The People Who Shaped My Working Life
This post is part of a series reflecting on the end of my traditional working life as I prepare for retirement this week.
I’ve just started to read the classic Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and it opens with a description of the people who shaped his life. It struck me that I’m gradually forgetting the names of those that shaped mine, so I had better get them written down quickly, they are important to me. Writing this post also provided an excuse for a surprisingly enjoyable ramble down memory lane.
- Mum and Dad come first, they enabled so much in my life through their unconditional love and support. I was very lucky to grow up without any pressure on me to conform or to perform, I was happy to find my own way and Mum and Dad left me free to do that. They taught me responsibility though and the value of hard work through extensive chores. They taught me that a house should be a peaceful place, that shouting is for emergencies, swearing unnecessary. Dad taught me that there’s always a way to make or fix things and the value of a well stocked tool shed. Mum showed me the value of committing to something, in my case to swimming, even when I often didn’t want to practice.
- Mrs Clark was the first teacher who believed in me, I really struggled in primary school, found nothing to excel at, until Mrs Clark taught me poetry and was happy with the results, despite my poor grammar and spelling. I went on to win several city level poetry competitions although spelling and grammar have never been conquered.
- Trevor, who lived next door was in a serious car accident, he taught me that despite considerable disability you can push though it and have a good life. This was especially important because my granddad had a similar disability and lost his zest for life, it was Trev’s example I followed many years later when I had my own collision with illness
- An un-named careers teacher who took me to hospital after I had a door slammed on my finger at school. He gave me a one-to-one career counselling session that’s burned into my mind, it’s because of him that I trained as a mechanical engineer, rather than as a car mechanic, met Debbie, and ended up in IT.
- The school librarian, he employed me as his assistant during breaks, giving me a safe, friendly, warm place at school, a place full of endless wonder and the tools to take responsibility for my own education
- My mostly useless GCSE teachers, I was in low sets at school until sixth-form, so the quality of education I got was very poor. As a result I was forced to learn how to teach myself, which made me very self reliant and started me on my maverick path in life. The Key Facts books taught me everything I needed to know to do pretty well in my GCSE’s and from then on was considered something of a high-flyer which was quite a change after the previous 10 years of being largely ignored, unfortunately I never learned grammar!
- Mr Yardley who was head of the physics department, he employed me as a sixth-form lab boy, he fuelled my lifelong interest in science, introduced me to the works of my hero Richard Feynman and taught me how to organise my mind and physical world to provide a level of calm and order where before there had been mostly chaos
- Mr Hopcroft was deputy head and the head of engineering at school, he employed me as the school handyman, after hours, he gave me the keys to the school and tremendous responsibility. He taught me problem solving, critical thinking, attention to detail, determination and how to automate tasks (like making a jig to repair a room full of broken chairs, or a tool to help me change 20 locks in an evening)
- My wife, Debbie, who’s provided the love, support and encouragement to pursue my ambitions, and who showed me how much could be achieved by hard work and determination, whereas I always preferred inspiration
- Professor Button, who was head of department at my university, and my thesis supervisor. We spent many hours talking and he was the first person to make me burn with ambition
- Steve Hall, the first person in the work environment to inspire me with his unique approach to work and life, he showed me that you didn’t need a lot of money to be happy and firmly set me on my maverick path. I told him my ambition was to be like him, he said I could do better, but I ended up just as I aspired to all those years ago an ‘influencer without authority’
- John Caulfield, one of my first managers, who showed me that a one could be pretty successful by doing little more than recruiting a good team, supporting them, getting out of their way and letting them learn rapidly through their own mistakes
- My children who gave real sustainable purpose to my work, especially important as I learned that purpose through work can be very fragile
- Lou Shaw, my bosses, boss and masters thesis supervisor who taught me how to ask and answer difficult questions, and how to defend my views against rigorous critical analysis
- Mike Brooks, a notoriously fiery boss who was always very mild mannered with me, he taught me the importance of identifying critical points of control and influence whenever you have a big budget or governance scope
- Steve Morgan, the best boss I’ve ever had, who taught me to always have time for people when they needed to talk, the importance of appraisals and the power of enthusiasm and humility (still working on that one!)
