In my 2018 reflections, I found 2018 a difficult year. In hindsight, this was because I was trying to find a place for me to fit in at the BBC that was no longer was there, and this mismatch left me miserable. So despite ending my 2018 retrospective with a renewed vigour for working at the BBC, that quickly faded and I decided to hand in my notice for real this time, leaving at the end of March. I can’t really say I was sad to leave the work, but I was sad to walk away from my incredibly talented colleagues who work for the R&D department (and who I wish the BBC knew how to make better use of). I’ve managed to keep in touch socially with a few, so not all is lost though.
In April, I set up my own company, 1500 Services, and I picked up a contract working remotely for Ought on their Mosaic prototype. Long-term solo remote working wasn’t quite right for me though, with the time difference between San Francisco and Manchester being a big killer. I struggled to keep motivated working during the day when my colleagues were sleeping, especially combined with the wooliness of a complex codebase and an open-ended development roadmap. Also, working full-time meant that progress I made on wanting to bootstrap my own startup was slow, so I decided to look for either short-term projects that I could pick up as a freelancer, alternating between short-term projects and my own startup, or longer-term part-time contracts.
It was at this point where I was introduced to Culture Shift, a local startup who were looking for a developer to help scale their product after having some bad luck with previous developers on the project. This was a perfect match for me — they were happy to work with me part-time, giving me space to focus on my own startup, but the product and team were very aligned with my values of wanting to make a positive difference in the world.
Report + Support is a SaaS web app that allows organisations (so far currently Universities, but the corporate sector too) to have a website that allows people to report incidents of bullying, harrassment, sexual assault or more, and then manage those reports and analyse the trends over time. It’s a great product and a team that’s passionate about the cause, and I’ve been very happy to be working with them to get a scalable version of their product across the line and implement agile working and continuous delivery, meaning there’s now regular feature releases going out to all of their users.
I’ve been very happy with the work I’ve done with Culture Shift, and the trust the client has put in me to help shape how they deliver their product to introduce agile working has helped rebuild my confidence which I didn’t quite realise had taken a serious knock after the Trial Platform project.
I’ve also done some smaller freelance projects, including for UC Berkeley, and I’ve worked with Amy Newton to put together a training course aimed at tech recruiters to help them navigate the at times complex space (get in touch to find out more and if you’re interested in this, I’ve got plenty of capacity in the new year). But I’ve mostly been working on getting the initial version of my startup off the ground.
1500 Cloud is the name of the startup (1500 being the MTU of a regular Ethernet frame, and numbers working well in multiple languages), and as I mentioned in my 2018 retrospective, it’s aimed at the broadcasting market, using skills and knowledge I developed whilst working at the BBC.
It’s been hard at times to stay motivated, and even harder to stay focussed. I spent a long time getting some nice DevSecOps pipelines in place, as well as a comprehensive monitoring and logging solution, and I was obsessed with reducing cash costs, so easily spent a month automating deployments of Clair, Grafana, Fluentd and Prometheus just to avoid using SaaS monitoring providers. All to deploy a hello world API. Once I actually got past this yak shaving and onto building out the product, things got interesting, but I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time earlier on and had just thrown a bit of money at grafana.com to get some hosted monitoring. I learnt how to use Kubernetes though, which I am liking.
A lot of people ask me what my startup exists to do. And I’ve not quite got a good answer yet. Ultimately, I want to build the Amazon Web Services of media production (the actual broadcasting/distribution part already has some pretty good products, and a higher barrier to entry, and Amazon Web Services itself delivers generic cloud services that are not specific to production). By that, I mean I don’t want to build a few user interfaces and tools, but I want to build a suite of tools around a common base, with APIs that others can use to build their own bespoke workflows on top of. But you can’t get there overnight, and trying to figure out what the minimum viable part of the platform looks like is hard.
What I do know is that at the core of the platform is storage, I/O, and processing. So I’m first building a storage platform that’s API-driven, secure, and supports hybrid cloud/on-premises deployments (because if you’re dealing with uncompressed video, sending it over the Internet isn’t yet feasible). With a storage platform, and ways of getting content in and out of the cloud storage that work with familiar workflows, and have appropriate access control, I can then build tools allow users to enrich the data in AI-assisted ways, or edit and compose raw media into finished products. Deciding what to focus on is hard — I could focus on integrating with current workflows, but backed by the cloud for media rendering and storage to remove restrictions that many media editing workflows have, but is there enough value in this? I could focus on building tools to create interactive narratives, but is this too niche to build a viable business? Or I could focus on building media enrichment tools and provide a strong set of APIs for bespoke tools, but is that too early?
I do know that storage is the core, and I’m close to completing a working store, and then I can focus on building interfaces to that store to integrate with existing workflows. It should come as no surprise to those that have worked with me in the past or work in this space that the storage APIs are media-aware, rather than being buckets of files. Instead of the file, the object is the view onto media, with ingested media decomposed into grains that can be reassembled into different objects, each with their own access control.
