Agile Insider reality bytes…


My Final Post – Alcoholism, Aspergers and Depression



Without a doubt, this is the most difficult post I've ever had to write, so trust me when I say I am particularly glad to say it is my last I will ever post to this site.

For many years now I have been hiding things from absolutely everyone, including even myself, and I became almost a master at it. I could be happy and chirpy at work while secretly wanting to jump under a train. I could hide my desire to drink and the lack of control I had when I did drink. I could appear in complete control, but be terrified and lost.

In 2012, things fell apart... I had a particularly bad drinking experience and for the first time in my life genuinely wanted help. I was completely beat. I was an alcoholic, but to hide this from everyone I created yet another bloody persona, that of (and @agilealcoholic). I joined AA and since that fateful day have never touched even a drop of alcohol.

Agile Alcoholic

This was me... It's unbearable...

For the first 18 months in AA things were going well. I was reacting sanely and responsibly for the first time in my life. I didn't feel as though I was causing any new devastation around me since I was able to be 100% honest with my line manager and therefore I no longer went home feeling 'dirty'.  I shared with him the fact I was in AA and therefore didn't feel obliged to hide anything from him, but I wouldn't necessarily have shared it with the other people I worked with.

Recognising I'm an alcoholic has been extremely important for me.  It allowed me to stop drinking, my natural solution if I encountered uncomfortable feelings, situations or thoughts.  By the time I entered AA, I was having some of the darkest thoughts I could ever have had.  Those were suicidal thoughts, but not only suicide, also the thought of killing my wife and son to save them any 'pain'.  I had become so isolated I would count my friends as zero at the time.  Until now, this is a fact I have only shared in the rooms of AA and also with my wife as part of Step 9 and in an attempt to be 100% honest with her.

9 months ago, while coasting through life, thinking I had found my solution and I was somehow 'sorted' I was just a little alarmed when depression and suicidal thoughts started re-occurring.  There were no specific triggers, the thought would just enter my head while going to work and stay much longer than I liked.  The serenity prayer, which had been my saviour for months wasn't helping either, I needed help.

Thanks to AA, and the fact I wasn't drinking, or using drink as my bandaid, I sought the help of a psychotherapist and have been seeing her weekly for almost 9 months.  I didn't admit to many of my troubles initially, instead I asked for help with an uncontrollable rage and anger I would experience that I couldn't control.  Over these last 9 months I have built up trust in her and I value my sessions with her.  I have also shared with her my darkest thoughts, my misdemeanours and my crazy thinking.

I was under the illusion I was somehow in control and these thoughts would pass, I had AA and a psychotherapist on my side, so that must be enough?

Well my God (and as an atheist it feels funny to say I enjoy having a God in my life, but not one I worship or idolise), this year threw us a few curve-balls.  My son was diagnosed with Dyslexia, ADHD and suspected ASD (which is still being assessed).  All these traits my son demonstrated associated with these conditions are a mirror of my own, and when I heard that these can be inherited I decided I would at least see if I had them.  Well, yes, I probably suffer from ADHD, but the thing I almost definitely suffer from is Aspergers.  I score 34 on AQ and 13 on EQ.  In the past, I would not have been interested in any such classification, but today I am extremely grateful.  I can 100% identify with the traits of Aspergers and I am also finding out so many things about myself which until now I didn't realise.

For instance, I hate being around people, I have an almost complete lack of confidence or self-esteem and any form of communication with people, whether visual or verbal has always made me uncomfortable.  I have been able to hide this for many years, indeed it has been necessary for my job.  I think this also explains why I prefer the written word as my communication tool.  I hate social media, it is far too nuanced and ambiguous, I like carefully considered, well-presented information.

