We got our fully fibre-optic internet connection fitted and activated today. The engineer arrived promptly, just after 8am, and despite the previous engineers making his job more difficult by fitting the connection point in an awkward spot he managed to finish everything within an hour and a half.

Before they left, the engineer ran a speed test on the line, and it reported a maximum speed of roughly 940Mbps in both directions. For comparison, our previous “half fibre” maxed out at around 63Mbps down/30ish up. So 900+Mbps is the confirmed upper bounds we can expect (in theory), and in line with what the ISP is promising.

In reality, things have varied wildly from device to device. I should note here that the engineer’s test was done over ethernet, and all our devices are WiFi-only. Most are up to WiFi 5 (AC) standards, but we do have a few still on the older WiFi N.

My iPhone 12 posts results anywhere between 350-575Mbps down. My older 9″ iPad Pro gets around 230-305Mbps down. My creaking, old, desktop PC was getting 44Mbps until I remembered I had a WiFi AC USB adapter I could use to upgrade the internal N adapter – at which point it started getting around 141-215Mbps. Curiously, both the iPad and desktop get upload results up to around 120Mbps higher than their respective download speeds. My work laptop (which is more or less on top of my desktop) gets around 450-475Mbps in both directions.

This isn’t intended to be a “first world problems” moaning post about not getting the absolute maximum speed. I know WiFi is much slower than a wired connection, and I know that different factorsaffect the speed an individual device. Rather this is just me noting how surprised I was to see such a large discrepancy between devices of broadly similar capability – many of which are sat right next to each other as they’re being tested.

I had my yearly performance review/annual appraisal today. I know a lot of developers (and non-developers!) who treat these with a very dismissive or laid-back attitude. A lot of the time it’s because it’s seen as a “box ticking” exercise with little obvious benefit to the appraised. Another common attitude I’ve seen over the years is that the outcome is already decided before the meeting, often on personal or emotive reasons rather than an honest and clear-eyed look at how the preceeding twelve months have gone.

I’m not someone who sees the annual appraisal this way. As someone who has been on both sides of the table at different times, I view the appraisal as an important milestone in the year, and should be treated as such. If you don’t take your own appraisal seriously – particularly in the preparation for it – then how can you expect others to? In the rest of this post I want to talk about the appraisal, and my thoughts around how to approach it (from the point of view of the appraised in this case – maybe next time I’ll do the appraiser viewpoint)

In my experience the appraisal is a good opportunity to do three things:

  1. Confirm to yourself what you’ve achieved over the last year – and maybe more importantly – remind your manager of it. Managers are not omnipotent. They don’t necessarily know or remember every little victory you’ve had. So remind yourself, and remind them.
  2. Look at the trajectory you’re on and where you’re headed over the next year. Is that where you want to be? Is that where your manager wants you to be? What do you want to achieve?
  3. How do your colleagues see you? Where does that fit into the above two points? Make sure you get some honest, constructive, feedback from coworkers.

The important piece is that this isn’t just some onerous process which is mostly for the benefit of HR. An appraisal is guaranteed one-on-one time with your manager to have an open and frank discussion about you and your career. Not just the job you’re doing now, but also what you’ll be doing next and beyond. The appraisal can be thought of as the regular status check on your career ambitions.

This year, my appraising manager isn’t who I directly report to on a day-today basis. They used to be closer to me in the reporting structure, and they chaired my promotion panel earlier this year, so they’re not unfamiliar with me – but they don’t necessarily know the fine details. For example, they knew I had been looking into training and development activities, but didn’t specifically know I had completed four certifications in the last few months; they also didn’t know all of the impact I had been making on my current project – so I had to recount those stories, backed up by the feedback from my colleagues.

It’s supposed to be an honest discussion, so I make sure to touch on the things I feel didn’t go so well – not to dwell on them, but to acknowledge what could have been better and that I am or have been thinking about ways to improve for next year. Showing self-awareness and openness to identifying, accepting and working on your own failings is an underrated skill, in my opinion, and it’s generally stood me in good stead over the years

In return my manager highlighted some areas of feedback that I had glossed over in my own reading, chiefly around leadership skills and my capabilities as a leader. It’s odd; I’m a lead developer who can guide a team to a goal, but I never really see myself specifically as a leader. Cheerleader for the team members, maybe! Yet here I was being asked to think about my leadership style and if there were any leadership-oriented training I would like to do. I hadn’t considered it before the meeting, but maybe I do want to start thinking about what comes after the full-time technical roles.

Finally, I make sure round out each appraisal by asking the appraiser to tell me exactly where they see how I fit into the organisation and what it is they expect from me. Normally you’ll have a sense of this from throughout the discussion, and there’ll usually be a written version of this after the appraisal, but I find explicitly asking the question has some benefits:

  1. It lets you know immediately if you’ve been successful in getting your own message across about the year.
  2. Generally it will give you the more “unfiltered” version of your appraiser’s thoughts. We can’t always help it, but often there will be a difference in how people answer a question directly in conversation with someone, versus how we write it in a document which might be read by others.

