Senior Digital Developer (Web)
Simon is one of eight digital developers working within the Digital team at Adur & Worthing Councils. Working commercially in software development for the past 18 years, Simon has delivered projects for Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Royal Air Force, Met Police and several UK banks. The previous eight years have focused on web development with various local authorities including Chichester, Barnet, Bournemouth and West Sussex.
Now nearly one year into the role of Senior Digital Developer, he is thoroughly enjoying the challenge of working on a diverse range of applications and being part of a friendly and sociable team.
You can read Simon's current 2018 blog posts on this page below
A month ago I was asked to give a public talk as part of Brighton Digital Festival at Colonnade House. While I was a bit apprehensive, I appreciated that I had been asked, so I accepted the challenge. I've stood in front of peers for presentations, facilitated workshops, delivered stand up training and pitched for work before - but somehow this started to feel different. This time I would be speaking directly to the public. I'd be representing not just myself but also the work of my team and effectively the councils. The pressure was building...
Thankfully my supportive manager agreed to help me write and present the talk. We decided to speak about innovation at the councils and how service design has changed over the years, and titled our talk 'Legacy to Digital: The Journey'. I started listening to the audiobook 'Bulletproof Public Speaking' for tips and guidance on public speaking. With the date scheduled several weeks away and a full workload to take my mind off it, I started to feel more comfortable.
I took the opportunity of a long weekend away in Lulworth Cove walking my dog Milo to start thinking about what I was going to talk about.
Photo: Relieving stress with Milo the Whippet in Lulworth Cove, Dorset
The day of the talk arrived, and I can honestly say that I was nervous - but it's OK to be nervous! Clare Halstead, Creative Hub Manager at Colonnade House gave us a tour of the workspaces in the building as part of the open day. It was fantastic to see how many creative people are working in Worthing (and also took my mind off what I was about to do!)
As Kevin Rowe (Digital Development Manager) stepped up to start, I knew I'd be speaking soon. He explained how the councils used to work with legacy systems that dictated processes to our services. I then explained how the councils are changing that, and how the Platform allows us to redesign services around customers' real needs using customer centred design. Within a flash and a round of applause later, I had done it - I had given my first talk to the public. I felt a huge sense of achievement.
Photo: Kevin Rowe (left) and Simon (right) answering questions after their talk
We both enjoyed the event and gained some valuable public speaking experience. My message to anyone worried about public speaking would be to keep pushing yourself - we are all capable of much more than we think.
Just in the way we use continual improvement to develop digital systems at work, we shouldn't forget about ourselves. Do we continually improve and iterate our own minds and skills?
This week I've been thinking about ways I strive to learn new skills and pushing myself to learn more. I'm hoping that I can inspire some of you to do the same.
I'm writing my blog today from WordCamp, a software development conference in Brighton. I've come here with the aim of honing some existing skills. However the first talk of the day was about mindfulness and reducing stress from our hectic lives. What a great start to the day - to learn something completely new that I can take further in future. That's why I think it's important to go to at least a couple of conferences each year.
Photo: WordCamp Brighton 2018
Another way to increase personal development that I've only just discovered are 'meetups'. Last night I was at the Worthing Digital group for a social meetup with new friends, discussing and overcoming any issues we have with projects (and enjoying a couple of drinks). It's really interesting to hear about how other people work and learn about other technologies and their experiences.
The night before I was back in Brighton at another meetup group with Ministry of Testing. This was a really energetic talk and workshop about software testing. Something I'm keen to learn more techniques about and share with the team I work with.
Photo: Ministry of Testing Brighton meetup group
I also like to broaden my knowledge into other fields at work. Earlier that evening, we had an upgraded internet connection installed at Worthing Town Hall. While the technicalities of the install aren't covered by my role, I was involved in testing - I volunteered to work later so that I could learn about what was involved and how the process is managed.
At the beginning of the week I also finished reading (well, listening) to a huge book. Yes, a great technique my manager introduced me to if you struggle to find time, are audio business books. I now listen to books on my walk to and from work - 40 minutes of extra learning a day!
How about setting yourself a small challenge you want to learn about?
Over the course of a weekend with the help of some very knowledgeable YouTubers, I programmed an 'Internet of Things' (IoT) device. It's a tiny device that can send information from a sensor, such as movement or temperature over the internet. You will definitely be seeing some uses for this new technology being employed by the Councils over the coming year I'm sure.
Photo: Learning about Internet of Things, ESP8266 Node Module
As always I've tried to fit a lot into my week and, while I have fewer commitments than those with young families, I always try to learn one new thing each week. I'd definitely encourage anyone to push yourself to learn more, broaden your skills and enhance your specialism!
This week I'm handing over the Digital blog to Kristy Lewis, one of our talented Digital Developers, she is going to talk about how's she's incorporating her passion of film into our current projects ...