I don't know whether this was the breakthrough in my psyche or not, but I can say categorically that for the last couple of months I have been doing some extremely searching to find out who I am.  I haven't yet found out who that is, but I have found out who it's not.  It's not the agilealcoholic persona, that is part of me, but by no means all of me.  It's not agileinsider which is an artificial and heavily filtered series of articles to help out co-workers, avoiding controversy wherever possible and filtering out any 'negativity' about the bullshit I've witnessed.   It's not the family Mark Barnes, the husband and father who tries hard to constantly 'please' and 'protect' his family, withholding critical information about his mental well-being to not upset people.

I have no idea who Mark Barnes will turn out to be, but I am starting the journey after months of fear and anxiety.  Yes, I am currently clinically depressed and taking Citalopram.  Yes, I have had suicidal thoughts over the past months.  But, and it is an extremely important but.  I am no longer willing to hide from these thoughts as though they are some dirty secret.  I no longer wish to cover them which is what I do if I don't share them.  I have an understanding of depression which I wouldn't wish on my worse enemy, but thanks to the antidepressants I now have a complete disconnect from my mood and my thoughts.  I can picture myself in the shower, with slit wrists and blood flowing, but my mood is ok.  This disconnect is allowing me to recognise the thoughts as irrational and fight them.  What's more, I can write about them.

I've been using a scale I tailored from a few other sites to rank myself each day, or even hour if I perceive a shift.  0 means I'm dead, so I won't be able to tell you when I hit 0, but it should be obvious.  10 is the most ecstatic I have felt in my life (tough one when you have Aspergers and therefore struggle with feelings or empathy), which is the birth of my son.  I'm largely hovering around 5, which is not great, but a hell of a lot better than being at 2 (suicide ideation), or worse 1 (suicide consideration).

So there you have it...

1.  Mark Barnes is an alcoholic, who has not had a touch of alcohol since February 23rd 2012 (correct at the time this article was written).

2.  Mark Barnes probably has Aspergers.  This means I do think about things differently and I can't interpret body language, hate eye contact and abhor social interaction.

3.  Mark Barnes is clinically depressed, often suicidal and has been for 2 months (again true at the time this article was written).

For me, I don't have a clue what is going to happen now in my life.  I realise I need to challenge almost everything I have ever held true in the past to determine whether it is something I truly believe in, or whether it was a fantasy employed by one of my many personas.

Right now, I'm going through the process of clearing everything up.  I'm putting to rest as much of my past as possible and hope to start with a clean slate soon.  I'm getting through each day, a day at a time (thanks to AA, antidepressants, a caring family and my mood chart that allows me to let people know what I'm experiencing when I can express how I'm feeling).

Our society hides from things it doesn't understand and stigmatises things.  I can see this, not only in my own problems but in other circumstances too.  I won't partake in that stigmatisation any longer, I am proud I am an alcoholic, I'm not afraid of being diagnosed with Aspergers and I don't want to let depression fester within me any longer.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read my articles or engage in my fantasies along the way...  It was a blast...  Now move over, reality is the boss and honesty is the driver...


Road To Recovery

Who knows where this will lead?




Thrive – Surviving in a Corporate Jungle

Thrive - In Print
What can I say...  The easy stuff is done, the book has been written, edited, illustrated and finally it is now published 🙂

I love the final look, as expected, Greg has managed to bring everything to life and I am genuinely proud of what we have managed to achieve.

So now I have the joys of learning all about marketing and promoting 🙁  I suspect this is 10x more difficult than creating the book and only gives 10% of the fun I had in the creation process...

Happy ReadingAnyway, attached are a couple of images of the final book should you wish a bit of light entertainment for your summer holidays...

The book is available on Amazon UK, Amazon US and the various european equivalents.



Genuinely Excited – A New Chapter

Thrive - CoverI'm getting genuinely excited...  i.Line Design is now officially a publishing company, ready for the publication of my first book - Thrive.  And yes, you can still get it free until I hit the publish button on amazon...

I have been amazed yet again at the quality of the artwork by LordArt (Greg Clifton) and I was particularly pleased by the fantastic editing job performed by Bryony Sutherland.

