A letter to my younger CTO self

29 April 2016

Dear Tom,

Sat here in April 2016, having spent the last few years inventing my time-travel letter posting machine in my spare time, I'm going to test it by sending you—well, 2011 me in fact—some words of wisdom for the years ahead. Let's hope this machine works. Hindsight is a wonderful thing after all!

Before you do anything else, stop and prepare for an imminent catastrophe. Well, not quite. But it may be wise to get a broadband connection installed in your new flat before next weekend. I predict lightning in Dublin next weekend (I'll talk more about Dublin later, but let's not lose focus), which will knock out lots of Amazon's infrastructure. This will neatly highlight that you need to engineer for failure, especially in the cloud. Luckily for you, unlike me, you'll already have autoscaling, self-configuring hosts by then using Puppet or Chef so it will be a non-event. Do it now, not next week. Keep a lookout for a wonderful new thing called Docker that'll appear in a couple of years' time. Jump on that bandwagon container ship early.

As the company grows over the years, remember there will be growing pains. I found myself (is this the right tense? What are the grammar guidelines on writing to a former self on something that did happen but now won't?) sometimes not thinking about it until it was mid-flow. Instead, keep it at the back of your mind so they don't creep up on you and you only realise what's going on in the middle of a crisis. You'll be able to plan for them better that way. Some extra automation early on and light documentation will help. A stitch in time saves pain down the line. It will sometimes be tough to find the time for catch-ups in a cafe outside the office, but make sure you do; the walk to Freestate is always worth it.

Remember that Docker thing I talked about earlier? That. There'll come a point where the team are spinning up microservices like there's no tomorrow. Get on to Docker before that happens, don't wait until afterwards like I did (on this timeline at least). When Kubernetes is born, embrace it like it's your first-born. Oh, and be sure to beat down those existing monoliths before they start taking over the world.

As well as working on the core products, you'll have a great time working with partners on some fabulous prototypes and R&D projects, which will explore everything from the role of public service broadcasting to brilliantly visualise the wealth of available archive content. As you'll know from your previous job, getting rid of such things is also a challenge. All these projects have a shelf life, so make sure everyone agrees that up-front and get rid of them when they pass that date. It'll be sad to say goodbye, and it's never a good time to shut down a great project, but it'll save you a week of doing it all at once like we did on this timeline!

You'll find introducing continuous releases a refreshing change from those corporate quarterly release cycles you've had in the past but get the tools in place to support it. In this reality we're not quite there yet, but you can be. That guy who's working for GitHub right now (please don't ruin the surprise for him but he'll be fired in 2015) will have some sage advice on how to do it. Oh wait, a hyperlink to a future web page won't work. Damn.

Many mutations will happen over the years; this is called evolution. Make them happen sooner, so you and everyone else can benefit from them for longer. Jump at the chance of a standing desk. No more back pain, no more slouching. I know this may sound like a daft idea, but suggest a metadata pub quiz to include at #metabeers (what the monthly team drinks will become known as). It doesn't sound like it'll be a hit, but trust me, it will be. However, your flat (I'll not ruin the surprise by telling you where you'll be living in 2016) will end up looking a bit like a jungle, with all the plants given as prizes (and to the quiz master). With the big TVs in every room of the office, get a dashboard up; a thing called Dashing will appear on the horizon in 2012 – go play with it. It'll soon become your go-to point to see what's going on across the company.

You'll unfortunately need to second-guess vendor release plans a lot of the time. Trying to get roadmaps out of them will not be worth the hassle.

Finally, if anyone ever tries to tell you a joke about Dublin, stop them before they get to the punchline. It'll become the bane of your and everyone around you's life otherwise. Seriously. Oh, and don't agree to an office pun jar: it'll break the bank.

Lots of love,

Tommy (yes, that happens)

PS: you don't need to eat every slice of cake offered to you in the first 6 months.

PPS: next week's lottery numbers are 4, 10, 29, 32, 34, 40 and 47. Not that you'll need it but the bonus ball will be 48.


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