Microservices and websites

You build a startup quickly, scale the tech as far as it goes. You’ve got one codebase, and one scary-as-hell deploy. You’re known for failure at least as well as you’re known for your product.

So you break up your service into microservices. Each can be deployed independently. Each can be owned by a team who understands the whole of the thing, and so the changes therein. Responsibility and accountability are delegated to those teams.

It’s a proven pattern. And very successful.

At Twitter, we run dozens of microservices. We have macaw-users, serving the user information apis. We have macaw-tweets, serving tweets. We have macaw-timelines, serving timelines. It all makes a lot of sense. The tweets service can roll out a deploy, observe issues with their endpoints, roll back and fix – all without bothering the other services.

This is an ideal way to scale an api.

Your mobile apps can use this api. Maybe with JSON, or something more efficient. If an endpoint fails now, a single team is paged and the service recovers. Users might see a momentary error with some actions. The mobile app teams needn’t even know; they worry about their own code deploys, not the reliability of their apis. 

A website is a different animal. One web page is the combined output from many of your apis, many of those services. And for speed of delivery, you are rendering those web pages on the server.

For server-side rendered web pages, the output of your apis is combined inside your own datacenters. This is happening on your own servers. 

The microservice model starts to fail. If a service you depend upon is experiencing issues, your web pages are seeing that issue and throwing error pages themselves. Your service may fall below SLA before theirs does. Suddenly, you’re a single point of failure, and so primary oncall for all microservices. Farewell sleep. 

It gets worse. Since your service is inside the DC, you use a more efficient api layer with compile-time dependencies. When you compile your project, you need to build every other service. Of course your build system has caching, but what does that matter when every backend change forces a recompile on you?

It gets worse. The other services start to focus on mobile. They build business logic into the json formatter. It’s not as crazy as it sounds – of course they use shared objects for json. And checks at the edge are the simplest. But now you’re missing them on web. And, oh, resources are tight. Build it yourself or miss out.

It gets worse. Your integration test suite needs fixture data in code. But the mobile clients just depend on manual QA and json fixtures. Effective integration testing falls away, and deploys gets even more scary.

Development grinds to a halt. 

This is where we were. Let me tell you where we went, how we made things better. 

We shipped a PWA. A progressive web app. The app is entirely rendered in JavaScript in the browser. We use the same apis as the mobile clients. We’re a mobile client. 

We can write just one language: JavaScript.

We can write, deploy, test and be oncall for our own app, and stop worrying about others. 

We can use the new api formats and features as soon as they’re ready.

We did it. 

Or did we?

Another route we could have taken is to rethink this from the perspective of the user. To the user it doesn’t matter whether an api call failed in the client or the server. A failure is catchable and can be well handled. We had an SLA on the server because we could easily measure it. Should that be different on the client where we can’t? There’s no doubt in my mind that our service could have been coded more defensively, mitigating the vast majority of pages and alerts. 

So why did we not?

Partly because our service isn’t built on a robust web framework. It’s a migration of our ruby-on-rails system to Scala. This was necessary for the complexity of a migration while operating at scale. The framework is optimised towards api development, which again makes sense, as most services are apis. It’s logical that our graphs, monitoring and alerts are also configured this way. APIs are not websites.

What’s more, it’s because websites are built with static assets (JavaScript, CSS) that don’t split well against service-based concerns. So our website could not be fragmented into micro web services without some mismatch in the asset versions delivered by the various services as they deploy.

And finally it’s because web engineers have a tricky enough job writing good quality modular scalable robust crossbrowser user experiences. We should be allowed our focus and not have to worry about the intricacies of server code in a foreign language.

Try hiring a CSS developer with Scala skills. I’m sure Google has some. Good luck. 

So we went PWA and we’re not going back. Was it necessary? Maybe, maybe not. Was it worth it? Hell yes.

I shall sleep well tonight.

Granny

The first time my mother-in-law came to stay with us, she was sleeping on the floor.

It was awful. Not just on the floor, but on the living room floor. We were living in a small one-bedroom flat in San Francisco, we hadn’t been there long, and the move had cost us most of our meagre savings. She’d lie there and watch me eat dinner.