Sending the manuscript off for professional editing was of course extremely daunting, but the feedback was extremely positive and what originally started as just a bit of personal fun has grown into something I am now quite proud of.  What I found the most surprising is just how challenging it can be to take lots of very specific, detailed examples and distil them down to something generic.  Add to this the challenge of then applying the jungle metaphor and my brain has been ready to explode on numerous occasions.

There were numerous chapters I wrote, or started writing that never made the final cut.  I could have easily doubled the size of the book, but the cost would be spoon feeding the audience and there was also a huge risk of repetition.  By shedding these additional chapters, the reader is therefore free to explore their own metaphors and recreate the missing chapters from their own circumstances.


I would of course urge everyone to buy my book, but since it still isn't published I'll continue to give it away free on leanpub until it is officially available on amazon.  Leanpub won't allow me to use the full page illustrations that Greg is creating for the published/printed version of the book, which is a real shame as I have so enjoyed using leanpub and would love the version on leanpub to be as high quality as the printed version.

When I left an international bank that I shall not name, I had no idea I would spend quite so much time on my book, or indeed delve quite so deeply in to the world of publishing.  I'm currently getting daily updates from Greg of the final artwork for the book and during the day I am preparing the launch of a new company.  I'm not sure I would ever have planned it this way, in fact I'm sure I would have probably thought it is all too costly, too difficult, too unknown.  But, step, by little step, it has all been coming together and my planned release date of 1st June will slip, but it will slip because quality is non-negotiable and the current velocity is telling me it'll slip 😉





The Value of Passion

I Love My Job
My last engagement has left me a little scarred and bruised.  It has really tested my core agile values and as I reflect on it, I came to a surprising conclusion.

The engagement involved introducing/advocating cloud/virtualisation to improve the testing capabilities within a global tier 1 bank.  The bank has all the elements in place and therefore the challenge was not remotely technical but 100% cultural.

The project was driven/under-pinned by a vision rather than a backlog, this was to prevent the project being de-railed by cultural dead-ends or technical side-shows.  It wasn't so much we'll know it when we see it, rather than we knew what was acceptable and everything that prevented this could and would be challenged.  It was firmly based on devops principles of completely automated, repeatable environments.

Going back to the values, I personally place high value on simplicity, feedback and working software so rather than powerpoint the project to death we developed and released a working solution.  This was not a theoretically working solution, but a working solution on real infrastructure provided by the men in black.  Sadly, the real infrastructure we were using was in the wrong continent and was only half-heartedly supported by the men in black preventing the transfer of data required for testing and at this point the rails came off.

We had performed live demonstrations and key people were heavily engaged and excited about making use of what we had developed and what should have been a simple lift and shift to the correct continent proved instead to be the slow and excruciatingly painful death of the vision.  Everyone agreed with the vision, but culture, policies, processes and bureaucracy all transpired against us.

The first wheel to come off was our use of an unsupported operating system.  It was the correct operating system, but it hadn't been built by the men in black so wasn't sufficiently opaque.  It took a few months of unpicking and reverse engineering just to get back to some of the basic capabilities that are mandatory for deploying software a'la devops in a highly restrictive financial organisation.  Those months did however allow us to get back to where we were and at this stage the feeling was that not only had we built it again, but had also this time built it better as it was more in-line with wider strategies.  So finally, we want to get people in there, but wait...  We have no disk space 🙁

Popping into your local PC world for a few TBs of disk is easy and will set you back a couple of hundred bucks at most.  In a corporate data-centre however disk-space is like gold dust and is charged by the ounce.  This was the first stage in the project where we needed real funds and investment.  We were at the point where we had a working solution, an eager customer base and genuine excitement.  This was the game-changer and we were very, very excited...

