At the beginning of March I said goodbye to Prodigy Finance in Cape Town. Today is the end of my first week at Thoughtbot UK. In between we took a long flight (there are no direct flights currently) and spent the last ten days in legally-enforced hotel quarantine in London.

The flight

Our flight was two legs adding up to twenty hours including a stop at Doha. The first leg was wonderful - as flights go - because the flight was mostly empty and we had two entire rows to ourselves for sleep.

The second leg was a bit more anxiety provoking: crowded, certain people noticeably poor at keeping their masks on, and very audible coughing. I clung to the fact that everyone who was flying to the UK had been forced to produce a negative COVID-19 test no more than three days earlier.

The worst part was the end of the second flight. At the best of times, I hate the pointless standing up and hovering on top of other passengers while trying to get into overhead lockers, before anyone can even get off the flight. It makes zero difference to the real time your travel takes and just makes everyone uncomfortable. I hoped it would be different in current social distancing times, which was foolish of me.

On landing we were whisked through passport control and into hotel quarantine. Very slow whisking, about four hours of it. The UK is scared of the COVID-19 variant from South Africa, but our experience flying from Doha and at Heathrow was substantially more risky than in Cape Town.

Hotel quarantine

Hotel quarantine is mostly ok. Without it, we might have booked an airbnb room for isolation and we wouldn’t have thought through the process the way this system has been. We might even have been tempted to find a place to rent purely from online viewing, which seems like a big risk.

The room feels quite big, which is fortuante because we can’t leave it, except when we call down to reception for exercise. We get escorted from the room down to the parking lot where we can walk or run around as much as we like, and then back up.

It’s astonishing the difference that going outside makes. I did not expect - nor do I understand now - why it makes such a difference, but my mood is always substantially improved when I return to the room after exercise.

There is a lot of food (full English breakfast, soup and a roll and a panini and a snack for lunch, full evening meal), all of which is a bit better than I’d expect from mass catering (some of it is really good). We’ve taken to ordering one breakfast and one lunch to share between us because there is actually way more food than is pleasant.

We’ve also had to take two COVID tests, on day two and day eight. It’s a really slick system: the test kit comes with clear instructions, you pop everything into a biohazard bag and then into a self-addressed box, and the results end up on your phone the next day.

I’m happy to say that we are both negative, so all the travel turned out ok.

Thoughtbot thoughts

Thoughtbot is consulting, Prodigy was a financial services company with a single product. I have some thoughts on that difference that will probably become a blog post later. It’s a bit early to be commenting on Thoughtbot apart from everyone being really friendly and really competent and smart. It’s a little intimidating.

General thoughts on new jobs vs old

In the later years at Prodigy it felt like I had “old hand” superpowers. I knew where every piece of code was, and if I didn’t I could give strong clues based on the people who had been involved:

“That project was started by someone who liked to write small stateless procedures separately from the objects they operated on, to makes things easy for testing. You’ll probably find the code in a services directory over here. Watch out though, the next people to maintain it didn’t really get it, so they were more likely to add code in Rails models over here, and no-one ever refactored to make the code consistent.”

Of course I have none of that context now. That can actually be good: sometimes the weight of history in a codebase obscures new possibilities, and you have to be on top of your refactoring game to be able to make changes safely.

On the other hand, I don’t have my superpowers. I would like superpowers, so I’m interested in how I can get that knowledge quickly (while also holding it lightly enough to take in new things). This is a work in progress, but one nice thing is that Thoughtbotters seem to include a lot of context in git comments and pull requests, and have a search engine that indexes Basecamp and other tools.

Some aspects of the culture are just things that would never have occurred to me. One pleasant surprise is the idea of writing down decisions not to force people to follow suit, but rather to give people the opportunity to comment and show you what you’re missing.

I’m anticipating more surprises, and trying to force myself not to be rigid and conservative in the face of uncertainty. I hope I get that right.