• Don't let me be misunderstood

    A common goal of many people, including myself, is to be understood. To not only be heard but listened to. For the person receiving to ‘get’ what the first person is saying.

    This is trickier with the written word compared to a verbal conversation. You can’t usually rely on quick feedback techniques like ‘reflective listening’ or similar to correct misunderstandings or gain clarification. Writing clearly can also improve the accessibility of your content.

    So if good written communication is your goal, then there are a few things you can employ:

    • Correct spelling
    • Appropriate grammar
    • Proofreading (ideally by another person)

    I was reminded of this recently when an old work colleague (hi Simon!) reached out to let me know that I had a typo in my GitHub ‘About Me’ page. He knew me well enough to know that I love this kind of feedback! It caused me to review the text again myself, and I discovered a second error, so it was good to get them both fixed.

    Another example that comes to mind is an ebook I purchased a couple of years ago from a well-known book publisher. I won’t name the title, but it relates to .NET, and almost from the first page I was encountering grammatical errors. I don’t blame the author for this, but rather the book publisher. My understanding is that these should have been caught in the editing phase of publishing. It doesn’t reflect well on the publisher (or the editor) that they somehow missed addressing this, and makes me more cautious about buying other books from them. The result was a book that I found hard to read. Sentences didn’t flow, and comprehension was more of a challenge than it should have been. I gave up reading the book in the end as it was too distracting.

    I’ve recently been going back and running cspell over my older blog posts. It’s embarrassing to find numerous spelling errors in old posts that have been sitting there for years. At least I can fix them. A little while ago, I migrated my blog from Blogger to self-hosting on GitHub using Jekyll, with all the posts now being written in Markdown. I have the Code Spell Checker extension installed in Visual Studio Code. For newer posts, spelling errors should be flagged in the editor.

    Microsoft Word has had grammar checking built-in for quite a while, and I thought I’d have a search to see if there was something similar for Visual Studio Code (the editor I use to write my blog posts in). It looks like Rahul Kadyan has written an unofficial Grammarly extension. I just installed it, and check out all the extra squiggles as I was writing this page in the screenshot below!

    Do take the time to review Grammarly’s privacy policy. They run “as a service”, so all your text for grammar checking will be sent to them, so make sure you’re comfortable with that.

    Screenshot of Grammarly warnings

    Look, it’s spotted another repeated word (“an an old work”) already!

    The extension has some limitations. Some of the corrections are only available to paid Grammarly users (it took me a bit to figure that out - signing in with a free account doesn’t seem to have any benefit).

    It is interesting to compare that to copying and pasting the text into Microsoft Word. Fewer squiggles, but it has flagged the repeated word.

    Screenshot of Microsoft Word grammar/spelling warnings

    Tools are great, but the skill is knowing when to use them and when it is ok to ignore them.

    Getting at least one extra pair of eyes to proofread your text is probably the best idea. Only this week, I asked a colleague to review something I’d written to confirm that my intentions were being conveyed correctly before sharing it more widely. It’s less useful for my blog, being my thoughts, but I have used it in the past. While my blog content is hosted on GitHub, the repository is private, as sometimes I might have future posts or drafts that aren’t ready to be publicly viewable.

    In conclusion, my goal is to create clear and understandable content. Do reach out in the comments if you find cases where I’ve fallen short of that - I’m sure there are many (probably some I’ve still overlooked in this post!). With your help, I hope you find it easier to understand what I’m trying to say.

  • One year at SixPivot

    Today is my one year anniversary of joining SixPivot!

    SixPivot logo

    It’s been big change:

    • From ‘product’ to consulting
    • From a traditional office-based to remote-first
    • From a global multinational to Australian
    • From 500 FTE+ (and growing rapidly) to being able to know everyone in the company
    • From a 1 hour each-way commute to a morning walk (or ride)

    I think what stands out to me about SixPivot is that because they’ve been doing the remote working thing for a long time, it’s just the normal way of working. I think there is a difference between an organisation that is built around remote working and ones that only did it because they had to and struggle with it culturally. Having said that, if you miss being in an office then that’s still an option at SixPivot, but for me the convenience of working from home permanently is a winner (and getting back those 2 hours of commute time).

