Sabbatical Adventuresu

Once you’ve been at ThoughtWorks for 10years you earn a 12 week paid sabbatical. It’s such an amazing privilege that I’m very grateful for.

There aren’t any specific guidelines about what you should do with those 12 weeks other than to encourage you to do something to enrich the life of yourself and others.

So here we are on my official first day of my sabbatical and I’m really looking forward to refreshing and rejuvenating my mind, and going on some adventures.

Because I’m me… I’ve packed a tonne in! So I’m trying to scale back all the other side hopes I have and just enjoy the time. And of course… it mostly revolves around skiing.

So what’s on the agenda?

  • I’m currently in St Lucia with the husband, reading, snorkelling, relaxing, trying not to get sunburnt (whoops) !
  • A week in Verbier at a women’s ski performance camp with my lovely friend Lindsay. We trained to be ski instructors together back in the day.
  • I’m doing four weeks of volunteering during activity weeks for DSUK Disabled Skiing UK. A lovely group that I’ve been spending time with over the last 6 months. 2 weeks in Neiderau in Austria and 2 weeks in Arinsal in Andorra
  • Bucket list item #1 – going to watch the World Cup Ski Racing in Kitzbühel
  • Usual family ski week in Flumserberg
  • Bucket list item #2 – hopefully getting to see the Northern Lights on a trip Iceland with my mum
  • Ending with going to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in the west end!

It’s going to be an adventure for sure! Here’s to switching off from work, resting, rejuvenating and feeding my soul.


10 years @ ThoughtWorks

Unbelievably, yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of when I joined ThoughtWorks.

It blows my mind that a whole decade has passed since the first day I walked into our London office with Becky and Val, as a recent graduate, as we hid in the kitchen, too nervous to join our new colleagues on the desks.

When I think about it, 23 to 33 is such a formative time in your life. I’ve grown up here. This will sound cheesy but ThoughtWorks has not only taught me how to be a software engineer, a coach, a leader but I think it’s almost definitely taught be how to be a better person. I may not be the biggest social and economic justice activist that I‘m sure our founder Roy would love us all to be. But I proudly call myself a feminist, I understand my privilege, I value diversity, equality and equity for all, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of those socialist liberal values have rubbed off on me too.

My journey with ThoughtWorks has been pretty up and down (especially at the beginning!), and my path has been wonderfully winding. But turns out moving to Canada 6 weeks in gave me life long friends, a pretty awesome husband, chances to work with and become friends with two of my current colleagues (I can’t beleive that Mike and Rebecca you’ve seen me grow up here). Chicago gave me more awesome people and experiences, and coming back to London the same.

A wise ex-colleague of mine Warren said as he was leaving that “as long as you are getting opportunities to grow and learn and do interesting work, stay and enjoy this amazing place”. He was right, and I still am.

I’ve had so many great opportunities and experiences through my time at ThoughtWorks, worked in and travelled to many far flung countries, gotten to speak at conferences and met, learnt from and become friends with amazing people from all kinds of backgrounds. I hope that I’ve left a positive impact on those who I’ve crossed paths with too.

The first time I met ThoughtWorks, I travelled up to London from Devon to attend a graduate open day, when my step dad picked me up from the train on the way home, he asked me what it had been like and my response was “well…. they are all totally crazy, but they are so passionate about what they do, I think I’ll fit in perfectly”. Still so true today, and I’m pretty happy to count myself amount them.

So many memories, so many laughs and quite a lot of gin later I often think that ThoughtWorks years are like dog years, 1 year here is like 3 somewhere else, and I’m feeling all those years. So…. here’s to us ThoughtWorks and all the wondberfullly crazy people I’ve met along the way, may we look forward to a few more.

A format for Strengths Based Feedback

This is a format that we used when I was working with my Leadership Coach Stacey Sargent. I use it often and have found that it normally leads to an insightful, constructive discussion, and it’s so much more interesting than “what did I do well and what can I do better”.

Strengths based feedback:
(a) what do I do really well that I should capitalise on more, and never stop doing?
(b) If I shift one thing, that would be the biggest leverage point, what would I focus on?

Why do I like this format so much?

It still conforms to the effective feedback principles of strengthening confidence and increasing effectiveness.

I’ve found that in part (a), people often come up with things that you take for granted and “just do without thinking”, but actually, these are your super powers, you should embrace them and build on them. You  might also find that people point out reasons that they value you that you wouldn’t have even noticed or realised.

