It’s staring at you, making you feel stupid. It’s an empty page, or a blinking cursor in a document of zero kb.
You want to write something. The will is there, but the idea just won’t come. You look back through your previous ideas, you voraciously consume content. Podcasts, other writers posts, your favorite websites. You seek out inspiration like a dry sponge, you wish for liquid. But it’s not coming and you’ve promised yourself you would write more, and you want to stick to your schedule. So what can you do to get going?
Tend to your ideas like a garden
I’ve said before that when I have an idea for a piece of content, as soon as I can, I write it down. Writing it
down can mean many things. Sometimes it’s a paragraph or two, sometimes it’s some bullet points, but more often than not, it’s a single sentence.
I think of this like planting seeds in a garden. Some will grow almost instantly and be ready for publishing that week. Others may take weeks or months to bloom. It’s that garden of ideas that I visit whenever I’m stuck. If you don’t already, start tending to your own garden of ideas, and hopefully you’ll always have some content ready to harvest.
To produce, you should consume
If you’re in the business of creating content, you should also be consuming as much content as you can too. This isn’t a case of “good writers borrow, great writers steal”, but more that reading the work of others will help you form an opinion on topics that interest you, and from those opinions you’ll be able to write content that appeals to you and hopefully others.
I often say that when you can’t get a designer to help you build a visual asset, just do it yourself, because they’ll either be ok with what you’ve made, or be so horrified that they give you a better asset. Either way, you have the asset. Consuming other people’s content is kind of the same. You either find an topic you agree with and want to expand on, or you feel so strongly that you want to counter their opinion.
Give old content a new home
Martin Beeby from the AWS DevRel team has it absolutely right when he talks about assets and activities. In most Developer Relations work, creating new content doesn’t always mean writing a blog post. You speak on podcasts, you record videos or talk at events.
Sometimes the best way to getting out of a rut writing-wise is to take something that’s already been fully formed and look at ways to repurpose it. So try taking a blog post and turn it into your next talk. Or rewrite it into a script for a podcast episode.
When all else fails, just write about it
I was once involved in a conversation about the point of internal company hackathons, and a point raised by someone there really stuck with me. He said that we all have ideas we want to pursue that aren’t on the roadmap, or funded. They’re the kind of idea that if you just get started, you’ll be able to rapidly prototype it and make your case. But it’s finding the time to get the ball rolling that always blocked you, and that was were the hackathon came in. It gave you the space to get started.
Unlike regular hackathons, I reckon that writing about your inability to write something is probably a chip you can only cash in once, but when you do, you might find that everything else clicks back into place and you’ll have your 1% written. Now to just write the other 99%.
As the world starts to look toward a post COVID work environment, the commonly accepted wisdom seems to be that a Monday to Friday 9-5 routine in a central office is no longer the default expectation for knowledge workers.
Instead, particularly in the technology sector, a lot of companies are moving to either a fully distributed workforce, or a hybrid one where you spend only a small percentage of your time co-located with your team. And whilst most of the focus has been on what that means in terms of physical real estate and employee compensation, I think the interesting long term changes will be in the digital tooling that we all rely on day to day. A lot of these product and organisational trends have been bubbling under the surface for some time now, but over the last few months and in the coming years, those trends have started to accelerate, bringing about a new way of working that some believe were inevitable. In the past year, developers rushed to adapt tools to a fully distributed environment, but the challenge presented by the next twelve months and beyond is how to make those tools work in the hybrid environment many of us will inhabit.
So in a world where someone new to the organization can no longer learn how it works by sitting next to their teammates and tapping them on the shoulder, how should your existing tooling adapt and what new approaches to tooling does this new style of working enable?
Learning through discovery
The traditional model of your teammates explaining how a tool works, showing you how a tool works, and finally letting you try those tools for yourself will, I believe, fail to deliver.
Tools for this new future of work will need to focus not just on the initial onboarding experience, but will also need to work with existing collaboration tools like Slack, Teams and even email, to make usage of the tool visible in ways that allow people to learn the particular quirks of how their team uses it.
