A Break

March 31, 2015

This post is really quite overdue – about six weeks overdue. But I’ve had my reasons for not writing it yet. Not that it really matters, because note the plurality; I can’t quite figure out the correct attribution of the delay to those reasons.

I’m taking a break from paid work. I finished my role as Lead Android Developer at Cellepathy on Friday 13th February. It had felt inevitable to me for several months, and the transition took nearly as long (I voluntarily worked for longer than my notice period to facilitate a smooth transition).

It has been theorised that the drawn out transition is why around the start of February, with a couple of weeks to go until ‘freedom’, I started getting stomach pain/discomfort in the afternoons (it was occurring quite predictably an hour or so after lunch each day). The symptoms were those of dyspepsia and were relieved by both ranitidine and omeprazole (not simultaneously!), and improved over the course of a month or so. It was complicated by the fact that the GP surgery I had been registered with here at ‘home’ had marked me as ‘inactive’ when I’d registered with one in Cambridge on starting university. By the time I’d been able to re-register I’d figured treatment out (with the help of my parents) and felt it would have been a waste of the GP’s time for me to be seen about it.

Fortunately it was over three weeks ago now that I last took ranitidine or omeprazole, and as the pain/discomfort I was feeling has only returned once or twice in that time (and at lower severity), I do now allow myself to tentatively consider the issue behind me. But it does mean my break hasn’t started as I’d hoped; I’d planned to ramp up my running and to restart cycling, but I judged it better on the whole to refrain so as not to change too many biological variables simultaneously while waiting for the dyspepsia to settle. For the same reason my alcohol intake over the last two months has been about three units, but unlike running and cycling, I really haven’t missed it – not even being teetotal for my MA weekend just gone (March 20th-22nd). One of those units was a really quite necessary 1/3 pint test on the Saturday just gone of the most recent barrel of Woodforde’s Wherry that I’d brewed, with the rest being a single celebratory G&T on the evening of my last day working for Cellepathy (February 13th).

Because I’ve mostly refrained from running and cycling I’ve largely spent the last six weeks yak shaving various things I’d not had the time for while working – one that I probably will write about in the near future (simplifying my web VPS by Dockerising ALL THE THINGS - a desire I alluded to previously), some that I probably won’t (e.g. switching from using just Git to using Git & git-annex – which I can now recommend highly - for managing my archived files) and others that I definitely won’t (e.g. eBaying or otherwise re-homing various possessions that had become surplus to requirements).

With that brief account of what has occupied me in the meantime complete, I’ll now answer some of the question you may have.

Why have you left Cellepathy?

I’ve tried not to talk that much about (paid) work in this blog, so I won’t say much other than that I’d been working in the role for just over three years on Verify, and in more than one way I’d started to feel that I wasn’t going anywhere. Largely in the sense that the learning curve I was on had plateaued.

What are your plans now?

It should be apparent that one thing I have not done is move immediately to another job. This is a very deliberate move, and one I am (at least right now!) very pleased to have made. I consider myself to be quite risk averse, so it’s not something I’ve done without quite a lot of thought.

While working for Cellepathy I was technically a self employed consultant – not an employee of a UK business or company. As a result, the relationship between me and Cellepathy was (I believe) modelled in many ways on those between US/Israeli companies and employees. It became apparent to me that US/Israeli culture creates quite different expectations around working hours and holiday.

So the most felt effects for me were fairly minimal allowance for time off, and the need for me to be registered as self employed with HMRC. Thus the need to take on responsibility for my accounting and tax, from which has followed a profound appreciation of how simple PAYE made things when I was an employee of Citrix.

These two main effects informed my decision to take a break because:

I know that might appear to only partly answer the question. I alluded to the idea of creating an Android application but didn’t say any more about it, and was otherwise quite vague. One interpretation of this would be that I don’t really have any plans, which to an extent would be correct (make plans and other things will happen), but a more accurate description would be for me to say that I have quite a few ideas for things I want to do, and it’s just that I’m not ready to commit in a blog post to intentions!

What I will say though is that at a high level I have three things I intend to do, and roughly in this order but perhaps with some overlap:

  1. Complete the various yak shaving tasks that have accumulated (see above for examples). I feel I’m past the halfway point with these now.
  2. Create (in reality) an Android application I’ve been developing (in my mind) for the last month or so, and attempt to develop on income from it via Google Play. My motivation for this is threefold. Firstly, the idea is genuinely something I would like to see exist as an app. Secondly, it would of course be nice to develop a passive income of some sort – though I have no expectation that I’ll succeed at doing that. Thirdly, it would be nice to once again have a current project of my own that I can point to as something I’ve built and talk about freely – which is something I cannot do with Verify.
  3. Teach myself the OCaml programming language and at least begin to tinker with MirageOS, a project I’ve been very enthusiastic about (in theory) since I read about it early last year but which I’ve still not yet engaged with (in any practical way) beyond reading the unikernel paper and various blog posts.

Now, I have no expectation that my pursuit of items 2 or 3 will lead to much more than an arc of a few months in either case. That’s why my response to recruiters who’ve contacted me in the last few weeks has ended my explanation that I’m taking a break from paid work with the statement that I imagine I will be exploring employment options around Autumn time this year. But that doesn’t mean I’ll cut things short if it seems that my pursuit of either 2 or 3 is going somewhere.

Finally, if you’ve visited my blog previously you may note that I’ve changed the appearance. I’ve switched from WordPress’s Twenty Fifteen Theme (having always used WordPress’s annual theme for the last few years) to “First” by Themehaus.

My reason for having stuck with the official themes has essentially been an application of the idea that in situations where there is arguably too much choice, a reasonably safe and time saving strategy is just to go with the popular choice. My desire to keep my WordPress install as ‘vanilla’ as possible probably had something to do with it too. And my reason for changing it now was the realisation that I don’t actually like Twenty Fifteen visually and that my dislike of the appearance of my blog (until now) may have been another part of why this post has been so delayed.

While on the meta note, I’ll actually confess that I’ve spent the last few days tinkering with Octopress 2 (and 3) and exitwp (and Jekyll’s WordPress importer) in combination with Docker, evaluating the idea of migrating piggott.me.uk from WordPress to Octopress. The motivation would have been twofold – firstly to even further simplify my web VPS, and secondly because I really liked the default Octopress 2 theme and the idea of writing posts in Markdown in Vim. However, just as I’d pretty much figured it out (well, apart from how to handle the migration of posts that include galleries, videos, or maps generated from GPX), I stumbled across Paul Graham’s observation that ‘Static sites are the fixies of the Internet’. I then recalled my half hearted attempt to build myself a fixie in 2011/2012 (I can’t remember which!) and saw this as history repeating itself. What I mean by that is that despite the appeal of Octopress, for me, for now, WordPress is simply more practical. Like my 2009 Carrera Subway Ltd was.

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say so I’ll conclude here.