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by SS at 5:27 pm on Friday 22nd August

Oddly enough, one of my greatest fears as we approached the end of the Master's was that I wouldn't know what to do with all the free time I was about to have. This was a strange fear, but, having worked harder on average for the preceding ten months at Berkeley than I remember working for the four years since my undergraduate, it was somewhat rational.

This fear was ungrounded, as it happens. While the first couple of weeks of work were fairly quiet - most of my colleagues being busy with an office move and/or conference, the work quickly came through, in quantity. An impending product launch and some very real ownership over part of that product has meant that while I'm now working hard - I'm enjoying it thoroughly and this is probably, so far, the best job I've had since my internship on the trading floor.

Most of my graduated colleagues seem to be enjoying work and learning plenty, although I was disheartened by the response of one who I ran into on the train. Me, "how's the new job?", him, "well, it's okay, I guess". Not what you should be saying a month into a new job, in my opinion!

Having an income now is rather nice. I've restocked on clothing - having persevered with multiple pairs of ripped jeans for the best part of the year and undergarments that had seen better days.

Sadly, I managed to rip one of my new pairs of jeans within two weeks of owning it. A couple of weeks ago, it rained in Berkeley for possibly the first or second time since February. Having not practiced my wet weather bike handling skills for some time, I managed to wash out on the corner on the way to the BART station. It must have been at some speed because my knee is still very slightly sore, a few weeks later and I had a surprisingly deep graze on both my right knee and elbow. Still, having to host a work day (essentially a day long interview where we work with a candidate), I limped to work and continued as normal.

On the way home that evening, some clown decided to disrupt the legion of Jay-zed fans who were on their way to his concert in the city by calling in a bomb threat at the West Oakland BART station. Since this is the last station before the under-bay tunnel (I do not know what the actual name of this crossing is), the train services across the bay were shut entirely for a few hours. While I admire the lengths this Jay-zed hater went to antagonise fans, I cursed his timing since I was in no state to cycle anywhere in comfort. Not wanting to drop my bike back to the office, I recruited a couple of bemused BART travellers who were also travelling to Berkeley to share (not split, since I obviously had the extra bike) the cost of an Uber back. Being peak hours (i.e. surge pricing) and requiring an Uber XL to carry my bike, the overall cost was near to $80 - even with the 30% summer discount. More pain.

Getting home at about 9:30, after a long day in the office, I then had to tackle the still notably large list of tasks to complete before leaving. While packing itself was fairly straightforward, I spent some time curating music for the plane journey. However, Cowon J3s (mp3 players) have this rather unique bug where if you remove them without ejecting cleanly from a Mac, they effectively temporarily brick themselves. The amusing thing is that the reason I was curating music was my Cowon had previously been bricked in the same fashion. Still, not remembering to test this before leaving home, I ended up discovering this as I boarded the BART to work the next day and spent the 11 hour flight musicless.

Over the weeks since, I've had great fun working remotely from such exotic locations as the coffee shop in San Francisco International Airport to the coffee shop in Vilnius Airport to the coffee shop in Google's Campus London co-working space. Working from home has been fun too, mainly since the discovery of my grandmother's Oreo stash. Lacking a bicycle, with a recovering knee injury and with plentiful delicious food, I'm definitely returning to the US fatter on Monday.

London has been a flood of nostalgia. This is not entirely unexpected since some of my favourite memories are from the times I've spent roaming around this city, whether on bicycle, foot or Tube. This time, like my last visit back at Christmas, I've added to the list of things I miss about the city - at the moment it's largely practical, including but not limited to: the superior hot chocolate, the expansive public transport network, readily available healthcare and lack of obvious social wealth inequality on every street corner.

Sadly, I realise that many of my closest friends here have now moved on, either physically or with their personal lives (marriages, etc.). This is to be expected, of course, but my social life isn't as rich as it once was. Not to say there's nothing attracting me back, but it certainly feels slightly emptier than it used to. Many of my friends are also working extremely hard now, having moved into positions of responsibility and just generally being successful in their careers. There's nothing different here, although it's worrying that I have a steady base of friends who work too much and are hence single. It's not clear what the solution is here, besides work a little less and get out a little more. That's not to say that I haven't fallen into the same trap.

A funny thing happens when I move between the US and the UK now. I refer to the other place as "home". Perhaps I now truly live between the two countries. Over time, the balance will shift more to the US I suspect, as I become more established there. It's surprising how natural a fit it was to live in California, at least given my interests - this is perhaps the reason most people flock to the Bay Area. That said, London (or Watford) will always remain home for me too, so perhaps home isn't one place but many.