It’s hard to move away from your family. San Francisco is about six thousand miles from my home. I have all kinds of family back home: parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins. My wife has far fewer. I don’t know if that makes it easier for her, or harder. Anyway, we don’t see people often. It’s a little sad.

Kids just make the problem worse. We can’t just nip home for the holidays now. We need four plane tickets. We need car seats, luggage, and a week to cope with jet lag. Tantrums are frequent. Vomit is inevitable.

We’ve been home three times. Three times in eight years.

Luckily, we get visitors far more often. My brothers have been really good about visiting. My parents too. And of course, my mother-in-law.

The thing is, nobody is going to visit just for dinner. Nobody flies six thousand miles to just watch the kids while I pop out for a beer help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge thanks love. No.

They need to stay for a few weeks. Just to make it worthwhile. And a few weeks in a hotel is kind of pricey. Even in an AirBnB. It’s more than the cost of the flight.

So she’s lying on the floor, watching me eat my dinner. For weeks.

It’s not just that. You see, I’m pretty sure she’s a vampire.

No, really.

It’s not just that she calls people “darlingk”. She once went to a playground and announced, in her thick Polish accent, “Look at aall the lovvely cheeldren!”, and I swear she licked her lips. She never seems to eat anything but ice cream, which suggests that food isn’t her main source of nutrition. She’s at least a thousand years old. She never seems to sleep. And when she goes outside in the daytime her eyes glow red and she begins to disintegrate.

Ok, I made that last one up.

It’s really intense having family over to stay for a long period. It’s also really intense going to stay with them. You go from the occasional monthly phone call with nothing to say, to good morning good afternoon good evening good night. IN YOUR FACE, TWENTY FOUR SEVEN. Ugh, it’s unbearable.

I even get frustrated with my mum, and she’s the nicest and least offensive person on the planet.

Anyway so we got this new place with a granny flat. We didn’t mean to. It’s just a place that had a beautiful backyard. And the granny flat became a playroom for the kids, and an office for dad (me), and yes we realise those two concepts don’t colocate brilliantly, but our schedules mostly don’t match and it’s fine.

But for this past visit, we’ve made it a granny flat. It’s granny’s flat. Sometimes (ok, every day) we send the kids up there to play with granny in her playroom. I set her up a sofa and television. It’s like she’s living next door, it’s not like she’s IN MY FACE, watching me eat. She visits us every day too.

And it’s been brilliant. She’s been brilliant. She can come to stay any time.

(Not any time of course, visas don’t actually work that way, which is either a shame or probably a good thing, because you don’t want to push it do you?)

Any time though. Welcome, Granny.

A day in the life, January 2018

Five thirty. The baby is making noises. My wife murmurs something I can’t hear while I stretch. It’s my turn. I get up and go to the cot. He sees me and instantly turns away. He wanted mummy not daddy. After five minutes of trying to sleep, he realises he’s awake. I pick him up, take him to the chair and rock him on my shoulder. After half an hour, he gets quiet asleep. I put him back in the cot and wait the thirty seconds until he wakes again. My wife says he needs food and goes to get him some. I wait. She wasn’t going to get him some, she was turning on the heating and going back to bed. I take him to the living room where the baby bottles are. I take him back and feed him. I get him down to sleep. It’s six thirty.

At seven, the alarm rings. I turn it off, then take five more minutes. I get up again, head for the kitchen to make tea and boil eggs. I turn the boy’s light on, to get him used to the idea of morning. Halfway through my tea, my wife staggers in. She’s been getting up four times a night for sixteen months now, and with the recent teething it’s been worse. She’s got a bad cough that won’t go away. She starts to say something, but the baby monitor is louder: he’s awake. She goes to get him. He’s groggy but up. I take the baby and go to wake the boy. He’s reasonably amenable, especially when reminded there’s oreos and milk waiting for him (his daily nutritious breakfast). I tell him he can watch iPad if he gets his clothes on first. He does.

Ten minutes later, they’re getting ready to leave for school. I sniff something on the baby as I’m putting him in the car seat, so I whisk him off to clean up the poo. The boy is being packaged up ready. I deliver the baby to the car, and head back inside for a moment of peace. My morning can begin.

