Lived Through This

Sometimes our bodies are best left alone

Photo: Rizky Panuntun / Getty Images

For several years in my twenties, the main thing I did was itch. And scratch.

The “itch cycle,” they call it. Irritants cross the skin barrier, causing the sensitization of immune cells. When you scratch, your nails damage the surface barrier of the skin, allowing more allergens to enter. And thus more itching. And scratching. And itching again. This is why it’s a cycle.

As an affliction, itching seems so trivial. A minor irritation to the skin. It isn’t a broken leg or cancer. Those are ailments you can deploy surgeons and research toward. No one calls 911 over an…

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And what the next recession will mean for them

Image by the author

I’m in a meeting. With a stakeholder. I call her a stakeholder but she’s just someone who wants something. In this case, the something she wants is a website.

“It needs to be engaging,” she says.

She wants to solve a business problem and so she came to the technology department. As we talk she produces a shopping list of ideas: interactivity, commenting, liking, user profiles, a mobile app (for iOS and Android, of course), user-generated content. …


The journey from tucked in grey shirts to hoodies

They call themselves the digital team, but they’re just posting pictures of cats to each other, no one seems to have the sides off their computers anymore. Photo by Zane Lee on Unsplash

He’s short, grey hair, mustache, balding, wearing a short-sleeved checked shirt. In his office (which has no windows) is an O’Reilly XSLT book with a Heron on the front. Let’s call him Gordon (the man with the checked shirt, that is, not the Heron).

A few things you should know about Gordon:

  1. He loves comments in his VBScript files. And if you don’t put comments in the right format, that script will be deleted.
  2. You cannot write any code until you know about networking. And Microsoft installer packages. And Configuration Manager. He’ll start by teaching you about Windows NT 4.0…


Driving an electric car is like driving a computer. Except you’re surrounded by people who use pen and paper.

Photo by Richard Goff on Unsplash

Petrol cars make me feel guilty. It’s the fumes and petrol. True, I do many things that pollute the environment, but you can’t usually see and smell them so clearly. A small localized demonstration of what we’re doing to the world.

For the past decade or so, I haven’t owned or driven a car, and so I’ve convinced myself my environmental impact is low. I’ve gotten lifts with people and used taxis, but I did some mental gymnastics to justify that. They were the ones polluting, I decided, not me. Since lockdown, though, I found myself craving a car for…


What it’s like to be a product manager handling engineering chaos

Photo: ThisisEngineering RAEng/Unsplash

The head of engineering has called a meeting.

“Listen,” he says, “we’ve got too much tech debt. The codebase is full of unsupported dependencies. We have no test coverage.” He pauses — overly dramatically, you think. “We need to do a rewrite.”

You have a backlog of feature requests and bugs as long as an arm. Two lists, each is as long as an arm, in fact. Every day, more requests come in. Your hands are full of arm-long lists. The engineering team asked for user stories, so you wrote user stories — even ones like: “As a user, given…


Voice recognition is good, but it’s what Siri does with it that counts

Photo by Tincho Franco on Unsplash

Last year, back when we were allowed to do this, I went to a restaurant with a group of friends. I forget where. There were burgers on the table. Maybe served on a piece of wood or in a paper bag. They weren’t on plates anyway. It all feels like another world now. During the meal, as words and opinions and pieces of burger flew through the air, someone said something like “seriously” or “series” or maybe even Simon. There was a muffled ping from a wrist or pocket. “I’m sorry,” Siri said, “I didn’t quite catch that.”

“I have…


The compulsive life of software developers

A coder working through the night.
A coder working through the night.
Photo by Max Duzij on Unsplash

I have spent the week coding. Madly, constantly, obsessively. Glancing at the clock, I see that not only have I coded through breakfast but through lunch as well. When I next look at the clock it’s dark outside.

Sometimes I think coding is, by necessity, obsessive. You have to hold so many details in your head that I’m not sure it’s possible to code without obsession. “Programming,” Clive Thompson writes in Smarter Than You Think, “requires an attention to detail and an ability to think about everything as a series of processes.” But it doesn’t just require some attention to…


And why getting rid of things is much harder than creating them

Photo: Paweł Czerwiński/Unsplash

Sometimes, I feel like I’ve spent my whole career deleting things. I decommission old systems, remove redundant code, and turn off unsupported servers. Anyone who has worked in IT will know that making a new system is hard, but decommissioning the old one is even harder. Getting rid of old things is often called the most difficult challenge in software development.

The problem is that everything is connected. You never simply identify an old system and turn it off. You discover that new, critical systems depend on old, redundant ones. The strategic application you just rolled out will be making…


Photo by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

Every day, for hours at a time, I sit at my computer and tapdance my fingers across the keyboard. Sometimes I type words for emails or articles. Sometimes I type a weird pseudo-language full of brackets and dots and semi-colons, telling the computer what to do.

When we write prose, there is plenty of whimsical advice. Think about your ideal reader, they say. Imagine them reading your words and write to them directly. Don’t use (pointless) adjectives. Passives should be avoided. Never use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent one will do. But whatever we write, some people will enjoy…


Three years of trading with a scrappy bitcoin bot

Photo: Icons8 Team/Unsplash

A few years ago I wrote a computer program to buy and sell bitcoin. I called it BitBot.

Pretty soon, I began to refer to it as “him.” Naming him turned him into a little person. “BitBot made £500 today,” I’d say, or “BitBot had a bad day; he lost £900.”

Cost per bitcoin: $2,000

More often than not, BitBot made money, rendering him (and, indirectly, me) a digital Warren Buffett. BitBuffet. Unconsciously, I started to invent a little personality for BitBot. I imagined him coming home after a hard day of digital trading, his arms piled high with coins and pieces of treasure…

Simon Pitt

Media techie, developer, product manager, software person and web-stuff doer. Head of Corporate Digital at BBC, but views my own. More at pittster.co.uk

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