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by SS at 9:39 am on Wednesday 9th November

So after a (very) long hiatus, I decided to cycle into work again on Monday, cycling from Watford to Old Street. This is not an inconsiderable distance but compared to my summer internship commute to Canary Wharf from Watford (26 miles each way), it's easier at just 21 miles. Sunday evening was, as always, a series of minor and major procrastinations where, although I was meant to be getting my bike ready for the journey in, I decided to go visit friends, listen to music, watch television and tidy my room.

Waking up bleary eyed on Monday morning, I somehow convinced myself that today was going to be the day I cycle in (the first time is always the hardest - both from a logistical and a psychological point of view). In my pyjamas, I started rummaging around my 'box of bits' in our garden shed looking for my sturdy pannier rack which went with me from Cairo to Capetown (on my bike for the first four weeks and in my suitcase for the last four months when it became obviously useless). I came out, defeated, with another, much less sturdy pannier rack that attaches to a seat post. This loyal pannier rack was what had taken the load of my school books and uniform when I first started commuting in the fat days.

Grudgingly attaching the pannier rack to my carbon seat post (and ever conscious of the increasing probability of my seat post shearing in two horizontally), I managed to fill my panniers with all sorts of 'necessities' - almost everything I needed except for a hoody which I decided would take up too much space. Walking out onto the road in my cycling Android jersey, a delightful gift from my friend at Google, I realised that short sleeve was perhaps a bit short sighted.

Rolling twenty metres down the road, strange noises already started coming from my bike and when I braked to a halt, there was an unnerving juddering. Investigating further, the pannier rack had already come askew and the edge of one of my pannier bags was rattling against the spokes. This is something I was very used to when commuting to school but it took a small leap of faith that my panniers would make it to work in one piece. As for the juddering, it merely seemed to be alignment of my brakes and in true Kenyan style, I figured it would be fine to get me to work.

Sure enough it was, and really the only difficult I had was that the pannier partially unclipped itself at a couple of points during the journey. The handling of the bike with a seat post mounted rack was quite sketchy - my road bike is much lighter than my mountain bike was and the pannier rack must have moved the centre of gravity much higher. Every time I stood up to cycle, the bike was start oscillating quite wildly.

As I got to work, it became harder and harder to unclip. I realised somewhere near Euston that my left SPD clip was missing a single screw. This meant that when I twisted my foot to unclip, the cleat would stay where it was and just rotate around the single retaining screw. When I finally got to Old Street it took a good five minutes of hopping around on my bike to unclip.

The commute overall was pretty damn slow. I left home at 08:30 (admittedly late) and reached work at 10:10. Normally I leave home at 08:25 and reach work at 09:15 when travelling by train. While the distance was slower, the traffic was pretty horrendous and there was no real clear stretch of road. Part of the reason for the traffic is that I was on Euston road - which skirts the congestion charging zone (and presumably carries a higher volume of traffic after 07:00). The frequent traffic lights also kill average speed - at least the route to Canary Wharf has relatively few interruptions!

In a nutshell, I'm not convinced that commuting to Old Street is worth it for me - I might do it a few times a week because of the fitness element but it certainly doesn't compare to public transport when it comes to convenience. At least not in the same way that commuting to Canary Wharf did.

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by SS at 10:04 pm on Sunday 30th October

Anyone who knows me well knows that-
1) I love biscuits.
2) I have to drink milk while eating biscuits or cake.

Mid last week I had a (mini) epiphany. I was at my cousin's house for her birthday party and for the first time in an immeasurable amount of time, I had cake without milk. Surprisingly, it was good. I spent much less effort trying to coordinate milk-drinking with cake-eating (it's the same really as the cereal and milk problem - you don't want to have extra milk or extra cereal left at the end...). Only concentrating on the cake meant I was able to really enjoy and appreciate it.

I guess this points to a wider trend in my life - that of multitasking. I'm notorious for doing multiple things at the same time and not just while at work. At home I've got a ridiculous three screened set up (and four if my laptop is up) and normally I'm doing a dozen things at the same time. It's probably because I spent so little actual time at home but I can't help thinking it's detrimental to the quality of how well I accomplish various tasks.

Admittedly a lot of what I do at home doesn't require much intellectual concentration - the last couple of hours I've been editing photos while watching television and catching up on reading - but I worry sometimes that this way of working carries itself over into other parts of my day.

1 comment posted so far
Anish wrote at 3:46 pm on Mon 7th Nov -
Oh God....you and your biscuit mania!

