Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Sharing Ramadan Itikaf Snippets

Ramadan is known as the Muslim month of fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam. The last ten days of Ramadan, especially the last odd nights in this period, are considered very blessed. As was the practice of the prophet Muhammad (May God's Peace and blessings be upon Muhammad and his family & descendents), he would spend the last 10 days in seclusion in the Masjid, immersed in various acts of devotionals. We commonly refer to this tradition as "sitting for Itikaf". This became part of his Sunnah, which the vast majority of Muslims include as part of their belief system (i.e. to follow both the Qur'an and Prophet Muhammad's Sunnah).
I sat my first Itikaf in 2018, at the age of 40. Since then, I vowed to sit every year until my death, no matter what the situation is at work, going as far as taking unpaid leave if needed (which I've done). Alas, during Covid-19 Masjids were either closed or not allowing Itikaf in 2020 and 2021, so I missed those two years. This year, 2022 was open so I maintained my commitment to continue my vow. Even though I'd recently switched jobs, starting a new career, with new bosses and new teams, with critical projects in motion and notwithstanding the fact I've not earned much credibility yet, I still wasn't going to let me pass up my Itikaf opportunity again!

Nothing was deemed more important, even if it portrayed me as being a weak leader or not-committed to the company, I put my faith firmly in God's hands and my resolution to remain steadfast to my value system priorities: My spiritual well-being Islam is first. There is no separation of identities. 

I wasn't always like this though, since growing up I'd focused on my profession (my job) putting it ahead of everything else.  Now, I view the world with a much broader lens. My job is absolutely still very important. In fact, as a Muslim, we treat our work very seriously, with great responsibility to account for halal income and maintain our work contracts in the strictest manner possible, strictly accounting for the time sincerely because we will be answerable for our time to God. So work is still a key component but not at the expense of my personal spirituality, mental well-being and family responsibilities. 

With enough up-front planning and expectation management, I was able to complete my Itikaf successfully this year.  

I find the workplaces have really started to embrace diversity and inclusion, which is quite awesome. My current company, is by far the best workplace I've experienced that promotes IDE, truly raising the bar. 

So what do I get up to in Itikaf then? 

When I sit for Itikaf, I try to cut myself out from the world as much as possible. I'm unreachable if there's a work emergency, sorry. I limit my interactions with immediate family. And a total black out of digital devices, social media, etc. digital detox. I also limit my interactions with fellow guests. 

A large part is private and personal of course. Maybe I'll share some of my journal insights in future posts? In this post, what I can share is that I don't spend all my time doing devotionals. I journal, meditate and also take time to explore my artistic side with freehand sketching things that catch my attention: Islamic art, calligraphy, poetry, etc. If you've ever ventured into a typical Masjid (Mosque, Muslim place of worship) you will have likely come across the most beautiful Arabic scripts of calligraphy, tile work, frames, etc.

So there is at least one day in my 10 days of seclusion where I spend a few hours sketching in my journal. This helps me process my thoughts, reflect on the beauty of Islam's art form, thus reflection in God's beauty and love inspired, is a form of remembrance in its own right. 

I'm not great at sketching though, so I'm sharing at risk. Hoping I can make more time for this as a regular hobby outside of just once a year:

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

On making the mid-career Switch


When I started my career as an engineer, I was keen on experiencing as many roles in the end-to-end software stack as possible. I switched teams, projects and even organisations. I even made the cast of the "Switcher" video that our HR careers team produced to promote growth opportunities through switching jobs! I once switched roles just before being promoted too, starting over as a junior engineer in a different part of the org build a tech stack I had zero prior experience in. Even after switching tracks between management-and-technical to becoming Principal Engineer, thinking I would remain firmly technical - I switched to back management for practical lifestyle reasons. But even within management, I switched between management roles just so that I could experience as many facets of business as possible, so that I could one day maybe run my own company! I also switched from a tech platform product service provider to big corporates & also was lucky enough to experience start-ups from concept to business launch. 

I once switched jobs by exiting permanent to freelancing the month before my bonus was due. My last switch forfeited share options and a retention bonus to boot!

So I was very intentional about becoming a "Jack of All trades, Master of some!" general biztech manager.  I am mostly self-taught & experienced my MBA by learning on-the-job, so switching careers was natural and pretty easy, I'm an adaptable guy! 

Or so I thought ... Until now…until my current Switch-in-progress ...

I've started to view switching as a function of tenure, so my assertion is thus: That it actually gets harder to switch as the years go by. If you've left the technical track for some time, an experienced manager for example, switching back to technical engineering gets much harder. When you see yourself as in the"experienced 21+ years" category, you best be ready for a little discomfort...

So my most recent switch from executive leadership into operational management as an engineering manager - is the hardest switch I've made to date! I suppose it was expected - having spent the last decade executing strategically and delivering through others primarily, occassionally rolling up my sleeves by necessity. Whenever I got in the trenches, it was usually short-lived - to lead from the frontlines, setting-up frameworks, run rehearsals, entrenching new processes & instilling new behaviours, coaching then handing over the reigns to managers and then watching those upcoming leaders grow. That was the most rewarding part of leadership for me, one could call that my superpower (i.e. growing leaders).