Shower. Brush teeth. Clothes. Check bag. Into the truck. Drive two slow, boring miles to the station. Park the truck. Into the station. Five minutes for the bart. Not bad. Bart seat is only mildly smelly. Not bad. Into the city in forty five mins. Reading Armada on kindle, not very good. No visible poop or visible needles in the station, surprising. A wet walk to the office. Drizzle.

I’d normally head up to nine for some eggs, but I did have one of the boiled eggs earlier, and I have a suspicion there’ll be doughnuts. I head for coffee on five. Wash hands, latte, glass of water. Head to my desk, unpack the laptop. What on earth was I doing yesterday?

Today I needed to get a real answer for a question for auditors. I ask someone, but I know that some of what they’re saying isn’t true. I find someone else, we verify our answer. I stick it in the sheet, all good. I’ve got a few branches to land from yesterday. Landing branches is slow, and some of them need the tests to be rerun for certainty (I’d spent much of the previous day unblocking the test pipeline). It’ll take a couple of hours. I head to the other building where the team is running a hackday. We need to convert every file from CSS files to JavaScript styles. It’s a lot of tedious work, so it’s best done as a team, in a day, in a room, with doughnuts. There’s a prize for the most files converted. I’m not here for the prize, I’m here for doughnuts. I have a doughnut. I pick up a ticket and work on it while landing branches.

Twelve o’clock and we need to get out of the room. It’s basically impossible to book a good meeting room for a whole day. We head to lunch. I’m doing tacos, because they’re always ok, and I don’t mind boring. I often have tacos. I sit with the team until they bring up D&D. I go back to work.

I keep tabs on a login issue. I think it’s more complex than they realise. I have a suspicion that an error page or asset is pointing to the wrong site and logging us out. They haven’t figured it out yet. I’ll keep watching.

Another trivial ticket I’ve been watching hits 100 comments without real progress. It’s time to go rogue. I remove the disputed image from the page altogether, and then remove the links to the page itself. That’ll solve the problem, but it’s two more branches to land. Two more sets of tests to run.

It’s four thirty. I’ve had an extra brownie and some sweets to keep me going, but I’m still feeling sleepy. I dive into an api migration I needed to get a handle on this week. I can’t get it to work, I chat to the team who make the api. They give me a repro case. Feels brittle, but it’s something to work with tomorrow.

Five o’clock, and it’s time to run. Wife texted me earlier, she’s going to the doctor at seven thirty for her cough. I need to get home. Drizzle is wetter. Back to the Bart. Bit smellier this time. Fine though. I read the book but can’t get into it. Back to the truck. Driving through the rain. Stop at home, bring the bins in, grab the mail. Open the door.

“Daddy!” The boy comes running for a hug. He hasn’t done this since he was three, but he started again this week and I love it. The baby is excited and doesn’t know what to do with himself. He hands me the mail I put down on the bench while I drop of my jacket and bag, then follows me to the bedroom to change trousers and wash hands and face. He gets a big hug. There’s no food ready or anything to really make, so I reheat some dried-up pizza from the weekend. I eat while reading tweets. The baby is shouting “mama, mama” at me, like he does. He’s smelly again, so I go and cleanup the poo again. A little has leaked, so my wife gives him a bath. I make pasta for the boy, my wife leaves for the doctor, I sit the baby down and try to feed him food from a pouch. He has a little. I tell the boy to turn off the iPad, and we have a genuinely pleasant few moments, us three, at the table.

We head upstairs to the playroom. We play James Bond. I’m the bad guy spy. The baby climbs on furniture to turn on the disco lights like he always does. We play until eight. Let’s go down. Mummy texts to say the doctor was good, she’s coming home.

Put your pyjamas on. Put your pyjamas on. Put your pyjamas on. And so forth. Teeth are brushed, rinsed. A wee is had. Pyjamas are on. I take the boy in to read, but we don’t read, we play Space Mazes. It’s eight forty. Up to bed, lights off. Quiet. Quiet. The baby is still playing outside the door. I sit with the boy until he sleeps. It’s nine thirty. He should sleep soon, and then I can steal his hot water bottle and go to bed too. Sometimes I have some decaf tea before I do, dipping some chocolate biscuits into it. Not today though. Doughnuts were had.

