Author Archives: Eric Brooke
There are those in the Startup/tech community who often say “stay out of my way and let me do my job mentality” to Government.
Take this article for example: JUSTIN TRUDEAU SHOULD DO NOTHING FOR STARTUPS
This feels like a lack the understanding of how Government at all its levels can impact on the ability of the business community to grow and be global champions.
I spent four years in elected office at cabinet level (Cornwall County Council, UK) with one of my remits been Economic Development of Creative Industries and for the last seven years I have being a part of the Vancouver Tech/Startup scene. This has given me some experience, thoughts, problems, solutions for what any place that wants to consider Startups as a part of their economic strength.
I worry like many, that Vancouver will become a resort town.. technology is one pathway to diversify it. Over the last decade I feel the BC Provincial Government has failed actual Startups (those who are not large Tech companies), at time that could have made a real difference, they made their economic focus elsewhere.
Here is a list of areas to explore before the Provincial Elections in British Columbia in 2017.
Most ideas/solutions/problems will have to be solved in partnership with Vancouver City, Federal Government, businesses, teachers, unions and many others.
1. Listen and understand what Startups offer – not just “leaders talking to leaders”
By engaging with the industry and community leaders to explore approaches and strategies both with the leaders and their employees.
It needs to be wider then the traditional old boys network, so not just friends/connections/trade associations. The traditional group of “talked to” are generally mostly men, white and from well off backgrounds. Talk to women, which our sector is so sorely missing in the top positions. So talk to people like Maura Rodgers or Jenn Cooper people who have created actual communities. Look for who is excluded and work out why.
2. Understand the businesses at their different stages – Not just one type of entrepreneur
By exploring the different needs of different sized organizations whether they are small, medium or large. It tends to be the larger ones that can afford lobbying, lets not ignore the small. The needs of Hootsuite are different to those of a five person startup, or the startup whose main target is a non Canadian market i.e Payroll Hero.
3. Involve Traditional and non Traditional Education institutions
By ensuring that all teaching and training organizations (including schools, colleges, Universities, bootcamps i.e. CodeCore and other private training organizations) that educate or train people are involved in the on-going journey to strengthen our knowledge based economy.
It seems that some of traditional educational institutes only talk to the really large companies i.e. E.A. or Sage or SAP. They often want experience with a C variant or Java. Whilst most startups want a framework/language that lets them to get up and running within a 3-6 month window and experimenting with a product to market fit. They do not always have time to train a person in a new language. Some Universities in the US have recognized this and have Startup Engineering programs i.e. Stanford.
I think Bootcamps and on-line learning platforms are an important part of our future learning culture as they adapt much faster then Universities and Colleges in which programming languages/frameworks/techniques to teach.
P.S. Who teaching people how to learn? Schools, Colleges or Universities?
4. BC Training grants DO NOT recognize online learning
This is the case for monthly subscription learning which can occasionally have the most up to date knowledge. In a place the size of BC it is not always economically to get a trainer out to the middle of no where. The mentality of BC Government is that they want you to give a job to a trainer and get them to train your people in personal. This can be very expensive. Reduce the barriers to learning not increase them. Are they environmental benefits from delivering online?
5. Developing effective skills training in schools
By exploring which skills are needed in an effective knowledge based economy. That these skills become fully understood and clear strategies are developed to to ensure they are gained from School upto University e.g
- Change management
- Conflict management
- Risk taking
To consider how these skills compare on the Global stage, Vancouver/BC is competing against every other city/area on the planet. What are Vancouverites poor at, how can we improve it? I feel that I have seen a lot of conflict avoidance (rather then conflict resolution) in my time in Vancouver is this just my experience or is it a “Trait” of Vancouver? Lets understand our vulnerabilities and counter them rather than ignore them.
6. Growing Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship is encouraged at every level of education, from school upwards e.g. Young Enterprise in the UK. It should become part of the school system to teach children conflict management, understanding risk, managing stress and managing change. Maybe the program should consider Social enterprise and not just be limited to private enterprise.
7. Coding for all ages
I am not convinced that programming is for everyone, we humans are far much more diverse then that. One UK programmers’ feelings are well expressed here – Learn To Code, It’s Harder Than You Think
But we should consider Programming a good way to teach problem solving, logical analysis and critical thinking and not just as a career. As it is in UK, US and Nova Scotia.
8. Career changing
Why do Governments only consider this when the shit has hit the fan? Its a reality of now and the future, there are no jobs for life. We should teach the reality in schools, rather then just try and box people for life in a career through poor decision tree mechanics.
How do we make this easier and less feared, almost part of our natural lives like it will be for any Gen Yers.
Consider how people can support themselves whilst re-training, consider how to make this possible for shift work. Consider online as well as physical education.
Developing alliances between industry and research institutions to create innovation infrastructure is of courses necessary, and some exists, but is currently poor. Maybe make some of the “intellectual property” known about.. Hacking events? Open Transparent patent libraries, people whose job is to market their intellectual property.
10. Support the jobs that are actually needed i.e. Software Engineers not just Post Grads
Most government programs support PHds and Masters, but we actually need far more people with Bachelors in Software Engineering. Also what about the 40% of people that learn programming themselves? Could we better support them they are a large chunk of our software environment.
11. Support of growth Technology Leaders
Consider how to support the next generation of CTOs, from co-founding to a full CTO with a scaled up business. There are many programs that support the CEO/Founders but to be truly successful you need the product to scale. It seems like we have few homegrown success (if we do why not celebrate them rather then just the CEOs?), most companies want “magical” tech “genius” or “star” or “rockstar” or “ninja” from some other country. We have no programs to support Tech Founder to CTO, why? To have a successful tech community we need many of these people.
12. Open Government – Community, Procurement and Solutions
The Government needs to lead by example and considers how startups/SMEs can help them in all aspects of their scope, make parts of their systems more efficient e.g. innovate through Government Hacking events, fairer procurement procedures for SMEs. That Startups are looked at like NGOs as a possible solution to a problem i.e. how to make government delivery of services faster, more efficient. IBM or other large corporates are not the only ones with solutions and frankly some startups could beat the large corporates in producing solutions i.e. The Obama health online system
13. Social Enterprise
That Startups who work with Government or NGOs, should consider sharing their success with Government and/or NGOs who were core partners. For example either paying back any, grants when they can afford it (i.e. making a lot of profit), or even better give a number of shares to represent the initial investment or revenue sharing.
14. Evolving beyond “Me too” products
To consider how we can come up with something new, rather than the solely Canadian version of this or that. I feel that productivity in the innovation economy comes from generating new ideas that generate new revenue. Yet where is the support to take Visionary or high risk projects in B.C.? I hear many people in Vancouver tech conferences call for this, but the Angels do not invest in these, IRAP does not invest in these. NVBC never lets these through. We need some way of support high risk ventures, yes maybe limited it per year, but something.
15. Why the basis for B2B and B2C in BC?
Explore what we in BC have failed to produce more successes with B2C companies here, as we seem limited to B2B. Why?
16. Avoiding the Social Problems seen in Silicon Valley/San Francisco and Seattle – “Cruel Gentrification”
For us to consider a kinder approach to gentrification, bringing the startup community together with the community they often displace, and develop solutions that could help both succeed. There was an event to explore this but it was more hype then solution based. The solutions offered were just give more money to charities. It like many meetings really avoided Gentrification. We can see this happening in Gastown and to some degree China town, how can we create a proactive “kind gentrification”?
17. Involvement in Policy
Canadians entrepreneurs can help our policy makers design strategic policies for intellectual property rights in trade agreements, judicial strategies when ideas ownership is on the line, technology standards strategies and many others. And please talk to people outside the “Canadian maple syrup mafia“. I am not discounting their wisdom/experience but we need the next generation involved to and those who are currently excluded.
18. Upgrade SR&ED
First of all Thank You (yes I know its federal). It does make a difference. But make it easier to apply for the smaller startups. I think the documentation process is so complex that now consultants help lots of companies, or worse startups have to invest a lot of time in it. This program needs to be streamlined.
19. The ability to solve a problem
They maybe some that think that start Startups are just for making money but like NGOs they can solve any problem. Software Engineers are problem solver machines. This is a resource under used by Governments at every level and by every party. There could be Startup Weekend events or Hacking events that target specific areas of concern i.e. Government, Health, casework database, transit systems, etc Maybe Government contracts should include a clause that every large spend on IT systems should work with Startups or support the community in some fashion. Or maybe you have a open competition over a week and compete startups against corporates?
20. Explore the support of turning a service company into product
So two companies that evolved products from a service company (Web Agencies) Vision Critical and Hootsuite. Is this something we can repeat, is there a way to support this?
21. With Industry define targets of success could really look like
By using the above to develop achievable targets for expansion with specific strategies linked to specific industries.
Over my career as a software something, I have had a bunch of technical interviews. Some I have done well in and some I have not.
The first part of this journey was understand something for myself. For the interviews I performed poorly in, about 50% of them I actually knew the answer, but could not get it out. Why was this?
The second part was as I led teams, I wanted to find an accurate way of assessment where a person was in their journey, whether they would stick with it, and whether they are a good fit for the rest of the team.
Here is the presentation I did to a lunch and learn group at CodeCore:
I feel many Technical Interviews fail to do their job properly. Whether the process is not well enough thought out, the people involved are not trained, whether interviewers are evaluated higher for their technical skills but not their people skills, or they really just trying to get extra “clones” of themselves. But without a doubt the worst is, there is a lack of reflection and accountability for the actual success of their chosen candidates.
Still too many questions are on topics or specifics that the interviewee will never do in their actual day to day work.
So many people conducting technical interviews fail to imagine that this is a two way process. That the “employer” is actually showing the future “employee” how they work with people.
All of that said, some are getting right and it is not from the traditional “hazing” approach, but a more collaborative approach, where the potential “employee” show a project they have worked on, where the interviews feel like a great passionate conversation..
My decision to leave was made with the following understandings: that if I stayed here I would be very unlikely to afford a place of my own, and that if I wanted to take my career to the next level I would need to work for a larger company than Vancouver houses. And with the exchange rate between Canada and US, it seems a perfect time to go to the US now.
This is my journey through reasoning why I am leaving Vancouver, BC. Of course I am not alone a Angus Reid Poll estimates that a staggering 150,000 struggling families are seriously thinking about moving away from Metro Vancouver to avoid the region’s housing costs and transportation issues.
Wages in Vancouver do not match the cost of housing
In Vancouver, BC the average wage is $76,805 per year — if you borrow three times your salary you can afford a place to live at $230,415. The average place to live in Vancouver on the other hand is $857,015. Globe & Mail reports that Vancouver is the worst place to live in Canada for difference between wages and Housing. Last year the Financial Post stated that Vancouver was the most expensive place in North America. The Demographia Housing Affordability Survey puts Vancouver, BC has the second most expensive place to buy a house behind Hong Kong.
In Vancouver, the Chinese have helped real estate prices double in the past 10 years.
Here’s how the Chinese send billions abroad to buy homes – Bloomberg Business Nov 2 1015
Controversial foreign ownership study is about money — not race: Vancouver planner
“Money is no longer connected to what you do and where you live”
In contrast, Vancouver median incomes remain among the lowest among Canadian cities, while home prices in the region are the highest in Canada. The way government structures are set up in Canada means that Canadian municipalities are relatively weak and rely on other levels of government to set policy. Business Vancouver Nov 6 2015
Shrinking housing sizes
What these figures do not show is the shrinking of the size of the place you can buy. So you could pay $500,000 for a 500 sq ft apartment. Most of the places built now have stupid small kitchens, which encourages people to eat out. What does all that salt do to your health? Let alone the psychologically impact of living in a box. I have no problem with density and I believe cities need to increase it, along with good transit. That said, an apartment should to be liveable, it has to give moments of peace away from your work, and personally I want a good kitchen and somewhere I can share food with people. The current builds are not good for people.
Down Payments on a Mortgage
I have spent most of my life working for the community, non-profits and Government. I have got by, but I do not have the savings for a house down payment, I have no family to inherit from or provide a financial security blanket. This has been my biggest barrier to buying a place.
