I’ve been using vim for the last 5 years. I’ve written about trying this out 5 years ago and stuck to it. It’s a fantastic experience and I truly enjoy working with this editor. I’ve been rethinking it this week though, as I was updating my configuration to get auto-completion to work.
I needed to get my editor ready as I haven’t needed to do any serious coding in the last two years. We’re trying out a new requirement at work: all engineering leaders should contribute a medium-sized piece of code in a 3 month period. I’ll try an write more about this, but in simple terms, I have to make sure that I’m spending a little more time coding.
The Neovim editor was forked from Vim (the code has been copied and is currently being changed into something better or different). Its been around since 2015, so this blog post is late to the party. Many people have already embraced Neovim.
I see how amazing it is, but really, I’m not sure that I want to change it. It’s a big commitment. It will take time to learn about the “new” editor and its features. It will also take focus away from other things, so I’m two minds. It is also a new project that is slowly moving away from the Vim I’ve come to enjoy. Maybe this is just me overthinking.
The one pain I currently have is language server support. Vim can do this, but it requires configuration and running a few things on my device. I like a simpler editor setup, but I’m missing the simple built-in features modern editors come with.
I’ll try out my current setup for the next few months and see if I miss anything. If I do, I’ll try out Neovim.
Fibre finally arrived in Ceres! It was a dream to have city-like-speeds in our little town.
Most of the major cities and towns in the Western Cape (our state) has fibre. With the relatively low number of people who live in Ceres, and amount having ADSL, I couldn’t see how Ceres would be a high priority fibre rollout project. The town is not expanding. My best guess was 2024. But it came. 2 Years earlier! It seems there were other incentives for OpenServe, the countries oldest telecommunications company, to upgrade its network.
In this post I’ll cover my personal internet journey in Ceres, the installation process and choosing the wrong ISP.
We arrived in Ceres towards the end of 2016. I jumped on the fastest ADSL connection I could find: 10Mbps download and 4Mbps upload. I think the ping was around 45ms. This cost around R 600(ZAR) per month. At this time, team mates abroad had 100Mbps upload and download speeds and Fibre was being rolled out in major metros, like Cape Town and Johannesburg. Although I could jump on calls and do my job, I always had connection issues.
The next best step up was LTE – fixed wireless. The connection got me around 30Mbps down and 10 Mbps up. The ping speed was around 26ms. This cost around R 1000(ZAR) per month. With this, I could handle all my calls (the two I did per week) and downloads weren’t such a pain. I had some issues with timeouts when uploading large files to the WordPress.com servers. While I was happy with this connection, it started showing it’s limits when I became team lead. With fewer calls, I could handle the occasional glitch in the matrix, but having to make excuses on multiple calls, especially a few sensitive ones, I realised that LTE in Ceres is not a dependable connection. Cellphone towers have to service many, many clients and their service levels are very sporadic. Download and upload speeds were not consistent and the cheap devices you get with your contract simply cant handle the load. This was the height of frustration. 16 Months into the LTE contract . I gave up on it. What a blessing, when I realised that fixedwireless internet might be an option.
I always thought wireless internet was slow and unreliable, specially in bad weather, which is why I never considered it. I was not aware of the powerful advances in wireless technology. You get fibre like speeds, if you were willing to pay. I found out Vinet had a solid fixed wireless package that provided me with 100Mbps down and 50Mbps up. The ping speed was around 11ms The catch. It cost R 6299 (ZAR). I know that’s an insane amount of money to spend on internet. But not If you consider the cost of finding a house (double the price) in Cape Town, Paarl or Stellenbosch, plus the relocation efforts. I was hoping fibre came sooner, but at least I had a decent connection option. I took it, but 3 Months into the contract, the high price start to nag me a bit and I found the lower package of R 3299 (ZAR) that gave 50Mbps down and 10 Mbps up was sufficient as it still had the same ping speed.
Why are these packages so expensive? The reason being that it was a dedicated connection. You have a single antenna on the providers tower, and only you can use it. Point to point. There was no competition for bandwidth. You are also one hop away from the ISP fibre line. Ceres had Fibre, but not rolled out to the home. I could have gone on to use this for a while, even with the high price, but to my surprise, fibre came.
With fibre, I’m currently getting 500Mbps download and 250Mbps upload. The ping speed is 6ms. It costs R 1300 (ZAR). The connection is solid. I didn’t have any experience working with this connection as I was on paternity leave, but I have no doubt that it will perform much better than the fixed wireless solution.
Fibre installation process
The installation process started when Vodacom sales people knocked on the door. They could have told me anything on that day, it didn’t matter, I wanted fibre and I signed up immediately. I missed the part where they mentioned Open Serve, but more on that later. The sooner I can get Fibre, the better and after signing up, it took a week for my router and temporary LTE to arrive. Then the wait started. At this point I learned about the company doing the installation, but since I already signed up with Vodacom and had an existing contract I was fine with it all.
The other ISP who were in the process of getting municipal approval for rolling out fibre were on the back foot as it seems. Open Serve already had a clause in their contract that allowed them to upgrade their existing infrastructure. So the fibre rollout was actually a replacement of the old coper lines.
