2015 In Review
May 2016 seems like a reasonable interval to have given 2015 to sink in. 2015 was expected to begin at a Full Moon Party on one or other island off the coast of Thailand. Instead it began with a hastily booked flight back to London and a week or so recovering from three days of hallucinations and dehydration on Aonang - they really do food poisoning properly there. Can't say I'm proud for bailing due to food poisoning; live and learn.
But from a shaky start came one of the best years yet. From 13 countries to being hypnotised on stage by Derren Brown in front of 5000 people, it worked out pretty well.
Make It With Code
As promised in 2015, Make It With Code, our project to teach none technical people to code started to roll out industry specific courses. Our first - Coding For Community Managers - with the awesome CMX hub in San Francisco.
The success stories have been heartening, from people getting full time to jobs off the back of what they started learning with us to those who've freed up days every month with what they've been able to automate. That's why we created it.
But we're firm believers in the rule of 10x. To be a game changing business, what we create has to be 10 times better than what's out there now.
Our mission was to empower none technical people to use code to make their jobs better. We got people there faster and with less time required than most of what's out there, but it's still a lot of time.
Our unique approach to teaching had many benefits over competing ones, but it's just not 10x better.
Our mission is still better met by those people becoming masters of Zapier, Google Sheets and Typeform, then using those to glue together SaaS products to automate their day to day work.
This is not however a post mortem.
Whilst we took the decision in mid 2015 that Make It With Code will not be continuing as a for-profit entity, we're proud of the courses and methodology we created. If people want to learn to code in a practical way, we'd still love them to give it a go.
All Make It With Code courses will be available free of charge, with recommendations for 3rd party cloud IDE's.
We're equally proud of the technology we created. Dacker, our open source docker orchestration tool is already open source and on the list of "blog posts I really must write" is to document how anyone can provide create browser based IDE's using Docker, Codebox and some Ruby magic.
Reliably Deploying Rails
When I accidentally started writing Reliably Deploying Rails Applications in late 2013, I estimated a solid three months to get it finished.
17 months later - sitting in an AirBnB in London using a hacked together Ubuntu laptop because everything I owned had been stolen in Budapest the week before - I ran out of excuses. I set to the "Percentage Complete" to 100%.
Promptly nobody noticed and nothing changed. Sales continued at the same rate and I made changes and tweaks as readers suggested them.
The entire book has been re-written twice based on feedback from an amazing community of readers who have been unbelievably supportive in suggesting where things could be clearer or add more value. "Complete" doesn't mean it will stop receiving updates, but that I'm banning myself from another re-write in the near future.
There are thousands of things I'd like to improve, it's far too long overall and some important sections are too short. Bits of it were outdated before I'd finished writing them and of course I've learned things since I wrote it which I'd like to incorporate.
But writing it, speaking about it at Railsconf and chatting to hundreds of readers has been a spectacularly positive experience.
It's now sold about 1200 copies which gives revenue of around $20k as well as being translated into both Russian & Chinese. It continues to sell a few copies every week organically. I cannot reccommend Leanpub enough to anyone who's thinking of writing a technical book.
Active In Time
Since 2013 I've been leading the backend team at Active In Time to provide both a timetabling system used by the likes of the London Olympic Pool and the swimming app Speedo Fit (tm).
Both the experience of managing the technical side of the roll-out across Asia, Europe & America and of working with Dan, Chris, Kev, Ted, Hector and the rest of the team has been amazing.
It's their flexibility and open-ness to modern working styles which has allowed me to live abroad and spend over a year traveling while I work.
As of July 2015 I've been scaling back from my work on Active In Time to focus on...
It often seems that there are relatively few large industries which technology has not changed completely. Temporary recruitment is one of those.
The existing solution; temporary recruitment agencies, are expensive, opaque, and - based on many conversations with both users of these agencies and their staff - provide a poor quality experience to both employers and temps.
Catapult is an on demand staffing platform focussed on always putting staffs interests first. We provide staff to the retail, office and hospitality sectors. This ranges from providing sickness cover in under an hour to allowing businesses to dynamically scale up and down their staffing based on how busy they are.
In Q4 2015, Steffen, Oli and I raised GBP1m in seed funding from a range of extremely supportive investors. On the tech side, having begun development in September 2015; myself, James & Kev released the web based employer interface and iOS + Android candidate apps at the start of November. After a successful closed Beta November - January, the platform was opened up to all of London and is currently growing rapidly.
Speaking And Conferences
After 2014's beginners talk on deployment, 2015 called for something more advanced. At Make It With Code, Docker isn't just something we've used to deploy, it's a core part of our application.
Using Dockers API, our Rails application orchestrates and manages a fleet of containers, providing a full cloud based IDE for each student. This talk focused on how this deep integration has allowed us to add value where competitors couldn't.
The talk seemed to be well received and was great fun to give. Based on the questions afterwards, there's still a gap between "Docker is going to be big" and "How does this actually make me life easier".
I was incredibly excited to be invited to give a talk at the first Refresh Conference, organised by TransferWise. Tallinn is one of my favourite cities so an excuse to spend a little longer there was welcomed!
Instead of focusing on "how to do this," this one focused on "how not to do this," specifically all of things I got wrong when I started deploying Rails applications.
Tech Crunch Disrupt Hackathon
In keeping with tradition, OldWhiteWizard and I totally failed to plan anything in advance of the Tech Crunch Disrupt Hackathon.
We ended up building a chatbot, based around the Telegram API, which analyses how the members of the chat talk about different TV Shows and made recommendations accordingly.