Let’s take code review for example. Imagine you’re a new engineer, and you’re in a project channel in your company’s Slack workspace or a Workplace by Facebook Group. It’s day one and you can see Pull Request notifications from the GitHub app, so you now know that your team prefers to do their code reviews there. Importantly, you didn’t have to already be subscribed to GitHub email notifications, because modern collaboration tools shouldn’t rely on outdated patterns like the information silos that are email inboxes.
When you click into the review, GitHub is already showing you what the CI/CD pipeline looks like because the list of checks are surfaced right beside the merge button. Some tools even post information like coverage reports directly into the pull request. And because Pull Requests are all about collaboration, you can get a sense for what matters to your team when code is being reviewed, because you’re doing it all together inside the GitHub UI.
You’re being guided through the whole process, from the pull request being surfaced in a group setting like a channel, all the way through to providing you with a list of CI tools that you’ll need to familiarise yourself with. It’s this kind of collaborative behaviour that needs to exist in all tooling.
Collaborative by design
I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count of the number of times over the last twelve months that I wished I could just round up my team, jump into a meeting room with an actual whiteboard and some post-it notes to just figure something out.
Whilst Google Docs in particular has been held up as an example of best-in-class collaborative document editing, I’ve yet to see the experience of being “in the room” replicated well in a digital tool. It’s entirely possible this is just a function of my own personal working style, but I’ve had enough folks express similar thoughts to me that I know I’m definitely not alone or even in a small minority.
The tools that are needed for the next 5 years and beyond will have to weave online and asynchronous (or indeed synchronous) collaboration into the very fabric of their product, not as a mere feature or add-on.
The Room Where It Happens
Early in the second act of Hamilton, Aaron Burr laments the fact that he wasn’t in “the room where it happened”. As someone who has spent the bulk of his career working from Ireland, but with the majority of my teammates in a California HQ, I can definitely sympathize with how Burr felt.
How many times have you been the only person dialling into a meeting room full of people, and felt like you’re observing the meeting instead of participating in it? In one way, forcing everyone to work from home has been a great leveller in this regard because when everyone is on zoom, no one group dominates conversation. In the whiteboard scenario I mentioned, when you involve video conferencing, I think you have two equally awful choices - Either point the (inevitably poor resolution) camera at the whiteboard and hope the folks on the zoom can make it out, but then have no way to contribute, or you use some kind of online mind mapping software where everyone in the physical room has sit in front of their laptops and the folks on zoom have to choose between looking at the screen or seeing their colleagues. Google Jamboard feels like a step in the right direction, but not every company can afford to kit out a room with a full video conferencing setup and spend $5,000 on a fancy whiteboard.
Some changes that need to happen, for meetings in particular, will be larger, like the whiteboard collaboration use case, but others will be smaller affordances that make life easier for the people running the meeting. Today for example, when you get a meeting invite, your options are Yes, No, or maybe. Perhaps in the future, when you answer yes, Google Calendar would ask you if you’ll be attending in person or over Zoom/Hangouts. Then the system can ensure you’re assigned a meeting room that (a) is the correct size and (b) has the facilities you’ll need in terms of cameras / whiteboards and more.
Whatever the solution, the experience of dialling into a meeting will need to be re-imagined or the people who choose to work outside one of the company’s hubs will once again be relegated to the role of observers. And in this hybrid world, regardless of where we choose to work from, we all deserve to be in the room where it happens.
If you can’t rely on traditional security approaches like a strictly controlled office network, how do you secure tools? People will inevitably follow the path of least resistance, so the key as always with security is balancing the most secure route with the most convenient route, especially when you talk about data leaving an organization.
As an example of following the path of least resistance, you would be astonished at the number of people who conduct business over consumer messaging apps like WhatsApp or Signal. It honestly boggles my mind until you consider that the alternative for most people is email, which despite being the defacto standard for decades, is, well, not very good.
It lacks all sorts of features that people have come to expect from messaging, like the ability to leave or join a conversation, or inline attachments that actually work well, and just the societal expectation of a formal style of communicating when emailing.
So given that alternative, people chose what they were comfortable with. The path of least resistance. But the likes of WhatsApp or iMessage are, by their very design, consumer messaging tools. They lack features that are table stakes for corporate messaging, like e-discovery features to comply with legal requests, data loss prevention systems, audit trails and more. It was this gap that Slack leveraged when they launched Slack Connect.
