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My First Week at GDS

I started my job at the Government Digital Service at the start of this week, and what a week it’s been! Just before I started, I read Alice Bartlett’s post on Six months at the Government Digital Service. The post is so similar to my experiences so far that it very much feels like I wrote it myself. I kept that post at the back of my mind during the week, but came back to it when writing this post to see if my experiences reflect what she experienced around two years ago.

Although Alice’s post was six months into her job and mine is only a week in, there are a large number of similarities. I spent most of the first two days getting set up — with my ID card (very important to get in!), laptop and mobile phone, and all the software and services I will need to use. While there are a lot of services to sign up to, I was somewhat surprised to find that there is no guidance on what software to use locally, apart from Google Chrome (since we use a lot of Google services). We use GitHub (public and enterprise) for all of our code, so I went ahead and installed Tower. Apart from that, my installation is very lightweight and Chrome is my main environment.

Throughout the week, many Civil Service emails and notifications arrived in my inbox. I also have a Trello card and board dedicated to my on-boarding, with all sorts of generic and specific tips, notes and to-do lists. While I have got most of the mandatory and urgent ones out of the way, I feel I still have some way to go to get everything done.

On my first day, I noticed the relative smallness of the kitchen area, and got my own water bottle and mug on the second day to make the most of my time when visiting and minimise getting in the way of the many other people also waiting for a brew! On this topic, having a Slack channel dedicated to telling everyone when tea is brewing in various tea pots around the office is a definite plus, and not something I have experienced anywhere else.

On Wednesday, I got stuck in with my first piece of coding. Paired with another developer on my team with more experience of the code base, I helped with a bug fix to honour custom page ordering. This was my first foray into production-quality Ruby, and I was pleasantly surprised both by the readability of the code, and the thoroughness of the tests (both unit and functional). We did a little more work on this on Thursday before opening up the pull requests and sending the code in for review (we managed to change code across three repositories!).

Later on Thursday, I was pleased to attend my first user research session, at a school near Arnos Grove. With a user researcher and a senior member of the school staff, I sat down for around two hours to understand their role, the types of information they use and how they would lay out a theoretical set of information on the GOV.UK site. I was surprised to be invited to observe this session so early in my time at GDS, as well as for the fact that I have never observed or taken sticky-notes at such a session. It just shows the level of trust that colleagues place in you, as well as the inevitable fact that most people are better at many things than they think.

So, how does it feel after a week? Exciting, as well as very exhausting are the first feelings that come to mind. I feel I have learnt and done a lot in a week, and in this regard, I fully agree with the four points in Alice’s post — I couldn’t have put it better myself.