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by SS at 8:23 am on Sunday 30th October

As promised, a slightly more elaborate (or rather, descriptive) update.

As you may or may not have known, I had been working at a large investment bank for the last year since returning from my travels. It's a place where I interned twice and enjoyed enough to want to return to as a graduate - the work was interesting and the people were great.

Without going into full detail, our graduate scheme requires us to complete several six month rotations before choosing a team to permanently settle in. The incentive structure for the process of picking placements at each stage is maligned and essentially I had a poor first rotation placement (great people, dull work, learnt very little) and as a result didn't get my top preference for the second rotation team. I enjoyed my second rotation team but it wasn't somewhere I wanted to stay permanently - the work was semi-interesting but there was very little support from the team, purely as a result of it's small size.

Our graduate scheme was shortened to just two rotations and beginning in August, we began the process to choose a team to settle in. I found that most of the interesting teams either already had a graduate in mind (someone who had previously been on that team) or that I didn't have the requisite skill set (when competing against other graduates). Suspecting that this might be the case, as soon as we heard news of this change, I fired off my C.V. in an email to popular music recommendation website - http://last.fm.

Roll around to mid September and for the most part, it was exactly as I had guessed. I'd gone through the interview process at last.fm and with an offer in hand, I spoke to our graduate HR who, unfortunately, weren't willing to offer any other choices. With some trepidation I sent in my notice of resignation.

Quite a few people tried to convince me before I left the bank that I'd hate it outside of finance - they were shocked that I was even considering leaving investment banking and they thought I'd get bored. Naturally these fears played heavily on my mind in the four weeks preceding my new job. Luckily it was more FUD than actual insight.

I've been working at last.fm for a week now and it's great. The people here are wonderful - very helpful, friendly and they know their stuff. There are fewer politics than at the bank and I find it a much more productive place to work. There's no bureaucracy blocking me from doing my job, I have a fast computer and access to whatever developer tools I want to use. In addition, there are fewer distractions throughout the day, no pointless meetings and no constant interruptions. We get to use cutting edge technologies too, versus the cutting edge of three years ago at the bank. As a technologist, I feel more at home here than I ever did as a graduate at a bank.

To sum it up, the first question most people working at the bank asked me when I said I was leaving was 'how much are you getting paid at the new place?'.
The first question that most people working at last.fm asked me when I mentioned I used to work at the bank was 'what were you working on?'.
I'm happy to be a part of the second group :-).

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by SS at 7:39 am on Sunday 2nd January

We're in Mombasa at the moment, my last taste of Africa for 2010 (and my first, briefly, of 2011). Nothing has really changed here - it's the same hotel we've been to twice before and the same beach we've visited four times in the last five years. I'm pretty certain that of all the holiday destinations in the world, returning here, to the same place, ranks fairly low on my list.

This lacklustre holiday which, family time aside, feels like a little bit of a waste of time seems typical of my life in general at the moment. I've started as a graduate at a large investment bank (where I interned twice) and absolutely detest the work I am doing at the moment. It's a short first rotation (just two months left) but I wonder if the next will be any better.

The problem I have with this work is not that there's too much of (that's absolutely fine, I have no problem working an 80 hour week if the work merits it) but that it is so incredibly dull and not necessarily that useful in the business sense either. Without going into too much detail, essentially I'm adding missing pieces of functionality to an application to abate pressure caused by internal politics. The functionality (and generally the application itself) isn't complicated, rather just tedious. The tedium of actual development is compounded by the extensive QA process that surrounds any change to the application and while the majority of my changes are new, affect a minority amongst the 3,000 users we have and might only even be used by support - I still spend 60% of my time doing QA tasks.

It feels like I'm wasting my time - this is the time when I can really give it everything but lack motivation to do so. I've barely learnt anything new though in the last three months besides how to use various systems and how to produce QA documentation to satisfy the regulators. This causes a sinking feeling in my stomach every time I talk to (some of) the other graduates and they tell me how much they're learning. I recall my internship where I learnt a huge amount - both of software development and the business need that necessitated our work.

So instead of stagnation, it's almost like recessing. My hire-ability is sinking each week that I learn nothing and forget a little bit more all that I learnt during my Computer Science degree. As my hire-ability sinks, it becomes harder to jump ship, to break out of the circle and to get back onto the true road of career fulfillment. I will not go down without a fight though - my eyes are open and actively scanning for opportunities.