Connect took the consumer level features that the every day user enjoys, with the enterprise protections that a company needs to protect themselves. And because sending a DM or creating a multi-company channel in Slack Connect only requires the other party’s email addresses, it’s pretty easy to create the connection, so there’s no real need to lean on your consumer messaging app of choice. Which is a good thing, because whatever about the company’s legal obligations, if you’re going to maintain a good work/life balance, it’s probably better not to mix how you talk to your friends and how you talk to your customers.
Flexible schedules, not 24/7 ones
When I talk about an entire class of products weaving something into their fabric, the most recent product shifts that come to mind are closely connected to each other - the adoption of “social” features such as algorithmic ranking, and the shift to a “mobile first” mindset. Both of these were transformative in the software industry, came within a few years of each other, and many would argue, haven’t been 100% positive.
The tendency in both these shifts was to chase engagement metrics at all costs, which led people to craft addictive experiences where success was based on how long you kept people in your product without considering if that cumulative time was a net positive for your user’s physical or mental health.
In the current shift, especially for the work based tooling I’m talking about, we have an opportunity to learn from these mistakes and create experiences that add value, but are respectful of the work/life balance of our users.
This isn’t about your product dictating work schedules to people, but instead creating new incentives that don’t encourage constantly checking in with colleagues. What you’re looking for is ways to give users control about how they guard their time, and from a cultural perspective, encouraging the use of those guardrails. You want to offer this flexibility, because in all likelihood, the schedules of your team can vary wildly, and employees will start to expect their work schedule to be flexible. As examples of tools that are already started to weave this into their design, you could look at Slack and Google Calendar.
Slack encourages users to tell it when they want to be available and when to leave them alone through custom “Do not disturb” schedules. Similarly, Google Calendar recently rolled out the ability to more granularly control your availability for meetings, as well as setting repeatable periods of “out of office” time, where they would automatically decline meeting invites without you having to be notified.
The digital water cooler
Perhaps one of the most controversial side effects of moving to primarily digital communication is the extent to which somecompanies want to, and can, decide what employees can discuss at work.
Obviously the notion of company policies around acceptable behaviour at work have been around for some time, but it’s the extent to which a primarily digital environment allows employers to actually monitor and enforce these policies that’s different now. It’s a lot harder to see what goes on “around the water cooler” vs in your company tools.
With all of our workplace communication flowing through those tools, the line between casual conversations with colleagues and what you’d expect to appear in a court document is blurring further and further.
Features that enhance user safety, or legally important things like e-discovery are usually less controversial, but the extent to which your tooling is perceived as enabling the suppression of speech in the workplace is a harder line to toe.
The time to consider these problems is already here
We’re now over a year into this forced global work-from-home experiment. What was previously a fluid pandemic mandated experience will soon become like poured concrete, setting quickly and hard to change after the fact. Decisions about the kind of tooling we want to create need to be made before the industry starts to fall back on what worked in the past, even if it’s no longer fit for purpose.
As the people who are ultimately building these tools for the future of work, it’s our collective responsibility to be sure that the products we design help to create the best possible environments for everyone. We owe it to ourselves not to dodge that responsibility.
I’ve always had a bit of an on and off relationship with podcasts. They’re the classic “commute to work” medium and you can see why, especially in the days of the iPod. Load up your device in the morning while you have breakfast, then stick in your headphones and catch up on whatever takes your fancy.
They never really worked out that way for me, despite spending at least ninety minutes a day on trams and buses before COVID-19 forced most folks in the tech sector and office workers generally into a mass work-from-home experiment. To be sure I tried, but the issue was always one of distraction. I’d fire up the next podcast in my queue and start listening, but then I’d also fire up twitter/facebook/instagram/slack, and start consuming there too. Before I knew it, twenty minutes had passed and if you’d offered me a million euro, I wouldn’t be able to answer any questions on what I had just listened to.
That all changed with COVID-19. My “commute” now consists of walking from my bedroom to the room I use as a home office. But I did start to walk more. And then Dithering came along. A podcast that last 15 minutes was pretty much a perfect match for my attention span. It became a regular feature of my week and since then, I’ve started listening to all sorts of podcasts, even ones as long as The Talk Show with John Gruber.