My name is Kristy and I am one of the Digital Developers within the Digital Team. Previously working within Adur Homes and a variety of other roles ranging from Data Analytics, Marketing and system training at Microsoft. A keen interest in all things technology, cats and America.
As the holiday season is now upon us, I find myself thinking of all the holidays that I am NOT going on this year. Although as the current heatwave is seeing the UK hit temperatures that match Los Angeles, I can't help wish I was there instead.
Looking back to my trip to Los Angeles last summer, thinking of all the beaching, shopping and movie studio visiting. Visiting movie studios like Universal, Paramount and Warner Brothers was by far my favourite part of visiting LA.
There is something special about seeing where and how your favourite movies are brought to life, and getting to sit on Forrest Gump's bench was also a bonus.
Photo: Forrest Gump's bench
Getting to see the movie prop store and the sound stages where all the magic happens, you get a walk through of how directors stage, design and position lights and cameras to make the perfect scene, and not to forget all the animation and special effects that come next. It really gets me dreaming of being a movie producer.
Photo: Behind the scenes at the movie studios
Although I may not be an Oscar winning movie producer ... yet ... we do however have the next best thing starting over in Digital. With one of our current large project for Waste services, we found a need for animated training videos for both staff and customers. With the cost of outsourcing this far too high, we took it upon ourselves to find an alternative route of producing these short videos. Animaker was the solution, a simple online tool that allows you to create a video storyboard with animated characters and objects. It has enable us to create simple to understand and quick to learn training videos.
We have been creating scenes that explain the waste services that we provide and some key information that helps people to learn about that service, dealing with key issues that our customers often raise when contacting our call centre. By using animated people to help get our messages across, we are able to use Animaker to have our characters talk, walk and move around the screen, with different backgrounds and images that relate to our councils image, such as our waste bins.
Photo: Screenshot of Animaker animation process
These videos have been a great success within the Waste project, with some positive feedback from both staff and our testing customers. So we have carried on producing videos for each aspect of the Waste service: Clinical Waste, Missed Bins, Green Waste and Bulky Waste.
This has been a fantastic initiative that has built upon our Digital team's skills and has also been an incredible cost cutting decision. Animaker will now be an ongoing tool that will not only help the wider councils with training and helping to inform customers on our services, but will also help to reduce our Contact Centre phone calls.
... Maybe one of our videos will get a Oscar nomination one day ...
Welcome back! After a short unintended hiatus, I'm here blogging again. So much has happened in the past few weeks since my last blog - it's been a fantastic, although busy time. The highlight has to have been walking in the first ever Worthing Pride with friends and colleagues. It meant a huge amount to me that members of the Digital team joined too. I was amazed at the sight of so many people supporting diversity for everyone in Worthing.
It has also been my first year anniversary of working at the councils. I'm currently sitting in the shade of the trees in one of the beautiful beer gardens in Viktualienmarkt, Munich - a colourful market that's been around since the 1800s. I'm writing this and reflecting on all that I have learnt in that first year.
Photo: Viktualienmarkt Beer Garden in Munich, Germany
While I like to think I've brought certain skills with me, I have undoubtedly learnt a huge amount. It is fantastic to be part of a team that is growing, not just in size but also in knowledge - and being able to feed off each other's skills.
We are on the cusp of delivering some important new public facing systems for social housing repairs and waste services. The exciting area for me has been joining the Digital team when we are still honing our development process. A process that starts with our customers and seeks to understand their needs, without making assumptions.
So how does this process work? At the start of a project we consult customers either by speaking to or surveying, and start to document their 'user stories'. These are user requirements captured in a way to show value rather than technical requirements. From this we start to sketch how the screens might look and flow as part of a system.
Photo: Development sketches of screens for a new self service clinical waste service
Taking these sketches a stage further we build 'low fidelity' screens that have a small amount of interactivity to step through the user flow and testing the process with a smaller group of customers.
Photo: Low fidelity screen drawings
Once this process has been demonstrated to work, we build the application in our low-code platform. An extremely powerful application that has started to connect and open up data between our systems. We are now also taking the great user research and digital standards from the Government Digital Service Toolkit and implementing these in our own products. We hope this will give a more consistent customer usability moving forward.
Photo: Final product displayed on a user's tablet
Next week I'll be introducing the budding chefs in the Digital team as we host our very own 'flapjack bake off'.
Work takes up a large part of most people's lives, so it's really important to enjoy what you do. That might be easier said than done for some, I guess I'm very lucky to be able to say I love my work life. That's not just my actual job, but the whole experience of working with diverse and friendly people. Either way, we all need a little motivational nudge sometimes.
I want to share with you some ways that will keep you motivated and loving your work life, or hopefully reconnect if you're not quite enjoying it as much as you used too.
