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.