Given my history with podcasts, it’s pretty reasonable to argue that I’m not the best person to start publishing one, but a few weeks ago, I wrote about how creating more content was an important practice for those of us who work in Developer Relations. As I alluded to in that article, resurrecting this blog was part of my own routine for creating more content. So despite having only really gotten into them in the last 12 months, I’ve decided to start publishing a podcast, which I’m calling Klokta.
What’s in a name?
Settling on Klokta as a name was a bit of a random process. I started looking for a podcast hosting service, and after looking at a few, I settled on using Anchor, which is the podcasting platform owned by Spotify. I’d heard it mentioned (but not exactly recommended) on Dithering, so I knew Spotify had some tooling in this area, and it’s been an area of investment for them of late, so I figured it’s a pretty safe bet.
Part of the signup process there is picking a name for your podcast. I punched in “Colm Doyle” and went through the rest of the setup, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt odd about sticking my name on it. It’s not like I’m some celebrity where my literal name has any brand value. Could you really hear someone saying “oh you should check out this podcast called ‘Colm Doyle’”? No, me either.
I let it rattle around my brain a bit, trying to figure out something that sounded right, before falling back on how I usually pick names for side projects. I picked a word that best described what the project was about….and then looked that word up in Irish. I’ve found this approach usually guarantees a certain amount of uniqueness, particularly in the field of technology.
So, cleachtadh is the Irish for practice, because I’m practicing content creation. But phonetically I couldn’t imagine a native english speaker getting that, so I took the lazy approach and recorded myself saying it, then asked my colleagues at Slack to spell it and so I settled on Klokta.
What will you be talking about?
Well honestly, at the start, I’ll likely be doing audio versions of the blog posts that I publish here, similar to how Ben Thompson records the Stratechery newsletter as a podcast. On a side note, if you don’t subscribe to Stratechery, you absolutely should, it’s a fantastic source of information around what’s happening in the world of technology and business. That and Dithering, they’re both superb and well worth the money if you can afford it. If your company offers any kind of professional development fund, you could possibly have it covered by that.
As I get into more of a routine, I’ll hopefully branch out the content, interviewing people who I find professionally interesting, so likely folks in the field of DevRel and technology more generally.
I don’t know how it’s going to go, but I know I’ll learn something, and I plan to share those learnings both here and on Klokta, so I hope you’ll join me by subscribing wherever you listen to your podcasts.
For those of you curious, here’s the technology that I’ll be using in relation to Klokta. Some of this overlaps with how I produce the blog, and where it does, I’ll highlight that.
Microphone: Like many others, I’ll be using the Yeti by Blue. Specifically I use the Yeticaster bundle, as I prefer to mount things to keep them off my desk as much as possible.
Audio software: For now, I’ll be keeping it pretty basic, either recording using QuickTime Player, or directly to Anchor.
Hosting podcasts: As I mentioned, I looked around and settled on Anchor to host the actual podcasts. I considered uploading them to S3 and rolling my own RSS feed for players to subscribe to, but honestly that sounded like a lot of effort, and whilst I don’t need a massive amount of metrics, I was curious to at least have a sense of whether anyone was listening, which more or less forced me into something off the shelf. Anchor pretty much works out of the box, doesn’t actually cost anything, and provides basic metrics, specifically play counts and an estimate on the number of people listening. If people choose to listen using Spotify, I’ll also get a rough idea of how long they’re listening for.
Cover Art: For the cover art, I didn’t want anything fancy or well designed, so I just stuck a stock photo with a permissive license into Procreate, added a text overlay, and that’s it. I also tend to use procreate for the images used on this site.
Landing Page: Anchor provides a landing page out of the box, but I decided I wanted to have something I could control better, so I’ve added a page on this site to serve that purpose. This whole site is Gatsby, so it was just a matter of adding a markdown file and a link on the side navigation. I tend to write drafts of pages (and posts like this) in iA Writer on my iPad Pro, before copying them over to Working Copy to commit and push to GitHub, where actions take over and deploy the site.
Last week, I put out a few guesses on what Apple would announce at their “Spring Loaded” event. Now that it’s done, I thought it was only fair to keep myself honest on how I did. And reader, the scores aren’t pretty.
