An oasis of calm in a sea of noise

Gardening runs in my family.  

My mother and sister both grow all variety of edibles, my grandmother is a plantswoman of whose skill I can only hope to emulate and going further back, my family has grown orchards and tended farmland; getting back to the earth is something that runs pretty deep.

Being a ex-designer (and a sucker for creating order in a chaotic world), I prefer architectural gardening; unusual plants, hard landscaping, distinctive shapes and smells.

Recent research by the King’s Fund for UK Department of Culture, Media and Health (2015) indicate that after the age of 25, gardening activity sharply rises to more than 40% for 25-44 year olds, over 60% in the 45-64 age bracket and over 70% for the over 65s. I wonder if there is a any correlation that could be drawn between between age, career progression / complexity and the need to get out into green space – or whether its just people eventually realising that most of the programmes on television are pretty rubbish during the day…

Gardens and gardening are my ‘mental clearance spaces’; the places I gravitate towards when I have been posed a particularly thorny technical problem, or I have multiple work demands on my time that are beginning to push me towards the edge of what I can handle in one go. Being in, walking through, or being actively engaged in creating or maintaining gardens quiets the mind, allows me to relax, and gives me time to sift through and make sense of what is actually going on. It is one of my more reliable methods of accessing my ‘systems thinking’ brain; tuning out all the useless information, the endless meetings and the extraneous ‘noise’ of a issue or problem and chasing down the roots of the issue.

Gardens have no judgement, no hurried thinking, no changing demands bar what you put on yourself.. Freud said:

‘ Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflict,’

– something that I think all of us could probably benefit from in today’s modern, connected and hyper-politicized world.

And on that note I am going to go and attack a particularly pernicious weed that has decided to inveigle its way into my flower bed.

My kind of Environment Management has no Trees

Its a fairly standard question – so whats do you do as a job?

Outside of very specific circles, the answer I give usually has one of two responses.

          “Oh what – like trees and climate change?” (resigned sigh)

or if I am lucky,

          “Oh that’s something to do with IT right?” (brief start of surprise from me).

Yes that right! I manage test environments for a major retailer… oh you’ve gone.

For those that stick around long enough my favourite analogy is ‘an Air Traffic Controller for IT environments.’ It was a term I first saw mentioned over on the Plutora blog:  The Definitive Hiring Guide for Test Environment Managers 

Think of a test environment manager as an “air traffic controller” for environments and databases required to test and qualify software for release to production. This job is one focused primarily on tracking and scheduling, but it also involves integrating a number of conflicting inputs to support testing across multiple generations of interconnected systems. A test environment manager balances budgets with timelines and other constraints to give developers the systems they need to ensure that software works as designed in production.

NB: This analogy is not intended to belittle actual Air Traffic Controllers (they stop planes crashing into each other and killing a lot of people after all). There are just certain similarities when it comes to the complex interdependencies that both roles have to juggle.

The thing that draws me to the job is the thing that makes it very niche – the sheer breadth of the role. It the ideal job for a candidate that thrives on doing a bit of everything. Project, Release, Change, Configuration, Strategy, Access, Quality and Data Management are all elements of my role. You need to be able to talk to stakeholders at the right levels – enough technical knowledge to talk to an engineer and business savvy enough to be able de-jargonise for business leaders. It’s a role that requires both reductionist (going down to the details) and holistic (the big picture) thought processes. You need to be able to replan on the fly and also plan far into the future – often in the same conversation.