Weeknotes s01e06


The theme of this week is most definitely collaboration. Continuing it, valuing it, respecting it and instigating it. Vive la collaboration!

Week in brief


Late back from Center Parcs but caught up with Charlie about the interviews I’d missed in Newcastle. Can’t say much more yet.


I checked emails on the metro into work until I got stuck in a tunnel. I was supposed to join a meeting with Charlie and didn’t get out until after the call had finished so sent him a message to apologise. Charlie updated me on the meeting I missed. A positive and potentially exciting outcome.

When I got in the office I caught up with Alaine (Delivery Lead) who was back from a couple of weeks leave. We walked across to join the Churchill mid-sprint review meeting — which included biscuits — with Ben, George, Alastair, Massimo, Ash (Developers) and Dave D (Business Analyst)

We covered some high level themes and the importance of

  • the data-product owner role
  • the attendance at the Agile ceremonies
  • the clarity of the tickets of work
  • clarity and understanding the link between user needs, data and design (for the developers to understand why they are doing certain things).
no shit Sherlock, this is important to all of us

We discussed themed sprints, scheduled releases and reviewed the Jira board for this sprint, a few things blocked (really bottle necked) in QA.

We agreed that the next sprint would be a slack sprint for the developers to cover some elements of technical debt and allow us to take stock and fully detail upcoming designs and review and add to the current backlog.

We also had a quick chat about ideas for potential hack events and Ash gave an update about the production environment for private beta (looking good) and the IT health check (some money needed).

When I got back to my desk I had a chat with Gayll and Joana (Data Scientists) to sort some travel and agenda details for Friday for our meeting with the Data Science team at HMRC. Dennis (Programme Team) popped over to ask if I could interview in Sheffield on Thursday as Billy (Sheffield Hub lead) had covered the first set of Newcastle ones on Monday.

I caught up with Ash briefly about the mid-sprint review, he gave good feedback about how it had gone. I then headed off early for my daughter’s end of term assembly. On the journey back I got an email from Max so gave her a quick call just as she was heading into the main meeting to discuss all the 17/18 planning that had been taking place.

I caught up with Charlie later on to see how that meeting had gone. It was an important one, the outcome was — more challenges than opportunities — the need to put our thinking caps on.



Normally this is working from home day so I can do the school run but since my wife is a teacher who has now broken up, for the next eight weeks I will be in the office. It remains however a day to deal with emails. One discussion that came up was about the name Churchill and whether when we make the application public we will run into any problems. Billy said he was happy to cover the Sheffield interviews — so I didn’t have to travel — Billy is also covering interviews the following Monday (Sheffield) and Thursday (Newcastle) as I already had leave booked in. I owe him one. Throughout the day I was exchanging messages with Charlie about my reflections, thoughts and ideas.

I chatted with Stephen, he’d just returned from delivering a hybrid version of the data vis training with Adam that Catherine had set up.

Our data visualisation community — Adam is leading on this with Paul — are in the process of revamping the training to make it a self-lead web version. This was an opportunity to test some of the examples out — good feedback — people love examples to aid learning.

I joined the weekly Data Science Function prioritisation meeting. Charlie talked about priorities for the next quarter and each hub plus the programme team gave updates.

I had a few chats with Dave D. He showed me the latest additions to Churchill on the QA server — we’re iterating to a really good place — and we spoke about testing resource.

I got some paper and started to sketch out the ‘picture on the jigsaw box’ — I’m conscious that sometimes I am the only one with this picture. More on this in a later episode probably.

Adam popped up and we spoke about the training. I’ve got to send him some links. We had a good chat about community working and the benefits of a collaborative attitude over, erm, other behaviours.

don’t you just hate this…

I headed to my son’s leavers assembly.

I asked Dan some questions about his work. I’d like a proper chat with him, both about work and just generally.

The end of the day was more sifting. I am now pretty confident of the broad segmentation I have formed in my head of types of data scientist applicants.


I arrived in the office slightly late for my regular meeting with Alaine, we both grabbed a coffee and headed to the atrium.

We had a bit to catch up on after Alaine’s leave and since her return she had been focusing on the detail and money needed for the IT health check. We caught up about that, resourcing, some important upcoming cross government and ministerial meetings/presentations and discussed the need for (me to do) some longer term planning — jigsaw box picture stuff. There is a reason why I haven’t yet which I’ll perhaps discuss in a later episode.

Stuart wandered past on his way into the office and joined us. It was his first day back after a week in the sun — Alaine and I brought him up to speed with the actions/outcomes from the mid sprint review, the naming discussion and the latest additions to the app.

I caught up with Stu on a walk to the cash point and then headed to the Action Learning Sets meeting

A simple and powerful way for a small group of individuals to learn from each other. Using the knowledge and skills of the group, they involve explicitly stopping to reflect back on actions taken, drawing out learning from that reflection, and applying that learning to planned practice.

I really like our little group; Fiona, Ann, Matt, Catherine and the newest recruit Donna. I can’t talk about these meetings but what I will say is I was sceptical about the concept but I’ve changed my mind.

After this I finally logged on. I joined an all staff call lead by Mayank (DG for Digital). Stuart then showed me some of the new data items in QA on Churchill which look cool. I then got a cold call from a supplier.

who dis?

Before I left I had a chat about my thoughts on open data possibilities on the back of Nick’s Government Data Publishers meeting.

I headed to my son’s cricket training and on the way spoke to Charlie about some upcoming presentations where I need to be on point.

Later on I pulled together a — too big — set of links for Adam, a collation of blogs, presentations, tools, thought pieces, some of which will make it onto the resources section of the training site.


London. With Joana, Gayll and Iu. Visiting Adrian, Edward, Martin, Gavin, Mike and Ben who are working on HMRC data science exploration, data exploitation and related projects.

On the train down I reviewed some of my recent notes/scrawls to see what needed to be kept — I am constantly writing, rewriting and reformulating notes.

I shared a paper with Joana on encoding high dimensional spatial patterns into single numerical vector — one of those that I know will be useful to us but perhaps not just yet.

I reviewed Gayll’s initial draft and Iu’s comments on the scoping document for our discovery work on modelling with encrypted data.

a system to allow computations to be performed on data without decrypting it.

We arrived in London, met Iu and headed to Parliament St.

I gave an overview of what we do in the hub and our products and platforms. Then HMRC covered their work

  • Mike talked about partnerships — I will put him in touch with our London hub colleagues with regards to network analysis.
  • Martin spoke about scheme level analysis which is remarkably similar to work we’re doing with Manhattan so we’ll speak more about that.
  • Ben spoke about natural language processing. There is a lot of similar work going on in this area. Joana and Iu have both done some work on this so are keen to compare notes.
  • Gavin covered his work on doing things at scale deploying Spark using Hadoop and working closely with data engineers. We ran out of time so will need to revisit.

Adrian who heads up the area is keen to speak more about Churchill and to learn more about our environments.

It was a really good first session. I always saw this as the start of some real collaboration #oneteamgov-data if you like. Since in some cases we are looking at two sides of the same coin. More to come and thanks to Edward for hosting us.

We walked back to Kings Cross. I wrote most of these notes up on the way back, accompanied by some loud cockney lads heading to Newcastle. They mainly talked about football and Love Island. They offered me one of the many beers they had which was nice.


That was my week.