App Tracking Transparency Update 👎
I was sure there’d be some mention of this. And whilst they made a number of references to privacy as always, they didn’t directly address this upcoming change. In fact, they didn’t even discuss iOS 14.5, which was also pretty surprising. Not even in one of the Spec slides. So a strong fail on this prediction.
iOS 14.5 drops 🤔
I’m tempted to give myself a “fair” on this. Whilst they didn’t discuss iOS 14.5 or the release date, they did follow up after the event to announce that iOS 14.5 would drop “next week”, which is about what I expected, I just figured they’d say it during the event.
iPad Pro refresh ✅
iPad Pro definitely got the refresh people expected, and featured heavily in the event, getting ~20 minutes of the hour long event. Upgrading the processor to M1 and the thunderbolt port keeps it as a viable competitor to the MacBook Air as your everyday computing device.
The Center Stage feature is very reminiscent of the experience on a Facebook Portal. If Apple managed to put this into a more picture frame like form factor, I think they’d have a winning device. The privacy of Apple, the convenience of FaceTime and access to your photos on iCloud makes for a really compelling offering. But back to the iPad Pro.
As with the latest iPhone, they pushed 5G as a flagship feature. Honestly I’ve never gotten the appeal of 5G on iPad. You’d always have your iPhone nearby as a hotspot, so why give your carrier more money for the same overall bandwidth?
3rd Gen Pencil 👎
No dressing this up, the Pencil barely got a reference.
Nothing about new laptops / desktops 🤔
Ok ok, I’m definitely being generous not hard failing myself on this one. The new M1 iMac got almost as much time as the iPad Pro, but in my defense, they didn’t announce a new M Series chip, they just stuck it in an (admittedly massively redesigned) iMac.
I think almost as standout as the iMac itself, is the presence of Touch ID on an external device. I won’t be swapping out my mechanical keyboard any time soon, but this does feel overdue. One thing to note before you buy though, this only works when the keyboard is paired with an Apple Silicon device, so if you’ve got an Intel powered machine, best to keep your money for now.
Honestly, whilst many folks I know are eager to open their wallets for the new 24in iMac, I’ll keep my money for now, because you (a) can’t use it as an external display for a MacBook, and (b) I want desktops to be more like 27/30in. Plus a lot of things you’d expect by default, like gigabit ethernet and 16GB of RAM, are optional extras that will move away from the $1300 price point.
I do like the industrial design to be fair, although like others, I think I would have sacrificed some of the thinness to get rid of the “chin” underneath the display. Imagine your desktop basically looking like a 27in iPad Pro. Glorious.
Apple TV ✅
As was widely reported, Apple TV got a new remote and a couple of hardware updates, primarily the A12 chip from the iPhone line, and a cute gimmick that will adjust the color output based on a test you run with your iPhone. The output thing is a great example of the kind of thing Apple excels at when you’re totally bought into the Apple ecosystem, but honestly, since it can’t adjust your actual TV settings, it feels like it won’t get used much and will be silently dropped in a few versions.
Of note, they’ve finally enabled Siri on Apple TV in more countries, including my own.
I’m still a bit surprised don’t dive right in and make an entire TV set given how much knowledge they have on displays, but who knows what we’ll see in the future. Clearly I’m no Apple savant based on this event!
The one thing they did announce, and gave a significantly larger portion of time to than the other smaller launches, was a date for season two of Ted Lasso. Honestly, I enjoy Ted Lasso so much, I’d pay the annual fee for Apple TV+ just to watch it.
Finally. Open up my wallet and take my money Tim. These will rapidly replace the Tile on my keyring, because I am forever losing my keys, even during the pandemic. It does feel a little nickel and dime to make the keyring portion an added extra on something that’s already, let’s face it, not exactly cheap for what it is, but such is the way with Apple. Once global travel becomes a thing again, I’ll probably stick them on my luggage too.
At the top of the last post, I said “I don’t intend for this to be an Apple watching blog”, and that’s probably for the best, because even being generous, I only got three out of seven totally correct, with two somewhat hand waving “maybes”.
I’m a big fan of Apple, and whilst I don’t intend for this to be an Apple watching blog, I’ve challenged myself to write more, and the upcoming Apple event is what’s been playing out on podcasts and in my feeds this week. So without further ado, here’s my predictions.