Good night.

2017

The end of the year once again. Last year, I vaguely remember feeling quite upbeat. Although I apparently had a cold, and yes, Trump had been elected and Brexit had been voted for and yadda yadda yadda. From a personal perspective, I was a new dad, I’d just had a huge break from work, I was going to the gym regularly, and the baby was basically just sleeping and eating, so I had plenty of time to Netflix and chill.

As babies get bigger, they become more work. You can’t let them out of sight for a moment, they’ll toddle off somewhere and start eating cables, or pulling things off tables, or climbing on pianos, or falling down staircases. They’re full of boundless energy, excited to be alive, and very cute as well. It’s exhausting. When I look back to my end-of-year assessment for the similar timeframe of the older boy, I see it says “we survived”. I feel similarly.

So, I must keep on top of the energetic baby and the rambunctious six year old and the wife who wakes up four times a night to feed and to hold, with never a moment off (no babysitters, no nearby relatives – we do things the hard way). In consequence, I quit the MBA course I was taking, I stopped going to the gym, I stopped running, I stopped watching much Netflix, and I haven’t chilled for more than about five minutes straight all year.

When I returned to work at the start of 2017, I decided to re-think my job. I had two prime motivations: one, I loved the heart and soul that my stand-in was bringing to the team and knew I couldn’t match it when my mind was on babies; two, I wanted to get involved in the abuse-handling efforts as much as possible. So, a week after returning, I handed off my team and scouted around the company for new roles. I offered myself as an EM to the abuse efforts, but it was one role they said they didn’t need filling. I considered becoming a PM for some web-related efforts, but that role is very different and I didn’t feel I’d be accepted by the team for that position yet. Ultimately, I realised that the abuse efforts were going to be long-term problems (possibly forever) rather than short-term fixes, and the best I could contribute would be to help push for a migration to a better stack, allowing us to make those changes more easily. I was also in a good position to make rapid fixes to the existing stack for any quick fix work.

And so, once again, I’m an IC. (Individual contributor)

(that means I’m coding again, dad).

It’s been fun. This year I’ve done some legal fixes (ok those weren’t fun), a lot of settings fixes, a world of bug fixes, and my favourite project was working with one of our interns to deliver Nightmode on desktop. It’s been the most positively received project I’ve ever seen. My Intern, David, also overdelivered. He threw in some code to make sure your colours in nightmode and daymode provide enough contrast to be visible, using proper accessibility-based contrast maths. Much respect.

I’d always planned to hop back to management again, but I’m currently reconsidering. It’s felt good to have colleagues again, to hang out and have fun with people who don’t report directly to you. Management can be a lonely job. We’ll see.

I stopped going to the gym because I just can’t find the time. If I cut time from work, then I’d need to make it up. If I cut time from home, then I get less time with the kids and my wife will go crazy. If they could only put a gym car on Bart, then it’d be doable. Anyway, my shoulders are killing me, and I can’t sleep comfortably, so in 2018 I’ll have to find time somewhere.

We went to see the total eclipse! It was AMAZING! Like a hole in the sky! If you’ve only seen a partial eclipse, even 99.9% partial, then you just haven’t seen it. You need totality. We flew up to Oregon for the day with the kids for it.

We had my parents visit for a couple of weeks. We had my mother-in-law visit for a couple of months. It is incredibly important to balance enough time to help and get to know the kids, with the need to not kill each other. The new (bigger) house helps. Mostly helps.

This year the brewery closed up. I’m still pleased I invested in a friend (to help him open), that operated honestly, and made some really very good quality beers. But sometimes you build it and they don’t come. I’ll miss the money I invested (which was significant), but I’ve learned some lessons (should I ever get any more money for investment).