    One aspect of consulting is working with different clients. I know some of my interstate colleagues have occasionally visited clients on-site, but so far that’s not been an expectation of me (primarily because I’m in Adelaide), and I believe our clients understand that when they engage SixPivot, they’re effectively getting “remote expertise”.

    The things I’ve appreciated so far:

    • Regular and open 1 to 1s with my manager. This has been integral to me learning more about how SixPivot works, and how I can best work with SixPivot.
    • Fantastic technical breadth and depth.
    • A real focus on employee wellbeing. From making sure you’re not overworking, to guest speakers and programmes you can get involved in.
    • Understanding the care and holistic approach that goes into hiring.
    • Amazing conditions, and they keep improving (Seriously, take a look at the Careers page, especially under the ‘What we offer you’ heading to see what I mean). A number of these were either added or enhanced in my time, so it’s good to know that these things are constantly being revisited. It’s a contrast to some organisations I’ve been with where the conditions actually eroded over time. Even something seemingly trivial like how at one place where the new owners stopped buying biscuits and were in no hurry to fix the broken coffee machine, and seemed oblivious to how significantly that was impacting employee morale.
    • A real focus being ethical, from the way we work to the things we work on. To find that the company values of SixPivot are remarkably compatible with my own is just really, really good.
    • A culture that is mature, trusting, respectful and helpful but also fun and sharing (and the joy of discovering other colleagues with a similar sense of humour!)
    • Jumping back into Microsoft certifications. SixPivot are a Microsoft Partner so definitely support and appreciate this.
    • Being able to take the time I would have spent on a bus/train commuting and instead using that to go for a ~5km walk around the neighbourhood (or occasionally go for a ride). It would be too easy to spend the whole day sitting (or standing) at my desk, so I like having some regular physical activity, as well as it serving as a nice separation between me waking up in the morning and actually starting work. And if on occasion the 5km walk finishes at the local cafe meeting my wife for coffee and/or hot chocolate, then that’s a bonus.
    • Getting to know my colleagues, and finding out (so far!) that they seem to be people I really like hanging out with.
    • Organisation size. Not too big, and not too small, but as Goldilocks would say “just right”.
    • A sense of community that encompasses the whole organisation. (I think this is strongly linked to the size of the org)
    • Locality. Having everyone in the one country (even if it is ~3 time zones) is so much easier than trying to overcome the tyranny of distance working with colleagues on the opposite side(s) of the world.
    • Pretty cool swag. That SixPivot “Shepherd Hoodie” was a big hit over Winter.

    I should point out that some of these things I have experienced with previous employers, but this combination would be unique to SixPivot.


    • It takes some discipline to be able to keep good boundaries between “work” and “non-work”. I’ve tried to stick with roughly 9-5 for my work hours. It can be tempting sometimes when you’re “on a roll” to keep going past 5pm, and sometimes that’s ok, but balance is important.
    • While I’ve caught up with my Adelaide colleague Darren a couple of times, the pandemic has managed to put pause to meeting my interstate colleagues so far. I look forward to the future when we can finally all meet non-virtually.
    • Finding your place in a group of really smart people, that often have skill sets that overlap with your own. It would be easy to fall into a bit of impostor syndrome (aka “why am I here when they’ve got all these other people already?”) trap, but it’s important to realise that not only did you apply for the job, but they chose you given what they know about you as well as what they know about themselves. Sure there’s some skills overlap, but that’s actually a good thing - I don’t have to be the ‘one person’ who knows ‘X’ anymore. Plus I have a unique history and set of experiences that no one else has had. Sometimes it’s just that different perspective which is what matters.
    • It’s tempting to think “What if..”.. eg. “What if I’d taken that job offer from Readify all those years ago, would I have ended up here sooner?”. An interesting thought exercise, but pointless to waste too much energy on as the reality is I did choose a different path. If anything I’d hope I’m more useful to SixPivot because of that different perspective.

