Past Present

People following my Facebook feed may have noticed that I did quite a big presentation for work this week. I work for a large and pretty well known telecoms company. Like most big corporates it does a lot of things and has quite a few programmes to stop staff getting too bored. One of these the the Dilbert-sounding “My Customer Challenge Cup competition” and it was that that I’m involved in. The final of the competition will be held in the Adlon Hotel in Berlin and the prize is a genuine and rather large trophy. The team I’m working for has a project to display a particular set of data using Google Earth. For a while I’ve been asking if I could work on it because I’ve worked on other projects involving mapping data. Finally they said that I could, and what I found is that they had a somewhat quirky prototype that was designed for a completely different project. I spent 5 days working on it and got it to a stage where it now displays our data in a much more efficient and flexible way. I’ve been doing this job for 10 years now and I like to think that I’m quite good at it.

The other team members were so impressed with what I’ve done that they asked me to join the Challenge Cup team. That was last Friday. The semifinals are 5 days over this week and next week. Our semifinal was Wednesday and I found out on Monday that I would be presenting as well. Bearing in mind that last week I was away on holiday as well, it was a bit of a surprise. Whatever, that’s what they pay me for. We met up in Stoke on Tuesday for rehearsals, in a subterranean meeting room in Telecom House that had a TV and VHS video recorder, old school overhead projectors, AUI network cables, and windows right up near the ceiling at outside ground level. After we finished there we went to a hotel overnight and I spent more time reading through my script and writing out notes. I was using pretty much every technique I could think of to remember what I was going to say, including the Roman Room (or rather my kitchen) system, a list of items with the initial letters turned into a half reasonable acronym, and simple rote repetition. Problems with memory are one of the consequences of dyspraxia, but there are workarounds and strategies you can use. Interestingly, during the rehearsals our team leader had all kinds of advice for the other people presenting, such as where to look out and how to give emphasis to certain phrases, but for me he just told me to slow down slightly and otherwise said I was fine.

On the day itself we went over to the hotel/conference centre and did yet more rehearsals. We also had to go down to the room where we’d be giving our presentation so we could sort out sound levels and positions of things on stage. It was quite a fancy setup with around 10 tables laid out cabaret style, a row of chairs at the back for the judges, the cup on a shelf behind them:
Fwd: The presentation
and a stage with 2 rear projected screens, floor level monitors (so you can see what you’re presenting without having to look behind you) and a floor level clock so you could see how much time you had left (10 mins for the presentation and 10 for Q&A). Our team was the last out of 10 to present and we saw a lot of different styles from the other teams, from videos to roleplays.

We left the room to get miked up for our presentation while the previous team were answering questions, and then waited to go on stage. Waiting in the wings felt a bit like the time last year when I was waiting to walk out to fight. We walked on stage and did our bit. I had 4 slides to do some or all of, including one with pretty maps for people to look at, which was probably a relief after the previous two which were pretty heavy on stats. I think I look a bit like a university lecturer:
All those rehearsals paid off and I managed to keep speaking clearly throughout. Even with radio mikes you’ve got to speak properly or you just get a louder mumble or gabble. I did fluff my lines a bit on one slide, but I just used less formal language rather than my mind going completely blank and no one noticed. We finished almost dead on time with 3 seconds to go, and then other people in the team had to answer questions about the data and statistical methods we used.

After all that the next port of call was the bar, for something a little stronger than coffee. Later on there was a formal dinner where we were encouraged to dress smartly. I think it’s fair to say that I did:

The results were announced after dinner. We didn’t get through this time, but there’s still a wildcard place to be announced on the 18th of November and a lot of people were interested in what we’d done and said we had a very strong project. The purpose of the Challange Cup is to get people wanting to do something that will improve customer service and the events themselves are supposed to get different parts of the company working together and making contacts, and it’s fair to said it did that.

As for what I’ve got out of it, it was good to meet members of my own team face to face for the first time. I haven’t had to do a presentation for work for some years so it’s good to know I’ve still got those skills. Although I’m not the only developer working on the project I think it’s significant that they asked me to join the team as technical lead so I’m going to have an interesting conversation with my line manager over the next week. I’ve done a few different mapping applications now so I’m thinking about writing a paper about what I’ve done and submitting it through the company’s review process to get it published with a title like “Geographical representation of data using XML-based technologies”. Some developers get very possessive about code they’ve written and deliberately keep it somewhat obfuscated or use ageing technologies that fewer people are likely to have used, but I know I won’t be around for ever and I think writing good code with plenty of documentation is much better. Create a good algorithm and people remember you for a long time. Create a badly written but mission critical application and people swear at you for a long time.