As my story goes, in 2020 I made a conscious decision to leave behind an industry I knew like the-back-of-my-hand (video) & start over anew in cloud native platforms, back in the "engine room" of software development so to speak. From enjoying big strategic planning and owning a technology roadmap with 200 people responsibility, working on commercial contracts and negotiations, spending big money and having direct bottom-line impact to P&L – to going back into the engine room, building small software teams, with the opportunity of having massive impact on a global scale with the biggest tech company on the planet, working with the best and brightest minds - sparked the Switcher in me to start a new adventure!

Forceably disrupting, reinventing myself so that I could at least add two more domains before retiring. A lot of folks told me I was bloody crazy, others called me brave (being a little "late" in my career after landing relatively respectable senior posts). I personally, wanted to rekindle the flame of adventure that was on its way out!

Man, what was I thinking!! :-) 

Reinventing myself has been hard, very hard! With 15 months into this journey, I still have some miles+++ to go to becoming comfortable in my new (humble) shoes. Not a good feeling for someone tenured with loads of experience, says the ego!

For those folks thinking about making a similar lateral/downward move to a new domain/company, be prepared for a journey of ups and downs! 

Expect constant battles with your ego! Mind your hubris! Let go of past successes! Come to terms with Imposter Syndrome! Let the resistance pass through. Be like water, my friend. Empty your cup...Leave your ego at the door...

Here's some reflections I use regularly to re-calibrate when I feel the force of resistance is strong (i.e. the desire to pack up and leave because I've seen better):

1. Think back to the core driver of why you've made the switch, why weren't you satisfied & what drove the change?
2. Welcome your new critics - don't be too defensive by bringing up your past accolades (they just don't matter, what matters is what are you bringing to the table right now).
3. Think about your biggest vulnerabilities in the new role. How do you plan to compensate for them?
4. What can you do to gain more control over your local environment? [Think: Circle of control/influence]
5. What are you avoiding?
6. Why are you avoiding? Why...5 Whys...
7. How are you helping your colleagues achieve their goals?
8. How are you NOT helping or even hindering their progress?
9. How might you be contributing to your least enjoyable relationship at work?
10. How could you have been more effective in a recent meeting?
11. Ask "What haven't I considered?"
12. Ask "Why is this thing the way it is?" 
13. Ask "Am I part of the problem here or the solution?"
14. Ask "Could I be wrong here?"
15. Practice silence & patience. Before raising something, Ask: Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said, by me? Does it need to be said, by me, right now?

The learning never really ends - to achieve personal mastery is a journey that has no end.

Having said that, reinvention is not for everyone! Switching careers can be hard. It can be daunting. It can also be quite lonely. Be sure you're up for the challenges ahead. Seek counsel from folks who've walked the path before.

#personaldevelopment #careeradvice

Sunday, 16 January 2022

Diving deeper with personal analytics

In my first post of 2022, I shared some analytics of my life tracking data for the last 6 years. I couldn't help myself going down the rabbit hole with additional questions that could be used to trigger additional self reflection, which would then spark me to make deliberate changes in my life. It was quite fun going down the rabbit hole playing with AWS Quicksight and manipulating data fields to get to the answers I sought. 

When I have more time to play around, I think an AI/ML personal assistant should use my data to help me with insights. I believe there will be a market in personal analytics or metrics, or personal telemetry that I've coined the termed personametry back in 2015. At that time I wanted to build a product based on my RAGE model called personametry. Alas, that project is still on the backburner, and I've made a ton of excuses (to be honest) not getting it off the ground. Yes, my work got in the way, reality of family and financial obligations, then complacency and comforts-of-life (aka laziness). If I was serious about it, I would've made a plan. I resigned to keep tracking my data, keeping abreast of the progress of personal assistants, productivity apps and personal tracking devices, looking for the timing when things begin to fall into place!!

If you have additional questions you think might inspire changes & personal improvements, let me know in the comments section!

How do I breakdown my 24-hour days?

This is an interesting question. I decided to splice my 24-hours into "periods" and so I ended up with 8 (eight) partitions of the day. Since I track the start and end of my activities (tasks) captured in Harvest, I should be able to see how I utilize my time in a typical day. There is a missing element of productivity/impact as a result of that activity, which is a topic for another day.

Here is the code for splitting up a day, using a datetime field, in Quicksight:

I don't start my day at midnight and count 24 hours. Rather I account for the 24 hours from the point of going to bed or starting my day at 4am. I used to consistently begin my days at 4am for 2016-2020, but since relocating to Cape Town, it's been a struggle. I'm going to have to renew this habit in 2022. The partitioning of 24 hours days is not impacted though.

In addition to splicing the parts of day, I could look at how my routines differ between weekdays and weekends. For weekdays, I haven't yet filtered out real workdays, that is, not a public holiday or a leave day. 