My original plan was to have a working MVP by April, at which point I could get some initial interest, use that to raise funding, go to IBC and do a bigger launch there to attract more customers. That now doesn’t seem feasible, and looking back, I was wildly optimistic. The scope of what I want to build is huge, but building a core and an focussed MVP around the core of that platform is now my goal. With that MVP, I can then work to iterate and refine to build an initial customer base, and then aim to raise funding to allow the platform to grow and grab a lot of the new cloud production market quickly. Traditional broadcast equipment manufacturers still seem to be largely ignoring object-based media and the cloud, focussing on iterating their existing product portfolios rather than embracing the step change this brings. I believe in this vision to bring around a paradigm shift in the production world, so even though I’m not going as fast as I’d like, I still want to get there.
At the end of 2018, I lamented that I wanted to get involved in politics to make things better, but I struggled to figure out how to have enough impact. Looking back on it, this was hubris — I had no right to assume that I’ll be able to go into an impactful position, nor that I knew or would be better than many other activists who are already there in the field.
After being a Lib Dem voter for most of my life, I thought I saw something radical in Jeremy Corbyn after he won the Labour leadership in 2015 and joined the Labour party. After quickly realising that there was a lack of substance behind the ambition, as well as doubting his ability to deliver, I became disillusioned and after Corbyn’s re-election in 2016, I left Labour to formally join the Lib Dems. Despite being a member, I didn’t really do anything. I think working at the BBC placed a bit of a chilling effect on my political activities. You’re not forbidden from being politically active unless you work in journalism, but social media guidelines around election time meant I used it as an excuse to not be too active.
However, this sumer the local party set up a small Ancoats group after the Labour-run council made a series of questionable decisions for the area, including developing a public car park in one of the most polluted areas of the city, selling off the green space outside my building and removing cycle lanes from the roads. So used the opportunity to go along and start volunteering in Ancoats, before moving up to the core Manchester Central campaigning team in advance of an anticipated General Election. I was also convinced to stand as a candidate in the May 2020 local elections in Miles Platting and Newton Heath. It’s a seat we had until 2011, but with the most recent election result putting the Lib Dems in last place, it’ll be a stretch for me to actually win the seat.
When the General Election was called, I worked with the Manchester Central candidate, John Bridges, to set him up a website and produced a video for him, but spent most of the election campaign heading out to Cheadle, the closest target seat, to stuff envelopes and deliver leaflets (door knocking makes me very anxious). I spent a few weekends, and when it got closer to polling day, a few evenings walking many miles posting leaflets through doors. On election day itself, I was up at 4am on my way to deliver “Good Morning” leaflets to encourage people to get out and vote, but 24 hours later with only a brief nap in the middle of the day, seeing the vote come in with the Conservatives retaining the seat, showed me that not all good deeds are rewarded.
I’ve realised that the way you make a difference in politics is by working your way up, and by lots of people making a small difference. So I’ve increased my resolve to make a difference through politics, and have signed up for a Lib Dem campaigning course to help me be a more effective campaigner, as well as applied for a pass to the Spring Conference. I feel at home in the Lib Dems (especially in the Manchester party, which possibly leans a bit more radically and left than other parts of the Lib Dems), and am proud of the Lib Dem values, and the fact that our manifesto delivered the most to reduce inequality of any of the major parties in the election.
In my personal life, I’ve struggled with my relationship with my weight. I feel healthy, and although I’d like to be a bit trimmer, I don’t feel as bad about my body as I once did, however the actual number that is my weight remains higher than I like, especially as my BMI puts me into the “obese” category. Rationally knowing that BMI is not useful when considering an individual (it contains large margins of error that average out over whole populations), it’s difficult to really internalise this.
I’ve stayed a member of the Virgin Active gym at Salford Quays, mostly due to being familiar and comfortable with the environment, and having a personal trainer there, but having to spend 35 minutes on a tram to get there makes it easy for me to rationalise not going, and despite my target of working out 3 times a week, it’s ended up being just once quite a few times, especially towards the end of the year. My original plan was to rent a desk at The Landing at MediaCityUK, which would be close to the gym and give me a more social work environment, but with only working part time, and actually being surprisingly okay with working from home 4 days a week, I’ve not been able to justify the cost to myself. I want to get back to exercising more frequently (it does wonders for my mental health), but determination only takes me so far, and when I get busy, going to the gym is now the first thing to go. I’m not sure how I’m going to address this.
I’ve not travelled as much this year as I’d like. I spent a week skiing in St-Martin-de-Belleville, and Alina and I decided to stay in the UK to travel rather than fly, so we spent a weekend in Bristol, which was pretty good. We also went to Georgia, to visit a friend Alina met on Erasmus, which was a very interesting country that’s off the usual British tourist trails.
Which I guess brings me on to the biggest low in my personal life, as Alina and I split up in the middle of the year. We’ve remained good friends and I’ve tried to readjust to the single life, which after almost 3 years in a relationship, has reminded me how hard it is to find a connection with someone, and how hard meeting new people is as you get older. But, we play the cards we’re dealt and I’m excited to start something new, even if I do feel a bit lonely at times.
However, I still have a good group of friends, even if I do need to remind myself that they don’t all secretly hate me and I should invite them round more often, and I’m close to my family. I’m also very excited to have become an uncle!
So what do I think 2020 is going to bring for me? I honestly don’t know. I want to continue being politically active, and have a renewed enthusiasm for my work and the freedom freelancing gives me with my work-life balance. My general happiness is higher than it has been for a long time, and I’ve regained confidence I didn’t even realise I’d lost, so I hope that stands me in good stead for the year to come.
So here’s to a new year, and a new decade!