You can get a mortgage with just 5% ($42,850.75 on the average place) of a down payment but you then need to pay mortgage insurance. Premiums can vary anywhere from 0.5% to 3.5%. A great way of taking more money from poorer people. If you have a deposit of 20% you need no mortgage insurance. So 20% of the average place $171,403 is what you need for a down payment.
The Have and Have nots
Toronto, Vancouver house prices still soaring, stats show
Benchmark detached home is $1.2M in Vancouver, while average detached runs $1.07M in Toronto
CBC Nov 5 2015
Of course one of the problems for access into the Housing market is everybody who owns a place does not want the housing market to dip, because they are making money off it. Collectively that is a lot of political power, money and votes. This from people who do not want it to get easier, if it hurts them.
In Canada it is also getting harder to borrow money even though the Interest rates are low. I have so many friends in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who have just given up the idea of owning a place in Vancouver. They are also torn by Vancouver being a beautiful place and they want to live here.
The Economic Divide – is it sexist?
It feel like we are about to reach a point where people will never be able to buy a place if they do not do it soon. Whilst this obviously hurts younger people, it also hurts people who work in lower incomes i.e. women and caring professions.
I have already lived (Cornwall, UK) in a place where teachers/nurses/non-profit/carers/government (still a much higher percentage of women), could not afford to live anywhere near where their jobs were based. There the average house price was £500,000 and average salary was £16,500 pa in 2008.
Any good city needs Transit. I have expressed my opinion on this in a previous blog post, when the City asked for more money (via Tax) to invest, Vancouver said no.
Beyond owning a place
The rest is my feeling and experience of the Vancouver job market after 8 years in multiple startups/technology companies.
In Vancouver there are fewer software jobs than about two years ago when there was a lot of more opportunities. The companies that are now looking for software engineers tend to be small and medium sized startups with fewer career opportunities for growth than larger corporations. That said, we have a few more global companies (e.g. Amazon) here than before, so it is possible the lack of jobs is due to the a depressed market now. With national figures showing Canada is currently in a recession, despite a recent job news showing an increase but these are mostly in the Public Administration, in Government.
I changed career after 20 years in campaigns/communications/marketing/public office/leadership/training as I felt the Vancouver market was very limited in these areas for someone in a senior position. I knew that to grow my career I would need to leave Vancouver and I was not ready to move, as I love this place.
This and my need to create again (my first degree was Computer Science, 1996) led me down a two year path of re-educating myself (via BCIT evening courses and small web contracts) in software engineering with modern languages specifically for the web. With three years additional years of web development (in full time work) under my belt, I am in a similar position of wanting to grow my career.
In Vancouver, software leadership roles are generally promoted from within (few come with quality training for the internally promoted person to gain leadership skills) or some outside “star” usually from a US company, used to working at a much larger scale. In fact I can only think of one person who received their leadership training outside of the job — and they were my best leader. I have also worked with a lot of non-technical leaders which is a different kind of challenge.
In Vancouver in eight years I have had three leaders who have inspired me out of nine. In the UK the ratio was higher, I think in part because of 360 degree Appraisals which are more common in UK, leading to a faster/tighter learning loop and higher leadership quality. It is possible my experiences have been unusual, and I simply been unlucky with my leadership in Canada. However, when I ask my friends how many of them had leaders who inspired them, most agree it is rare in Vancouver and that they had better experiences in Toronto/Waterloo/Ottawa. Other skills they shared they felt missing from ‘Leaders’ included giving feedback, risk management, change management, empathy and conflict management.
In the Vancouver job market your learning is often self directed and more often self funded. Sometimes a company will have some money available but not much. One very Global company I worked for made it impossible to claim the so called 50% off Tuition costs. More European/US companies seriously invest in training and their leaders, the UK recognized this problem a couple years back and started investing in it, in every sector.
The irony is the Canadian Federal/BC Government has made available monies for training and whilst the program is not perfect — it does not recognize online training — not a lot of companies apply for it. There is also tax credits for official education institutions and even bootcamps now. Training and Conferences are something I have had to negotiate in my contract to get them in Canada. I would like to see this as more of an active partnership than what I have experienced here.
In the technology sector the pay is a lot lower compared to US cities.
Lets take http://www.payscale.com or http://www.glassdoor.com as a comparison. In Vancouver the average Senior Software Engineer would be paid CDN $ 89.214, in San Francisco it would be US $130,00, New York US $95,000. The big differences is not so much in base salary, but in the bonus which is often 10%-20% of your base salary and then shares gifted at again 10%-20% vesting over three years. These last two are not common in the Vancouver market. In fact few companies appear to share success in Vancouver. There are even a couple that claim to be startups, but are actually family business with no scheme to buy stocks or share the company’s profits. Maybe they like the label startup, its good for marketing and recruitment.. and you can ask your people to work harder and longer.
An added bonus for working in the US is the current exchange rate whereby you would get an extra 20% to 30% when converting your US dollars into Canadian money. Taxes are also generally lower in the US.
BC & Company Benefits
A lot of small companies will do the minimal in terms of benefits and BC employment law (thanks to the BC Liberals) is so pathetic in compared to well everywhere, that some employers think they can get away with offering crappy benefits and they do.
And then there is 3 months wait for extended benefits, by some, not all Vancouver companies. Do they not care about the health of their new employees during the most stressful part of a job. All of the companies I interviewed with in the US start extended on day 1. Still Canada has a better health care system then the US.
Cost of living
Ok lets not be blind here, you need more money to live in a bigger city. Using numbeo/expatisan it rates Vancouver 34% cheaper than San Francisco, or 23% cheaper than Chicago. This seem greatly affected by exchanges rates, so I am sure they give me some indication but they are not entirely accurate.
Cost of living comparison between Vancouver, Canada and Chicago, Illinois, United States – Expatisan
- Food 8% less
- Housing 24% less
- Clothes 12% less
- Transportation 23% less
- Personal Care 20% less
- Entertainment 37% less
- TOTAL 23% Vancouver is cheaper than Chicago
- Consumer Prices in Chicago, IL are 22.63% higher than in Vancouver
- Consumer Prices Including Rent in Chicago, IL are 23.63% higher than in Vancouver
- Rent Prices in Chicago, IL are 25.43% higher than in Vancouver
- Restaurant Prices in Chicago, IL are 31.30% higher than in Vancouver
- Groceries Prices in Chicago, IL are 23.89% higher than in Vancouver
- Local Purchasing Power in Chicago, IL is 8.19% higher than in Vancouver
The United States is ranked No. 1 for most expensive healthcare per capita at $8,233. Conversely, Canada ranks No. 6 worldwide and is over $3,700 cheaper than the United States at $4,445 per capita, according to a 2012 OECD Health Data study using 2010 statistics. Americans pay over 17 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) towards healthcare while Canadians sit at about 11 per cent.
From what I can work out I will have to something like $100 to $180 a month to get a similar service to that in Canada, with the exception that serious stuff is paid for me after a ceiling but I am still paying a percentage. Where as in Canada serious stuff is part of our Health Care system. If you have a domestic partner you will have to pay for health insurance for at the cost of $3,000 per year. If you are married, your companies health scheme would cover them at much less cost but roughly about an additional $1,600 to $2,000 per year depending on the scheme you chose.
Actual Work Culture
Every company I have worked for in Vancouver has “over sold” how good their culture is and made it sound like the best place on planet earth. They will rarely talk about the weaknesses and problems they are encountering, things they still need to fix. Maybe I am at fault here, I am from the UK and we are direct people, and not scared of conflict.
The companies I interviewed with in the US were a lot more honest about what they were good at and where they needed help. Their leaders were more vulnerable, something that engenders more trust in me.
Culture is formed from all the ways people communicate with each other, the more honesty the better. And honesty should be matched with kindness. How you start any human relationship for me says a lot, yes be proud but also be honest. You really get a sense of how good a culture is and how good the leadership is when you or the company fails in some fashion, what level of forgiveness is there? Also on the opposite side how does the company celebrate success? Values and Ethics matter.
Working for a company that is actually working at scale i.e. Billions of transactions versus Millions, is hard to find in Vancouver. A lot of the companies here are building a form of Marketing platform and/or B2B platform, often at a much smaller scale. Successful B2C is rarer in Vancouver.
In software you are out of date pretty much every three months, you have to love learning and I do. I have built a number of “social media platforms” and job sites I want something more complex.
I moved from the UK to Vancouver with a lot of stuff in 2008. It is not cheap, there are many things to be careful of and the insurance can be a killer. Advice given to me specific to a US move is that the initial offers do not match the actual cost. That technology is hard to move and expensive. And inventory everything.
Oh a really important thing to watch is they will give you an estimate based on what they think gas will charge. Then ding you for the actual amount when you arrive. And in some instances if you live where they can’t get the big moving truck and need to move items to a smaller one, they ding you with that too. Plus you need to be very careful with valuables. I think one friend ended up with an empty box instead of a playstation the last time she moved. And my move back to Chicago was $1000 more than quoted because of gas and miscellaneous charges.
Make them Saran Wrap all your furniture. All my furniture got nicked. Even though they paid for my insurance claim, I wasn’t about to replace my furniture so I just end up with ugly furniture.
If you go to the US there are a bunch of risks:
- There is no employment insurance for you in either countries
- Your TN Visa will expire and you will have 30 days to pack up and leave the country
- You pay double on Relocation, there and back again
- Trips home cost a lot more money
- If you have a Spouse or Partner they cannot earn money.. so what do they do? Do not under estimate this
- You have no credit score in the US and it will take months to a year to build one. Get a secured credit card ASAP.
- Consider how you will maintain your Canadian Credit score
The actual job that got me to move
A couple years ago I once met a guy at a software conference who was a mentor like me and was very passionate about his company. I liked him but he worked for a finance company that have a reputation of not being innovative (FinTech had not really kicked as a trendy thing). A number of years later the same company started an apprenticeship scheme and posted it online on github so anybody could use it. Wow I thought they are a company to watch, it was smart, courageous and risky. Another year that guy emailed me and asked if I could recommend any good software development managers. I did (not me).
I got contacted by a US recruiter (NeoHire North) looking to bring people from Canada. We explored an opportunity together and I started to realize that maybe I could move to the US. The TN Visa is simple enough you need a company that wants to sponsor you. You can bring a spouse into the US with you or you could get a B2 Visa for Domestic partner that has to be renewed every year.
So I reached out to the guy and said, hey do you still need any Software Development Managers? Yes we do. Two Interviews were done over the phone and seven in person.
The thing that really struck me is I really liked the people, all of them and they were so different. I asked them all the question “Why do you work here?” they all spoke with passion and vulnerability. In the end I had a number of opportunities both in Canada and the US, on the table. Whilst this company did not offer the best financial package, I wanted to work with these people, learn from them and help them be the best they can be. And the finial package is substantially better then anything I would be offered in Vancouver, and it means one day I will have a box that I can name as our own.
It fucking hurts to leave your friends, to leave the mountains, to leave the sea, and it is an exciting time in terms of Canadian Politics (I am hopeful that the Federal Liberals will do a good job and the BC NDP could revitalize BC). The emotional journey of moving country/city is a hard one and should not be under estimated.
Is it over for me and Vancouver?
Maybe not, I hope given a number of years I will be smarter, wiser and better off. Then I could come back and share what I have learned and find somewhere to live. That said, I fear if Government (Federal/Provincial and City) keeps ignoring the problem, not finding a way to collect data, to truly understand the problem and find a solution; then I will come back to find the situation much much worse. Then I will find a new home in Canada.
Brian Jackson (retiring City Planner) foresees no change in ever-upward pricing pressures on housing unless Ottawa shifts immigration policy or applies land purchase restrictions on foreigner buyers or the Bank of Canada hikes interest rates.
Possible Housing Solutions?
In my time in Vancouver I have spent about $115,200 in rent over 8 years. My biggest problem was having a downpayment. I will add more ideas to this as I learn more:
- Make it easier to pull together the downpayment, maybe larger companies could help their employees
- One idea I considered exploring was buying with a bunch of friends and living together
- Have better building regulations in making Kitchens actually useful
- Re-define what Government thinks is affordable
Checklist for moving to US from Canada
Apply for your Social Security Number – It can take 2-3 weeks for your SSN to be processed and this number really is needed for most things. Do it as soon as you have your visa, you can ask for it as part of the visa process, do this.
