Me and the Silicon Orchid project

10 January 2019 ·  5 min read

Hi, I’m Jim McG.

I live in “Milton Keynes” - a large town that is about 50 miles northwest of London.

I’ve been a software developer for a long time now, using largely Microsoft orientated tech. Today, that means I generally gravitate around web-based solutions using C#, .Net Core and Azure.

Silicon Orchid is a personal project that I started in January 2019. My goal is to reach out to other developers and to share knowledge with people, especially those new to the industry.

I’m no genius and I really don’t pretend to be an expert - but I’ve been doing development for a while, so I must know a bit. If I can share that “bit” with other people, then that’s good for both of us ! :-)

image showing north korean soldier holding a target

Some jobs are awesome! (… and then there’s the rest)

In recent years, I’ve found myself working for a succession of companies that presented varying combinations of poor culture, unhealthy working environment and eyebrow-raising ethics.

It’s not always been like that; I’ve worked for some terrific firms in the past, that really looked after and respected their staff.

Times change though.

Last year, I was working as a full-time employee of a “disruptive” company.

“A market-leading innovator bringing dynamic change to the industry” you ask? … nope, sadly not one of those! Instead, this was an organisation that shoe-horned people into a space ill-suited as an office (it was once a cowshed).

You know how loud and chaotic a late-night bar can be? … my office was kinda just like that. At times things got so obnoxiously loud, that my colleague and I, who sat elbow-to-elbow at our tiny little desks, would literally struggle to hold a conversation.

Frustratingly, leadership refused to accept that there were problems and denied repeated requests for remote (home) working.

My story here is not really to grumble about past jobs, but to highlight that as a software developer - or indeed any profession where you are required to work on anything of complexity - not having access to a workspace that allows you to concentrate, can make doing your job extremely difficult.

When this is then combined with challenges common to many workplaces - such lack of resources, the pressure to deliver and the constant accountability that endless offerings to the timesheet gods require - things can rapidly escalate into an overly stressful situation.

However enlightened we think we are as a species, we’re still essentially little mammals. When stress is sustained over prolonged periods, it becomes unhealthy. People can simply unravel - and the effects are insidious.

By early 2018, for a variety of reasons, that company had lost many of their clients. It didn’t take long for commercial realities to follow.

In the Autumn of 2018, despite my team having just successfully delivered a key project for an internationally well-recognised client, we found ourselves, along with a director and many others, being cut loose with redundancies.

Redundancy sucks at the best of times. For me though, it was my third redundancy in just 5 years. I didn’t take it personally because I knew that it did not reflect on my own performance.

Regardless, the ongoing instability and frustration of working for disingenuous organisations had gradually worn me down.

Tiredness, irritability, disinterest, an inability to concentrate and general poor memory are all symptoms of poor mental health. I’m sure that if I had actually gone to my doctor, words like burnout and depression would have come up.

With mental health being such a very prominent topic in the media these days, the realisation that it had come knocking on my own door made me feel very uncomfortable and vulnerable.

Our society stigmatises and misunderstands the subject. It’s viewed as a sign of weakness, dismissed as a problem of the “snowflake generation” or simply brushed aside by the high-achievers who have little time to accommodate those who don’t meet their expectations.

2018 drew to a close with a degree of uncertainty about the future.

image showing black orchids

Step forward Silicon Orchid

I rested until the end of the year and then picked myself back up.

A common truth remained, in that I genuinely really enjoy working with computers - they’re really awesome and orchestrating intricate systems based around clever cloud-based solutions is, for me, very rewarding.

However, I needed to reboot my mind and my career.

As a new year resolution for 2019, I set myself three objectives:

  • More exercise - I seriously needed to get myself down to the gym regularly!

  • To share my knowledge - this would help others, but also give focus and meaning to my own learnings. I would achieve this by producing lots of content. This would be mostly written articles, but I would also aspire to produce video content and get myself talking in front of user-groups.

  • To bring an end to allowing myself to be concealed away in a back-office, with my aspirations being held at the whim of indifferent business leaders. This year I would actively make myself visible. I would network with people, talk with lots of folks whom I normally wouldn’t meet - and generally make myself known to the world. Opportunities would arise in due course!

I’m not an extrovert, but neither am I shy; I have in the past volunteered my spare time as an elected councillor within local government, where I was involved in local politics, issues and development planning.

However, my day job(s) have usually gravitated to having me engage only with my immediate co-workers; this, in turn, has always limited my visibility, influence and opportunity for growth.

Additionally, I have [quite rightly] felt very uncomfortable with how social-media companies exploit my data, so I have deliberately maintained a minimal online presence. Unfortunately, any marketer will tell you that being unknown suffocates opportunity.

Therefore, this year, I’m making a very conscious effort to embrace some parts of social media - so please, please do follow and engage with me on Twitter @siliconorchid.

Over the coming year, my plan is that I’m going to be producing content for new coders, along with slightly more complicated articles covering topics that I find interesting.

I hope that readers coming to this site find something that is useful and I wish you well on your own coding journey!