love with IBM/Lenovo high end ThinkPads nearly ten years ago when I was given one for work. They perform well and are extremely solid. With as much processing power and RAM as a desktop and as a Linux user, I don’t notice any reduction in performance compared to a desktop. In the two places I work most, my home office and my work office, I have a docking station with an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, two monitors and a webcam. This means I can easily switch between the two offices without worrying about where my files are. If I have to work somewhere else, I still have everything I need. The only drawback is that I have to take my laptop with me to and from work and home. But my nomadic working lifestyle means I want it with me all the time anyway. Those solid ThinkPads with their big batteries are not light though.

I was a late adopter of mobile phones (around 2000). Everyone else had one and I wanted to be different and didn’t see the point. Then I got one and I’ve barely been off it since. Quite soon after that, internet on a phone became fast and usable. Batteries are still catching up so using your phone to connect a laptop to the internet when on the move would often kill it. Plus data only plans have became very cheap. So to go truly mobile I acquired a 3G USB card so that I could connect to the internet anywhere there was a signal. Now I really could work (almost) anywhere at any time. These days I have a 4G wireless hub with a big battery, that can charge my phone at the same time, and the kids even have internet for their iPads in the car.

Moving to the Cloud

As a software engineer I’m used to sending my code to a repository (a central area where code from all the engineers working on the project is stored and merged). I’ve setup a source code repository at a number of companies I’ve worked at in the past and at home for my own projects. This has involved configuring a physical machine, often in a server room or under someone’s desk. With the creation of SourceForge and more recently GitHub and Bitbucket, source code repositories are now available in the Cloud. This has two distinct advantages, hardware no longer needs to be sourced or configured and the repositories are available everywhere by default without the need to be physically connected to the same network.

Lenovo laptops last and retain their capacity to perform for such a long time that I often find myself upgrading the operating system many times during the life of a machine. When I do this I like to completely clean the hard disk and start again. This gives me a fresh, clean install and means that any old bits of software I’m no longer using and had forgotten about get cleaned out too. One of the biggest headaches used to be creating and restoring backups of all my files including source code, photographs and other documents. However, with the invention of Dropbox and Google Drive I can keep all of my documents backed up in the Cloud. This means I can wipe my Laptop at any time and then just reinstall the OS, Dropbox, software development tools and thick client applications such as IDEs, check out my source code and I’m ready to go.

The added advantage with Google Drive is that I can work collaboratively with other people on documents without worrying about overwriting the wrong version or merging changes made in different versions of the document.

In the ever expanding world of DevOps, software engineers are using more and more machines that are not their personal workstations. For example, continuous integration servers, development, UAT, staging and production environments, each of which is likely to include at least one database server and one application server. Traditionally these have been hosted on physical, virtualized, hardware often located in an office and accessed remotely via VPN.  With the introduction of AWS, Azure, Digital Ocean and Heroku, to name but a few, the purchase, hosting and maintenance of physical hardware is no longer necessary and all these servers become accessible from anywhere due to being in the Cloud.

How does this help me in the holiday season?

I have effectively moved almost everything except the physical machine I need to use as a human being into the Cloud. I’m no longer reliant on physical hardware, having the files I need on the computer I am using or an, often flaky, VPN connection. I can literally turn on my laptop and, as long as there’s at least a 3G signal, I can work. This means that over the holiday season and at almost any other time the technology I use allows me to work.

Whether this freedom to work is a benefit or a potential danger is a whole other discussion.