Open a Bank Account – Once you have a US mailing address and SSN, you should get to a bank and open an account so you have a place to deposit your US paycheques and an account to start paying bills from.
Get a US Credit Card – Apply for a prepaid credit card where you would leave a $1000 deposit for a $1000 limit on a credit card. Use this to slowly build credit over the next 3-6 months and then you can eventually ask for your deposit back. This is essential to build a Credit Score.
This is my first time voting at the Federal level in Canada.
After being so heavily involved in Politics in the UK I needed time to recover. Most voters do not consider the cost to the citizens that make our democracy work. There is a high cost for politicians, their staff and all the people that get them elected. Let alone those that run our countries as civil servants.
When I first looked at voting (in the UK) and polices I voted Green (European Elections), the UK party that interested me was the Social Democrat Party in part because they were more favourable towards Europe (they merged into the Liberal Democrats). My political journey came out of student politics where I was an advocate for free education. It was interesting reviewing my policy journey and looking where I ended up now. I would say that I am Liberal in my outlook and believe in a balance of the needs of the community and the individual.
Trying to ignore politics
Canada makes it easy to not be involved, you are not allowed to vote until you are a Canadian citizen about 5-7 years, even though you pay taxes all the time.
In my opinion democracies and voting is a bit backwards. People are always talking about demanding more and better performance from elected officials, but when you get right down to it, shouldn’t a democracy demand more and better performance from the citizens who vote? If they do their job well (e.g. like research, understand policies, question candidates, volunteer), then the quality of those they elect will naturally follow..
Ok that failed
My first involvement I guess was working for Angus Reid, then helping out on the Startup Visa. My first vote was for Vancouver City Council, then next was the Vancouver Transit plebiscite. This led me to sit on the Vancouver Active Transportation Council.
“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”
So what about the Conservatives?
The Canadian federal elections gave me the incentive to learn what is going in Canada’s politics. To choose a political party to get behind. I started by reading a couple books on Canadian politics and visiting a number of Canadian museums. Without a doubt the torch was A Party of One by Michael Harris. It both horrified me and made me furious. It walks you through some of the Conservatives major decisions and how they handled them.
The things about the Conservatives that bother me:
- The removal of debate in parliament and not providing details when correctly asked
- The removal of powers from independent Auditors/Boards who work to ensure no party politics
- The Nuclear Safety Failure – the CNSC under Linda Keen – they ignored her warnings of dangers
- The removal of protection of our environment. Harpers Navigation Protection Act removed the protection of 31,000+ lakes. Leaving just 97 Lakes protected and most of them are in Conservative Ridings. Under the act construction of dams, bridges and other protected structures would be permitted without prior environmental approval. The national energy board is now responsible for navigable waters.. wait what..
- Their relationship with the First Nations and “delayed” involvement in pipeline projects
- The lack of care of our Veterans and overloading of caseworkers that support them
- C23 – The unfair elections act – The changing of election laws that benefit the rich voters and suppress poorer voters
- The cuts to the CBC
- The muzzling of scientists and other civil servants by Stephen Harper and his office
- The abusing of omnibus bills – the act of combining budgets and laws – leading to lack of scrutiny
- C51 – its reduction of freedom of speech and groups gathering
- The approach to International Relations is arrogant and hostile.
- The way they use fear as an election tactic and the copying of US Republican campaign tactics
- The converting of Canada to be the extra 10 US States.
- Wide spread corruption for which they were elected to clear up
- The lack of “courageous truth” on the costings of the F35 and firing the Parliamentary Budget Officer when he told the truth
- The inability to admit when they got it wrong and then learn and become better
- The lack of funding transparency and management
The lack of information on spending and on results achieved for money spent is a common theme throughout Ferguson’s report, which includes 11 chapters in total.
And for all the claims about being better for the Economy, the Conservatives managed to get rid of the surplus that the previous Government had, selling off National assets to governments with questionable humans rights. They then claim a surplus in the elections (2015), of course what they had not told people is they underspent on Veterans ($1.1 Billion) and Migrants ($350 Million). I imagine in part this was created by the closing Veterans Affairs offices, leaving some Veterans several hour journeys to get to see their caseworkers.
Sad thing is bill C23 pushed through by the Stephen Harpers Conservatives reduced Elections Canada to enforce or investigate any voter suppression/ Robocalls scam, I wonder why..
They use fear as their way to get people to follow them. When I ask another Canadian to define what makes them Canadian they often say “We are not American”. Yet Stephen Harper is Americanising Canada and has enacted more US Republicans policies here in Canada then they could in the US.
This removed the Conservatives as a viable option leaving me with National Democratic Party (NDP) or the Liberals. I guess you could called me a Strategic Voter or anything but Conservative for this election.
So what about the NDP and Liberals?
I tried out a couple sites to look at issue/policy comparisons such as isidewith which was a helpful start, but maybe a little off. The was also a good piece in the National Post (yes I know its Conservative in its views, but also has some well written articles). The best for last though I Can Party.
Federally I was more inclined to vote for Liberals before I started my journey to understand the NDP and Liberals. This was in in part because I voted/supported and worked for Liberal Democrats in the UK.
Now I had some biases going into this — I did not like that the BC NDP had run a campaign against HST in BC (it was better than the current system). I felt they misrepresented the tax system. I get that people were angry the way it was implemented by the BC Liberals (which is fair) but process overtook a good improvement. I have also not been impressed with the BC Liberals and their ability to listen and learn.
This was partly countered by the NDP in Alberta who did many things, but very importantly they reduced the ways companies AND unions could contribute to election campaigns. This inspired me.
I do know political parties work very differently at federal and provincial level, I also had some biases at the federal level.
How do the political parties create their policies?
Most political parties have conferences where all the members submit policy ideas and the members vote on them. Each party comes with its people; So we think that the Conservatives are controlled by businesses, Liberals by rich people and NDP by Unions. Of course the truth is far much more complex.
So, I was also worried about the grip of the Unions on the NDP — are the Unions progressive enough? I was a member of a teachers union when I taught at BCIT. They never contacted me and it seemed like they considered me lower class when I spoke to them because I was part-time even though I was a paid member. That said, Unions are something I believe are necessary and could be a potential progressive force in our democracy. Also, upon exploring the NDP policy making structure, I discovered it is one member one vote, which is good as opposed to Unions having block votes.
A lot of pundits (i.e. pollsters and media) I spoke to said that the Liberals were a lot more controlled from the centre, similar to the Conservatives that candidates had to check in with their central HQ before doing polling or some messaging. They also mentioned, that year after year it was the same people you spoke to, where as the NDP you saw a respectable turnover. Whilst there is always a measure of top down it feels like it is greatest in the Conservatives, whose many candidates rarely attend all party candidates meeting so voters can see them debate. The next seems like the Liberals and then the NDP.
Trudeau spent a year traveling the country, meeting with Canadians, and talking with them about the values they thought were essential to the country.He then recruited people, created several policy groups, and gave them instructions to come up with polices that reflected Liberal values; and, then, to find the ones that were right for Canada, rather than the ones that would win an election. Trudeau took his party through an elaborate, three-year strategic planning exercise for Canada, driven by an overarching commitment to “get it right.”
At this point I had removed some of my misconceptions of both parties structures, policy making and started filling in actual facts.
Comparing policy documents
There are policies I like in both and some I felt were weak and need more input from respective stakeholders. For example I would like to improve some of the NDP thinking on Corporations and Startups. I felt the NDP had thought more about how to evolve economy to one that works with our Environment rather ripping it to shreds.
Initially I was frustrated by not being able to find NDP policies and costings, yet could find the Liberals and they were good. Eventually I found policy books for both. I read both and compared.
In terms of costings for all parties they are weak, not surprising really consider how much work it takes, in government you have an entire civil service to help you.
Where am I coming from when comparing these?
I feel I have been lucky in life: I have had jobs when needed. I am happy to pay taxes in order to help others, whether it be those with disabilities, single parents or our elders. We survive together. Education is paramount for our future as well as our environment. No Environment, no planet, no human race. We also need to define ourselves as competitive to other nations, and science should be a core part of that, other nations should know we are not just their gas tank or wood supply.
Looking at the policy spread I did not disagree with any of the NDP or Liberals policies in terms of what needs to be done, but when it came to the ‘how’ I had some suggestions.
What sets NDP and Liberals apart for me?
I do emotionally favour the Liberal policy of spending on infrastructure when the interest rate is low. I feel that Canada has to spend a lot of money on infrastructure for us to move to a more environmentally conscience country and to be ready for the lack of Gas and Oil in our futures. That said, it could leave debt for future generations. I was a little frustrated that the NDP was committing to a fiscally conservative budget for a few years – this is similar to what Labour (in the UK) did when they got elected in 1997. That said with flux with oil prices at the moment perhaps we should consider a more fiscal approach. The NDP have a fiscal approach.
One in five Canadians are raised by a single mother
Clear areas of difference existed around:
- A new election system – NDP Proposition Representation – Liberal vague commitment to something
- Civil Liberties/C51 – Harper and Trudeau both got into bed very quickly with each other on C51. When a law that questions basic freedoms and refuses to clarify its scope, people will come to expect the worst. The fact is they do not trust Canadians and Harper appears to be trying to turn us into another United States.
- Universal Childcare – For childcare, the Conservative and Liberals are just offering one system: the tax benefit. The NDP will support an additional one, by ensuring Childcare spots at just $15 days, keeping it affordable for all families and helping women have the choice about going to work.
- Prescriptions – NDP offer a solid plan where as the Liberals is a step forward but not enough
- Keystone XL Pipeline – Harper and Trudeau both had a pipe dream on the Keystone XL Pipeline yet both Hilary Clinton/Obama don’t want it. Is this the pipeline to nowhere? We need a Government that can work with others, like the Americans or the First Nations or even our environment.
- War and defence – Liberals would keep using our forces in an offensive role the NDP would not. We are a very small contributor in terms of ‘Allied’ forces. Would our money be better spent on solely ‘Humanitarian’ roles. In part the Conservatives have made us a target, and dropped our Peacekeeping vision to one of offensive and a target, thus needing more security..
- He let the Conservative budget in 2009, 2010 budgets pass unopposed
- And he voted with Stephen Harper on 70 confidence votes
Some will say that the Liberals wanted time to rebuild, for the new leader to establish himself and to save us from another immediate election after election.
- The Keystone XL Pipeline process
- C51 – Justin Trudeau voted with Stephen Harper on Bill C-51. He said – he didn’t want Stephen Harper to make “political hay” out of it.
- Approach to International Relations and the use of our armed forces
I reflect on the party in the UK (Liberal Democrats – Under Charles Kennedy) I used to be a member of and they would not have supported any of this Conservative acts that attack Civil Liberties or the Environment. The Liberals have a lot of history of campaigning on the left and governing on the right. I am having a hard time getting over the Liberals supporting C51.
Watching the first debate I felt Trudeau was robotic and off his game, Mulcair was good and Harper defended himself well, but was not entirely honest.
The second debate all party leaders did well, Mulcair was sharp, calm yet fast, Trudeau was very aggressive (I got a little tired of his interruptions) and Harper was solid – but clearly twisted some points from fantasy into fact i.e. That carbon emissions have gone down during is time – this is more to do with the reduction in the economy not his policies.
Trudeau feels like an emotive “connecter,” a nearly USA-style, touchy-feely politician. Without a doubt there is potential here, the campaign will allow us to see who he is. I found his book a bit cheesy at times, but informative and worth the read. I share a lot of his views.
Mulcair appears sharp, fast-talking, analytic, policy-focused politician. When he brings up his upbringing and personal history he does a bit of sociology about the meaning of coming from a big Catholic family in Laval, Quebec. Watching some of parliamentary speeches he was impressive. Two things single him out:
- He quit his job as Environmental Minister for QC Liberals when they told him to build in a National Park
- He joined the NDP when they were the fourth party and no where to be seen in QC
This to me, shows courage, and principles.
One other thing that makes a real difference for me is the willingness to work with other parties i.e. Green, Liberal and NDP. Possibly in a coalition. Trudeau has said he will work with the NDP but not Mulcair, that seems a little petty to me. Mulcair has said he will work with the Liberals.