And finally, I'm not the only one - this is a common theme amongst quite a few of my graduate colleagues. My faith in the HR department has been shaken by their failure to place the brightest graduates (who they apparently go to great lengths to hire) in positions which they will enjoy and where they will have their capabilities pushed. Sure, it's not a problem on their side - they often mention how many applicants they get - it is easy to fill our positions as graduates (we should be lucky to be where we are, of course!) but they need to treat us better. It seems that we're regarded and treated as merely numbers - without recognition of the fact that we have different desires, skill levels and ambitions.

This is going to cause two problems: 1) the brightest students will no longer flock to work here in the way they have done (the economic crisis of 2007/8 has already gone a long way to reducing the number of students who are chasing a career in finance) - graduates talk (and I have been talking too) to their peers in the years below and 2) the brightest graduates will leave - several of my colleagues are pursuing potential opportunities elsewhere.

3 comments posted so far
anon wrote at 10:36 am on Fri 7th Jan -
My feelings mirror yours exactly. Though we have to hold on to the slightest hope that is the second rotation...
sns wrote at 12:56 am on Thu 10th Feb -
the fact is, that as a graduate fresh out of university, you will be hard pressed to find any job with a starting salary such as you find in investment banks. and part of what makes you a good employee, and will help raise you through the ranks in a bank is your ability to take these difficult situations, and develop new ideas for projects that would help the bank. IT is a cost centre in a bank; not a revenue generating department. anything you can do outside the confines of your given task will help to not only keep you busy, but to get you that promotion faster.

make no mistake, i'm not disagreeing with what you say. in my experience thus far, i have seen many people go through the same thing as you.

best of luck!
Abraham wrote at 2:13 pm on Mon 19th Sep -

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by SS at 3:57 pm on Sunday 26th September

Every day on my way home I witness the spectacular skyline of Canary Wharf as a backdrop to the (fairly) considerable expanse of water that is Greenland Dock. More often than not, it is dark as I walk and the buildings look more stunning still. The lights glisten from a fluorescent yellow to blue, demarked by flashing red strobes that alert the planes taking off from City Airport of their presence.. My father, a veteran of the investment banking world, calls it 'Tinsel Town'.

These pillars of finance and monuments of capitalism seem quite strange to me, despite having worked there for near enough six months. The scale of each building relative to the others seems fairly arbitrary (the largest buildings aren't necessarily the institutions with the most prestige). It's quite weird too that this is really all there is when it comes to sky scrapers in England. The other populated business district of London, the 'City', is disappointingly short on average in comparison - no doubt a result of the way the city has grown up.

I moved out of my family home in North London to cut down on the considerable daily commute that I just about survived last year. During my internship I'd be working 11 hour days on average, but coupled with the 1.5 hour journey each way, this became a 14 hour day. After eating and showering, this left me with something short of thirty minutes each day of 'leisure time', which made socialising quite difficult. So with this in mind, I decided to bite the bullet and move out - for the sake of my social life, my physical well being (sleep!) and a change of scene.

It's expensive to live in London - no doubt about that. I'm paying nearly half my salary post tax, student loan repayment and share purchase scheme to the increased cost of living out (this includes my rent, food (which would be cheaper at home) and other expenses like utility bills).

This leaves me in a constant dilemma. It's a vast amount of money to spend for the sake of increased leisure time, and so I constantly feel the pressure to maximise my free time. It's made worse still by the fact that my first rotation as a graduate isn't actually in Canary Wharf - it's in the City (and so a fair amount closer to home in North London) and the working hours won't be quite as long. Conversely, I'm paying rent for a nice apartment that is close to the life of London - the incentive is to stay in and enjoy the apartment but the attractions of being in London are all outside. Confusion.

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by SS at 1:24 am on Sunday 10th January

I'm turning 22 in a few weeks time, and while I would normally write something closer to my actual birthday, I will be in Egypt and likely to be disconnected.

It's currently very cold outside and there's a sizeable quantity of ice on the driveway outside. I haven't fallen yet but it seems likely. The weather has prevented me from training much in the last week and this has probably contributed to the rather depressing state of mind I found myself in upon our return home from Mombasa. Endorphins are being sorely missed.

In any case, this trip to Mombasa was one of my best holidays yet, as always going to show it's not the place (we've been there several times previously) but the company which you keep. Some highlights from a superb trip-

In addition, we had some fun trying to travel this holiday season-

Much of the trip I spent in the company of younger friends and for the first time in my life, I am approaching a birthday with some regret for the fact that I'm getting older. By the time this decade comes to pass, it's shocking to think that my friends and I will be thirty. Anyone who knows me well knows how much I value my individuality and I worry that after the travelling stops and work begins, that's the end of my 'interesting' self.