I didn’t invest in Bitcoin, which hit nearly $20k this year. If I’d invested some years back, I could be a multimillionaire, which riles me slightly. BUT, I didn’t invest because I’m an immigrant and didn’t want to be accused of money-laundering (which was a concern at the time), AND I didn’t have much money back then, AND if I’d bought then I’d have used Mt Gox, which would’ve lost my investment, AND if I’d had any I would have sold at $10, at $100, at $200, at $500 and so on. NO WAY would I have the guts to hold.

I feel much better about losing my money to the brewery than I would have about losing money to Bitcoin.

This year:

  • Total eclipse. Wow.
  • Hawaii again (yay) with mother-in-law.
  • New baby is full of beans and friendly as anything
  • The boy started learning the alphabet for real in kindergarten in September. Now he’s reading Dr Seuss to himself. It’s fantastic.
  • My wife continues to be beautiful and indefatigable. And patient.
  • Twitter is still the best employer I’ve had (7 years now).
  • California is still better (sunnier) than London.

Next year (2018):

  • I need to settle my job. Decide if I’m management or code. Or both. Or something else.
  • I need to fix my shoulders. Seriously, I can only sleep on my back, and when I do that I lose feeling in my hands. It’s ridiculous.
  • With a zero-ending birthday impending, I need to stop getting older by *any means necessary*. It’s gone on too long.
  • I need to go home. I want to visit the friends that remember me, any family that still recognise me, and see the places we used to be.
  • I need to blog more. I have some ideas.
  • I need to work on my skills more. Instead of just doing work, I need to invest some time in growing my skills. Maybe I can link that to the blog thing.
  • I qualify to apply to be a US citizen.

The last great-grandparent

When Jack was born, he had five great-grandparents. That’s five more than I had. But by the time Max was born, only one was still with us. And now, he too has passed away.

Hamish was probably my favourite. He was a sailor, a conscientious objector, a dancer and a fool.

He taught me to sail, a beautiful little sailboat called Sally Brown on the river Deben. By the time he passed it onto us, it was probably the only sailboat without an engine left on the river.

He was teetotal, and wouldn’t even enter the pub.

He didn’t fight in the war, and suffered for it. I would love to have learned more about this time and this choice. The most I heard was “why should I go and kill some foreign johnny I don’t have any disagreement with?” He worked as a manual labourer. He reckoned he could carry a ton of grain.

He did ten long-arm pull-ups each morning until his doctor told him that wasn’t normal for a 75 year old, and that he should probably stop.

He was a fool, a dancer dressed in scraps of many colours in a Morris dancing troupe. I never saw him fool, but I’ve seen a tape. As a tall man, he gave it dignity.

He was the second cousin of Hugh Laurie.

He was a printer, producing flyers and cards on his cast iron manual printing press hidden in his garage. Granny would draw the pictures and cut the lino.

They were married for more than 60years.

As I remember him, he was retired with Granny in Waldringfield, where we keep the boats. They didn’t have a television. They didn’t eat out. They lived by the wind and tide, the Archers, their friends, and that story Hamish would tell about eating turkey stock instead of apple sauce in his porridge.

I miss summers on the boats. The boats are all still there, even little Percy, but we’ve moved away.

2016

Ok, it’s the end of the year. I’ve got a cold. I hate having colds – they attack me particularly badly, and I get all gross and covered in tissues and snot, and all I want to do is sit around and eat ice-cream and… Hang on. … Ok. Ice cream. Better.

So, 2016. One of those years when lots of things happen. We started the year in London. I spent a couple of days back at my old university in Warwick on a management course. I came back to work all charged up and ready to fix everything. Didn’t manage to fix everything of course. Some things are more complicated than that. But we made progress.

In happy news, the brewery opened and Randy is successfully producing excellent beers. It makes me very happy to have invested in a real tangible company, making high quality product. The brewery has become my local establishment, for my rare evenings off.

We had another baby! We make very good babies. This proves that the first was not a fluke. They are not easy to make or maintain, but are a great investment.

One thing Twitter did this year was change their leave policy. Now, both parents can take 20 weeks paid leave in the first year. That’s been absolutely incredible. Not only has it helped maintain my wife’s sanity through the early months, it has helped my five-year-old feel like he’s not been usurped. This time is probably the most time I will ever have with my family. It has been amazing, and I’m very thankful to Twitter for their support. In November, I clocked 6 years with them. Best place I’ve ever worked.