You want to use your appraiser’s response to judge where you go from here. It should inform and set the tone for what you do in the year to come.

I won’t give you the response I got to this question, but I was definitely happy with it. It was positive, constructive, and gave me ideas for the coming twelve months. It told me that where I want to get to is well aligned with where the organisation would like me to go, while also suggesting steps to bridge into what comes after the shortterm plan.

And that’s great. Because it meant that the work I put in for this appraisal – and the previous appraisals too – meant that I’ve been able to carve out a space where I can be fulfilled in the sense of controlling my own career progression and what I want to do, while also keeping myself in tune with what the organisation wants and needs from me.

So I implore you: don’t write off the annual appraisal process. Engage with it, learn from it, and use it to your advantage as another tool you can use to build your career.

Microsoft Certified: Security, Compliance, and Identity Fundamentals award badge

This evening I completed (and passed) the Microsoft SC-900 exam, earning my fourth certification this year – Microsoft Certified: Security, Compliance, and Identity Fundamentals.

This certification was interesting in a few different ways – first, it was kind of done “spur of the moment”; I’d passed my other exams and wanted to keep the momentum going, so I booked it without much forethought. Secondly, I’ve done loads of Secure Software Development Lifecycle training and documentation over the last few years, so I feel I might have had a leg-up on at least some of the fundamentals of this topic (pardon the pun). Finally, I genuinely found some of the tools referenced in the training to be quite interesting in and of themselves – something I hadn’t appreciated before diving in.

As per usual, I used my regular mix of Microsoft Learn’s free online resources, supplemented by access to Percipio resources through my work, and this great “cram” video by John Saville.

I’m planning to have a bit of a break before I’m back on the exam trail; I next have some virtual classroom training in September and October, followed by Associate-level exams in October and November, which will be my last for the year.

Sortly after this screenshot was taken, my office hit 31.5°C, which is about the time I decided it was time to stop for the day.

If this is going to be the norm for the next few weeks, I’m going to have to find some way of cooling down the room that’s better than my current option of “open the window”. Scots aren’t built for this sort of heat!

Now that I’d completed the data side of Azure, I wanted to try out something I was a little less familiar with; I’ve not gone near anything Machine Learning or AI-related in my work so far, so I felt getting at least some exposure to these topics wouldn’t go amiss. I’m glad I opted to add Microsoft Certified: Azure AI Fundamentals [AI-900] into the mix of what I’m studying this summer. It was a fun course, and one I fully recommend.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this topic as much as I did. Maybe it was partly a reaction to how little I’d enjoyed the Power Platform Fundamentals course. AI/ML is not an area I see myself working on often, possibly never outside of certification courses, but I don’t think I’d mind at all if someone did ask me to jump into a small project using Azure’s AI platform and tools.

A lot of the exam focused on the Responsible AI priciples, along with identifying the different types of workloads, tools, and models to use. This was one of the easier exams I’d sat lately. It took me around twenty minutes to complete, and I passed with a higher score than I expected.

As far as resources go, I used my regular mix of Microsoft Learn’s free study material, and Whizlabs. The prep for this exam was a little more practical than some of my other exams lately, which is probably why I found it a bit more fun.

It’s been a very long time since I visited the art gallery. Almost a decade, in fact. When the refurbishment was completed in late 2019 I heard a lot of good things, but before I could get around to paying a visit, COVID hit and we were all locked indoors.

With the easing of restrictions, we were looking for a quiet something to do on a day off – and as Caley had never been, the Art Gallery seemed an ideal choice.

The visit started off well; I walked into what used to be the entrance, only to find it’s currently the exit due to the one-way system they have in place as a safety measure. But once we got that snafu, things went well.

The gallery is so much more light and airy than I remember, with more natural light now. It feels a lot bigger, with more to see (even though half of it was closed off to prepare for a new exhibit). There’s a lot of subtle marrying of old and new throughout which I liked. I also really liked the new rooftop terraces, as there’s some nice views can be seen (and I’m sure more to come once Union Terrace is completed).

Overall, I was impressed, and I’m sure we’ll be scheduling more regular visits in the future.

To the side you’ll see a selection of the photos I took throughout our visit. I was consciously trying to avoid experiencing the visit just through the viewfinder, so there’s not a huge number of photos, but even though, this is only a small selection of what I could have shared.