Part (b) is about what can you focus on to grow. I like the word “leverage”, to me it implies that sometimes the smallest adjustment can have the biggest difference. What is that one thing?  Maybe it’s some new behaviour that you haven’t shown before, maybe its building on something that you are already strong in, but taking it to the next level. Notice also that it doesn’t use the word ‘change’, but instead “shift”, which seems like a much more reasonable ask.

The other thing I love about this is it is written in the style of a conversation. Rather than writing feedback in a way for others to consume, it is written to the person you are giving feedback to. I feel it changes the tone of the feedback and becomes much easier to write and to consume.

Love to hear if you’ve used a format like this before and how you got on?

Anne’s Top Tips for Enablement – Lessons from being an Agile Coach

Often at ThoughtWorks we will be asked to help train and up-skill the client’s team members whilst we co-deliver projects. We call this enablement.  These are some lessons that I learnt whilst being an agile coach and from having 1:1 coaching sessions with clients, that are worth thinking about if find yourself on the “consulting” or “coaching” side of a relationship.

Tip #1: Understand the expectations from the start

What kind of engagement is it?

Think about what kind of situation you are in.  Are you there to  “just deliver x”? Are you working closely with a client team?  Are you there in more of a coaching or consulting capability? It could be something anywhere along that spectrum. Wherever you land on that spectrum there will always be some degree of influencing, education and support of the client needed.  You will need to bring people along with you, whether it’s a single stakeholder or a team of developers, this to me, is enablement.

Pick technologies and techniques that the client can support

More often than not, we will be leaving behind some software or hardware that we are expecting the client to be able to maintain or support to some degree.  Really think about this when picking technologies, designing your software, and evolving your process.   How different is this to what the client has done before?  What are their core skills in, and what’s reasonable progress from that?  Often the newest, coolest techniques are not going to be easily learnable in the time that we have with them. Think about your choices and don’t leave them with something they won’t be able to look after. Do the right thing by the client.

Talk about it often

At an account level, make sure you talk about what degree of enablement you are expecting, ensure that it’s planned in from the start, and check that you are progressing, revisit decisions and assumptions regularly.

Tip #2: Put yourself in their shoes

Work on courage and confidence

People’s confidence can often take a huge hit when they are transitioning to a new skill set. For example between waterfall and agile or from one technology to another. Until the person can work out how to adapt their current skills to meet the needed skills, they can often feel like they have no skills at all, they might feel they no longer have anything to bring the table and that they are the only ones feeling like this. Multiply this phenomenon by the fact that it’s not just one new thing thing they are experiencing, it could be their whole working environment, how they collaborate, how they contribute, the people round them and it can spiral quickly.  It is really hard to stay confident and courageous with all this going on.  At the beginning focus on doing everything you can to help people grow in confidence and courage, so that they can throw themselves into learning.

Consider learning agility

Learning Agility, the ability to learn, adapt, and apply ourselves in constantly morphing conditions, is something that as consultants, is a required skill. In some larger, more traditional environments, this is not something that employees have a chance to practice and develop often, so their learning agility levels might be quite low. This doesn’t mean they can’t learn, but that the process might be a lot slower that someone who is more practiced. It’s quite a different mindset, so think about how reasonable it is that we expect someone with lower learning agility to “just pick up” tens of new tools and practices at a fast pace. Really think about how patient you are being, slow down, cover basics and practice fundamentals often. It takes time to develop the skills of learning, but helping people build these skills can make such a radical difference in the future.

Show your vulnerability

It can be very intimidating to learn from an “expert”, someone might feel like this “expert” can do no wrong, that they never make mistakes, that they are always confident, that you don’t have anything to add.  Try sharing stories of times that you have struggled to pick things up, or situations you have felt scared in. We all feel unconfident at times, admit that to them, you’ll see a massive difference. Make sure to ASK for their input don’t just expect them to speak up without encouragement.

Make sure you cover the basics

Don’t forget to cover the basics, explain the dynamics and responsibilities when pairing, cover basic TDD and red, green, refactor, go into the finer details of how to write stories and plan work. Always remember to explain WHY. Keep repeating this basics, when you are new to anything it takes a lot of mileage and repetition until you start to understand the nuances.

Tip #3: Get to know the people you are working with

Build rapport

Rapport is one of the most important things when coaching. There needs to be trust and respect between both parties.  You might want to ask how they got into what they do, what their experience is at the company, find out what they do for fun, look for common ground.

Talk about goals and aspirations

Take time to ask and listen about what their goals and aspirations are, you are more likely to find you have a motivated pair if you can help find them opportunities that they would enjoy. One idea that someone had which I thought was great, at the start of pairing or at the start of the day the pair should talk about what learning or knowledge they want to gain out of the activity. This will help you work out when to take more time over particular concepts, and when it’s ok to go at a higher level of understanding.