Britain voted to leave Europe. That was something of a surprise, but also kindof understandable. It doesn’t mean the country is full of racists, it just means the politicians have failed to connect with the electorate. Most Brits don’t vote for their European representative (MEP), nor have any idea who they are or what they do. When votes became inconvenient (see Lisbon treaty), the politicians simply avoided them. It is no surprise to me that voters felt disenfranchised. I hope they figure something out that works better.

America voted to elect Trump. That was something of a surprise. It doesn’t mean the country is full of racists, it just means these politicians have failed to connect with the electorate too. There’s an anti-establishment vibe. I’m not as pessimistic about this one as other people are, because a) I felt the way you feel now about Bush winning in 2004 and the world didn’t end then (ok, hundreds of thousands of people died, but the world didn’t end); and b) I don’t think Trump (whose opinions are unknown and variable) is as bad as many republicans (whose opinions are known and repugnant). We literally have no idea how this will go.

I talk about this stuff occasionally on Twitter or this blog and never really make my positions clear. I’m happy to correct bullshit from either side (tbh lies about Trump are as annoying as lies about Clinton), and maybe that causes confusion, so here are my stances: Democrat(US)/Labour(UK) but not as far as the communist hippy crowd. I believe in universal healthcare, but I’m not opinionated about implementation. I support LGBTQ rights. I support diversity in all its forms, and acknowledge that I need to do more. I want more women in tech. I’m against bullying, online and offline. I think immigration is a complex issue without simple solutions, but I think employers looking for H1Bs should be required to provide US scholarships. I support public transport, but I love my truck too. I believe there are no gods. I’m pro-choice in the first two trimesters. I prefer Chrome to Safari, but I’m not entirely sure why. I’m enjoying craft beers, and bored with wine. I like vegetables, because they’re what my food eats. I think Snowden should be exonerated, and I think Manning should only be released due to mistreatment before trial. I think gun control is a good idea when the laws make sense. I don’t understand term limits for the presidency, because hey, why not choose the best person for the job?

Ok, I think that’s enough.

Oh, we bought a house. I love it. It’s old and knobbly and makes no sense, just like us. It’s perfect. We have deer and turkeys and squirrels and trees and grass.

We went to Tahoe for Christmas. The drive was terrible and we all got the flu. So, yeah, Merry Christmas.

I ran a half-marathon! But I hadn’t done any training at all, and it pissed it down all the way, and there was a big hill so I had to walk a bit, well a lot really. It wasn’t much fun.

I have been going to the gym a bit. Hopefully I’ll keep this going into the new year as I go back to work. It’s been good to stretch out.

Last year I got wisdom teeth done. This year, gum grafts. They’re really not fun. They tear a strip of gum off the top of your mouth and stitch it onto your teeth. Bleah. And there will be more of that to look forward to next year.

I watched the entirety of Friends. I’m not sure if this is a worthy accomplishment, but when you’re feeding the baby for 30mins every 2 or 3 hours, you need something to watch. I also developed a thrombotic hemorrhoid by sitting on my arse all day, which was not fun.

And I think that’s the year.

Next year, get back to work. Do something awesome.

What I love about working at Twitter

I’ve never been the one with the fancy words and clever insights. My writing is either hastily-scribbled thoughts to myself, or simple language and simple meaning to convey a message. If you’re looking for the poetic literature on this subject, I recommend my colleague Jeremy’s Medium post, “Why I Love Twitter“.

Twitter is the first company I’ve worked for whose product I use every day. I’ve never had that before, and I never realised how significant that is, before this job. It’s incredibly satisfying to work on a website you depend on yourself. It becomes a labour of love.

The Twitter site always appears to be very simple. There’s reliably someone on HackerNews each week claiming they could build it in a day, and before I came here, that could well have been me. Since joining, I’ve learned of the tremendous complexity that underlies essential services, like Twitter, Facebook and Google, to keep them running 24/7. Why is 24/7 just hours and days? It’s not enough. Every second of every year, you expect Twitter to be there when you ask for it.

