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We hope you had a lovely festive season and are refreshed to take on 2021. A new year brings new hope, aspirations and resolutions. What are yours? Improve your fitness? Get better at balancing your life? Find more time for yourself? Learn something new? Eat more plant based meals or help improve the environment? Or spend more time with family and friends? COVID-19 is not behind us yet, so there will no doubt be challenges along the way that will test our patience and resilience. And whatever those challenges may be, there is one thing that we at Blackmill would like to be conscious of throughout this year. That is gratitude.
An episode on Hidden Brain’s podcast where gratitude gets you explains how counting our blessings has been shown to enhance our well-being, reduce stress from illnesses, and help with feelings of loneliness or isolation. Our favourite segment at the end of every Hidden Brain episode is called Our Unsung Heroes. It reminds us to be more mindful of those incredible people, like you, that surround us every day. So whatever your goals and aspirations for this year are, good luck, and bring on 2021!
Melbourne entered two periods of lockdown across nine months with restrictions on movement and many business activities. With nowhere to go and more time at home, naturally we cooked more, exercised more, and baked more. Elle baked weekly batches of sourdough breads to give to families within the community during one of the lockdowns. Both Elle and Lachlan ran virtual pizza making workshops and virtual Pizza Fridays with friends until Zoom fatigue kicked in and everyone hunkered down to get through the lockdown.
We refined and structured our Onboard associate developers program to make it more readily available to organisations who want to build a cost-effective recruiting pipeline to grow a diverse, loyal, and skilled team of developers.
Our first online workshop on Leading engineering teams was a success. We had participants mainly from Australia and the United States. Video recordings were available to present the materials before the live group discussions about the topics each day. Concepts were explored, issues were discussed and questions were answered. It was a terrific experience and everyone felt that they gained more insight and knowledge by listening and sharing each other’s experiences. Thank you to those who participated.
Make sure to check out our next workshop on Engineering better hiring practices which will run from February 2-5th. We have early bird special tickets at $1200 which will end this Friday 15th January. Full price tickets are $1600 AUD. Places are limited so book now to secure your spot.
We are reserving two spots in each workshop for people from under-represented minorities in the technology industry who could not otherwise afford it, because we believe human diversity improves both the software and cultures we create and the community in which we work. Email us for a spot.
As we mentioned previously, we catch up weekly with people from different places to discuss a book we read together. From all the books we read in 2020, a notable mention should be “Thinking in bets” by Annie Duke (Amazon, Readings), which suggested we stop looking at our options as polarised opposites of good and bad, but instead as percentages for success. The book also provides strategies to improve decision making such as backcasting and pre-mortems. You can find our summary of the book at https://github.com/Blackmill/book-club/issues/94. Another book we learnt from was “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram x. Kendi (Amazon). This book covers various aspects of racism through the author’s life story and then suggests things to counteract those manifestations of racism.
We are currently reading Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta as part of Blackmill’s bookclub. The book is about how Indigenous thinking can save the world. Everyone is welcome so if you would like to join us, head over to Blackmill’s book club page on GitHub.
We were fortunate enough to share a lunch with some of our friends in Melbourne in November to celebrate book club 2020. It was terrific to see our friends in person and connect after the hard lockdowns.
Clockwise from front-left: Michael, Adam, Pat, Elle, Lachlan, Richard, Tom, and John
Every year we donate one percent of our revenue to not-for-profit organisations and charities as a way of giving back to our communities. Some causes we’ve given to in the past have had increased needs due to the pandemic. So far this financial year we’ve donated $750 each to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Kids Under Cover. For more details on what we give, see our site: https://blackmill.co/what-we-give
The talking this time is not from us but from start-ups. Sarah attended (online) the 2020 MAP20 Velocity Showcase in December and was thoroughly impressed. The Velocity program aims to help early-stage founders to speed up their discovery of first customers and the process of product-market fit. The Velocity Program is a part-time program for earlier stage founders that includes ten workshops centred around customer discovery and market validation. We work with many start ups and it has been fantastic to see the majority of them are now more environmentally and socially conscious. Sarah’s top three of the eleven pitches were Generation Gyms, Meta Learn, and charityBay.
Lachlan and I started Blackmill in 2017 because we have seen similar issues in many teams and wanted to help them with their engineering practices. Problems with technology products are rarely about the technology stack and instead are usually about people, team culture, and communication.
