anthony galvin

Technologist at AKQA, Cyclist, Stewkley Cricket player, family man. Lover of digital and analogue technology, sunrises, scottish islands and snow.

Recent Posts

Once more. With feelings.

Back to the “inner isles” (Na h-Eileanan a-staigh) for our summer trip. Some new islands this year. But the same objectives: Immersing ourselves in landscape and history. Exploring beaches. Scanning the horizon for the wildlife (this time including Basking Sharks).

Each time we go back to these islands the connection gets stronger. Our collective Islomania intensifies.

3 weeks, 1500 miles driving, 5 Scottish Islands (Coll, Tiree, Mull, Ulva, Bute) and 11 ferries. Happiness.

#holiday #scotland #islands #hebrides #family

2017-09-11 20:22:59 GMT permalink

Do you still write code?

Some thoughts on technical leadership and coding.

The other day someone in the team asked me if I still write code. Which got me thinking about how, especially in agency land, senior technologists often don’t. Faced with the growing need for Technical management and client facing technologists, many larger digital agency environments have a fork in the road where people can pursue a less hands on route.

Over the years I’ve worked with lots of senior folks who continue to be practitioners. People from an engineering background who are still, at least some of the time working with software. This isn’t unusual in other fields - nobody expects the top brain surgeons to do all the operations, but they are expected to do some. The same is true for lawyers and in agency land often true for strategists and UX / design folks.

That’s not to say that management and leadership aren’t skills in themselves, skills that require practice and a significant time commitment. As an engineer the way you scale and produce a better output is (or at least should be) by having a team. The team is your unit of awesome.

There’s code, and then there’s code. On the projects I’m involved in the amount of real technical output I contribute varies significantly. Often the things I’m doing are prototypes, setting a direction - more like someone doing a sketch that communicate an approach or a style. It’s not about being ‘the best developer’, firstly because defining best is difficult (fastest, fewest bugs, most code, least code, best collaborator etc..) and also because that’s probably not your role on the project.

Sometimes it’s just about chipping in with a bug fix, picking up a few tickets and helping when the deadline is looming and JIRA is looking a bit unpleasant. It’s fairly unlikely that I’m going to be picking up lots of dev work across any of my client work, but it is an aspect of how I go about solving problems in my  day-to-day work.

That’s not to say it’s easy to stay on top of the ever changing technology landscape, but for me it’s not a binary choice between management and coding. They are part of the dynamic of technical leadership, and it’s important that you make time to develop your skills in both areas.

#work #technology #coding #leadership #management

2017-11-15 14:47:11 GMT permalink

10 winters

Back to Morzine. I remember a springtime visit 10 winters ago, when Richard and Fiona had bought the old barn on the edge of Morzine. I slept on a concrete floor and then Richard and I went up to the top of the Avoriaz and talked about the future. Then we boarded down in the spring sunshine and it didn’t seem real.

Fast forward to 2017 and we are back in the Alps. The sun shone again and this time I’m on chair lifts with my Violet and Hazel. Sitting at the top of the resort looking out over the mountains, still thinking about the future. 

#boarding #morzine #holiday #snow #family #spring #alps

2017-04-11 22:15:44 GMT permalink

Adventures with Voice Interfaces

Recently I’ve been doing lots of work with voice interfaces. Globally AKQA has been working with clients on VI since it started to go mainstream, and in the UK we’ve helped Jamie Oliver and Arsenal get onto the Amazon Echo platform.

VI is also a lens to use when looking at system or service and figuring out what an MVP really is. By it’s nature VI is a paired back user experience - so if you have an experience that works well for voice users then you probably have a good idea of your core use cases. 

From a technology perspective it also starts to place some new demands on engineers. It forces technical teams to think differently about infrastructure, code and server less at scale. The separation between code and infrastructure can get messy when working with AWS Lambda (and similar services), so it’s extra important to focus on code and build pipelines for anything but the most trivial use cases. 

Developing for voice also highlights something I think is increasingly important for engineers - the ability to bring service design thinking into software / sprint planning. There’s an increasing overlap between writing software that doesn’t have dead ends and handles exceptions well, and managing the user through options and occasions frustrations of voice interfaces.

Test automation, unit and integration tests are even more important than usual (though I’m not sure how much more important you can make these kind of tests!). Manual testing of voice services is slow (you can’t really speed it up), so you need to have good test coverage to have high confidence in your software and for the team to be able to work at a decent velocity.

It’s also important for everyone on the team to spend time using voice services and to understand the emerging design patterns and expectations of regular users. In the early days of television it was apparently common to meet people who appeared on TV shows but refused to own a television set. The same approach won’t work if you’re developing VI. Using an Echo or Google home on a regular basis is the only real way to understand the possibilities and frustrations of voice interfaces.

#work #voice #akqa #alexa #servicedesign #engineering

2017-05-17 14:25:25 GMT permalink

The view.

Over the last few years, the view over the fields behind our house has become increasingly important to me. The back fields. 

It is in many ways an unremarkable view. Looking out across flat fields of pasture. A power line, a few hedges and trees. Sometimes there’s sheep but more often the fields are empty. In the distance, on a clear day, a glimpse of the Chiltern Hills. Mentmore, the Beacon at Ivinghoe and beyond. There’s certainly more dramatic views

Sometimes there is a red kite or a green woodpecker. Today it was a pheasant. But more often it’s a small flock of starlings or sparrows that provide the avian entertainment. In the summer months there are swallows. There’s owls as well, but despite my best efforts I haven’t seen them, only heard their cries on the wind.

I’ve been collecting the sunrises over the fields. Which I suppose is also a way of collecting the sky. Big and open here in North Bucks. Soon the sky might be the only thing still visible to us if the plan to turn the fields into houses is approved.

I think of it as my view, though it’s not mine, I’m just an observer. An onlooker. Not a participant. The flocks of sparrows and starlings don’t object to planning applications, though I’m sure they would given the chance.

#words #home #views #stewkley #sunrise

2017-01-15 00:31:58 GMT permalink