And at scale! We serve hundreds of millions of users! Our Google Analytics numbers are just ridiculous to browse through. (I’ve wasted hours in those dashboards – hours). I love working at scale. After 16 years building websites, I’ve learned that the most fun work is realtime, scale, and user-focused. The kids say they love Machine Learning and Big Data these days, but they’re honestly missing out. I love the breakneck pace of developing for users, the tension of stability, and the challenges of scale.

When I read the news (BBC), nearly every story mentions Twitter or a Tweet. Everything. Politicians making announcements, or campaigning, or discussing foreign affairs. Celebrities doing whatever it is they do. Every single obituary. It’s the perfect way to get a short soundbite for a story. It’s the source of news on the ground. It’s a direct line to the people who matter. I love that we have this impact.

Nearly everyone, whether they use it or not, has an opinion on Twitter. You should do this, you should do that. Sometimes we agree, and there’s a technical constraint. Sometimes we agree, and we just haven’t got time for that yet. Sometimes we agree and it gets done! I love being on the inside and being able to sway those priorities.

This is, after all, a product I use every day.

For me, one of the perks of the job is little tweaks. I’m not a coder any more, I’m just a manager. But that doesn’t stop me making the *slightest* tweak here, the *slightest* tweak there. Just when I’ve got a free afternoon. Maybe I’ll speed up the page load. Maybe I’ll add another column. It all gets approved by others. There’s nothing underhand. And it’s all small, but I love that power.

When I joined Twitter, I felt incredibly unworthy. I assumed the coders there would be gods, writing these books and building these sites. What I found were humans. Ok, one or two are the exceptional kind, who could rebuild your templating engine in C over the weekend just for kicks, saving the company millions of dollars. But there are also many wonderfully talented normal humans doing great work. And I was proud to join them.

It’s been more than five years since I joined, but the company, the work, the job, the product, the environment, the world. It all keeps changing. A few years ago everyone said we were doomed. Then they said we were amazing. And now they say we’re doomed again. The faces at the top sometimes change. Sometimes often. But the team I work with, the team I build and run. This team is a constant. They’re always doing the best they can to serve our users. To keep the site running, the service alive. To make it better every day.

That is what I love about working at Twitter.

2015: This year I have …

Every year I scribble down a list of things I’ve done in the past 12 months.See previous years: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.

This year, I ran a marathon (kind of – there was a lot of walking involved), we holidayed in Hawaii (twice) at the Disney Aulani, we flew home for the first London family Christmas since 2009, and we met my new niece.

At work, I’ve been really busy, with between 15 and 30 reports. We made some really strong hires, shipped some great new code and features, and finally killed the monorail. We had some tough times too, from which I’ve learned a lot.

As an effort to be a better manager, I’ve kicked off an MBA which I seriously don’t have time for. It’s interesting to learn, but painful to find time for the coursework. I’m a terrible student. Especially at essays.

I had three wisdom teeth removed this year, which wasn’t fun at all. And in combination with a slight overdose of painkillers and a perforated sinus, I had a bad time. On the plus side though, I got really thin for a couple of months. I’m still syringing food out of my empty socket, which is exactly as gross as it sounds.

I really enjoyed being Daddy to a three year old full of energy. It’s been The Most Fun. I heartily recommend it.

I finally went to JSConf this year. It was an outstanding conference. Huge thanks to Chris and family. Sadly, it seems this year was the last – but hopefully they revive it someday.

Last year I said I’d get a cat. I failed. Partly because Amazon doesn’t deliver pets, and I don’t know any other way to buy things. Maybe next year. My wife wants a dog, which I’m really not sure about. Dogs are nasty. We’ll see.

This year I’ve been drinking more craft beers and really enjoying it. I’ve spent an enjoyable few nights sampling flavours in Øl, our local specialist beer shop. And I’ve invested the boy’s college fund in a local brewery. Should be fun to explain that to him in a few years.

Next year, I’m really excited about getting a VR kit at home. I daresay I won’t use it a lot (like my dusty Apple Watch), but it’ll be fun to play with.

Maybe we’ll buy a house. Get that (shudder) dog.

