The Invention of the Car in Modern Society

CarIn this day and age it is almost inconceivable to imagine a world without “the car” or other motorised transport. It is hard to believe that the car was only invented in the late 1880’s and even harder to accept that motorised transport has only been common place for the last 80 years.

During this time, society has moved at a tremendous pace, which has led to the introduction of health and safety legislation that now controls all aspects of our day to day lives. It is therefore interesting to ponder what would happen if the car had been invented today.

Let’s imagine that the automobile did not exist and that an inventor puts forward a proposal, suggesting that it would be a good idea to create a machine that has four wheels, controlled manually by someone, who for the purposes of this article will be referred to as the driver.

In order for the machine to work a large (typically 40 litre) tank of highly flammable liquid would be strapped to the underside of the vehicle and this liquid would then be ignited and pumped through an engine placed in front of the driver, in order to propel the machine forward.

The proposal would need to suggest that the flow of flammable liquid would be controlled at the whim of the driver via a pedal mechanism allowing the speed of the vehicle to be increased or decreased as required.

In order to mitigate the risks associated with the idea the proposal would suggest that rules would be put in place stating that the maximum speed that the machine would be permitted to travel and guidelines would need to be developed stating safe speed limits on each stretch of tarmac (roads) that the vehicle used.

In reality, however, nothing but the power of the engine would prevent the vehicle going far faster potentially reaching speeds of over 130 miles per hour in standard automobiles, but potentially far faster in some models.

Assuming this concept, by some miracle, was approved and allowed to go ahead, consider if you will how an inventor could sell the concept of producing 30 million of these machines and then allowing them to be used on roads travelling at these high speeds in opposite directions.

To push the boundary further is it conceivable that the idea of a motorway would be accepted; a road which is specifically designed to allow these machines to travel at high speeds and facilitate the concept of vehicles overtaking one another when a driver feels another driver isn’t travelling fast enough.

This description sounds almost farcical given that in today’s society it is necessary to do a risk assessment for the most mundane task. It seems ludicrous that such a dangerous proposition would ever be permitted to go further than planning stages, if indeed it was ever given any serious consideration.

This opens up a related debate as to whether modern health and safety principles are stifling innovation and creativity. Had the car first been proposed post millennium it is unlikely that it would have ever been allowed to go ahead; it is therefore conceivable that great inventions that could revolutionise the human race are being prevented due to bureaucracy, which, is not proportionate to the potential risks of the task, problem, or idea.

The argument can be applied in principle to many innovations that have allowed man kind to develop over the millennia, including electricity, nuclear power, and coal mining.

This article serves as a warning to society that our history is based on innovation and growth and in the modern world it would appear there is a real danger of stifling that innovation which could jeopardise progression and lead to a society that forgets how to innovate.

Lead Dev London – Review

Those of you who know me will know that I really value conferences. The opportunity to take some time out to learn, develop and grow is so important in order to contribute to our community, to network and to share ideas.

This week I have been privileged to join Lead Dev London at the Barbican Centre. The conference itself has been hugely well organised and I think Meri Williams needs huge kudos for being an excellent host.

On a personal note it is also hugely refreshing to see diversity and inclusion at the heart of an event. June often sees companies and events go all rainbow coloured but so often this is simply a token gesture – Lead Dev have really thought about how to ensure that everyone can participate fully in the event – from rainbow lanyards, to pronoun stickers, to live captioning, to free childcare this event has done a great job and I would encourage other events to follow their example!


So lets take a look at my best bits of the conference! It really has been an amazing two days!


Navigating Team Friction – Lara Hogan 

This was a great opening keynote for the conference. Its so important to understand the phases that teams go through and to find ways to allow the team to progress naturally through the phases of team development. Lara succinctly summarised what to expect during team development and reinforced the idea that the forming, storming, norming and performing cycle really is a cycle. She has also written a book on Resilient Management I haven’t read it yet but its totally on my reading list.

Bottoms Up with OKR’s – Whitney O’Banner

If you have ever used Objectives and Key Results this talk radically challenge the way you’ve written and thought about them. The biggest takeaway from this talk was to stop setting OKR’s for individuals, focus on the teams and rather controversially remove the numbers from the goals – I totally agree that nine times out of ten such numeric goals are Scientific Wild Ass Guesses (SWAG) – and thank you for the new term to quantify what I already knew!

Building Security Culture on Infrastructure Teams – Franklin Hu

Special mention for this talk – its so relevant to conversations I am having at Boots right now around how you ensure security is at the forefront of a developers mind. Its totally impractical for the security team to fully review every piece of Javascript you want to include within your site and finding ways to encourage developer advocates to challenge inclusion of such scripts looking through a security lens is critical. The takeaway from this talk is that we should all consider security to be our individual responsibility!