Value them and their skills

It doesn’t matter what experience or background people have, everyone has skills to offer, everyone will bring different perspectives. Your clients will have the best domain knowledge, and they know their own systems better than anyone. They are software professionals, probably with a lot of experience. Value and embrace this diversity in thinking.

Open the feedback conversation

It’s important to create an environment where feedback is encouraged and accepted. This might not be something that currently exists, it is our job to create that space. Make it a place where they are comfortable enough to be able to feedback to you about how they learn and what helps them.


I hope that you have been able to take away some tips that you can apply in your next enablement situation.  Please reach out to those around you and ask for help, and make sure the team is talking about enablement and how it is progressing. Developing the empathetic skills I’ve talked about above will make a huge difference in creating a successful enablement situation.

Where have I been?!

Well, it would seem a year has gone by….

Most of that year was spent commuting back and forth to Glasgow from London each week for ThoughtWorks. I was working with a client up there from late April 2014 to early March this year, first as a developer and then as an Agile Coach, leading the enablement stream on a transformation programme. It was the most amazing experience being a full time coach again and has given me lots of fodder to share my learnings and ideas around. Scotland is beautiful and I made some great new friends and colleagues. Stay tuned.

I’m now back based in London, and have taken on a new role, working in a supporting role to the senior techie groups at ThoughtWorks and our CTO. So far it’s been fascinating, and am looking forward to getting into that more. One of the things that I have just put together in that role is this, the ThoughtWorks Technology Radar! More about that at some point.

I’ve been back for another round of amazing leadership coaching from Stacey Sargent of Connect Growth and Development, it was my last session today, and really made me realise that I should get back to writing. So will be working on a round up of my learnings soon.

Oh, I’ve been in a book! My good friend and colleague wrote a book called “Talking with Tech Leads” which is a bunch of interviews and insights from tech leads on various stages of their journeys. One of them is me!

I’ve been on some fun trips, we spent Christmas with the Canadian half of our family, got lots of skiing in, had weekends up in Scotland, sunny weekends in Devon, hung out in Munch and Venice last autumn, friend’s weddings, and just got back from my first time to South America, I spent a week working in São Paulo, Brazil.

I ran my first 10K race and even spent and evening learning Curling (it was amazing, do it!)…

So, here’s to making the space to returning to blogging!

– Anne

Leadership coaching – the best investment I have made in myself.

I have just wrapped up 6 months of coaching with Stacey Sargent from Connect Growth and Development, and it was such a great experience. I wanted to capture some of my feelings so that I could always remember how much of a difference it made.

Why do leadership coaching?

I was lucky enough to be given a yearly budget from my company ThoughtWorks to use for personal development. Some people spend theirs on a far flung conference or books or the odd workshop, and I’d been pretty rubbish at using mine at all in the last few years.

Right now I’m in that middle zone of transitioning to a “leader” on my teams, no longer content with not being able influence the direction of the project and the people on it and starting to feel brave enough to dip my toe in the responsibility that is official leadership roles. I needed a push!

I wanted to focus on my own growth and development. Spend time thinking “What it is that I want?”, and “How to get the best out of myself?” so that I could get the best out of the people and the situations around me.

I have quite a high EQ but sometimes it can be overwhelming, so I wanted help learning how to manage this. I wanted to know how to be a calm, confident leader that people can look to in times of stress and uncertainty. Most of the time I project a very positive, passionate and energetic persona, whilst sometimes I’m actually feeling panic, doubt and uncertainty on the inside. I wanted to feel on the inside what I seem like on the outside.

I wanted to be able to have the tough conversations that I need to have with people to build good relationships, I shied away from personal confrontation.

To work on these things I figured I needed dedicated effort and practice to do so!

How to find a great one?

Find someone who knows what they are doing, and that you have great rapport with. You need to be able to trust this person enough that you will be able to be honest with them, and not be afraid to say the things that maybe you haven’t said out loud before.

For me it was helpful that Stacey did not work for the same company I did. It really provided some unbiased outside perspective.

Work out if you feel like you would need to physically meet up with your coach or if you would be able to be build your coaching relationship remotely, over Skype or some other tool.

I actually had been lucky enough to attend two sessions that Stacey had run at a couple of the Grace Hopper Celebrations that I had been at, and knew that she now runs a coaching company. So called her up and asked.

How did it work?