I have been working on the web since 2002. I did a couple of IT courses with TAFE (had to look this up on my resume cause I couldn't remember which ones) and a B.A. in Internet Studies with Curtin University. However, most of my programming experience is self-taught, mainly from books (before all those bootcamps were around) but also learning from the people I worked with. I have been a consultant, either by working as a sole trader or working for a consultancy, for the majority of my engineering career. That meant that I have worked with many (many) teams and on many projects and products, which taught me very quickly which team practices work, and which do not.
My favourite thing about Blackmill is that we continuously aim to learn and improve how we do things. I also like that everyone on the team has a say in how the company is run and is empowered to do good work.
I have been passionate about women in STEM for a long time now. I helped start Rails Girls workshops in Sydney in 2013-2014. I also volunteered at Rails Girls workshops in Brisbane, Melbourne, and Canberra. In 2014, Dan Draper asked me on video about why there are not more women who code.
In 2015-2016, some of my responsibilities with GORUCO conferences were the Call For Proposals, talk selection, and the scholarship program. With the conference talks I worked towards having equal numbers for male and female presenters. With the scholarship program, I supported non-binary individuals, and anyone identifying as a woman to attend the conference.
In 2015, I started hosting a women work jelly in my thoughtbot New York office. It meant that we had women in the tech industry join us in the office for the day. It was also an opportunity for them to connect and see other women in role model positions. As part of the day, thoughtbot provided lunch and we had a couple of presentations over lunch. For example Avielle Wolfe gave a talk about QUILTBAGs definitions, or on another day we watched CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap. To my delight thoughtbot continued to run women work jellies even after I left.
In 2017-2018 I developed the Qantas Hotels Engineering Academy, whose aim was to hire and upskill women engineers. You can read more about this program at https://blackmill.co/blog/first-pilot-of-an-engineering-academy-notes-and-after-thoughts.
In 2019 and 2020, I have mentored a couple of software engineering women and would like to continue doing that, either in a technical or career growth capacity.
As with many people in 2020, I spent a lot more time at home. In the first lockdown I channeled all my stressful emotions into an effort to make sure others were okay. It manifested in running virtual cooking sessions and pizza workshops, and baking various goodies for the people around me. I’m grateful and very fortunate that Johnny Di Francesco (from 400 Gradi) helped me improve my sourdough pizza doughs. Every Sunday in the first lockdown, I took two pizza doughs to Gradi Mercato on Lygon Street, and then Johnny stretched, topped, and cooked my doughs. We would then critique the end result and I would receive homework for next time.
As a result of all that inner/home focus, we got to get to know our neighbours in our street a lot better, I got to grow my veggie garden (it’s getting there), and got to enjoy a few “nothing planned” weekends (sometimes drinking a cider while reading a book in the sun).
A couple of months ago I started a Graduate Certificate in Psychology in Business and Management with Curtin University. The first module is about organisational culture and covers Hofstede’s dimensions of national and organisational culture, as well as Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner model for organisational culture. So far, I am thoroughly enjoying the course materials and how closely they align to our work.
Lachlan keeps going back to the concepts of A New Normal. It’s a series of proposals to transform Melbourne from a consumer to a producer. What does a city normally produce? Just money, intellectual property, and trash? We’re an energy trap. A black hole of consumption. How can we make the cities we live in sustainable for all?
And here is something else you can read, our latest blog post: Why you should build distributed teams.
It’s obvious we like home cooked meals so here is this month’s recipe for you to take on.
If you’ve had breakfast with Elle, there is a good chance that she made you shakshuka at some point. In 2013, Elle captured some shakshuka recipes in this gist. But here is a more detailed write-up.
Shakshuka is a kitchen sink kind of dish, you can use whatever you have. As a minimum, I would like to have onion, garlic, tomatoes, and eggs. But if you don't have fresh tomatoes, then replace them with tinned diced tomatoes. If you don't have chillies, use more chilli flakes. If you like cumin, oregano, ras el hanut, or other similar spices, feel free to add some to the spice mix.
Thank you for showing an interest to our newsletter and we hope that you enjoyed the read. Feel free to contact us if you have any feedback, a burning question or just a recipe that you would like to share 😊.
Until next time, keep learning!
Everyone at Blackmill