This fear is, rationally thinking, unfounded. I've met some incredibly fascinating people who work and in any case, work is a necessary part of life. On the other hand though, many of my friends who've started work post graduation seem noticeably different - the weary way they now speak and their constant lack of time. At a recent dinner party, I turned up in a t-shirt and was shocked to see most of my peers wearing some combination of button-up shirts, sweaters and jackets. I don't want to fall into that future, where my friends in their early twenties could have passed for adults in their mid to late tenties.

In short, I want to escape the maturation curve. So if you see me wearing a shirt under a sweater before 2020, you'd better hope there's a good reason for it.

3 comments posted so far
Anon wrote at 2:33 pm on Sun 10th Jan -
Anish wrote at 9:40 am on Tue 12th Jan -
Moosra wrote at 3:23 pm on Wed 13th Jan -
Style is a question of class, not maturity!

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by SS at 9:52 am on Wednesday 29th April

One of the characteristics of an education at the University of Cambridge is that they push you hard. This is not mere exaggeration but fact, admitted by all - whether they have been here or only know people who have been here. That is not to say that other students at other universities do not work as hard as we do, nor that they have less work. (Notably, it is impossible to know for sure without having physically experienced other universities.)

Regardless, there is a vast quantity of information that is thrown at us. It isn't helped by the short terms (we have two terms of eights weeks supplemented by a four week term before exams for some subjects, including mine). Most universities have considerably longer terms and as a result, the density of the information students have to consume each week is less. Add to this the course content (Cambridge is known for being highly theoretical in most fields of study) and the fact that for some subjects, students are taught to the same level as other universities in multiple subjects concurrently. The most prominent example of this is the Natural Sciences Tripos. I am told that we are taught the same amount of Geology as a student studying Geology full time at another university, except here it comprises only a quarter of the total course load.

All this established, it comes as a surprise to me that in discussion today after being guest-lectured by David Colver from Operis, a notable alumnus of the Computer Laboratory, my colleagues seems to have a very selfish work ethic when it comes to longer term careers. Mr. Colver was invited to speak to us as part of our Business Studies Seminars which are effectively talks by successful Computer Scientists. The teaching committee presumably recognises that not all of the year group has much real world corporate experience; motivation is provided in the form of tangible examples and inspirational stories. (Having heard several of these talks so far, I find myself thinking that their career paths are not for me at all, but that is for another post.)

Mr. Colver described his career path in the city (Operis is a financial consulting firm) and suggested that instead of spending crucial components of our working lives programming, we try to become consultants, followed by an MBA and a career in investment banking. (Again, a topic for another post.) He made a strong point though, that most premier consultancies will demand a tremendous amount of time from young employees.

As we walked out of the lecture theatre, we discussed working hours. Admittedly, the quantity of time devoted by consultants and investment bankers is huge - leaving at midnight or later, and effectively no weekends - but we considered the time that the average technologist would work. My colleagues clearly insinuated their desires for a forty hour week, i.e. 9 to 6 for 5 days. Simon, who interned at a prominent investment bank, said that he worked from 8:30am to 6pm everyday. For comparison, when interning over summer, I worked 8:30am to 6:30pm. My hours weren't (relative to other interns) too bad.

Their unwillingness to spend a greater quantity of time working confuses me. They are clearly not work-shy, several of them attained extremely high marks in past examinations which are not solely attributed to intelligence. The notion that a man must have enough time to experience life is a fair one, but I must question the logic behind this belief. In an increasingly competitive economic climate, surely it makes sense to devote yourself to your livelihood. If you don't, then someone else will, and they will climb. There is clearly a fine line to be walked between enthusiasm and obsession but more often than not there exists free time to follow your passion.

Finally, it does not appear to be a question of enjoyment. My colleagues love and enjoy their subject. So why stray away from spending more time embracing it? Talking to my corridor-mate today, I suspect that it boils down to a cultural factor: work ethic. We were discussing how Indian immigrants to the U.K. have made a substantial amount of wealth out of very little, or even nothing to begin with. There can be no argument that there was an unfair advantage either.

No doubt many (if not all) of my class mates will go onto prosper in whatever field they find themselves in. Most likely they will accomplish this without whittling away their youth in an ofice block. Irrespective, I will try my hardest to get the job done, however long it takes.

1 comment posted so far
Anish wrote at 7:59 am on Thu 30th Apr -
Greatness comes with perseverance....get the job done!

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