With this new partitioning I can then answer these questions like:

Monday, 3 January 2022

2021 Life/Work streams review with 6 years data points

It's that time of the year when I review my personal time keeping metrics showing how I've spent my time over the previous year. I've been doing this exercise diligently since 2015, when I created a framework for myself called "RAGE" Reality, Aspirations, Goals, Expectations. Using ideas from software engineering and product management, I decided to map out my personal (life) and professional (work) streams across the many dimensions I was involved in (Muslim | Individual | Professional | Husband | Father | Friend | etc.). I focused on Time as the key metric to track, since time is one of the most important resource that should never be squandered. 

The idea is simple: if something is important to me, then I should be spending time in that area - but if I end up spending little or zero time on that thing, then that thing must have not been as important to me as I thought it was. 

Tracking time allows me to answer questions like: 

  • Am I spending time in the areas that are important to me? 
  • Which areas am I over indexing on that negatively impacts my other steams, robbing me of value?
  • Am I giving each stream the necessary amount of attention?
  • What decisions do I need to make when the data and anecdotes (feelings / instincts) don't match up?
Click here to check out my writings from previous years and here for an introduction to my RAGE framework for personal development tracking.
To read my 2020 review and reference my personal value system, click here.

2021 Re-starting Life & Work (again)

Driven by my personal planning through my RAGE model, 2021 was the year I hit reset. I uprooted my family and relocated from Johannesburg to Cape Town in December 2020. Earlier in 2020, I'd resigned from my C-level position of a very stable and secure job - at first - to take a year long sabbatical to work out my next move. This sabbatical was short-lived due to the uncertainty of Covid-19, I felt it too risky not to secure another job in 2021. I knew one thing for sure: I was no longer interested in building video entertainment technology applications "make people watch TV" and wanted to branch out into something else either in Cloud or e-Commerce. Thankfully I landed the first job I decided to interview for in cloud computing with AWS, Cape Town. A big departure for me because I was going back to core engineering building software, something which I've not done to that level of technical detail since 2010! I was also going to start as a senior manager and not a GM/CTO. So essentially I'd walked away from a high influence, high referent and hierarchical power, entrenched credibility and track record - to starting professionally all over again, from a "big fish, small pond" to being a "tiny fish, large ocean" fella, with zero credibility. I value learning new knowledge, building new relationships and gaining new experiences as more important than positional titles. My wife and kids also left their lives behind which we'd nurtured for a decade since relocating to Johannesburg (from UK), relocating and disrupting their lives to Cape Town with me - they too, hitting reset leaving much loved friendships, community and family-support behind. 

So 2021 would bring a massive disruption to my personal, professional and family streams. Time will tell if this grand reset is working or not. So my personal time tracking data is now more important than before.

This post shares my time tracking data for 2021 compared to the previous 6-years for comparison. Resetting one's life personally and professionally is not an easy thing to do. I've learnt much about this experience that I hope to share in future posts. In terms of the key KPIs of time tracking, 2021 went as well as can be expected considering the unusual context & challenges of Covid-19. In this post I share only the data and limited insights. There's some soul-searching I've yet to do on making drastic changes to my personas, which at the time of this writing doesn't seem to be major...

With year one done, so far, so good...no major regrets although the data has shown I need to recalibrate some streams if I want to get back to previous levels of balance.

Saturday, 11 December 2021

On "World-Class People", what a load of bollocks!

(11-Dec-21 clearing out old drafts cache 2012-2016, articles I didn't get round to finishing) 


Lately I've been thinking about our tendency to compare ourselves, our work, skills & knowledge using the term "world-class" as the benchmark, the bar (at least for us in Africa, this comparison is pretty much comes up frequently in boardroom conversations).

I myself have used this term on a few occasions, heck, the goal for my current job was to transform the engineering team & products we build, from being "ordinary" to "world-class", to build a "world-class" engineering team. Three years later, I now see what a whole load of bullshit that really was!! And instead of being used as a powerful motivator for change, it "world-class" carries far more negative connotations that positive...incidentally, I had stopped using the term less than a year into the role, I don't use it with my team anymore, although I have to deal with non-technical executives as well as key stakeholders across the business, who regularly challenge: Do you have world-class engineers? Are they A players or B players? We need champions league players...and so on.

For people coming from the western world into Africa, you will indeed be in for a surprise. Even myself, a returning African after working for decade in Europe, was initially flabbagastered ...

Why & How I did enter consulting?

(11-Dec-21 clearing out old drafts cache 2012-2016, articles I didn't get round to finishing) 
Another one penned but not published. 
I did experiment with my own consultancy for 4.5 years, created Africa Systems and Software Services and subcontracted with TPI Africa Computer Services.... So I did take the leap and go out on my own 🤷🏽‍♂️

I provide specialist Software and Systems Engineering Management Consulting in the following areas:
The sector I offer immediate and expert use is in the Digital TV sector, covering Set-Top-Box software & hardware, Headend systems - for TV services such as EPG (Electronic Program Guide), VOD (Video-on-Demand) and other OTT (Over-the-Top Internet) services. I have a detailed track record of successful engagements in this sector.

These skills, experiences and best practices are easily transferrable to other sectors that touch on Software/Systems Engineering, including Telco, Healthcare & Banking systems.