    No don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been perfect (and I don’t think it ever can be). There’s been one or two minor bumps along the way, but thankfully that’s all they’ve been. If anything, it’s how those kinds of things are handled that is what matters - and I’m pleased to report that it was done well.

    And so as I look back and reflect on the last 12 months, yes I think becoming a ‘Pivot’ was a good call.

  • Are your photos safe?

    Last night I was chatting with a friend and remembering how years ago as a family we’d visited Wallaroo (on the Yorke Peninsula in country South Australia). I thought it would be nice to look at the photos I’d took when we were there. I opened my phone and used the ‘Places’ view to navigate to Wallaroo (figuring that would be easiest as I couldn’t remember the exact date), but it didn’t show any photos.

    That’s odd. So I then grabbed my laptop and navigated to https://onedrive.live.com (as since my Windows Phone days I’ve made use of the auto-upload to OneDrive feature). It too has a ‘Places’ view (though rather than a map, it’s a list of places you can then drill in to), but again, no Wallaroo.

    I then drilled in to the OneDrive folder structure (under Pictures then Camera Roll), and got a nasty shock.

    OneDrive file listing

    All the non-iOS photos are missing.

    There’s basically no photos before December 2016 (looks like I have two photos from 2014 and 2015 that someone shared with me from their iPhone)

    Windows Phone uses the WP_ prefix for its image filenames. There’s absolutely none under that directory.

    Check back to https://onedrive.live.com - same story.

    Now I’m getting worried.

    I fired up two of my older laptops. Neither of those had any older photos.

    Before I re-installed my older laptop I did make use of the both the “File History” and “Backup and Restore (Windows 7)” system image backup. I found the external drive that was used for those backups and plugged it in.

    The Backup and Restore system image backup has everything on it except the OneDrive folder! In fact it seems to be explicitly excluded from that backup.

    The other problem is that all my Windows OneDrive instances have the Files On-Demand feature enabled - meaning that just placeholders are on the disk until you access the file.

    Same goes for the File History - there’s literally no ‘OneDrive’ folder there. Turns out this is because I had Files On-Demand enabled.

    I also checked the Synology backups - both the full PC backup and the CloudSync I’d set up for my OneDrive.

    My best guess by looking at some of the modification dates of the folders that are still there is that this might have happened quite a while ago, at least a year, if not longer. I don’t look at photos that often, so I’m really not sure.

    The only other backup I have are some CDs and DVDs that I’ve kept, back when I used to do physical backups to optical media. The newest of those I’ve found so far is from 2010. So I think I’ve probably lost a good 6 years of my digital photos.

    What caused all the non iOS photos to be deleted? I honestly don’t know. There are a few old photos that I found elsewhere in OneDrive (ones that I’d copied into different folders), but nothing under the ‘Camera Roll’ directory. Could it have been the iOS OneDrive app? I’m not sure. If I’d noticed them missing soon after they were deleted, I probably could have restored them from OneDrive’s Recycle Bin, but sadly that only keeps the last 30 days, and this seems to pre-date that by quite a while.

    Similarly, OneDrive also has a ‘Restore your OneDrive’ that let you roll back OneDrive to a previous version, but again only within the last 30 days.

    Not surprisingly, I’m feeling a little sad about that - particularly knowing there was photos of the kids when they were little, that I no longer have. At least it’s not all our photos from that time - other family members have their phones and separate backups to mine.

    The moral of this story.

    1. Backup your photos
    2. Check that you’re backing up what you expected.
    3. Have a secondary (or tertiary) backup. Ideally ones that are a snapshot (not dynamically updated), and bonus points for keeping it at a separate location.
    4. Be careful using OneDrive Files On-Demand (and understand that may affect other backup strategies)

    Learn from my mistakes.