We would meet twice a month, on Stacey’s suggestion. My first thought was “how am I going to find the time?!” But actually, that frequency provides you with enough focus and reminders to be constantly thinking about how you can be growing.

As I live in London and my coach was in Seattle, we managed to find a time that suited as both, I chose Monday evenings as it helped me start the week off right. We would Skype for an hour or so. I think neither of us were sure how coaching remotely would go, but actually it worked out better than either of us had expected. I’m not sure it would have worked so well over just the phone. With the camera on it was much easier for Stacey to see my physical reactions and to see me squirm when I wasn’t giving an honest answer to myself!

There were days when I was grumpy and upset, and there were days that I was super energised and positive. Sometimes we would work on helping out my immediate situation and other times a more long term high level look at my goals and growth.

What did I learn?

I got an enormous amount out of these 6 months. I think the headline is that I know so much more about myself now.

Having a better understanding of what my strengths and values are gives me something to always check my trajectory with.  This helps me know when and how to push myself. If I’m in a situation I’m uncertain about or wondering if I’ve pushed too far, I can do a sanity check to see if I’m still holding true to my values, and if I am then to be brave and keep going!

We spent quite a lot of time coming up with the goals for my growth. It took many iterations, but what we came out with in, really hit all the key areas and may not have been what I was originally thinking they might be. Having these goals will help me be more intentional about the choice that I make.

One of my goals was to have an answer to “What do you want to do? What to you enjoy doing?”. So I looked back at my previous experiences with a very open mind and thought about what the things were that motivated me, or that I really enjoyed, what did I not enjoy so much, and I came out with 4 things that create an environment that I can really thrive in. This has really helped me to have conversations about how my company and I can put me into situations where they will get the best out of me. A benefit for both them and me! Having these concrete ideas and showing the process that I did to come up with them, has helped me start very rational objective discussions.

Training your brain to be more introspective. It takes a while to get used to analysing why you do what you do. Getting into the habit of it takes practice. During the start of my 6 months coaching, Stacey would have to ask a lot of questions before I would finally realise what the underlying motivations were to a certain situation. By the end, I could almost complete the whole loop before the problem statement had even come out of my mouth.

Along these similar lines, I have always had a bit of a self deprecating tendency. I often slip back into it when going into new situations. Again though, by the end of our sessions I could normally catch myself and consciously turn it more positive. The next step is to not even think it!

We also would work on more tactical aspects when needed. If I was experiencing a particularly tough situation or relationship at work, we would talk through in depth. Thinking about why it was happening, what could I do about, how best to approach it.

I have gotten better at being brave enough to have conversations that I might be afraid of. Approaching them with more structure, thinking about them, and practicing them before I have them.

I am a fairly emotional person, but can also be quite rational. These two sides of my brain were at war with each other. I thought that I needed to be more rational and try and squash my emotional side. I realised though, these sides combined are who I am. It is what makes me me. It is also, often, what makes me very effective. So I am trying not to react but to be intentional with my conversations and actions.

What helped?

  • I love learning
  • I am happy to throw myself into uncomfortable situations and to doing things in a different way to help myself grow.
  • My coach and I had a great rapport and high levels of trust
  • Stacey was not afraid to call me out if I was slipping back  into old habits
  • Regular contact kept me focused

In conclusion…

I feel like I know myself much better than I did before.  I have much more confidence in who I am. I understand and have come to terms with what I bring to the table on a team.

I’ve realised that to be the best leader that I can be I have to be my own unique self and work hard to work out what that is. I can lead with my own style while staying true to what I value in both myself and others.

As I am in the early stages of my leadership journey, my learning is currently more focused on myself. I’m hoping that soon, after I have more practice, I can have another go and change my growth focus to how to get the best out of the people that I am leading.

It was a truly great experience and I am thankful for having the opportunity.  I am very grateful to Stacey and all her hard work, understanding, passion and patience.

I would very much recommend making this investment in yourself if you want to grow into a great leader.

Speaking Event – The Science of Diversity

Myself and two of my colleagues will be talking about the science of diversity and whether diverse teams are better than non diverse teams….
If you are in London please come along!
ThoughtWorks would like to invite you to meet with us at an upcoming event. Please share!
ThoughtWorks deliver software to people with ambitious missions and we’re looking for talented techies to join us. We value diversity and on 18th November we are hosting an evening with our CTO Rebecca Parsons who will be taking a scientific and technical approach to answer the question ‘are diverse teams better?’ 
There will also be an opportunity to network and find out about careers with ThoughtWorks. 
You can register here – we look forward to meeting you!
Please contact Katie @katielisa52 for more details.Inline images 1