My Lockdown: A game of two halves


Kick Off

Back in January 2020 when we first heard about people in China becoming ill with a strange unknown virus, little did we know how it would become THE news story of 2020. Even as events unfolded and my firm took the decision to close its offices, no one thought that nine months later that our desks would be collecting dust all this time. I thought I'd be back in two weeks; a month tops. How wrong was I!

Now I'm rarely accused of being the master of understatement, but this year started with the aftermath of a data migration project that could have gone better! OK maybe this time :-) Things hadn't gone well. I won't bore you with all the detail. The management summary was that the data had mostly come across from the previous platform, but it looked pretty crappy. Cue a call to arms and manual fixing of HTML pages.

The real kick in the teeth was that I'd spent three years shouting at anyone who would listen about the authoring experience. The move to a new authoring platform as part of the migration was the answer to my prayers. It allowed my team to use a proper authoring platform and publish to the company's chosen location. Think conditional text, reusable content, and control over the styling. Yes I know these are basic requirements for most of you, but I'd inherited a platform that left a lot to be desired. 

Unfortunately the data migration issues placed us in a position where difficult choices had to be made. One of them was to abandon plans to use our authoring tool, and edit content directly in the new hosting solution. The result was an authoring platform with less functionality and control than before.

Away from work, the lockdown saw all sport cancelled. As a Wimbledon fan, it meant my Saturday afternoons changed. There was no more socializing with friends before the game, and chewing the cud about the performance over a beer afterwards. The void was filled with online discussions about what the end of the season would mean for the club's finances, and promotion and relegation positions. 

Still at least working in the IT industry meant my job was safe, unlike lots of others in other verticals. I wrote about this earlier in the year. I was working from home full time, but I was used to doing this 1-2 days a week anyway before the lockdown. So it wasn't a major shift. I have a home office that I can work in, and it has everything I need. I even decorated it and bought a standing desk. I missed the office water cooler chats, but I made an effort to reach out regularly to folk to keep in touch with their news.

Then in early April things started to look up, only for the carpet to be pulled from underneath me. I was approached by an internal recruiter asking if I'd be interested in discussing a new position. I must admit that at first I nearly said, "No thanks." Despite all the problems we'd had with the data migration and the decision not to use the authoring tool our skills deserved, I liked working where I was. It has a really strong culture, and a positive, friendly vibe.

After a chat about the role it became clear that this company was going places. They'd eight Technical Writers, 4 UI Designers, 2 x Localization experts, and were hiring a Content Strategist. With the team of Technical Writers likely to grow, my role would be managing the team. To be frank they had me interested when they said there were eight Technical Writers. My current role had two, and we were a larger company.

Three interviews and a product demo later, and I was given a verbal offer. Woo-hoo! The next day the company decided the Covid-19 pandemic meant that all recruitment would stop. Bugger! To be fair the hiring team were very open and honest throughout, and told me to stay in touch. The general feeling was that the job offer was postponed rather than cancelled.

The Second Half

In July, we could finally say all the issues with the data migration were solved. It had been a massive undertaking with many evenings and weekends spent at the keyboard. Well there was no football to go to. It was a pleasant change for the team to undertake "normal" authoring duties. 

The warm summer months soon disappeared into autumn. There was a total lack of suntanned bodies returning from two weeks in the sun. To amuse ourselves we experimented with Zoom backgrounds and created new Slack channels to avoid going gaga.

Then finally an email arrived asking me to jump on a call with the hiring manager. After a brief chat to ensure I was still interested and another interview, the offer was reissued, and I accepted. This time there were no hitches and the paperwork was quickly signed, sealed, and delivered.

Resigning is rarely easy. What words should you use? Should you let them down lightly? It is worse when your boss is a six hour flight away. I couldn't wait until our next 1-2-1 so an unscheduled excuse to talk had to make do. I did my best to make the surprise easier. I offered to help with recruitment, and gave them longer than my contracted notice period to enable a thorough handover.

As word got out, it was lovely to hear colleagues say how much I'd be missed. I've made some friends that I intend to keep in contact with, but I've always felt that just how much this is true can be evaluated by comparing what it was like when I first joined. So what has changed?

Back in July 2015 I was employee number 680. We're now approaching 1800. In 2015 my role was split between 50/50 between writing UI copy and knowledge base content. That was unsustainable even then, and we hired someone to help me. They transitioned to writing UI copy full time, and I hired another team member. As I leave we've grown further with a Technical Community Manager coming under my team. Content wise we've well over 1000 pages of highly technical content.

If resigning was awkward, leaving was slightly depressing. Not able to leave in the time honoured fashion, I had to arrange a series of Zoom calls to say goodbye. I will put my plastic behind the bar once it is safe to do so, but for now seeing folk on a screen is all we can do.

My new gig starts in January. They've already said we'll be working from home for the foreseeable. They were renting office space in London, but the lease ran out in September. As the company is growing, they needed more space and with everyone working remotely there was no point in renewing the lease. They're in the process of finding a new office, but I'm not expecting to resume commuting anytime soon.

Post Match Conference

So what did I learn about the last year? 

  1. First up is we must expect the unexpected. Predictions about this pandemic were abandoned long ago, and don't look any more accurate today.
  2. I must improve my estimating. I'd never have thought back in February that it would be over a year before I'd be able to go back to the office.
  3. Change isn't bad. Adapting to full time home working required a rethink about my work-life balance. I may have cancelled my expensive gym membership, but I'm fitter than before. Why? Because I'm using my commuting time to go running instead. Well OK, not every day :-)
  4. Online shopping and a cashless society are the future, and judging by the number of couriers driving into our close, the present also.
  5. All medical and care staff should be worshipped from on high. I doubt any of them ever thought that just doing their job would put their lives in danger, yet they've stoically gone about caring for seriously ill people without moaning. That should be a lesson to us all.
We'll soon be looking forward to 2021. Who knows what that will that bring. We've a vaccine, so you'd expect the situation to improve. I hope it will. In the meantime, stay safe, wear a mask, and remember to smile whenever possible.