- Steve Townend, a good friend (sadly diminished now by distance) and the best software developer I’ve ever known, who taught me so much, but in particular the difference between architecture and design, a lesson I think back on a dozen times a week. We did some great work together in a true creative partnership
- Simon Beare, where Steve was my technical partner in crime, Simon was my creative one. He taught me how to bring my ideas to life in a way that no one else ever did, through deep attention to the details, to what looked good as well as what functioned well. We worked on many things together in a complex iterative process of creation. Much of the work I’m most proud of I did with Steve and Simon
- Ken Hollingshead, the most demanding boss I ever had, he was never satisfied and always insisted on adding his own finishing touches to my work, and in doing so sapped all my motivation to do my best. He taught me that a good leader needs to set high standards for his team, but not demoralise them by doing their work himself, I’d been guilty of that a few times until Ken showed me how it felt
- Gary Beckett and Rob Blythe who together believed in me and gave me the freedom and support that I needed to keep working and making a difference for the last 10 years despite chronic illness and both became great friends. Together we re-shaped many an organisation and they gave me the opportunity to have a lot of influence without the stresses that come with accountability.
- Stu Downes who made the last decade of my working life fun, through his friendship and his open approach to collaboration. I liked nothing better than sitting down in front of a stack of A3 paper and brainstorming, designing and plotting with Stu.
- Graham Chastney who was my trusted advisor and friend for longer than I care to remember, whenever I was unsure about anything in work, life or technology I turned to Graham. Graham has been working with me or close by me for 2/3 of my working life!
Deciding on the short-list of people has been a real struggle, for example I decided to include only the people who shaped me through real world interactions, rather than people I watched on TV, or read about. There are so many other people I could mention and as I write this names keep popping into my mind, it’s a good job I ran out of time. What’s really missing from this list though are the hundreds of thousands of people that I was working for, the people who used the systems that I architected and designed, the people who’s lives I was trying to make more effective and fun. Perhaps most importantly were the teams that I worked with, who I tried hard to provide with a rich learning experience, good working conditions, the opportunity to build something great and have fun doing it.
Unfortunately several of the people on this list have now died and I frequently regret that I never took the time to thank them, for the rest – THANKS VERY MUCH!
The photo is of Cleveleys beach, I was raised ‘on’ the beach and will probably always live near water. A lover of wide open spaces, wonderful views and crashing waves more than anything else this defines who I am deep down, a humanist and a lover of the natural world.
All the comments on this post ended up on Facebook, so I’ve copied them over here, I’d hate to loose these kind words!
Jack M. Oliveira, Darren McComas, Martin Fryatt and 15 others like this.
Martyn Dews That’s a lovely post Steve.
Unlike · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 8:04am
Jennifer Richards That’s such a nice post dad! I love you heart emoticon xx
Unlike · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 8:17am
Stu Downes Steve, it’s been an absolute honour. I have always gained so much from your time and I too loved those A3 sessions. Just because you retire don’t think you are getting out of them
Unlike · Reply · 4 · June 9 at 10:19am
Steve Richards Long may they continue
Like · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 10:30am
Steve Townend You are so right to record names before you forget. Only yesterday, I was trying to recall the name of a CSC colleague and had to revert to an archived copy of some old code in order to remember him. Is it just me but I seem to remember IP addresses better than peoples names wink emoticon You described people that inspired you but you, of course, inspired others. I was often so deep into software that I needed to follow in someone’s slipstream in order to advance my career. You provided plenty of inspiration and caused a huge slipstream capable of carrying several people along with you. I am glad that I was one of those people. You also provided down to earth support outside of work when my personal life threw me a few curve balls. Thanks Steve and I look forward to meeting you again soon.
Unlike · Reply · 4 · June 9 at 11:24am
Simon Beare I can only thank you Steve for all the countless opportunities you gave me to unleash my creative side. I enjoyed all those challenges from VOE, to the Windows 8 style PowerPoint presentation templates. You have a rare talent to see people three dimensionally, not just the everyday two dimensional face value that most of us see, but the true depth of talent and knowledge that most of us carry within us but are too often overlooked in today’s busy ‘must get it done now – think about it later’ lifestyles.
Unlike · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 12:57pm
Steve Richards That’s a very interesting observation, I’d not been that conscious of it but I suppose that, I do always try too find a persons real talent
Like · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 1:15pm
Simon Beare The other interesting thing about this blog is seeing, by implication, the people who shaped our lives. smile emoticon
Like · Reply · June 9 at 1:23pm
Steve Richards Of course in all this talk of the people who helped shape my working life it was Vicky and Rachelle who help keep me sane, and fed and along with Dave England helped keep the PTMC organised
Like · Reply · June 9 at 2:45pm
Rob Blythe Like most Steve, I can safely say that you have inspired me throughout the time I have known you which must be heading toward 15 years! Your ability to deliver when health issues would have stopped others in their tracks is nothing short of incredible. All the best for your retirement which I am sure will be full of fun.
Unlike · Reply · 1 · June 9 at 5:03pm