Taking back control

I left the Government Digital Service last week, and, since a lot of people have been asking me why, I thought I should explain.

On one hand, I feel that I’ve left something undone by departing before gov.uk goes fully live. On the other, I’m relieved. I’ve found working in a large organisation profoundly difficult, and I suspect I’ve not been an easy person to work with. I know that some people are glad that I just handed in my notice and left quietly; I think they rather expected some kind of ‘going postal’ massacre or similar. I’d hesitate to call myself a professional, but I’d like to think I’m not that unhinged.

I was there for nine months. Not a long time to stay in a job, but it was a busy period, full of change. I always knew that I’d only be working for the government for a short time, but I was still taken by surprise by quite how quickly it grew from fifteen or twenty people in a small room in Lambeth to something like two hundred in a massive (though, apparently, not big enough) office in Holborn. I never really got used to the huge open-plan environment, and in the end decided that it was just too much for me. It was a shame, because I really loved working in the small team in the old office, but with success comes growth. I’d never worked for a big company before. I’m now pretty sure I won’t do it again!

I finally realised—though it took me quite a while—that I didn’t actually have to stay working in an environment that didn’t fit me. It was psychologically liberating to realise that I could take back control of my own life.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t want anyone to conclude from this that GDS is a terrible place to work. It’s full of very talented people working hard on something socially important that everyone in the country will see and use. I want them to succeed. And, for the most part (when I wasn’t watching Bundler run, or fighting with Puppet), I enjoyed my work there.

The conventional thing would have been to find another job, but I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s not really what I want, so I’m taking a bit of time off instead. If you’re not a programmer, this probably seems like a stupid and self-indulgent course of action in the current economic climate, but I’m lucky to work in a field in which there’s no shortage of work, so it’s not quite the crazy gamble it may seem. And, when I say time off, I do have some plans in development, about which I hope to write more soon. I’ve done quite a lot of writing various kinds of content management systems in Rails over the past few years, and I fancy a bit of a change.

From now on, I’m looking forward to trying to implement my own version of the future. One with less commuting, I hope.


  1. Bay

    Wrote at 2012-07-06 20:35 UTC using Safari (Mobile) 534.30 on Android:

    Here here! Bravo on following your true passions despite the uncertainty of change.
  2. Craiggybear

    Wrote at 2012-07-13 19:50 UTC using Chrome 20.0.1132.57 on Mac OS X:

    I’ve literally just done exactly the same thing today for exactly the same reasons. I wanted my life back. I want to finish half-finished projects and I want to paint my house and I want to stop the daily four or five hours out of my life each day traveling into work and back home.

    Good luck and just do what you need for yourself. Life’s too short.