What followed sums up the cultural challenges, instead of capitalising on the solution, looking for opportunities to deploy to other groups, we spent months creating detailed business cases, investment plans, roadmaps, etc, to get modest sums to fund the final rollout of the solution.  During these months, I had to put my personal values aside in favour of documentation, process and all those other things that are less valuable in agile, but I was playing the long game.  Our strategy was realising our vision and that meant enduring these little tactical battles where necessary.  What I wasn't prepared for was how demoralising this would be and just how much of my passion would be destroyed in the process.  This wasn't a case of everyone required clubbing together to devise a brighter future, it was a horse-trading exercise of compromise and trade-offs.

As I look back now, detached from the project, it would be very easy to view this as a failure; we certainly failed to get the funding or deliver our vision.  What we did achieve though was the planting of a seed.  It will take several years for the seed to grow, just as agile typically takes a few years to embed itself in a large multi-national organisation (and even there the use of the word agile probably means nothing more than the team do a stand-up each day).  I'm hoping that when the time is right, people may be able to dust off a few of my blog articles I wrote explaining how devops can strengthen governance and auditing, or why creating an environment automatically in minutes is better than building one manually over weeks (even if the steps are all self-service).

The bank in question is a bank I personally love.  The people are great, the technology (when you can use it) is cutting edge and the challenges are anything but trivial.  I had the opportunity to stay at the bank in question and opted not to, for what was a surprise to myself.  It wasn't because of the lack of feedback, the skepticism of simplicity, the illusion of control or lack of trust.  It was because I lost my passion.  It turns out that my most important value is passion and this is the one fire they failed to ignite and instead extinguished.

I have also realised (again) that every single assumption you make at the outset of a project needs to be made explicit and validated.  I'm heartened that our project was not a big costly disaster, it was a (relatively) small, well contained experiment in the art of the (im)possible.  We delivered working software, but failed to get it into the hands of the users.  We found simplicity hiding in  a web of complexity.  We were open and honest with all our information and everything we did was made available to everyone.

My passion is always to get high quality, working software into the hands of the customer as quickly as possible and delight them.  To drive my passion I rely on a my own core values of simplicity, feedback, transparency and trust.  I have no doubt the bank in question will deliver yet another highly compromised version of what we have already built and demonstrated twice; I can only hope our original vision remains as the yard-stick.


From Behind Closed Doors

Closed DoorsIt would be hard to tell looking at this blog, but for the last 2 years I have been actively blogging, but on the internal blogging platform within a global bank.  When my contract ends on 31st March I will feel a small sense of loss because I will lose access to these articles, as well as many other extremely insightful articles only available within the organisation but written by some people I respect extremely highly and would love to work with again.  A few brave souls have started blogging publicly, but only material not related to their day jobs, which means the important and insightful stuff remains locked behind those closed doors.

I would love to be able to blog now about how successful my project has been, or provide you with some nitty gritty details about the challenges of corporate working, but that would not be appropriate, or indeed fair.  Every corporate is unique and despite the constant, expensive search for silver bullets and one-size-fits all recipes these will constantly remain elusive.

I suspect that every corporate which has any relevance to financial markets and stability are all facing similar challenges to meet increasing pressure from regulators.  Tighter controls, more transparent models and increased accountability make it much harder to deliver innovation in these organisations.  For the last 2 years I've been exploring and demonstrating how a DevOps mentality within these extremely important establishments is introducing opportunities, techniques and practises which can alter the balance from a tick-box, form-filling, blame shifting culture to a more proactive, rigorous and scientific one.

Of course, when I refer to devops, just as when I refer to agile - I mean the culture and values.  Debating puppet vs chef vs foobar is an entertaining side-show; the search for the perfect silver bullet, which takes away the focus from the value of delivering working software, regularly, repeatably and reliably.  Done right, delivering software, or scaling infrastructure should be a non-event, having been practised repeatedly.  The gulf between a cycle time of minutes/hours and months/years won't be bridged with small incremental improvements, it requires radical thinking, cultural change and the occasional leap of faith...

Etsy, NetFlix, Amazon - thanks for the leadership, now move over and smile as the big boys try to 'buy' your culture 😉


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