App Tracking Transparency Update
When I was working on iOS at Facebook, I remember having the sense that we had a reasonably cordial relationship with Apple and the App Store team. We’d respectfully disagree on various things, but always managed to get releases out the door at the end of the day. I’m guessing that relationship is significantly chillier today despite the symbiotic relationship they share.
The source of that chilliness is the coming updates to the use of the IDFA, or the “App Tracking Transparency Framework”. Much ink has been spilled discussing the Cold War of words between Apple and Facebook over this. Both have fairly entrenched positions, so a rapid escalation when this feature finally rolls would seem inevitable.
This Tuesday gives Apple one last chance to set out their stall before release to solidify the narrative that both companies have been fighting to control since the feature was announced. I imagine it will end up with Apple using OS defaults to steer the future of online advertising in a way that suits them best. That’s not to say it’s a user hostile feature by any means, but it’s naive to assume they don’t have financial skin in the game. Long ago they chose to make the vast majority of their revenue from selling hardware and services. What’s surprising to me is that (what I assume) the bulk of developers of their App Store developer community have chosen an alternative stream - advertising and this move is going to have a serious impact on that revenue. I don’t envy their Developer Relations team having to deal with the fallout.
Back to the biggest players in the room though and the nuclear option here is Facebook pulling their family of apps from the App Store. Whilst that might have been a credible threat a few years ago, their brand has been so damaged in the last number of years that I can’t see Zuck playing that card as Tim Cook would inevitably call his bluff. And it would be 100% a bluff.
iOS 14.5 drops
From what I’ve heard, this beta has been extremely stable, so it feels like they’ve been waiting for this event to release it and the opportunity it gives them to explain some decisions they’ve made - like the one above.
As for what features we’ll see, it’s a point release, so I can’t imagine anything too massive unless it’s needed to support the new hardware I believe in coming.
Whilst it might feel a little late given the rollout of vaccines and with it the winding down of COVID-19 behaviors in some major Apple markets, I believe mask wearing in Europe and to some extent America will become as commonplace as it is in the likes of Singapore, Japan and other Asian countries where it’s the socially accepted practice to wear a mask when you’re feeling sick, which is both a good thing and long overdue.
With that in mind, getting around the inherent restrictions in Face ID seems prudent and I’m looking forward to using it.
iPad Pro refresh
I’ve been using an iPad Pro as my primary personal computing device since 2019 and honestly it’s a fantastic piece of hardware. But given the chips they’re shipping in the MacBook Air and iPhone 12, this traditionally powerful device is starting to lag behind. Last year’s inclusion of LIDAR and a spec bump definitely felt iterative, akin to the “S” releases of iPhone.
The rumour mill suggests we can expect a new processor on par with the M1, improvements to the camera, and a more powerful USB-C connector.
3rd Gen Pencil
I honestly don’t know what they could add to the Pencil beyond turning it around to activate an eraser mode, but the artwork and tag line for the event instantly makes me think of the Pencil.
That, combined with the likelihood of an iPad Pro refresh makes it seem likely to me they’ll do something with the Pencil. Wacom styluses have included a spring loaded nib, so maybe it’s that.
Nothing about new laptops / desktops
Everyone who watches Apple is salivating at the idea of M2 / M1X devices, especially a 16in MacBook Pro with four ports and the ability to drive multiple external displays, but I think it’s too soon. If there is any mention of the Apple Silicon M series, it will be to talk about what a success it’s been, but in the absence of new hardware to announce, that feels unlikely.
There’s a lot of chatter about new TV hardware, even a rumour of a Portal-like device, which would be massive.
One other thing I’m keen to hear about is Apple TV+. If they’ve more original content with the quality of Ted Lasso or For All Mankind coming, that’s going to be very interesting.
One more thing…AirTags
This product has been widely leaked and commented upon, and predicting it feels like “even a stopped clock is right twice a day”, but I really want these to ship. I’ve been using Tile on my keyring for years now, but the system is limited by the size of the Tile network, so an Apple powered device would close this gap shut.
My gut says they’ll lead by talking about the various manufacturers who have joined the Find My network in the last few weeks, before finally unveiling their own version. If it was Steve Jobs, I would have predicted he’d reveal them by pulling a keyring from his pocket, but that doesn’t feel like Tim Cook’s style.