Make some real social connections. It's easy to smile as you pass someone in the corridor, or ask about their weekend while making a cup of tea, but have you taken the time to really get to know your colleagues? I've found 'payday drinks' to be a great way to turn colleagues into friends and meet new people at work that you might not have connected with before. By the end of the first week in this job after drinks with the team, they definitely knew more about me than I expected. We also do really silly things like dressing up as pirates for Murder Mystery evenings!
Photo: Digital team Pirates Murder Mystery evening
Collaborate with your work. In Digital we try to mix up the way we work. Recently we wanted to create a small application and get it delivered quickly, so we organised a hackathon. The whole team sat round a table to brainstorm ideas and build the application. Sometimes we co-locate our project teams to be able to work closer with other services. We also organise meet-ups for the whole directorate so that everyone hears about the positive achievements of others.
Take time at lunch away from your desk. I've always been one for eating at my desk, trying to catch up on emails or prepping for the next meeting. But it is really important to take a little breathing time. Whether just walking to the sandwich shop with someone and having a chat on the way; reading a good book; or going for an ice cream on the Pier to make the most of this lovely weather - make some time for yourself.
Photo: On Worthing Pier with ice creams - Lorraine, Iain, Debbie and Simon
Push yourself and learn something new. Another great way I find to motivate myself is with self learning. This week I joined a 'meet-up' with Worthing Digital. It turned out to be a fantastic opportunity to meet a really interesting and varied group of local people all connected by our interest in digital. They were running talks about user experience by Jayde Adams and customer behaviour by David Somerville. Even if you're not comfortable pushing yourself into a new situation - just try it because you will always gain some experience.
Next week I'll be talking about the launch of a new application and the exciting process we used to develop it.
It's been another busy (and longer than usual) week for the Digital team. Last Saturday we carried out a planned disaster recovery exercise on our IT systems. It was an early 7:30am start with us assembled in the lobby of Worthing Town Hall. Who decided it was a good idea to start that early on a Saturday morning?
Even with the seriousness of the exercise, working on the weekend with the team had a slightly more relaxed feel. Recently our team has merged with IT Operations. It was a great opportunity for me to learn more about how they work; see more of the 'behind the scenes' hardware (yes, I'm a geek!) and have a more sociable experience with the team. Getting six large pizzas delivered to the Town Hall to fuel us through the day was a nice treat.
Photo: Inside one of our server rooms
The test involved turning the mains power off to our data centre and running on battery backup while over 200 systems were shutdown. Then it involved moving to generator power, restarting all the systems, before moving back to mains power again. Finally, we tested all the systems had come back online and were correctly configured ready for Monday morning. No mean feat considering that some of these systems are rarely shut down, and a huge responsibility falling on the shoulders of some of our team.
Photo: Power countdown on a battery backup
Running these type of exercises is a great way to identify weakness and build resilience in our IT infrastructure. Resilience is something we are working really hard to improve and one of our current projects involves moving a large percentage of our systems to 'the cloud' using Amazon Web Services. We have already set up the framework in the cloud and will be moving systems over in the coming months.
Earlier this year I was able to really expand my knowledge after completing three days training on Amazon Web Services. One of my first tasks will be to setup our main public website across several servers. This means that should one server fail there will be no loss of service to our customers.
If you're not a geek like me, then you'll be pleased to hear that next week's blog will feature much less tech talk! I'll be writing about how we motivate the team with a great mixture of work events like our recent Hackathon day and more sociable events like payday drinks and murder mystery evenings.
One of my fellow bloggers took the risk of losing his readership last week writing about parking. I'm definitely going to try and trump him this week with this rubbish blog, as I talk about waste services.
For the past two weeks I've been part of a project with Digital and other teams that has seen us temporarily relocated from our base in Worthing Town Hall to Environmental Services in Commerce Way, Lancing. We are starting the journey to improve the way customers interact with the Waste service over the next three months. It's a great opportunity to meet and work with some new people and learn about another vital council service. We've also loved our hot lunches at TukTuk Thai café round the corner.
Co-locating the project team right into the heart of the service is a new approach for us. It has already proved invaluable with discovering the intricacies of what they do. Some of this was highlighted when we got the chance to look at the digital systems on-board the £4m fleet of new waste trucks.
Photo: Simon (centre) in front of one our our waste and recycling trucks, with Jean and Kristy to the right
I think most of us were surprised at how many critical functions a driver had to concentrate on during their round - keeping their team safe behind the truck via CCTV; monitoring bikes and pedestrians with mirrors; logging each household that didn't put their bin out; and actually driving the collection round! It definitely gives you a respect for other people's jobs.