And I’d like to be fitter. More than anything, I’d like to be thin, fit and healthy by the end of 2016. Time to dig out that gym card.

How to walk a marathon

I ran the San Francisco marathon two weeks ago today. Previously (back in 2008), I ran London. San Francisco is hillier than London, and it doesn’t take much of a hill to tire you out. After getting close to the coast at 15 miles or so, I took a few walking breaks.

And, to be perfectly honest, I had a lot of company. Not even from just the full marathoners, but from the halfers too – and they’d only been at it for a couple of miles!

When you get to the top of the hills at around the 20 mile mark, you’d think it’s easy. The truth is that your legs muscles are just blown. You’ve been running for 3 or 4 hours at that point, and you can’t even walk down the hills. You just limp along with a grimace.

At 20 miles, I quit. I sat down by the side of the road. I said I’d had enough.

But then I thought, what now? I could call a taxi and get to the end, but really it’s only five miles. I could just walk the rest. so I did. And apart from some muscle pains for the rest of the day (and week), and some foot pain ever since – it was fine. I wrapped up in just under 6 hours.

If you look around online you’ll get lots of really great help on how to run a marathon. This will be from those California fitness freaks. They’ll be all eating healthy and training and yoga and sensible and stuff. But there’s not much out there for the slackers. Where is the guide for the fat, the lazy, the unwilling, or merely too busy? Here are my tips:

  • It’s a good idea to do some actual training. I can run 2 miles to the Bart station. That’s my training. Twice a week for four months. I’d call it the minimum.
  • Don’t eat before you run. You’ll get cramps. Eat after.
  • You should do one long run as practice. I did Bay to Breakers, which is an easy 7 miles. Don’t walk this one.
  • If you’re getting blisters after half an hour running, you need new shoes. That’s why you need the long training run. Get new shoes and wear them in. If you can also wear them at work, then you don’t need to carry so much on your commute.
  • If you’re tired or hurting, don’t stress – just skip a training session. You don’t need an injury. You don’t need to run until you hate it. Just enjoy it.
  • Don’t turn up early for the race. Why get tired standing around? Be there 10 minutes before your start time – no more.
  • Run light – there’ll be plenty of water stops with electrolyte. Maybe even food. Carry as little as possible.
  • Don’t go mad with the water. Don’t go mad for the gels and electrolytes. Take a little here and there. Take your favourite candy for the 18 mile mark.
  • Run with a friend who matches your pace. Seriously more fun. You can people-watch together, admire the views of SF and complain about how bad the gels taste.
  • If you don’t have a friend, get your playlist ready. Have some variety – after 3 hours you’ll be stressed out by everything and need some chill.
  • Know your route – you’ll be able to look forward to the flat bits and know where you can pee.
  • Run London if you can – there are crowds all the way. It’s flat.
  • Walk if you must, but try to avoid it. Get into a rhythm, or follow someone at your pace. There will seriously be lots of walkers. You’re not alone.
  • Wear a visor or a cap. While the pros will finish before breakfast, you’ll be out running at noon. Sunburn is a problem, and so is the sunlight.
  • Don’t try and hop up and down curbs while you run – your legs will suddenly stop working sooner than you think and you’ll fall.
  • You’ll be running for 5 or 6 hours. That’s not a marathon, that’s an ultramarathon. You’re awesome and let nobody tell you any different. All you need to do now is finish.
  • Final note: don’t die. Take a phone for emergencies.

Publishing

I plan to publish a book for children.

It shall have a dust jacket, so that the books look crinkled and worn after a single use.

It shall have numerous title pages. It’s not enough to say the title on the cover alone. I would rather the title were repeated on the first page and second page too.

It shall have razor sharp corners, suitable for carving your name into diamonds, or for gouging eyes.

It shall have pages which are cut straight, such that grownups and children alike cannot turn a single page at a time.

It shall have popup controls that will be broken before it leaves the factory.

It shall have text that varies in both rhythm and rhyme. The plot will be absent of reason.

It shall be a classic.

Father of two, husband of one, worker at Twitter. This is an archive of notes to myself. Beware: dry wit, sarcasm and other forms of British humour may be present.