The Liberals appears largely non-ideological, they tend to take a centralised, symmetrical and anti-Quebec nationalist approach to federalism, and most of the time they are to the Left of the Conservatives – but occasionally jump to the right with the Conservatives. That said they have some good policies out there, some are lacking details but the intentions appear good. They are very different from Liberal Democrats in the UK. Maybe they will what we hope for. Their policies target the middle class.
The NDP appears moderate, but still left-leaning, social democratic party that is ideologically committed to social justice, progressive social policies and egalitarianism in general (but they’re less socialist than they used to be).
The NDP remains committed to social democracy (a well regulated, mixed market economy with a strong welfare system), and they are uncompromising on social policies (abortion, gay rights, trans rights, etc.). Also, they’re more open to Quebec nationalism and the idea of asymmetrical federalism than the Liberals. Their policies target less fortunate people.
So they are different how?
The NDP has “modernized” (i.e. moving from a socialist party to a social democrat party) and has passion, it still recognizes that governing will inevitably means choosing between competing and contradictory interests.You can please some of the people, some of the time; but you can’t please everyone, all of the time.
Trudeau, appears to be all things to all people. He is a friend to rich and poor, alike. He is for the environment and First Nations while supportive of the Keystone XL pipeline. Trudeau’s vision does not require making any difficult choices, yet. It seems the Liberal Party has been about the pursuit of power, not ideals, and with Trudeau at its head the Party, it may avoid any stances that might upset the elite and established. I am interested to see how this changes through the campaign.
For both we often just have the past to make a judgement, and it can often be hard to really understand their potential. Either have the potential.
I think we need a Government who can upset the cart to transform us into a country ready for the future.
Listening to friends
Most of my Canadian friends had no idea, undecideds, something between Liberal and NDP, and a small number of Conservatives. Many wanting real change to the Canadian future, i.e. anti Conservative
Where can I help the most?
Swing Ridings are where all the tough battles are fought between parties and there is a likely chance of change or maybe the riding is new. Two groups make it easier to see where strategic voting will help:
I explored all the Vancouver ridings to see which had Conservatives leading or second, with another party close behind or leading. Vancouver Granville and Vancouver South seemed likely swing ridings (i.e. change seems in the realm of possibility). Vancouver South has a very strong Liberal candidate so no need to help there.
Lead Now showed that Vancouver Granville is close as NDP is in the lead with Conservative second. This seems like a fight
Vancouver Granville: State Of Play – August 15-18 LeadNow poll
- NDP 36%
- Conservative 30%
- Liberal 24%
- Green 10%
I have worked on a lot of campaigns, it is very possible to move a campaign by 10% locally but anything above usually needs some mistakes, exceptions or global shifts. For example if the national leader clearly outpaces the others in terms of perception, this will help local campaigns but not define it. In my own election we shifted the vote by 14%. I was really helped by a very successful national campaign and clearly very different types of candidates, combined with some successful issue campaigns in the area of electors. It makes sense to help the NDP candidate to ensure the Conservative does not get in.
On the point of polls, I have seen hundreds (working for a polling company and as a campaign manager) in most have not predicted the actual result. National Polls are even worse they often ask 3-5 per riding, so do not help on the local level. They are helpful for identifying issues and how they play. And seat predictors are very dangerous. I worry about their impact on people creating a self fulfilling prophecy, by following a leader rather choosing what is “right” in their perspective by policy and candidate comparison. I suspect that the national polls may be more important their candidates, policies, etc to voters
Let me clear Strategic voting could be useful, but should not be the whole equation, just one part. You vote for one candidate in your local riding, that candidate has to be good and they have to be a party that you can accept with policies that work for the place you want.
Meeting the local candidates
So with the goal of helping to shift the vote, I met both the Liberal (Jody Wilson-Raybould) and the NDP (Mira Oreck) candidates for the Vancouver Granville riding today. The campaign office NDP was faster to respond and it started with a long phone call with Mira Oreck and then a face to face meeting with her and her campaign team. The Liberal campaign was a little slower to respond and I was invited along to a “coffee meeting” at their office.
They are both good candidates. Very different candidates and teams. I asked a lot of questions and tried to see where I would be the better fit. I felt that Mira dealt better with my tougher more aggressive questions. Jody redirected some of my questions and relied very much on the national platform for her answers. Mira was more willing to share her personal feelings where Jody was a bit more standoffish. When I ask Jody what she thought of Mira, she said she had never met her. Which is curious because they had already being to at least one all candidates meeting. Mira was kind about Jody. I think that was a decider..
After I debated strongly: should I help the Liberals take Conservatives voters ensuring more of a fight between the Liberal and the NDP or should I help one to try to win outright.
Now I have to decide which one to help get elected. I will help one for the rest of the campaign so 3-4 weeks of volunteering.
What do I want from a Government
I would like Government to provide stability for our businesses (thus taxation allows us to provide services), guide us to keeping our environment healthy, help us as citizens find our potential, allow us to be different, find the right choice between our freedom and security. And I want it to protect the vulnerable and help them climb the ladder to a better place. Maybe I do not need as much help as others, but I want to know that the Government has their back. In terms of international relations I want us to be open to others and different cultures, and not enforce our culture on them.
Making a Decision
In the end we are judged by our actions, not our intentions. I felt the NDP in Parliament have done a better job than the Liberals in the last term (I feel that you should reward the behaviours you want to see). The Liberals seem to swing to right when uncertain. NDP seem to know who they are. Mira is a strong candidate in Vancouver Granville with clear principles.
After a time of having unprincipled leadership in Stephen Harper I feel we need a leader with core values, tested principles and a will to take us back to a compassionate, forward looking Canada. Trudeau’s support of C51 really worries me, and I am not ready to get passed. Yes we need security but at what price to our democracy or to our freedom of speech? Would we need this extra security if our international relations was done with more respect, tact and finesse?
I feel that Tom Mulcair at this time shows guts, experience, compassion, respect and ability to listen.
Thus I decided to support the Mira Oreck NDP candidate in Vancouver Granville, in this election. I feel she is one of the strongest candidates in Vancouver area and I feel she will be a strong advocate for both her riding and Vancouver. I will reflect after the election.
[Update] Watching the all candidates meeting (about 500 people turned up), I felt Mira did an amazing job with both the introduction and questions, the next best was without a doubt the Green candidate (Michael) he had a lot of courage and then Erin the Conservative (I did not like what he said but he presented himself well). Jody did well on a couple questions. Watching this debate it was confirmed for me that Mira would do right by this Riding, and achieve results in Ottawa for us.
What should you do?
I would would prefer you travel your own journey, learn about what is important to you, take time to understand the people and policies and choose the right candidate for you. Often people vote lazily i.e. they choose just the party, please don’t do this get to know your local candidates choose the representative for your riding and your beliefs. Every party is the sum of its parts and its individual members of parliament will impact on the “sum” or overall picture.
Action Plan for you
If you have not received a voters card:
- Get your postcode
- Know what riding you are in, go to this website (Elections Canada)
- Check to see if you are registered to vote here the deadline is Tuesday, October 13 at 6:00 p.m. (local time) you can do this online or at a local office
Find out who your local candidates are?
- Go to the Elections Canada website, on the right enter your postcode. New Page on the right click on “Who are the candidates in my electoral district?”
- Do a web search on each candidate looking for the next All Candidates meeting. Go and see them talk.
Understand what each of the parties will do?
- First write a list of things you think are important now.
- Then add items that are important to people you care about
- This site does a comparison of policies – I Can Party
- Then checkout each parties website, refer to your list, it may grow thats ok.
If you could read one book?
P.S. What about Greens?
I strongly believe if we don’t get a grip on the impact of us and our economy on the environment soon, we will move the planet to a point that it cannot heal from. I think environmental impact should be a part of every policy. I also felt Elizabeth May did very well in the first debate. But I want to get involved in actually evolving policy, in a party that has the ability to form a Government or a strong opposition. I imagine the Green Party will teach me many things and I will listen and learn.
Ten years ago (May 2005) I was elected as a public politician for the county council seat of Newquay North in Cornwall, UK. Whilst being the campaign manager for 17 county candidates and 1 Parliamentary candidate. Together we won 17 seats..
Here is my journey in politics not my whole life and not certainly not all the politics..
I reflect often that I coped with a messy upbringing by reading a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy books. They gave me a place to retreat to, but at the same time I was learning what society and what humans could become. They showed me how certain principles could be taken to the extreme and what kind of society we would end up with.
Why was it messy? Well my mother disappeared when I was 6 months old and I ended up in foster care for a number of years, changed schools a bunch of times I think 6 before the age of 14 and yep my father and step mother were both good fighters.
Fantasy books test the different ways people can grow up in a good versus evil environments. I got to explore many societies, many cultures, some human, some alien, and many pathways through life. The best and the worst of what society could become. I recall Spock once saying that with infinite diversity comes infinite possibility, maybe here is where my Liberal and Social leanings come from.. I have always known I want to leave the world in a better state than I arrived in it.
I once asked a teacher, why they wanted to be a teacher
“There are no innocent bystanders.”
William S. Burroughs
This quote has stuck with me for most of life, because it put words to something I already strongly believed in. This quote has driven me to go down the path I followed, it has made me feel guilty for inaction and has given me part of the reason to be better.
A little bit of confidence (1982)
In my last year at school I got involved in Young Enterprise (school pupils setup a business with help from local business people and try and make a profit), started as the Sales Manager and eventually became the Managing Director. This got me talking/selling in front of other people (on the street and in shops). I also had my first experience with public speaking to an unknown audience when we won one of the regional awards. I remember to this day how much I shook as I spoke.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Learning about Print and Design (1982 -)
One of the services we offered as a Young Enterprise company was Letterhead printing, as I had access to Desktop Publishing System (Quark Express and Apple Macintosh) through my Dad’s company. In fact, through this I taught Pagemaker and Quark Xpress to printing professionals and they taught me the print profession. I started to learn how to communicate effectively and impact fully through print.
Calm under fire? Strategy, Tactics and problem solving (1982 -)
Thinking through strategy, tactics and problem solving grew out of my Wargaming (Advanced Squad Leader, Warhammer 40K, Space Marines Epic). Dungeons & Dragons (tabletop role playing games) also contributed to my confidence and creativity as a teenager as well as the ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes. There were many times when I stood as the leader in chaotic circumstances and I developed a rep as “calm under fire” with my friends. Whether it was true or not, it formed a part of who I am now.
My first vote
In 1989 European elections and I voted Green. My view at the time was: no planet, no human race.. The result to me was shocking. Greens got 2,292,705 votes, nationally 14.9% (UK), and got not one MEP (Member of European Parliament). To me, the election system seemed screwed up, so this started my journey in exploring how elections worked.
Standing up for others (1992-)
During my first year at UoH (University of Hertfordshire) I found I enjoyed sharing my understanding of software/computers/networks. I have often found it “easy” to explain very complex things in terms anyone can understand through analogies. I quickly became one of the “mentors” and helped many students, and thus became one of the informal course representatives. This course (Software Engineering HND) was really well taught, I enjoyed it and performed very well and got offered the opportunity to move up to the degree course.
I think it was near Christmas when the student halls (Pembroke Halls) I was in were trashed. The University responded by sending a notice of eviction to all students and taking everyone’s deposit. This is a hall with 220 students and the walls were made of “paper”, one of the those temporarily buildings that stays around for a long time. The facts were unclear but cause was likely a mixture of students and locals from Hatfield who sneaked in. I worked with students to get their parents to challenge the University through the court and force them to prove their case. Of course they could not, and a compromise was established. Both the Halls Association and the Students’ Union did nothing.
So in the next election cycle I stood for both. For The Halls Assocation I stood for election as Vice-President and for the Students’ Union (UHSU) I stood as Communications Officer, and was duly elected for both. These elections taught me how uncomfortable it is to “sell” yourself. But these were my first elections as a candidate.
“We must be the change we wish to see in the world”
During my second year at University I expanded into unknown territory and became a member of the Drama Society. Standing up in front of people was shit scary. Overtime I learned to pace myself, I learned how to project my voice, I learned timing, I learned to practice and memorise my lines. I learned to take complexity and simplify it. I learned to perform and act a character that was not Eric. Whilst Roleplaying games (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons) started this journey Drama took this to the next level.
