Every Day’s A School Day

There’s been a bit of a theme running through this week. It started when I got a LinkedIn message from the Deputy Director of Sport at my old school: I think that was on Monday. I’d liked an article he’d shared and I guess he’s looked up my profile and thought “who’s this character”? Anyway, we got talking (well, I use the term loosely: we started messaging) and he’s asked me if I’d like to go back and address a special assembly about LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma. OMFG!!!

I went to Bishop Vesey in Sutton Coldfield. The school is 490 years old. It’s part of the fabric of society. At that age, you go where your parents send you. My folks didn’t have two halfpennies to rub together but my old man had it in his head that his kids were going to get the education that he never got. His mother died when he was 12 so his dad took him out of Moseley Grammar. The regret of that never left him, and as a waif, he turned his angst into wanting the best for his tribe. So he and our mam jumped over the boundary from Birmingham into Sutton Coldfield, just so we could get a better chance in life. People still do that to this day.

The problem for me was that although I passed the Eleven Plus, I was something of a dunce once I got to the grammar school. In a class of 30 kids, I found myself perennially fighting relegation in every subject. Not for me the A’s and B’s of the high flyers: my report card was strewn with B’s, C’s and the odd D. Standards were high and down in 23rd place, where I usually ended up, it was often difficult to keep my head above water. The problem with the grammar school, you see, was that the pace was fast: the pace was electric. We were doing differentiation and integration in Maths in 3rd year. These days, in Scotland at least, I think they teach that two years down the road. It was hard. I never, ever felt comfortable and turned my attention to football and trainspotting. Oh, and snooker and soul music. I was and still am a black American 60’s soul addict. You can knock me out with some Otis Redding.

Anyway, I digress: it was while I was at Vesey that I fell in love…

With cross country.

I was a tiny kid. I didn’t get to 5 foot till I was 15 (but Hazlegrove was smaller so I avoided the worst of the taunting) but hell I could run. Not well enough to get into any teams or anything, because I was so small, but once my folks put manure in my boots and I sprouted, so recognition followed. Mike Dann, about whom I wrote on Facebook recently, gave me my chance in 6th year and our team won the league. I was on my way.

The following year, after I’d left school, I wrote to the headmaster and asked if I could go back, for one day, and borrow the (grass) athletics track. I’d done the 25 mile Oxfam Walk round the Sutton boundary the previous year and I fancied running it this time around: they said no, so I went back to Vesey and ran 21 miles round the track instead. I was 19. That was my first introduction to fuck you, I’ll find a different way, a better way….

But see down in the relegation zone of class: those kids didn’t go to Uni. I scraped a C in Physics (after taking the O level three times) and a E in Maths, and that got me a place at North Staffs Poly in Stafford. That was where I found myself. That was where I found I could work for hours and hours on my own, reading this, studying that, and slowly making sense of it all. I emerged from Stafford with a 2.1 in Computer Science and I haven’t missed a day’s work since: 42 years and counting in IT. It was paper tape when I started, before the industry moved up market to punched cards then to dumb terminals on mainframes. I was getting somewhere at last…

Ten years in software engineering taught me loads: my formative software design years.

Three years as a consultant out on the road taught me survival. I wrote the Daily Record’s very first advertising IT system, the one that brought in the revenue that kept the paper afloat.

Both of those jobs ended in redundancy, the first because Burroughs merged with Sperry and forfeited our factory to pay for it: the second because the software house ran out of money. I spent three months earning a living on short term deals before I eventually found sanctuary at Weir Pumps. I was still a runner in those days so I used to get a lift into work then run back into town to catch the train. Get this: I would leave my desk to get changed at twenty to five and leg it the three plus miles to Queen Street to catch the train to Croy. The train left at 5:03pm: I rarely missed it.

It was at Weirs that I crafted my SQL skills: 20 years of working with Oracle came to an end when the company was facing closure and Jim McColl rode into town on his white horse and rescued the site. Reprieved. But his team had zero faith in our hand crafted, custom engineered software and they binned the lot. Everything that I’d invested 55 hours a week in (unpaid overtime and some) gone in the stroke of a pen. They brought in SAP: I re-invented myself in Excel: not the front end but the back end. Programming in VBA: the clever stuff: making the numbers work wonders through coding.

Then eighteen months ago this week, I got an instant message from the Head of African Game Reserve Photography, inviting me up to the thick pile carpet end of the floor. I was out the door ten minutes later. They called it corporate restructuring. It was the day before my 63rd birthday. Happy birthday, old man: here’s some money, now clear off. Devastated doesn’t even come close. I cycled home dreaming of shelf stacking…

Six hours later, I had a new job. On the phone, we talked about what I could do, not what I couldn’t. Imagine accepting a job without discussing the salary. I did it because I wanted the challenge…

I went in on a three month deal, which reverted to twelve months after two weeks.

That was eighteen months ago.

In April of next year, the NHS will revert from the clinical coding system that has served it well for the past 25 years, to a new, all singing and all dancing system: SNOMED-CT, the international standard. I saw this juggernaut coming down the tracks a year ago and I knew back then that it had the power to demolish our fledgling enterprise. So I asked to go back to the classroom.

I did the SNOMED-CT Foundation course in Q1 of this year and survived. So I enrolled on the advanced implementation course the day after. I thought to myself “I bet this is where the big boys and girls hang out”. I wasn’t wrong. Six modules, each longer and harder than its predecessor, with an assignment (homework) and an assessment (exam) in each: 70%+ required in each in order to progress to the next round. SNOMED-CT is a clinical system. I am a software guy. I struggled early doors. I really, really struggled the month our mam died and I only survived by 0.23% in the exam. But I survived.

This week, I sat the module E exam: subject matter Development. Tools of said development: SQL. Come to daddy! I will never, ever be a doctor but give me five million rows of medical data to play with and I’ll write you a system.

But see the best bit about SNOMED-CT? It employs a design so similar to the eClipse system that I designed at Weirs back in 2000 it’s untrue. The future of global healthcare is based on a data model that Jim McColl and his horse saw fit to lob in the bin. Sorry chaps but we were bang on the money: it wasn’t our problem that our futuristic design wasn’t appreciated.

I enquired of SNOMED International how many people have graduated from the implementation course in the UK in the three years that it’s been running: 37. Yes, you read that right: it’s not a typo: 37. And in Scotland it’s 2: hopefully I’ll be the third. Pause and think about that for a minute…

Y’see it’s all about believing in yourself, investing in yourself, and never giving up. The only person who knows what you are capable of is you. And that’s even before you get out of your comfort zone and start pushing the boundaries…

Talking of which: I’ve made a big play these last three weeks about attacking the LCFN records across the board:

The most miles in a week went last Sunday. The new mark is 361 miles.

The most miles in a calendar month went on Monday. The old mark was 1112 miles.

1200 miles went on Wednesday.

1300 miles went today.

55,000ft of climbing is the most in any LCFN month.

Tomorrow is the last day of Go Gold September: except that I’ve renamed it Go Puddlium.

My legs have given me everything. My body has given me everything. For the past three weeks, I’ve been on the road for four hours a day. I have learned so much about what my old body is capable of.

But hey…

Every day’s a school day.