Yesterday, after five years, I said Goodbye to Argyll Environmental and left my job of Senior Developer Team Leader behind me.

What have I learnt over those five years?

The key thing is learning about the Plain English Campaign. I was fortunate that they came in and gave us an introduction on how to write clearly. This made a massive difference to how I write and communicate. It gave me the confidence that clear communication isn’t all about long words and complicated sub-clauses. It reminded me that usually when we communicate, we’re trying to share an idea. It isn’t, or at least it shouldn’t be, about showing off.

Building on this I came up with a way to explain our technology to non-technologists by telling a story and using hand-drawn robots in an Ed Emberley style to illustrate it. I’ve also used this story and robot method with people from a technology background. And it has worked well for me. Yesterday, amongst the replies I got to my Farewell email, I got this from a member of the technology team based in Exeter:

You (and your robots!) have an amazing talent at explaining complex things in very straight-forward ways, and I’ve learnt a lot about communication from you, whether you realise or not. You’ve also brought a sense of fun to everything you’ve ever explained to me, which is so refreshing

Reading that made me feel very happy.

What do I feel that I have achieved?

The most significant thing is leading the technology part of the project to move us into our shiny new office. Arriving at work the morning after we’d relocated the business and migrated the production systems and seeing the team get on with their work as if nothing had changed was such a good feeling.

But I have to say that the most rewarding thing has been using technology as a tool to improve the quality of our consultants day to day lives. Trying to remove the drudge and repetition from their work freeing them up to use their brains for far greater things.

Sounds pretty good, why am I leaving?

For the final year or so I’d become far too thinly spread across too many roles and projects. Nothing seemed to be changing in the organisation to free up additional resources. And I noticed that my standards had started to slip about what I thought was acceptable. I didn’t want to become that person.

What do I think I’ll miss?

I’m going to miss the people. For the past five years, I’ve spent time surrounded by environmental consultants, the people who use the outputs from software I’ve produced. Being that close to my users has been brilliant. Watching the team understand, or if I’ve got it wrong fail to understand, what an error message means so that they can solve problems themselves has been a great way to learn. And I think I’ve crafted better error messages as a result. They have challenged me to learn more about communication, to work harder to explain technology simply so that non-technologists can understand it. This experience has been transformational for me. And it’s made me realise that I really enjoy it and want to do more of it.

What am I going to next?

Short term: I’m giving myself a couple of months of deliberate downtime. I’m planning on visiting some nearby National Trust properties, go to some exhibitions, try out the new Brighton bike scheme, and maybe actually learn some of our choir songs for this term.

Longer term: I’d like to do something that builds on the communication of ideas thing I mentioned earlier. Something that uses my rediscovered love of words, language, and stories as a core part of my day to day work life. Ideas and suggestions welcomed!