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”
Student Politics – University of Hertfordshire Students’ Union (UHSU)
My year as Communications officer made me concentrate on student engagement/involvement/motivation, getting students to general meetings, demonstrations and also learning how to do publicity well e.g. putting up posters. During this time I used to go to food places to stand on a chair and tell all the students what was going on. I got used to speaking in front of a couple hundred people who did not care about what you care about, and I learned the best places to put posters.
The Conservative Government was in the process of removing students grants (money for food and accommodation) for University and considering charging for each year of attendance. I am not sure if I would have gone to University if it was not free. Free Education became a part of my political beliefs at this time.
I got the attention of the NUS Regional Officer (Nick Berg) who asked me to help out with training the colleges on Regional Training Weekends. NUS taught me how to train and share my knowledge. I trained a lot of FE Officers in East Anglia, UK. I throughly enjoyed teaching and learned from my students.
My third year (at University) I stood for election as the Union Affairs Officer, who managed the elections and the formal rules process of the Union i.e. The constitution, standing orders and policies. I do not remember the reason now, but I had such a strong disagreement about one policy that I resigned. I learned how ineffective resigning is, as now I could not influence anything.
In my final University year I stood for Academic Affairs. It was to be a busy year, as the University decided to change the way it delivered all of it is courses. I worked with Education & Welfare sabbatical (full time post) to communicate with students. In part, the way I handled myself through this change and helped the University to compromise, led to my election as President of the Students Union (UHSU).
President of the Students’ Union
Suddenly I was the leader of 350 staff, several bars/clubs/shops and the representative of 21,000 students. Its kind of like being a mayor. Watching, advising and criticizing is a lot easier than being the person at the top. My first year was a lot of cleaning up a business nightmare, we were running at an increasing loss, we employed 350 staff most of them without any employment terms, and most of our permanent staff were commercial facing with very little support for our students services. So we had a complete restructure. This got the University onboard for specific increases for our grant (for the Students’ Union) from them, setting us up for a healthier future. This was not a process without cost. We had to close some services and lets some people go.
And it led me into a tough election, which I won my second term but it was close. I would not have won this election without my colleague Sam Fawcett and my remaining friends. My second term focus was using my now established relationships to gain more resources for the students’ union, and advocate for students through the University and nationally.
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”
Albert G Hubbard
National Union of Students (NUS)
Through my training I had built a strong standing with my region i.e. East Anglia. When I stood for NUS Regional Council, I had a lot of support. Which eventually led me to standing for the NUS national executive (NEC), after my term as president at UHSU had finished. NUS was a battlefield of the left of the Labour party and the right of the Labour party, as most of the people in power were members of the Labour party.
This was one of the strangest years of my working life. I was doing a full-time job but earned part-time money and I could only work on projects I was authorized to. Expenses were signed by whichever political group was onside at the time. I felt that I had got elected with a lot of good people, but the culture of NUS was sick, and we inherited it and we were not always our best. NUS politics was vicious and at times petty compared to real world politics.
All of that said I feel I got some good work done with Mature Students, Peer to Peer Training (STADIA), Environment, Training and helping student unions grow. None of it was done alone there were many people who helped me.
As my term on the NEC drew to a close, I decided to stand for the NUS President. My standing for election as National President for NUS was really about making a point. I did not expect to get elected, but I wanted to make some points to wake NUS up from the US and THEM sick culture and the acceptance of Labour Leadership, which I was not against if it was more inclusive. I ran the campaign as an independent, took no deals, no money from parties, just from friends and other like minded people. I came really close to winning, I think just 42 votes out of a 2000 electorate. I learned an incredible amount from my time in NUS about campaigning, public policy, voting, block vote tactics, winning and losing. I was happy with the campaign and knew it was now time to move on. And that in politics, you may die many times – it’s the grace you do it with that will define your future and your friends.
There are many people I am thankful for in my time in NUS, who helped me survive and be a stronger advocate including Sam Fawcett, Andy Martin, Tommy Hughes, Kat Price, Colin Ross and many others.
“Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”
My time in student politics taught me about diversity. Whether that be sex, gender, race, sexuality or age. These are part of my core because of the exposure to the real life stories, the debate and the polices. I am thankful for all the people in UHSU/NUS who educated me and helped me grow. And I would say now I am a passionate campaigner for equality of opportunity – passionate and sometimes clumsy, as I still have more to learn.
“Return hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
Choosing political parties
Before University I would have fitted into a Green or Labour voter. I was left of centre, I believed in social justice, but I did not fully know what that meant. I felt society should be fair, more of a meritocracy. And of course green.
In 1997 I met all the Parliamentary Candidates for Welwyn Hatfield. Without a doubt the best candidate was Rodney Schwartz, he was very authentic and round beat the other candidate Melanie Johnson, in the student debate. This was my first encounter with a Liberal Democrat and we often talked during the General Election. He lost gracefully to Melanie Johnson.
I found the the NOLS i.e. Labours Students very controlling, and I understood the timing was leading to a place where New Labour would form, and they needed to modernize to take on the Conservatives. Which I wanted them to achieve. It was their methods that bothered me.
NUS often felt like a battleground between the right and the left of the Labour party with students being left in the middle. I would say that I started out as a Labour supporter but my time in the NUS made me think about this decision. Overtime I got to know a few Liberal Democrats and even went to a LYDS conference, which I have to say put me further off party politics. Some of my closet friends were in the Green, Labour and Liberal Democrats but I felt more comfortable with the SDP (Now merged into Lib Dems).
The one thing I knew was I was not a Conservative. I felt Conservatives was for rich people who cared less for the vulnerable in our society, whose priority was business above all other things. Who were happy with the divide in wealth and classes.
Paddy Ashdown was the Lib Dem leader at the time. I liked the policies that the Lib Dems put forward. The Lib Dems were the only political party at this time stating that higher education should be free. I felt their stance on the environment and education were something I could get behind.
Liberal Democrats Youth & Students (LDYS)
My experience of this was very varied. I had a number of friends who were great supporters during my time at NUS. I stood for election after my time at NUS. I wanted to share some of my seven years of experience. It was my worse experience of an election process, it included character assassination and lies about me. They made Labour Students look nice. I never went back.
Working with a Member of Parliament
Lembit Opik (at this time MP) and I met during my time in NUS. With his policy brief of Northern Ireland (I lived there in the early 90s) and Children/Youth, we had a lot to talk about. Whilst we did not agree on everything, I think we helped each other understand very different perspectives. I learned about Rural policy from him and his then colleague Richard Williams, MP another Welsh MP. We worked with each other for a number of years until 2002.
Real World Campaigns
When Lembit Opik MP, invited me to come and help out in the first Welsh Assembly Elections (1999), I jumped at it. I could use my campaigning skills and learn a wider policy brief i.e. more than education. The Head of the Campaign, Chris Lines, was awesome and I learned an incredible amount from him, particularly about working with Journalists. We supported 40 candidates, whilst supporting a national and federal strategy. As I really started to understand the whole political partys’ policies I felt I had found a home. I still agreed with policies from some other parties, but their implementation was often different i.e. more authoritative rather than involvement of stakeholders.
General Election Manager for Wales & Organizer for the Leaders Office (March 2001)
Whilst at NSPCC I was offered the opportunity to Head up the Welsh Parliamentary Election campaign. I asked for a leave of absence and I was denied, even though others in the organization were being given time off to support their political parties. I handed in my notice and for the next four months lived and worked in Cardiff, Wales.
Who needs one job? Yeah so I also worked as part of the Federal Leaders office (Charles Kennedy MP) organizer of the final week of his tour around the the UK. Reporting into Niall Johnston, another amazing mentor for me.
During my time I was also a paper candidate for Pontypridd, Wales. It was a Labour stronghold, the candidate was a Government Minister and I did well enough to get my deposit returned. People should have a choice..
Becoming an Approved Parliamentary Candidate
This process really helped me flesh out what I really cared about, what were the policies I wanted to work on. What my underlining principles were. How I defined myself compared to other parties. What language I would use to describe these beliefs. For example, is the individual more important than society, or vice versus or a balance of both? Whist in the past I had agreed with policies, this helped me really think about what were the principles behind them and connect it all together.
I got myself through the “accreditation” process and became a valid Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate.
“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”
Selection in Totnes, Devon (2002)
When the seat of Tones came up for selection, I decided to take off 2 months.
As a child I always had fond memories of South Devon. I learned to swim in the swimming pool in Totnes, I went to primary school in Stokenham and attended my first comprehensive (High) school in Kingsbridge. It was a really interesting mix of people with its Art college, Hippies, farmers, tourist service providers, beaches, and a strong mix of rich and poor.
I rented a place for 8 weeks and started my campaign, going door to door to all the local (Lib Dem) members, learning what their perspectives were and what the future needed to look like. I got to know a lot of locals, not just voters in this primary/selection process. The vote came and I did well but not good enough. It feels very personal to lose a campaign where you meet all the electorate, but the choice is really about whether people perceive you as a potential winner, and a friend, and sometimes that takes years.
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away”
In between my political adventures, I occasionally had to earn money, so I did this by working for charities and non-profits. I learnt an incredible amount in specific areas of policy.
- National Union of Students’ – Further and Higher Education
- British Youth Council – Youth, Childrens’ Rights
- NSPCC – Paid Parental Leave, Childcare, Domestic violence, Smacking, Parenting and Child Development
- NCDL/Dog Charity – Animal Welfare
- Action for Blind People – Disability, Economics
- Consumer Rights – Economics, European political system, Housing, right to return, Advertising.
“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”
Hartlepool By-Election (Sep 2004)
After finally getting rid of my student debts, I got my TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and I went on a around the world trip lasting 11 months. In which I learned Spanish, met my Argentine family for the first time, and became a Dive-master. I remember diving off a beautiful reef and finding myself thinking about what would a perfect Education policy look like. I was bored and it was time to get back and do some “good”.
I headed to Hartlepool, UK for a couple months to help the Liberal Democrats in a by-election. Like most people in a by-election I did a little bit of everything. It was the first by-election where ‘The Guardian” plugged for Lib Dems over Labour.
During the campaign I met the then campaign manager for North Cornwall. He was considering leaving as he had been offered a civil servant position, and he talked about new candidate Dan Rogerson who I met many years ago and liked. This combined with the fact I was born in Cornwall: I wanted to rediscover my birth home.
Campaign Manager for North Cornwall Constituency
After an interview with Dan Rogerson & Paul Tyler MP, I headed to North Cornwall to live and work for the Liberal Democrats.
My first task was a by-election for Newquay Town Council.
Then I started preparing the campaign for 17 County Council seats ( for the then Cornwall County Council, which later got merged in with all the Cornwall District Councils to form Cornwall Council) and one parliamentary seat by getting to know each of the candidates and their divisions (election area). My role included producing our newspaper, leaflets, posters, volunteer management, election planning, election database management, message management, speeches, poster creation and placement, canvassing door to door and on the phone.
Becoming a Candidate for Newquay North (Cornwall County Council, UK)
We had a candidate for Newquay North, but he had to step down. I asked if I could stand in the seat, initially as a paper candidate (the intention is to give voters a choice but necessarily run a full campaign). Clearly I had other responsibilities i.e. 1 MP candidate (PPC) and 16 other county council candidates and to be clear I did not expect to win. The North Cornwall Liberal Democrat Leadership had a bit of a heated debate on it, but in the end they decided I could stand, and asked that I run a campaign in the area.
Some of my best friends came from all over the country to come and help me get elected. Ashley,
Malinee, Cheryl and others did some phone canvasing for me. Sandy (Samuel Carter) made a real difference, he tireless delivered leaflets for me, and canvassed for me. Without him it would not have happened. George Edwards also told many people that I was the man for the job, even whilst fighting for his own seat. And then there was Dan Rogerson, Steve Rogerson and Pat Rogerson, they were all invaluable in the campaign. We also collectively saved a bus route during the campaign!