I ordered Powers of Darkness for Caley’s birthday. It’s an “alternative” version of Dracula. The story behind it sounds like it could be worthy of a novel in and of itself:

In 1901 Icelandic publisher and writer Vladimar Ásmundsson set out to translate Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Dracula. Called Makt Myrkranna, the Icelandic version was unnoticed outside the country until 1986, when Dracula scholars discovered Stoker’s original preface to the book. It was not until 2014, however, that noted Dracula scholar Hans Corneel de Roos realised that Ásmundsson hadn’t merely translated Dracula but had, rather, penned an entirely new version of the story, with some all-new characters and a re-worked plot. The resulting narrative is one that is shorter, punchier, more erotic, and rivals the original in terms of suspense.

This afternoon I passed the Microsoft PL-900 exam, earning my second certification this year – Microsoft Certified: Power Platform Fundamentals.

Let me be upfront by saying: I really did not enjoy this certification. For whatever reason, I just could not connect with the subject matter, and the last few weeks have felt like an uphill struggle the whole way through. Even when I tried getting hands-on with the various pieces of the Power Platform, a lot of it was just plain unenjoyable. Power Automate and Power Virtual Agents seem interesting enough, but Power BI and Power Apps are areas I’d be happy to not have to be around again.

Maybe it was because I didn’t know much about Power Platform before starting (other than a nugget of Power BI exposure in my Azure Data Fundamentals certification), but I really did not expect so much of the course and exam to be taken up by Microsoft Dynamics. At times it felt like a big disadvantage to not have prior knowledge and experience of Dymanics and Dataverse.

Still, sometimes you just have to power through (pardon the pun). To pass the exam I used Microsoft Learn’s free online resources, and both the Whizlabs video course and practice tests. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have passed if I hadn’t made such heavy use of those practice tests. In the end, they were the only thing it felt was making the topic “stick”.

With PL-900 out of the way, I just have one more exam to do from my Summer of Certifications list. AI-900 is up next, and it’s probably the certifiation I’m most looking forward to.

This evening I completed (and passed) the Microsoft DP-900 exam, which makes – Microsoft Certified: Microsoft Azure Data Fundamentals the first certification I can cross off my Summer of Certifications list.

The exam itself was fairly straightforward. It felt like the natural follow-on to the general Microsoft Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900) certification I passed last year, and follows the same multiple-choice/select-the-right-phrase format as AZ-900. For the most part it meant knowing which Azure data service should be used in a given scenario, or what feature in a solution fulfils the need; for the most part it’s usually straightforward to spot, but occaisionally there’s a subtlty in the question which means the seemingly-obvious answer is not the correct one. But may that was just me.

To prepare for the exam I used mix of Microsoft Learn’s free online resources, supplemented by access to Percipio resources through my work, and WhizLabs practice tests. As someone who has been neck-deep in databases for years, I feel I had a bit of a leg-up on some of the more general topics – which meant it was really just the finer points of the specific Azure data solutions I had to learn.

Part of the exam syllabus covered Business Intelligence reporting using Power BI, which might be a good starting point for the next exam in my calendar: Power Platform Fundamentals (PL-900)!

A photo of the front cover of the book Alpharius: Head of the Hydra, by Mike Brooks, taken shortly after I had finished reading it.

Synopsis

Legends abound of the glorious or infamous deeds of the Emperors sons. Yet almost nothing is known of Alpharius, the most mysterious of them all, for the Lord of the Alpha Legion is unparalleled in the art of obfuscation. Such are his gifts of secrecy and deceit that even his rediscovery has remained an enigma until now. But when the tale comes from the serpent’s mouth, where does the deception end and the truth begin?

Thoughts

It’s felt like it’s been ages since I’ve read a Black Library book that I just can’t put down and end up finishing in a single sitting. Alpharius: Head of the Hydra turned out to be just that sort of book. Without giving away any spoilers: secrets and origins are revealed, and there are insights into one of the sneakiest and most enigmatic characters in the Warhammer 40,000 mythos are given.

Or are they? Alpharius is at his core a master of subterfuge, and Games Workshop make heavy use (personally I’d say overuse) of the “unreliable narrator” trope in their world building. So there is definitely scope to discount everything in this book as nothing but a gripping yarn woven by the narrator to distract from what really happened. But based on how the story is framed, I choose to believe that the events of the book are canonical fact.

Mike Brooks takes a character which is supposed to be largely unknowable and deceitful, and manages to make them a well rounded – and often sympathetic – protagonist. It’s not easy to do when the subject matter is a giant, genetically-engineered trans-human intended to be a demi-god for all intents and purposes. The biggest problem with a character like Alpharius is that they often come across as knowing everything and are fully in control, right up until the plot-point where they conveniently aren’t. There’s a popular meme – “just as planned” – where even in apparent defeat certain characters “win”. That meme could be tailormade for Alpharius under most circumstances, and while there are a few moments of that in this book, they’re minor and don’t get in the way of the rest of the characterisation.

Rating