Possibly the highlight was how many people didn't appreciate that naming it "Murdoch" was a tongue in cheek reference to Sky's role as a sponsor and the phone hacking allegations around our favorite tabloid toting Rupert.
You can watch the pitch and read what Techcrunch had to say about it here https://techcrunch.com/2015/12/06/murdoch-eavesdrops-on-your-chats-to-give-recommendations/
The app was well received and we won the Sky prize. On a more serious note the underlying principles - that the next big app ecosystem will be built around chat - is one I strongly believe in.
2015 was a little sideways for health, for most of Q4 I had a good gym routine but running, nutrition and the like suffered while I was traveling.
This was definitely a good year for travel;
For the gory details check out the dispatches, this is still my favourite wine list of all time:
My first visit to Prague was about seven years ago and the main surviving memory was bar crawls. This time it was ham, a lot of ham.
More in dispatches.
Budapest was one of the more eventful destinations on this trip. From city tours in taxi's trying to find a hospital to having all of my possessions stolen, somehow it's still one of my favourite cities of all time.
Having spent less than 24 hours in Hamburg, I'm not sure I can claim to have learned a huge amount about the city. But there was some incredible rock n roll and some very confusing ticket machines. And a really complicated card game.
For some reason when I think of Berlin I think of Vietnamese food and breakfast. Ana and I stumbled over this breakfast whilst completely starving and starting to wonder if the late night clubs meant that Saturday breakfast was actually served on Sunday morning.
Completely inappropriately the first thing Warsaw will always make me think of is giant American style burgers. For logistical reasons I actually ended up in Warsaw several times, and this burger joint was my "safe haven" when I needed a guaranteed good meal.
What really got me about Warsaw was how kind people were once they got chatting. I co-worked there for several days, shared cakes with them in the communal kitchen and at the end they wouldn't let me pay a penny.
"Fancy going for a swim in the Danube?". Yes. Yes I did. Sometimes my tenancy to blindly say yes without really considering what it is works out rather well.
Ten minutes later, we'd hired bikes and were cycling through Vienna in the late afternoon sun in search of the bit of the Danube which was good for swimming. Or Something.
Forty minutes, some questionable maneuvers down one way streets and the odd U-turn and our money, keys and phones were "hidden" in our shoes on a jetty. A healthy British dose of "it's nice once you're in," "is it? is it really?" and we were swimming towards the sound of reggae.
A brief detour around a herd (yep herd, sticking with it) of swans who were most definitely not more scared of us than we were of them and we were floating in the evening sun, watching live reggae being performed in front of a makeshift speaker stack.
It's kind of hard not to fall in love with the Baltics. I arrived in Tallinn in July when it barely gets dark, giving nights out a slightly surreal feeling.
One of the creepiest places I've ever been is the old soviet prison there, it's something straight out of a horror movie;
Two things stand out, the pancake buffet:
and Elvis reborn:
Probably the friendliest place I've been to - which seems to suprise all of the Lithuanians I meet in London. It was nearly impossible to sit down in a bar without a stranger starting a conversation.
It's also one of the best dressed cities I visited. Vintage shops are everywhere and the city seems to be full of people who actually know what to look for when going into one. Tom - the best dressed traveler I've ever encountered, fitted right in.
It's the journey to Krakow I'll never quite forget. After literally nearly some planning we boarded a bus from Vilnius to Warsaw where we would "get on a bus or train or something" to Krakow. Yep, because that's how it works.
On arrival in Warsaw we walked around looking for the main bus station. The main bus station is not in the middle of Warsaw. After a minor battle with public transport and some more aimless walking, our elation at finding it was short lived - the next bus with seats available was in two days.
We eventually found a train from where we first started, the rest of Krakow is something of a blur, fairly sure there were Irish Accents involved.
After a brief stopover in Berlin, I arrived at Charles De Galle having not slept for over 30 hours. Dazed and confused I defaulted to a place of safety.
I'm still not sure which one of the Mutinerie crew came down and put a blanket over me when I arrived unannounced, having not been a member for over a year, and went straight downstairs to the quiet room to sleep. But the fact someone did is a tribute to what makes Mutinerie so much more than just a co-working space.
A working trip to Portugal with the AIT crew. I still can't get over the combiantion of wide, banked, US style Freeway exits, which everyone takes at great speed - terminated by blind corners and roundabouts. Utterly terrifying!
I'm starting to understand why people keep moving to Australia. I'm not sure if it's the proximity of the beach, the fact that - sweeping statement warning - Australians just generally seem to be nice easy going people, or that the weather is so damn good. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted.
There are so many very eloquent things I should saw about Margret River. About the scenery, the beaches, the subtle flavors of the wine, things like that. Instead I'm left with no choice but to talk about the free food, and free wine. Just so much of it.
The Chocolate factory has huge bowls of chocolate you just help yourself from. You arrive at a vineyard and are presented with at least five or six wines to try. I ate my bodyweight in different breads, olives & dips containing enough Chilli to kill a man. All for free.
What happened in Austria stays in Austria. But I can confirm it is possible - but not advisable - to drink a Ski Chalet bar out of Jaegarmeister.
Derren Brown? Huh?
In a wonderful series of accidents, not only were our tickets to see Derren Browne - the stage hypnotist - upgraded at the last minute, I ended up on stage, being hypnotised for the finale.
I'm still not allowed to say what actually happened. But as proof, here's a photo which definitely shouldn't exist of me completely under, while on stage in front of 5000 people:
It's been a good year!