During this time I didn’t rest much and worked on 18 campaigns. When I had spare moments I would work on Newquay North. I met a lot of people, I was careful not to promise anything, except that I would work hard. Where I agreed with voter I was clear and when I did not I was also clear. I described my values and principles. When I did not understand all of the issues I was honest and learned from them. I learned a lot.
We did good work together as evidenced by the results.
“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been”
Being a local candidate (2004 – 2005)
It starts pretty tame and then gets seriously intense. First the letter of introduction, who are you and why are you standing and some defining issues. Going door to door gives you a real mixture of what people are angry at, sometimes they may even tell you what they would like to change and possible solutions. Sometimes they will use some choice words the moment they open the door and see you. There are some who will play along and pretend to be interested, to delay you as they are of another party. Some just want to talk and have human company. I met a lot of people and took copious notes, and found a few pieces of casework to investigate.
Print journalists really vary, some are just interested in who you are and what you believe in, others have a story and they want you to fit into that box. Sometimes they will paint you as something good and sometimes as something weak, either way it is part of the political life, something to get used to. You sacrifice your privacy, and the privacy of all the people close to you. Something else to get used to. People want to feel they understand you, both the good and the bad. It forces you to reflect on who you are as an individual, and in comparison to the other candidates. Learning to take the hits, reflect and move on is important in politics, just like the rest of life. I think quality journalists that check their sources, do not have an overpowering agenda, and seek the truth, are a fundamental part of our democracy, without them it will fail. Of course most papers have to make money, and thus need readers and thus need exciting titles. Then there’s radio, which can be much more combative, as each candidate wants to voice how different they are.
Few candidates get elected without volunteers, whether they be family/friends or party activists. The campaign will have many peaks, troughs and even moments of despair. Keeping your team in the loop and motivated is essential. I found sharing stories both good and bad was great for bonding, and also to prepare how to respond to questions.
And let’s not forget the other candidates. My view is, you never know who you will end up working with in the future, so be respectful. Anyone who has the courage to be put through an election campaign and lose part of their privacy in the process has a sense of civic responsibility.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
Candidates with opposing views is a good thing, it allows “us” to test ideas out, to even make them stronger. Personal attacks will come, and some will also be offensive. Just because others play in mud, you do not have to.
I asked some friends to observe my count. We knew it would be close. I now had other responsibilities with counts in two locations (North Cornwall District Council and Restormel Borough Councils) and 17 candidates.
- 1279 – 37.6% – Eric Brooke – Liberal Democrat
- 1231 – 36.2% – Patrick Lambshead – Conservative
- 889 – 26.2% – Harry Heywood – Independant
The current politician Harry Heywood could not even shake my hand. Losing is hard, but I had practiced that I lot. Again it all depends on the campaign and how personal it gets. Pat was always respectful and always clear he was not my friend, either way I liked him.
“There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Leonard Cohen from Anthem
My next posting will talk of my experience as an elected politician
This is my third RailsConf, having attending them in Portland and Chicago. I have found the Rails community as mostly open, people generally easy to ask questions off, and a good range of talks. Railsconf are well organized conferences, they feel professional and evolve each year.
This year the courses seemed to concentrate between the beginner and the intermediate with occasional spikes into the advanced. A lot of the course titles were a little abstract and thus encouraged you or discouraged you (depending how tired you were) from reading the actual description.
It was noticeable this year the number of women that attended (i.e. a larger number) and equally notable how few Blacks there were attending the conference. There were a lot more talks about how software developers are human and soft skills.
The main thing I get from the conference is the people I meet, the conversations I have, the things I learn from attendees.
I felt all four were really good and worth attending and worth watching when they become available.
DHH Rambled a bit, but got to a good point that Rails is a backpack to build a medium sized company like Github or Shopify. He took on the criticism about Monolith architecture and termed the phrase Majestic Monolith and ‘integrated systems’. Again this created some great lunchtime and evening conversation. We also talked about two features in development for Rails 5 Turbolinks 3 and Active Cable. His talk.
I see you have a poorly structured monolith. Would you like me to convert it into a poorly structured set of microservices?
— Architect Clippy (@architectclippy) February 24, 2015
Sarah Chipps talked about her journey. I love that she gave up part of her talk time to some students and their journey to coding and drones.
Aaron Patterson did his usually trolling and then talked about the areas he is now working on – some great stuff on controller and integration tests. I love that he walks us through the process, I learn each time he does. His talk.
I found that day two and day three had more topics I was interested in. Here are some of my favourites:
- Good education talks included Sandy Metz on Nothing is Something (talk) followed by React.JS by Michael Chan. I call them educational because I learnt something from them.
- A great comparison talk on Processes and Threads – Resque vs Sidekick by James Dabbs
- Interesting journey/scaling talk on High Performance APIs in Ruby using ActiveRecord and Goliath by Dan Kazlowski and Colin Kelley
I heard some good things about:
- Ernie Millers‘ Humane Development
- Bending the Curve: How Rust Helped Us Write Better Ruby by Yehuda Katz, Tom Dale
- Playing Games in the cloud presented by: Nadia Odunayo
- Why we’re bad at hiring (and how to fix it) presented by: Kerri Miller
New things at the conference
Each year the conference improves I am impressed with how well organized overall the conference is for a non-profit organization relying on volunteers.
- The theming of topics was really good and helped participants navigate talks
- The Rails core team talk was very informative
- Having many big boards with schedule on, was great
- Having a mobile app was very useful
- I think the notice board was a lot bigger
- Lightning talks had a lot of talkers
- Separate page for sponsored parties. It would be good to have this one page for all the after parties. Often they get booked really quickly but only the people in the know.
Old Things and still good
Railsconf has a scholarship scheme which gives free tickets to a number of people who are coming to the conference for the first time and might otherwise be able to. I love this. I was a scholar in my first year and have being a guide in the last two. I think Ruby Central is awesome to provide this.
Are a great way for people to try out presenting or were not able to be fitted onto the whole schedule. I would suggest moving this to a morning, they are good but often get tagged on the end of the day and maybe a little tired.
This was very useful with both the schedule and the map. Meet the team is a nice touch, maybe add what role they are playing at the conference.
I loved this, I feel having more would be great, I suppose I miss the fourth day!
Venue – The Mart
Of the three RailsConfs I have attended, this year there was either a lot of noise pollution (e.g. Bang Bang, or the equivalent to a freight train going over your head). In the main room there was a lot of echo, if you managed to avoid the really big pillars. In the smaller rooms, there were several issues with the projectors not being powerful to counter the lights and no one knew how to turn the lights down. All of that said this was the best WIFI hands down.
Sorry this was not a great venue.
The first lunch was a little light. The second and third lunches were really good. The snacks were all gone by the time I got there, though there was fruit
Was it worth the trip?
Conferences are essentially a social experience, as most of the videos/decks appear online, thus the most valuable part is the people I meet at conferences. I wonder what the future of conferences is, with all the content being streamed, will they become totally virtual or in fact will they become more social. The problem with big conferences is that you can get comfortable with sticking with your team or people you know and not meet new people. For me this is what I get:
- I meet new peers and mentors
- Discover new perspectives
- Discover how others solved a similar problem
- Share what I know and become a useful part of the community
- I can ask questions in talks to clarify my understanding
- Sometimes a talk will teach you something new, or you learn to communicate something complex in a new way or you realize that you know this topic.
- Find people you want to work with
- It was not my favourite year for talks
But I am an extrovert, I will actively introduce myself to a lot of people. That said it tires me out!
This year I sent three people and myself (from Vancouver, BC). There were some great talks, but more average talks then I had seen in the past. I feel the social aspect is one of the areas we could evolve and make the conference even better. It is also what I think will keep bringing people back. For the social members of my team the conference was good, for non social the talks were not compelling enough on their own this year, in part due to the level of expertise and in some cases because of venue distractions during the presentations.
Ideas for next year
Its not just our code base that needs to evolve and grow, the conference does to, here are some thoughts/ideas/suggestions that may improve the experience.
1. Making the conference more social
You can see all the talks online, why attend if not for the social aspects?
- Publish the attendance list. As people register, ask them Name, Company, Title, length of time coding, and what they want to get out of the conference.
- I suggested a couple things last year in my rails 2014 blog and rails 2013 blog
2. Upping the quality of the talks
- Coaching for first time talkers, from communication experts, education experts and experienced presenters (I will volunteer for this)
- Learning style guide – help speakers think through the styles to make easier for all to absorb
- Feedback for each talk by participants to be fed to the speaker, this would be great in mobile app
- Room instructions – How do I turn lights down/up, who fixes the projector
- Pretest room for computers and projectors
- Hands on masterclasses and workshops with very experienced people like Metz and DHH
3. Interview DHH
This would be even more fun if it was Aaron Paterson who did it..
4. Grow the conference committee to include people who have sole responsible for:
Scholars champion – Have a person own this and evolve it each year. Make sure there is a table that scholars can go to and make sure they have space to see the keynotes, check on the beginners track to ensure the content is actually beginner friendly.
Connections champion – Work in ways to help other newbies/lone travellers meet others. Be the person who can introduce people to other people.
Presenter Experts Volunteer Pool – Ask the community to apply to help out first timer presenters and those that would like a sanity check pre-conference and in-confrence.
5. A non interruption space and a “singles” want to meet people space
Most of us occasionally need to work/code get shit done. Maybe we could have a space when we have power and can code without interruption or sound sshhh. And then another space where I will code/play/experiment but happy to be meet people, in fact please interrupt me. Its kind of like a singles bars, in that it is easier to approach people, making it a bit easier for all. You could have board with I would love to speak to people about x and here is my twitter handle (in case I am not in the room at the time you step in).
Great food and calming accent. I also visited Martin Luther King jr. centre and Human Rights Centre were emotionally overwhelming as well as educational.
There was a stark contrast between the Race of the attendees of the conference a lot of white and some others, against all of the people who served the food and drink who were Black.
As a community I think we are welcoming. Bootcamps seem to help those with money. Ruby Central offers scholarships (reduced ticket price to free) for all minorities and those with little money, which is awesome.
I feel the lack of certain communities in software development is not just a Rails/Ruby problem, but wider. I wonder what we can do as a wider community to add more to our diversity? We are after all in the hometown of Martin Luther King, Jr. Is it an issue of poverty, education, role models or something else. How do we make it better? If there is a software community that could consider this and maybe make it better – I think it is the Rails community…
A friend (non technical) recently asked me how I lead my dev team, he had led product and marketing before, so I have attempted to focus on the differences, that said good team leadership has commonality with all disciplines.
I currently have three software engineers, one IT/Dev OPs and one product designer (3 female and 3 male). In the past I have led 23 teams. I will use this blog for my team to hold me to account
Being accountable for “no surprises” is the core. Where ever possible you should be accountable for all of the people that you work with, people should not be surprised by what you say, because you have already asked their opinion, maybe even evolved your thinking and they can see the process by which you went through to reach a decision.
It means more communication and more interaction with your people. It means you can be vulnerable. It means stepping outside of your “assigned” responsibility and forming relationships with all parts of your organization, and other organizations. Its about being connected, its about being a leader and a follower. It shows that people understand you and your core principles. That you can be consistent and when you adapt they can see that to.
There are not things left unsaid, you are not passive aggressive or have control issues.
Being a Leader of context
The role you take on should change depending on the context. Sometimes you are the coach, sometimes the mentor, sometimes the friend, sometimes a psychologist, sometimes the engineer, sometimes the product owner, sometimes the user advocate, sometimes the engineer advocate, sometimes the leadership context, sometimes the inspirer, sometimes the critic.. There are different leadership styles and yours should adapt. In 2003, prior to my MBA this book really helped me step up my game The New Leaders: Transforming The Art Of Leadership Into The Science Of Results
You are the right person at the right time
Different places/ways to work
People are generally smarter/productive longer, when they can have different types of environments to work in and have multiple ways to express themselves. Have multiple places that engineer can work in. When I recruited my current team, I got the organization on board with the following:
- Give the engineer a laptop
- Have somewhere comfortable to work e.g. sofa, kitchen
- Have somewhere serious/quiet with extra screen
- Have somewhere they can stand up and code
- Have somewhere outside if possible, natural light/fresh air is a great refresher
- Make it possible to work remotely
- That there are white boards for people to express, figure out a problem.