With over 60,000 clinical waste collections each year, our first task is to create an easier way for customers to register for the service and alter their collection frequency. The only way we can create successful services is by working with our customers to really understand their needs. So that's exactly what we have been doing, by reaching out to ask questions; creating a customer feedback group; and testing ideas with them. We call this Customer Centred Design. The insight data has backed up the development of a web service that will run in addition to the existing telephone service. We aim to launch the first version in early July so you'll be hearing more about it in a future blog I'm sure.
Photo: Part of the Project Team in a workshop
Next week I'll be talking about our planned IT disaster recovery weekend and ways to make the councils more resilient ...
With the recent warmer weather, it definitely feels like a great opportunity to make some positive changes.
The start of summer is always my 'new year resolution time' and I'm determined to become healthier this year. I had a keen interest in running and keeping fit a couple of years ago, and that interest has slowly slipped away due to other life priorities taking the lead (and a few office cakes being eaten).
When the Adur & Worthing Wellbeing team started offering Wellbeing MOTs, I thought it was a great opportunity to ask for some advice about getting back into shape and to gauge my current situation.
They have a fantastic device that uses electrical resistance in your body to work out your composition, including your weight, body fat percentage, visceral fat (internal fat) and hydration levels.
I'm happy to say my results weren't too scary (see below) but there is always room for improvement. The team offer these Wellbeing MOTs to anyone in the area - check them out on the Adur & Worthing Wellbeing Hub website.
Last Sunday was the Worthing 10k - a race along Worthing seafront enjoyed (or at least endured) by 2,800 runners of all ages from the local area. It was a fantastic sight to see so many people out supporting too.
With my wellbeing results in hand, I had a new found confidence and completed the race in 75 minutes - a long way short of my sub-hour time two years ago, but I was very proud to just get over that finish line this year! Next year I'm planning to sign up a small group from work for the race - look out world, the Digital team are coming!
It's not just about physical health though, as too often emotional or mental factors play a huge part in our physical wellbeing.
That is where the work in Digital comes in - using our 'low code' application platform we built Going Local, a new innovative social prescribing approach to address the needs of local people and health services in Adur and Worthing.
Social prescribing aims to help people living with complex social, emotional or practical needs whose health or wellbeing could be better managed with non-medical interventions.
The aim of Going Local is to reduce repeat visits to GPs as patients are given easy access to the help they need with their underlying social issues; improving their wellbeing.
One of the Community Referrers was trained in the 'low-code' environment on which the platform was built, which has enabled continual improvements to be made as the needs of the service have grown and changed.
This includes improvements to the amount of information Community Referrers can send to services so they understand the help that the person needs more quickly, the ability to send SMS reminders to a person about their appointments and other features. These features benefit the current people using Going Local, but also stand to benefit more people in the near future.
Next week I’ll be talking about our Customer Centred Design approach to allow customers more ways to interact with Waste Services.
Welcome to my first blog! I'm lucky enough to be taking full advantage of the bank holiday weekend and writing this blog from 35,000 feet en route to Toronto for my birthday - even if some of my colleagues think it's a bit crazy to fly all this distance for a few days! My passion is travel though, and this will be the 25th country I've visited.
Photo: Toronto - with the Union Station in the foreground and the CN Tower in the background
I've lived in Worthing for the past five years and I'm extremely proud that my career has led me to work for the local councils and play a small part in building a better community.
My role within the Digital team is focused on website development and user experience with a responsibility for keeping fifteen websites online 24/7 including the councils' main public site that you're reading this from. I also work closely with our other developers who are leading the way some of our services are delivered and accessed digitally. Over the coming weeks I'll introduce the fantastic work they are producing and the design methodologies we use while working closely with the council's service areas. It's not all about me!
At a recent team engagement day we discussed our service name 'Digital' and whether it has any value in an society where increasingly everything is digital. For myself however, it perfectly reflects our team and the vast array of digital services we manage and build; including software applications, websites, telephony, hardware and IT infrastructure. This all goes towards supporting our colleagues to deliver public-facing services within our community. It is also not just about making everything digital, but about making our services easier and faster to access for everyone. More people accessing our digital channels will free up our face-to-face time and contact centre for customers who are less able to access digital routes. Everybody wins.
This past week has been one of my busiest at the councils. Working with the lively team at Worthing Theatres, our IT operations team, a market leading supplier and another talented developer we have successfully launched a new Box Office ticket booking system. It is fully integrated with the Worthing Theatres website, front-of-house ticket machines and telephone box office. It was the culmination of three months planning and development and is an important revenue stream for the councils. The new system will create efficiencies in working for the Theatres team and will give customers greater options for purchasing tickets and managing their accounts online.
Next week I'll be talking about the launch of our new Housing Repairs application and whether or not I completed the Worthing 10k ...
Image: Worthing Theatres Booking System
Photo: Mimbre performing their show at Worthing Theatres
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