How long is a piece of string: the key to solving the conundrum of software estimation. – Jonathan Rigby

This is a problem that I have grappled with in every role I have undertaken – Jonathan argued that the true resolution to this problem is all about trust that expectations will be effectively set with stakeholders by team members. We need to trust that developers will give honest estimates that truly reflect the work that they think is involved and trust on the part of the product owner that they will not make hard and fast promises to the business based upon those estimates. Alternatively, if all else fails we could always join the #NoEstimates movement – getting more work done in the time you would have spent producing inaccurate estimations – GREAT CONCEPT!


So many other talks deserved a mention in this post – videos are apparently on their way soon so you can check them out yourself and I’ll post a link when it becomes available! A huge thank you to everyone for a great two days and hope to see you all again next year!

Meeting your new Direct Reports

Joining any organisation in a management position is challenging; you will likely have people reporting directly to you (directs) and you will also be reporting into a more senior manager yourself.

Prior to your arrival in the role it is likely your new directs will have been told that they are about to get a new boss. This can be incredibly nerve racking for the individuals concerned and will have likely been asking themselves questions like “What is s/he going to be like?”, “will we get on?”, “what if they don’t like me?” and “how can I make a good first impression?”.

What is often forgotten is that the new manager is likely to be feeling the exact same feelings but from an alternative perspective and within this lies an opportunity for a meeting of minds.

My approach when joining an organisation is not to immediately force the relationship; meet your new directs as soon as you can and start with the principle of just being a nice person. Try to find out something about them and try to find common ground both inside and outside of work.

As I started my new role at Boots one of the key strategies I have adopted is to ask everyone that I have met about the challenges they are currently facing within their role and the challenges that they feel are currently being faced by faced by (in my case) the Digital Portfolio within the organisation. My intention in focussing on this question is:

  1. To understand where there are common themes. Are different people reporting the same challenges from different perspectives.
  2. To evaluate where I need to focus my attention most urgently and the areas that I might be able to have a positive impact.
  3. To open up a dialogue where I am clear from the outset that I am here to help and that I will work with the individual to help them to remove their pain points.

The same is true of my directs. In asking these questions it immediately sets a tone that I want to help them to succeed. Where challenges exist I can then work with the individual concerned to help them to overcome the obstacle.

I’ve recently been reading some very interesting articles about the difference between a Boss and a Leader (more posts on this soon). My belief is that from the very first conversation you have with a new direct report you need to ensure you are displaying leadership attributes as this sets the tone for all future conversations that you have with the individual. If you’ve missed this opportunity and haven’t been able to set the right tone from the outset don’t panic – its definitely not to late to change the dynamic but it becomes a little harder to do so.

In my experience making the first impression count is incredibly important; you only get one chance to create a first impression and if you get the relationship off to good start you can remove the mutual nervousness that you and your new direct are feeling. It is your responsibility as the new manager to own this first impression.

If you have any thoughts on how to approach meeting new direct reports please comment below to continue the conversation.

Engineering Management

In the last few months there has been a huge amount of change in my life which has culminated in me being appointed as the Engineering Manager for Boots UK in Nottingham.

Digital at Boots is in a really interesting position; you only have to look at the climate on the high street to realise that retailers need to adapt or die. Boots have clearly expressed a vision to enhance digital and focus on in store experiences.

In September a new CEO was appointed for Boots UK – Sebastian James comes from a strong retail background having previously been CEO of Dixons Carphone. In his role at Boots is opening stating that digital transformation must be at the heart of the business.

Joining Boots as the Engineering Manager provides me with a unique opportunity to shape the development of digital platforms across the business focussing on Design Driven Development to drive our customers digital experiences.

Having previously worked in small business environments this change is a radical shift in my own career progression. Taking some of the ideas and initiatives I have introduced on a much smaller scale and providing me with the opportunity to see how these models can scale for use in a large corporate environment.

Over the coming weeks I intend to document my journey and the journey of Boots UK here on WestgarthsWeb as we reinvent the digital experience of one of the UK’s best known retailers!

If you have any comments, feed back or questions please feel free to reach out on Twitter.

Entity Framework: To the Unit of Work Design Pattern and Beyond

Recently I’ve been giving a lot of thought to design patterns within .NET Projects. I was invited in February to give a talk at DotNetNotts and I explored the Unit of Work Design Pattern which is often selected as a valid design pattern by developers due to the way it conforms to the requirements for separation of concerns.