This is a good book if you want to really consider your culture and the way you work. The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace. Without doubt you should ask each team member what helps them concentrate, what distracts them, what they need to stay in the zone. The obvious big one for many is a good set of headphones. Do not underestimate the quality of a good display also, anything at the quality of a Retina can reduce eye tiredness.
Different physical environments can refresh you, help you think bigger or focus. Be flexible.
Leave chunks of time to code
Engineers are generally more efficient if given chunks of time to code. Thus have your meetings meetings near mornings or lunchtime. To give several hours of interrupted research/code time.
- Get engineers to block out their time on their calendars, so product/founders can book time when needed
- Use an IM system to ask questions such as Slack or Skype during those chunks of time and do not expect a quick response
Developers need chunks of time to be left alone to get on and focus
Being a good human being
This means understanding each others needs and wants. Expectations both from the lead and engineer should not be hidden, things should not be left unsaid. Sometimes we need processing time, to check in destructive emotion, but you should still tell that person how they made you feel. You should also be kind but not nice.
Both people should be able to be vulnerable with each other and trust each other. You both need to avoid surprises. This is done through good communication, which is not common and takes effort. This needs time together.
- Feedback in the moment, always ask permission before giving feedback and make it about the behaviour you saw. Do not assume intent, in fact assume positive intent. Give positive and negative feedback. Understand how each member likes to receive feedback. This is my slide deck from teaching my teams about feedback.
- Weekly One to One checkins 10-30 mins, any fire issues? any smoking issues?
- Monthly sit down at least one hour. I have a list of questions to always go through, which we agree when we start together.
- Allow others to lead, giving opportunities to members of your team to lead on a project/task whatever you do not need to be the boss of everything.
Question set for monthlyFirst conversation should be to agree the questions, here is a starting set. They should based around the culture we wish to create and how we want to treat our people
- How are you feeling? Any hot issues we should talk about?
- How are you contributing to the company and your team?
- Are you a Team player? How are you involving others in your process?
- How are you growing/learning? Are we are helping your reach potential? Do you have mastery?
- What are your Technical Capabilities here? Where do you feel competent?
- How are you helping the company grow and evolve?
- Are you Hungry? How productive are you? Are you taking inspired action?
- Do you have a friend here?
- Do you have a mentor or coach in the company? Are you coaching others?
- Do you want stay with the team and the company?
- What can can we do better as an employer/me as your leader/CEO?
- Do you feel you have Autonomy? Are there things stopping you doing your job?
- Do you feel you have Purpose? Do you understand what we are building and why?
- Are you contributing to the wider community? What can we do to help?
One to one, face to face is the highest bandwidth of communication
Your processes and system should evolve.
The way you do things should be Agile (as originally intended i.e. flexible and evolve NOT rules). Agree a workflow together from product to engineer. It should change and evolve to be right for the context.
- When starting with a team, I will audit all current systems and ask for each members views privately on each tool/system/process, to ensure the less confident or shy people get their say
- I will then have a team meeting to review what we need and what we like
- Any team wide system change should involve all parties
- Deadlines should have engineer involvement and not be dictated downwards
For example in my latest team we discussed the tools we wanted and we decided to use
- Slack for IM
- BaseCamp for idealization and research
- Github for product/features/user stories and code/issue management – The way we used tags evolved several times.
Freedom to solve the actual problem
Sometimes Product/founders/Engineering leads may try to solve the problem in their way i.e. micromanage. Giving the engineer the “code monkey” role of just coding to a very prescribed way i.e. an exacting feature. Giving no space, to actually problem solve can be very limiting and create an environment where creativity and innovation are stifled i.e. the evil called micromanagement. Most humans do not like their freedom taken from them. So find the the right balance between the organizations’ needs and the employees. That said some people like more structure, context matters.
- Give space for engineers to solve the problem in their way. If you are already using Agile then you may evolve the story a couple times as users respond to the work.
- Within the user stories/feature requirements do not limit. Ensure you actual describe the problem you want solve, suggestion ideas/solutions but where possible do not dictate
- Involve the team in talking about the features and discussing possible approaches, but the actual engineer who takes the feature gets to decide
- Engineers should have some understanding of the customers. Ensure your engineers meet customers, and spend time with your Customer success/relations people.
- Keep the engineer accountable for the response by users. Thus have good monitoring software and have a culture when engineer go back to check the real world implications of their work.
Micro Management is the evil of leadership, it kills creativity, innovation, trust, and growth. It can appear both in a manager and in the processes you impose on your people
A culture of science
Scientists experiment many times and fail many times and one day they get it right. Encourage a culture of learning from mistakes not teasing/persecution which means encouraging experimentation and forgiveness.
- Discussion should be based on logic in reference to code
- Create an environment where people can I say “I do not know.. but here is an idea/feeling/instinct”
- Call people out if they tease others about their failures or use it to argue they case in a discussion
- Careful to not let irrelevant aspects enter into the discussion such as gender, race, age or sexuality. I say careful because humour can involve these but they should not sway discussions and the receiving of the humour should not be hurt.
Experimentation and failure should be Ok, team members should not “haze” each other. Leadership need to be able to move on
To build a team well, needs reflection and the teams involvement
The team needs time to connect as a team and evolve together as a team. We have a book club where we talk about the teams performance in terms not related to code. How good are we at communicating:
- Giving/receiving feedback
- How do we react to others ideas?
- Who do we go to help us through problems?
- Who pair code with more often
- How much do we know about each others strengths and weaknesses?
- How vulnerable can we be with each other?
We used The Five Dysfunctions of a Team to kick start this conversation. Every couple months we take time to talk about how a team we are in terms of communication. You need to invest in the actually team to have a team..
You need time for the team to talk about the team, spot weaknesses and evolve
Ask your people how you are doing
“How am I doing?” should not be a hard question for you. Ask it informally in your one to one monthlies and formally at least every 3 months. The no surprise rule should be for all. It should be 360 your leaders, peers and your people. Find out if people get what they want and what they need from you, in terms of communication, conflict/challenge, advice and performance.
You learn faster by other people telling you what you are doing right and wrong
Collaborating with your leader
Hopefully you chose your boss carefully when you were recruited into the organization.. but things evolve, so maybe that perfect person you went to work for, moved on. I have found the best leaders are those who keeping growing i.e. they read about how to be a better leader, they can be vulnerable with you and you can talk openly. When you make mistake your instinct is to tell your boss, when one of your team performs really well you never feel the need to take credit and generally you have no fear of your boss talking to your team. If you do find the above hard, understand why.
- Never underestimate the amount of time you will need for your leader
- Know each others strengths, weaknesses and blind spots
- Find those things you really enjoy about each other
- Find those things that you find difficult and talk about them
- Build strong relationships throughout the organization, ensure all find you approachable
Success in any organization is about working together and helping each other evolve
Adding to the team
Whilst you as the lead will drive this process, you should involve the team in the process. You should ensure everyone is trained and good at the interview process. This may mean mock interviews, where your team interview you. Its worth noting that you do not want more clones, you need different types of people, skillsets, who sometimes will clash, but have the communication skills and reasoning capacity to grow from each other.
- Be clear what the team is missing and what you need
- Agree on what you are looking for both terms of technical and personality
- Ensure the all those that are interviewing try out their questions, again no surprises
- Have space for something social
- The best interviews are like a great chat amongst friends about something technical
- Personally I hire on communications skills, problem solving skills, learning capability and then current technical skills
- I often look for potential as much as current craft capabilities
- I do not hire more of me, I want diversity
- If employing someone with less experience, be clear what the areas are and put in place a training program to fill those gaps.
I look for growth potential, hunger, curiosity, pro-active, problem solving capability, how they will add value to the team and how they will help the team evolve. Then I start start to consider technical experience.
Software engineers are great problem solvers
Sometimes we box people into a role. Humans are so much more than their job title and job description. Most people are capable of applying their skills in other domains. You have a problem, why not ask a software engineer?
I will keep adding to this blog as I learn.
I will vote yes for the Mayors Transit plan for Vancouver, BC
As an elected councillor in my past I have seen how badly underfunded public transport hurts people both in the medium and long term. How it does immense damage to the vulnerable in our society. And how do we want to treat our environment? How clean do we want our air? Our populations are always growing, how many cars do we really need?
Newquay North, Cornwall County Council, UK, 2005
Should we have a better Transit System?
I would like Vancouver to become a better place for everyone. That people can get around easier without cars (e.g. children/elders, the vulnerable), that they can choose jobs/schools further afield, that they can explore more of Vancouver and discover “new” shops/businesses to become customers of. I would like to see a city that manages its carbon footprint better as it grows. A big step to ensure our future is smog free is to invest in our public transport infrastructure.
I have seen the impact of under investment in public transport. Rising house prices, congestion, more anger from traffic jams or the buses being full, the reduction in family time due to longer commutes, smog and the impact on businesses. People’s health (both physical and mental), finances and job satisfaction all take a middle and long term hit. It can be easy to fall into the trap of anger.
I remember when I lived in London, before they got congestion under control, my snot was often black. After it went back to green and clear.
Why did the Mayors decide to fund it this way
You pay your taxes, you pay for your monthly bus pass. And then the bus you rely on is late, or is full, and you miss an important meeting or you’re late to a friend’s birthday. The anger and the disappointment have lead us to resentment, and it is clouding or judgment in this matter. We have to find it within ourselves to move past the anger and to forgive. Only once we’ve forgiven can we begin to see the solutions, and begin to part of the solution. Don’t simply look at this campaign as voting to part with your money. The mayors council looked at a bunch of different ways to fund it and all but one mayor agreed 22 out of 23, as this every happened before? The summary and the detail – Look at Appendix F
We live in a community to help each other not just ourselves
Whilst I appreciate that my tax dollars are going into this project, I will not wholly benefit myself as I live downtown and walk 30/40 mins to work. Even though I do not care to ride a bike (as I prefer to walk), I appreciate the need for them – they give us the option to be car free. Community is not just about my personal needs, it is also about how kind thoughtful I am, my willingness to share and collaborate with all. And most importantly, don’t simply think of improving your situation. Remember the elderly person down the street who needs Handydart, and how a line to UBC would improve the state for students. It is the glue of our society and our community.
Should we have had a vote?
I agree that this should have being decided by politicians. But with the HST popular vote, we now have a well funded anti-tax, anti-government campaign that will plague every decision and ask for a refer on everything now. Many of the decisions “blamed” on Translink were actually decided by politicians at the Provincial level. While I will vote yes, I will also be looking for new politicians in the next provincial elections that will make the right decisions for our future and some will not be popular.
Has Translink being Audited?
Three years ago the province responded by auditing TransLink to find efficiencies. That 2012 audit identified $41m in potential savings. Which is great. Over the previous two years, TransLink themselves had already found $98m in internal savings. That’s $139m in total savings over 3-4 years.That doesn’t sound like rampant mismanagement to me. That sounds like an organization actively trying to save public tax dollars. And succeeding. Despite all that, none of those savings was enough to fund future growth.
Who is actually delivering the Compass Card?
For example for the Compass Card TransLink contracts out installation, maintenance, and daily operation of the system to San Diego based Cubic Transportation Systems. This company was chosen by Provincial politicians, not Translink and why not they implemented the Oyster card in London, UK. The delay and extra cost is focus on the type of system i.e. double tap, one tap is ready to go, the double tap is not. The most detail I could find was the technology on buses is not able to cope with the demand that may occur.
“From my knowledge the system runs on Windows CE and there are no issues with that as far as I’m concerned, as long as it’s the newest and most updated system,” he said. “But what is more likely the culprit is the local telecommunications system that the [mobile card readers] are operated on. Our wireless network can be unreliable and even spotty particularly with data.”
This is definitely a problem. Vancouver is not alone in seeing this type of project overrun, most seem overrun by years.
- TransLink’s Compass Card system struggles with another glitch
- Seattle’s transit card seems to work, why not TransLink’s Compass Card?
“The fare gates were imposed on TransLink by then Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon and [then Premier] Gordon Campbell and they did that through an unelected, unaccountable board that they also imposed on TransLink,” said NDP TransLink critic George Heyman. “So that’s where I lay the blame for the fare gates and the Compass Cards.”
How does Translink compare to other transit authorities?
How well funded is Translink?
