Richard Towers

A Month Note

I always wondered how my colleagues were able to consistently write weeknotes. How do they work up the enthusiasm?

Now that I’m trying it myself, I’m finding that it’s pretty much just as difficult as I thought. For the last few weeks I just haven’t been able to face it.

It’s been tough, the last few weeks. There’s a fair bit going on at work, and most of it is stuff I don’t enjoy and don’t feel like I’m good at - recruitment, people moves, management, governance and planning. Context switching between all these things makes it feel like I’m not doing any of them well, and that’s demoralising.

Objectively, things are probably not nearly as bad as I think. I’m doing the best job I can in less-than-ideal circumstances. There have been some wins, for sure. A long running campaign to promote four of our developers finally got sorted out, which I should be thrilled about. I’m making good progress on lots of other fronts too. But even the wins feel like I’m collapsing over the finish line with no energy left to celebrate.

So yeah, I’m finding things difficult. I’m going to book some holiday in, and hopefully that will let me reset. I’m encouraging the people I work with to do the same.

But enough about that, what’s been going on in the world?

In the news

President Trump was acquitted. A lawyer wasn’t a cat.


I’ve been binge watching The Expanse, which is a hard sci-fi drama. It’s really excellent. The first season in particular has some wonderful little details - the way whisky pours in low gravity, or the way birds fly with the occasional lazy flap of their wings. The plot is nicely paced, and doesn’t require too much suspension of disbelief.


It got really snowy a few weeks back, and I holed myself up in the house all week. Now that the sun is back, I’ve made it out on a few slightly longer walks, which have felt nice. Still haven’t made it out for a run, but who knows? Maybe one day.


A changing of the guard

There was a major changing of the guard on GOV.UK.

Tim, our long time Head of Technology moved to the cabinet office’s Chief Digital Information Office, resuming his role as a Lead Technical Architect. Tim’s been an incredible support and inspiration to me in my year on GOV.UK, and the programme will sorely miss him.

Himal joined us as Head of Technology and Architecture (the role name subtly altered to reflect its hefty scope). It can’t be easy starting a role like that when everyone’s remote, but from what I can see he’s been doing a stellar job. It’s very exciting to a new perspective and fresh ideas in the most senior technical role on GOV.UK. Welcome Himal!

Talking to our infrastructure providers

We had a couple of video calls with our infrastructure providers (Fastly, our CDN provider, and AWS our infrastructure provider).

I can’t remember how much of what they said is covered by non-disclosure agreements, so this section is going to be a bit boring.

They answered lots of questions, and gave us a bit of a sneak peak at their roadmaps. We made puppy-dog eyes and begged for preview access to some of their shiny new features.

Replatforming Router

The Replatforming team has been thinking about Router for a while. It’s kind of like the front door to GOV.UK. Well, maybe not the front door, because we have a CDN and some load balancers in front of it. Maybe like the door inside a porch. Because we’re changing the infrastructure it sits on, some of the architectural choices made in designing router don’t make sense any more. Karl put together a Request for Comment (RFC) to change the way it reloads its routes, which we’ve been discussing. Bill came up with a way to have multiple Routers sharing the same database, but using different domains. This will let us run independent clusters of apps in the same environment without needing to move databases around.

The team also looked at some of our redundancy plans, to check that we’d be able to use them if we needed them. In some places it looks like we’ve got a bit more redundancy than we really need. I’m preparing another RFC to remove the backup CDN for our backup CDN.

The Exploding Whale of Florence, Oregon

Apropos of nothing, here’s a 1970 news report of the Oregon Highways division disposing of a dead whale:


GOV.UK published our roadmap publicly for the first time in years -

We’re already thinking about the next iteration of the roadmap - what we’ll do over the next year. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last few weeks talking to various teams working around the publishing area of GOV.UK, trying to work out how all our plans fit together, and into the big strategic picture. It’s really great getting a chance to listen to the experts talk about their areas.


I honestly never thought my life would turn out this way.

I’ve been thinking and writing about “Governance” - how GOV.UK makes decisions that affect its roadmap and its people and teams.

GOV.UK has been through a period where it has had to deliver critical priorities with inflexible deadlines. For good reason, putting formal processes around decision making hasn’t been a priority.

Now that things are calming down (a bit) we’ve got an opportunity to design processes that will let us make these decisions in a calm and considered way, and ensure that everyone who’s affected feels included and informed.


I chaired three interviews for an interim site reliability engineer role, and arranged one interview for a developer role (which unfortunately got postponed).

I still need to schedule three more developer interviews.

End of weeknote

👏 well done me. I’m back on the weeknote horse. Hopefully I’ll be able to stick to a weekly cadence.