The approach does however break several of the SOLID principles and this has lead many to favour other patterns and approaches.

Below is a recording of the talk given in February 2018. Would love to hear your feedback

Don’t make the same mistake again!

I recently gave a talk at NSManchester, an IOS Developer Meetup group. The talk focussed on common mistakes that developers often make when developing apps.

While the talk was focussed specifically on Software Developers a number of “mistakes” are directly relevant to end users and consumers who might be considering embarking on an app development project.

App Focus

One of the most frequent mistakes we find when a client describes a new app idea to us is that the idea lacks focus. It is very temping to create an app that has a huge amount of functionality under the allusion that more features will result in more users.

The reality is that 26% of mobile apps will only ever be opened once and 48% of mobile apps will be opened less than 10 times. It is therefore incredibly important to focus your service offering so that the core idea of the app can be tested with users before to much money is spent on the development of the product.

Within the software community we often use the term “Minimal Viable Product” this essentially means you should write the smallest amount of software that makes a viable product and then test this directly with users to see if the intended value proposition is well received.

Understand the Business Model

It is a widely held belief that releasing a good app will automatically make significant amounts of money. Take Angry Birds, developed by Rovio; the company has generated millions off the back of a successful app.

What isn’t as well documented is that Angry Birds was actually Rovio’s 56th app concept and that prior to angry birds their development bill had ran into several millions of pounds as they tried to find the right product.

In addition Angry Birds was first released into a much less crowded app store where it was much easier to get noticed. Today with over 2.2 million apps in the app store it is incredibly difficult to get noticed.

We find that the most successful apps are the apps that build upon an existing customer base and provide a new value proposition to users who are already using a service or product provided to a company.

There will always be exceptions to the rule; flappy birds was one such example, but sadly without huge marketing budgets the majority of apps simply go unnoticed and never gain any form of social traction.

It is therefore important to understand where the revenue will come from before investing in developing a product.

Building for Multiple Platforms

This is something often recognised by app entrepreneurs; do I develop for Android, iOS or both. In reality you want to feature on both platforms but I believe it is a myth that both platforms need to be at the same stage of development. It is much better to invest money in one platform to prove a concept, iron out the bugs and get user feedback before duplicating the effort on another platform. That way you can learn from your mistakes and ensure that you don’t spend money making the same mistake twice.

Market your App as soon as possible

People are often worried about sharing their app idea in case someone “steals it”. The reality is that its hard work creating an app and its unlikely anyone would ever do this. Much better that you tell as many people what you are creating as soon as you start creating (or even before you do) as this will allow people to contribute ideas, tell you what they think and hopefully avoid money being wasted on an idea that is unlikely to gain traction.

If you wait until you app is in the app store before marketing it you are likely to be incredibly disappointed with the numbers of downloads and find paying for changes to your app that could have been incorporated into the initial development.


The best people to test your app are the people who are ultimately going to use it. A software development is a living thing, that’s why apps are constantly being updated. Get as many people as possible to use your app and provide feedback; that’s the only way you will ensure that you do not release a buggy app and that the app does what it was intended to do.


So there you have it, a few pro tips that might come in handy if you are considering developing an app. If you have an idea for an app get in touch and let us talk it through with you; hopefully this will result in you making a sensible investment decision and not wasting money on an idea that is unlikely to gain market traction.

iOSDEVUK(number: 7)

So we come to the end of yet another iOSDEVUK. This was my 6th year making the annual pilgrimage to Aberystwyth and as ever the conference didn’t disappoint.

Amidst the usual visits to Weatherspoons, the sea front and the pier it was once again a pleasure to grace Rummers on Tuesday night! Work never seemed to end though as I found myself submitting apps for Apple Beta Test review with the help of the DJ in preparation for my talk on Wednesday afternoon. As it turned out the Apple Gods weren’t with me and the app didn’t make it through review on time but Harambe was still well received by the crowd; coding UX into every app.

Photo courtesy of @weiran!


So what did we learn? @macdevnet would have us believe that as developers we should be reeking havoc and disrupting our workplaces in order to make better software. @capitalonegeek on the other hand can’t believe that agile isn’t embedded into the heart of every team.

General Themes

I think the theme of the conference this year has definitely been focussed around the anatomy of the team. It is evident that software developers in every company are working in ever more agile ways and the case studies of agile working practices that are being presented clearly demonstrate the business case for doing so. Companies who do not understand the benefits of working agile are lagging behind in the software development world.