Translink has being deeply underfunded for a while now.
Metro Vancouver’s proposed transit improvements will cost an estimated $7.5 billion over 10 years. It’s money TransLink doesn’t have; the corporation is already $5 billion in debt and barely meets its annual operating costs with existing fares and various tax-funded mechanisms.
This reminds me that as a citizen of Vancouver and of BC, to pay attention to politics both at the city and provincial level. To not trust the “facts” delivered by angry bloggers, who have no accountability, and instead to listen and to research, to discover if their comments are true or false. It is important for us to look at how Translink is held accountable, how it grows and learns both from its customers, its employees and the “Governments”. How it learns from other cities successes and failures. All of that said you cannot expect an underfunded organization to always perform well.
Innovation means getting somethings wrong
I believe that Translink is not perfect, as no human organization is. Destroying an organization ignores the fact that we as humans can learn from our mistakes, and organization are no different. Many of us have relied on the forgiveness from “our bosses” when we got wrong, to not be fired and instead to learn from our mistakes and grow. As citizens we are the boss of our public transport infrastructure. And the best “bosses” allow us for experimentation and innovation — which always comes with the risk to get it wrong. The worse bosses stay angry and persecute us for past transgressions that have now being corrected. Innovation is key to our survival and future and if we kill it with anger and mistrust, we will fail as a human race. Either way the Translink CEO was fired, how much more revenge needs to be taken?
Becoming part of the solution
I have applied to be on the Citizen Council for Transport because I want to do my part. Whether I succeed or fail I am becoming better informed! I have hope for Vancouver to become a better city as it grows. Going forward, I will pay better attention to those that serve us. I am one of those crazy people who still says thank you to the bus driver when I get off, because I appreciate the human that serves us — whether it be the bus driver, the union that protects their rights or Translink who manages our infrastructure. All three have had to do this in an environment that is underfunded and not ready for the future, because citizens have not been doing their part.
It’s time to change this and think/reflect/imagine the city we want.. become solution providers rather than just armchair critics.
Holy shit smile emoticon They said yes!
“Thank you for your application for appointment to the Active Transportation Policy Council.
At its In Camera meeting on March 3, 2015. Vancouver City Council appointed you to the Active Transportation Policy Council, for a term to commence immediately and end February 28, 2017. ”
Looking forward to it smile emoticon
Articles that I found useful:
- No side reaps rewards of 30 years of anti-tax rhetoric
- Why we’re voting “yes” to new transit and transportation funding in the referendum
- The psychology of ‘no’: Vancouver transit vote is case study in why it’s so hard to do what makes us happy
- The ‘No Transit Tax’ campaign’s biggest myths on TransLink
- In a peer review conducted by Seattle, Translink was probably the most efficient agency studied: http://tinyurl.com/orn956o , http://tinyurl.com/p42vqr3, http://tinyurl.com/q7kd8ok.
- As public vote on Translink tax hike nears, skepticism and name-calling increases
- If you don’t like a sales tax hike, here’s a peek at one alternative
- More than 400,000 full buses had to skip stops last year: TransLink
When I first saw that Smashing Mag was coming to Canada and close by i.e. Whistler, BC. I booked an Early Bird Ticket.
I have found both their emails and books very useful. I paid with my own dime, so I could not afford the workshops. Most of my multiple day conferences have being Rails/Ruby/Data/Product/Startup so I was very curious what the people would be like at a Front end conference.
It was a mixture of designers, developers and product people. This conference was a good mix of people, nationalities and friendly. Culturally it felt like a fusion of an European and North American conference. The lightning talks (the evening before the conference started) were a nice touch i.e. short talks given by conference participates who were not speaking as part of the main schedule.
I learned, relearned an incredible amount of information. The conference was well organized, the staff were friendly. To be honest I think I am still processing some of it. The food was good. The venue was good. The main room was a little dark for me, but there was an ALT viewing spot with couches and a fireplace and skylights, this was awesome. I felt overall the conference itself was good value for money – but I did get it on early bird The workshops felt expensive.
VITALY FRIEDMAN “Its important you should not FREAK OUT!” opening #smashingconf in #whistler
You can find most of the decks here you can see the twitter conversation at #smashingconf and I will add the link for videos when it appears.
- First make your site fast
- Deliver core content first, then progressively enhance
- Pay attention to size of everything and what it is blocking
- Make it responsive. Build for mobile first.
- Design in the browser, wire frames are wasted time for designers
- Always consider accessibility
- Have a style guide that everyone is responsible for maintaining
- Use sessionstorage and local storage
- Make it all modular and plug and play
- Design is not a service. Designers have to sit in the team
Things to explore
The future is
- SVG Fonts
- Service workers
- Offline, maybe..
Things for the organizers to consider:
It was a really well run conference, here are some ideas to add a bit more magic
Pre-Conference ask the attendees what they really want
Send out a questionnaire what are the top three things you are trying to figure out. Share the results. This would help guide the conference, spot trends that are emerging. Encourage lighting talkers, to talk on similar topics or not.
Help lone travellers meet others
Make it easier for people to “hook up” for dinner plans. Extend the attendee list with peoples interests, linked profiles/online bios (The current one being shared with twitter accounts was awesome).
Have a wanted board
It could have jobs, types of people they want to meet, problems they are trying to solve. It could be online or offline.
At the Ruby on Rails Conference (Railsconf) they have scheme, which allows a number of students and diverse backgrounds into the conference for free. They also ask for volunteers to act as their mentors throughout the conference. I am sure some of the sponsors would consider giving
I just covered the talks I watched in full.
A great talk about typography, perfectionism, underlines and sanity. Funny & serious well presented
Deck – aresluna.org/whistler
Use style guides as a way to explore, define and guide. Make it part of feature development. Examples for automated styleguides for web sites
A great resource http://styleguides.io
mix & match <picture>/srcset/<img>/<source> to give users a specific image file according to viewport & display quality. <picture> is not ready yet but hopefully soon.
Great presenter and Sass to boot. Resources
Design in the browser. Wireframes are wasted designer time. Sketch.
- Focus on small screens first
- Then colour and type
- Uses a sketch in code tool
Cache do not use for performance. Use sessionstorage and localstorage
Choosing your journey with CSS is more about the communication and how the team views it, rather than the methodology you use
Do not grow up to be a specialist, explore, play and grow. Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity http://snook.ca
Atomic Design – a methodology for creating robust design systems. Working from the ground up. Example http://patternlab.io
Awesome fun lady. CSS can do some cool animated interactions. Choose the mood that fits the brand. Timing 0.2 to 0.6 seconds.
Getting to fast – I did not see this talk, and I am looking forward to the video release
For my first vote in Canada (I became a Canadian Citizen this summer) I spent much time researching the political parties, their records and their personalities. Including watching a city council meeting and attending one of the debates.
Still it was really hard to see the difference between the Vision party and the NPA. I found both the websites unhelpful in understanding the parties and how they differed.
It took a little digging into the councils minutes to get some feeling for the local politics. The campaign started to help, but it was the local newspapers that really did the work to show the differences. The debates also helped, in showing the temperaments of the mayoral candidates.
In this election, Vancouver City 2014 (BC, Canada) I voted for Vision across the board. I was disappointed that we are still using an ancient voting system (first past the post) rather than a modern transferable voting system. Splitting your votes across parties generally leads to weak indecisive government, unless they have experience working in a coalition. Thus I did not do it. It appeared to be a campaign that seemed to be a two horse race between Vision and NPA.
Vision had enough of the left of center perspectives without dismissing the liberal concerns. Robertson has also worked hard to get know part of the Startup Community, which I am a member, though I have never met him. He is also outspoken on protecting those less fortunate in life.
I did not appreciate the attack ads that the Vision campaign ran on Kirk LaPointe, they were tacky. They attacked the person not the party (in his case NPA). This made me pause to think about if I wanted to vote for any Vision candidates. There are smarter ways to run a campaign and stay respectable.
After running 110 election campaigns (Liberal Democrats and NUS) I never resorted to personal attacks. OK maybe I did when I was immature. Yes, I know negative campaign works. And sometimes the media likes to add a certain “flair” to their words to get the attention of potential readers.
So, do we not have to become smarter, wiser and better. How we do things is important. Maybe I am being too idealistic, some campaigns may need it, I am not sure this one did. In fairness I am without all the facts, the polling data, etc. Is it better to lose and stick with principles?
Having been elected to public office (County Councillor for Newquay North, UK, 2005) and had the honour of a cabinet position (Community & Culture) my opposition taught me many things. The need for scrutiny, really listening, debating points of policy, forgiving others, strategy, how to be the better person when you lost and yes how to run better campaigns.
I am a better man for both my party and the non party members of Cornwall County Council (2005 – 2008). Some would call the non party members opposition but after six months I did not view it like this. I saw them as opportunities to be better, and thus I worked at getting all involved in the decision making, made scrutiny of my work easier, taking the time to actually understand their needs and always having an open door policy to all. Also appreciating that you often have two relationships with other politicians, the public and private. As a Liberal I feel I have the responsibility to be open minded, listen and understand first before making my decision. Even when it is difficult to hear, freedom of speech.
Here I will say it, strong opposition makes a government stronger. As long as the agenda is to do the best for the residents not the political party. Which frankly is sometimes as long as half your term of office, if you are lucky. Critical reviews can be helpful and harmful depending on the agenda.
Having a Mayor like Mr Robertson who has strongly held beliefs on the environment may find it harder to get funds they need for infrastructure projects, quickly. But they are more likely to create a city that I want to live in and interact with my communities. Those who invest in the Parks, Communities and Culture, create an environment to de-stress, meet random people and form more community and ideas. This translates into less single people, greater entrepreneurship and more collaborative community. We all hide too much in our places of living or in our circles of friends and family. Do we want an inclusive culture and community or do we want differences to divide us? Thus I also voted to give the council ability to get and spend fund on all three areas.
Having a bureaucrat, which is how I saw Kirk LaPointe, may have been more successful at getting more funds and more businesses into Vancouver. But is that the kind of the city I want to live in? And whilst I liked Kirk LaPoint (yes I have met him many years ago and liked him) I did not wholly trust NPA, it felt they cared more for business than the community. Vision clearly needs to do a better job of being open minded as it felt they dropped a candidate because she worked in sexual health. Of course no party is perfect, but at least there is some process to vet the candidate before.
A balance with the community and environment matters to me. A balance between business and environment. After all we need jobs but not at the cost of the only planet we live on. And I am happy to pay tax, to protect the vulnerable, provide a safety net for all of us when shit happens and give education opportunities to allow us all to climb the ladder. And if we kill the planet we are dead, both physically and spiritually.
Who else should stand up for Vancouver and it’s beliefs if not the Mayor? Thus I went with passionate advocate not the bureaucrat.
P.S. Now I have to work out which way to go between Liberals and NPD for Provincials and Federal.
Things I need to understand better:
There are a couple areas I need to become more knowledgable in and make better decisions on who I vote for. I know how these issues are tackled in the UK but I am still learning how they are in Canada.
Some very smart people state that for future our cities they will have to become more dense. These smart people often live in very big houses outside of these dense zones. Apartments that are built today are small. Their kitchens encourage eating out and not cooking at home, with local foods. They do not encourage eating at a table and the sharing of food. I wonder if this is why coffee shops are so full of people, because their apartments are so small.
Apartment blocks are often built so that you can completely ignore all humans around you. I do not have a problem of sharing space with other humans, but we all need space the current trends are worrying. This is partly related to our green spaces in Vancouver, we need to keep a balance, we all do not have cars and log cabins in the country.
I feel developers/estate agents are making so much money, and in the process are creating the largest social divide in our society. Affordable housing is often a box with with a smaller box extension. More and more people are being excluded from the opportunity to buy in Vancouver.
Freedom of Information
This is a must especially with all the above worries. I heard criticisms towards The Vision team, I will have to explore this further.
We need more public transport and less cars. Whilst I prefer to walk rather than I bike, I feel the journey for more bike lanes is a good thing.
I feel there are many threads here, essentially how are we helping vulnerable people in a sustainable way and how are we helping people become independent again (if possible). I realise this issue is not simply about a place to live, but sometimes can be about how we treat mental health in our society.