Another key theme was centred around the need to focus on code quality; Code Reviews should not be an optional add on and teams need to take responsibility for the quality of their products.

@capitalonegeek – Agile Workshop – I’m not a bottleneck! I’m a free person!

One of the clear highlights of the conference for me was the Agile Workshop ran by @weiran and @chrisroddisf from Capital One. If you aren’t comfortable with the benefits that agile working can bring I would highly recommend spending a couple of hours making boats and hats with your team and you will soon realise how your bottleneck is limiting profitability.

Sam Davies – @iwantmyrealname – I’ll tell you what you can do with Core ML

Machine Learning was given a lot of stage time this year at WWDC but since the event I haven’t really had the opportunity to explore how the technology can be used in my apps. Sam’s overview of Core ML was an enlightening experience delivered in top class witty style which really has inspired me to take a more in depth look at the library. If you ever get the chance to hear Sam speak I would highly recommend it.

Adam Rush – @adam9rush – Continuous Delivery

We all know that setting up an effective continuous integration pipeline is the holy grail of an effective software development team. Adam gave a fabulous insight into some of the trials and tribulations he has found implementing Jenkins while changing the world one contract at a time. Adam will also be speaking at CodeMobile in 2018 so if you missed his talk or want to hear more from him there is a great opportunity in April 2018.

Luke Rogers – @rizergames – A thousand no’s for every yes

Luke is in an enviable club in that he is making money selling his app on the app store. He argues not enough to live off but none the less he has generated an income source with his app Pixaki.

Luke gave an inspired presentation talking about how as developers we need to focus our ideas and crucially how we should not forget to value our time in order to measure return on investment.


As ever there is simply to much to write about in one blog post. Chris and the Team in Aber did a fabulous job of organising the event. If you are interested in, or do anything with iOS then this is simply an annual event that you can’t afford to miss.

See you next September!

Measuring Impact vs Hours Worked

I was recently given the pleasure of having a tour of the FaceBook Campus in Menlo Park, California.

There are many stories of how amazing Facebook is and it didn’t disappoint. The campus is very much focussed around people. Some examples:

  • There is as much food as you will ever be able to eat and all food is free, breakfast, noon and night. There’s also a candy and ice cream shop that serves up free desert.
  • They have a retro gaming room
  • There is a bike stop that will repair your bike if you have cycled to work
  • One of the buildings has a roof top park where you can go sunbathe or just have a walk.
  • They have a beauty spar on campus that offers massage therapy and other spar treatments.

All of the services above are offered to employees for free; if you didn’t have anywhere to live as a Facebook employee I’m quite certain you could move onto campus and live for 2 or 3 months with no real difficulty.

What I found really interesting though is that the investment Facebook makes into its people doesn’t end here. The culture at Facebook is to work as and when you want to work. Employees don’t have set hours, they instead are tasked with work to do and are sent away to do it. Facebook doesn’t care when the work is done as long as it is.

Performance at Facebook is measured in terms of impact; as long as you as an employee are having impact on the organisation and are getting through the work that has been assigned to you everyone is happy.

The other really cool thing is that if something doesn’t work, or makes people miserable they change it. A great example: In the early days of Facebook code used to get pushed on a Tuesday evening so often engineers would work into the night. As a result people always felt sluggish and unmotivated on a Wednesday and didn’t want to focus on meetings. To address this all meetings were cancelled on Wednesdays and the day is now known as “No Meeting Wednesday”.

Speaking as a business owner the model portrayed above is a scary thought. The idea of saying to your staff work when, where and how you want to work but just get the job done is a great idea but conventional wisdom would say that it shouldn’t work. I mean, if people don’t have to work why would they choose to?

The fascinating thing is that not only does it work at Facebook, it clearly works brilliantly! Everyone I spoke to seems to have a common purpose, working towards the same goal; all part of the same team working towards the same end point. This is the culture that I really believe most companies can only dream of creating.

Having toured Facebook there are ideas I now have that I want to put into practice within our own working environment at Footsqueek; in some ways having seen it work at Facebook it feels like some of the ideas they have about there working practice is common sense.

One thing that really interests me (and also massively scares me) is the idea of letting staff work the hours required to do the job. Facebook would argue that there is no point being at work 40 hours a week if you can do the same work in 10 hours and also do it better because you are well rested and motivated having had a good massage.

If you are reading this the challenge I lay down to you is to look at working practices within your organisation and then ask your staff what would make like better. If they say working less do you have the guts to say “Ok, work when you want to work; just get the job done”? Even if you think that’s to extreme, I wonder want other changes would make your staff happier?