Having no Idea how the process worked, I thought every OpenServe truck was brining internet, but as I would learn, it’s not that easy. The first signs of actual fibre process was in the picture above; the open serve civil contractors.
The fibre rollout had a few distinct phases, done by completely different teams. There may be other phases that I’m not aware of, but these were the ones I saw:
Installing the conduit by either using existing open serve pipes or digging up the ground and adding new ones where there were blockages. From what I could see, Ceres’s infrastructure was well intact and only a few places required new trenches. This was done by a civil contractor.
Blowing fibre, which means using compressed air to push fibre cables through the conduit. At the root of the network, the cables started out with many fibre pairs and would decrease as it got to area and street level. The cable that came to our house had 8 cores, that would be split up between the few houses in our street. This phase is also where the fibre is spliced (fused together) from the box outside our house right up to the OpenServe network racks. This team is also responsible for testing all the points.
Connecting the home. This last step involved a private contractor doing an assessment and pulling in a single fibre from the street to our home. This team works with the home owner to find the best route and the installation location inside the house. The final part of this step is to splice the fibres in the road side box and then also inside the house. After which the connection is initiated. I’ve got the home installation pictures below.
Choosing the wrong provider
This is my least favourite part of the story. I was gullible and fooled. I should have known better. My desire for fibre overpowered better judgement. The mistake was simple: I thought Vodacom was the only service provider in my area. I didn’t realise this, but Vodacom was merely the first respondent.
I went to smaller ISP websites and searched for fibre coverage in Ceres, and found that we’re not covered. These smaller companies do not have the same marketing/sales budget. I think Vodacom had special privileged information:knowing which areas will be covered next. I knew there were better ISPs, but I wasn’t sure if they covered Ceres. So I kept my contract with Vodacom.
From the start, they gave me the wrong speed. I didn’t think too much of this as they can simply change it, right? I was wrongfully optimistic. The issue took much longer to be resolved. It took more than a week, which was when I realised that i’m with the wrong company. The support process was so frustrating. No one had any idea about the status of the issue. Imagine having to deal with this every-time there’s an issues? When the most important tool for work is your internet connection, it’s hard to deal with people to whom you’re just another-one of the millions of subscribers they have to deal with.
This was when I attempted to cancel and learned about the ** T&C’s. Marketing? No, nothing is ever free. I wish “free router” meant exactly that. Why not say something like discounted router, or router paid off over the first 12 months. Misleading marketing is not ok. The worst thing is the branded router is locked to their network. You unfortunately have to keep a device not fit for any other purpose, sadly a waste. Another part of the T&C’s was the installation fee, which was also “free”. So before being able to cancel, I had to pay for a useless router and the installation.
As I said in my previous post, Vodacom has ways to go in the fibre business. I don’t have the energy or the time to wait for them to get it all together and decided to move to Cool Ideas, the service provider of choice for most of my Cape Town colleagues.
Switching To Cool Ideas
It took a week for Vodacom to release my line and I was finally free to setup my connection to Cool Ideas.
The support thus far has been incredible. They call you back. They follow up. They show empathy and understanding. They try hard. Every support interaction so far has been with the right people empowered to help.
Support tickets are updated daily. There’s a number I can call and there are people who care enough, or maybe have the right incentives to call me back. Multiple times a day. Even if I miss the calls. Calls are always followed up by email confirmations of the discussion.
To this kind of service, I’m a client for as long as possible.
Having a solid internet connection is an absolute privilege. ISP’s should understand that having a paying-customer is a privilege too. I’m excited about the future of service delivery with smaller companies who desire to impress.
I look forward to working again and having super fast internet as it makes work that much more enjoyable.
Vodacom is the best mobile operator in the country, period! However, the success doesn’t translate into their Fibre offering. They don’t own all the pieces of the puzzle and I think their processes aren’t geared toward this. Especially with how their support teams are setup. I’ve had two long-standing marathon support interactions over two months and it was not a pleasure.
Vodacom only offers telephone support, which means, every follow up is with a new agent who needs to grasp the issue and the history behind it. It is also up to the agent to update the case, which I’ve found not all agents do. This, however, is still a minor issue.
From the first time you call with something that cant be fixed by “turning it off and on again”, you realise that the first level of support is not empowered to solve issues. They are there to create an internal case, called a service request. This is also when you hear about the 48 hour SLA. Which means, it will take up to 48 hours for someone from the second line of support to look into your case. From experience, this SLA is an assignment target. So it could take up to 48 hours for the case to be assigned. Not looked into, not fixed, not resolved, just assigned. If this was solely in the Vodacom network, you probably wouldn’t have more issues, but the reality is, Vodacom the ISP still needs to speak to OpenServe, the Fibre Network Operator (FNO from now on).
If you’ve spent enough time around corporates you’ll know that the FNO probably has their own SLA. They probably have a similar SLA: 48 hours. Hypothetically, you’re always in a situation where your request could take up to 96 hours to be resolved. Well that’s the service level agreement, and from my experience, they always went over it. To date the two request both took more than 7 days to be resolved. Both requests were actually things an ISP had to deal with on a regular basis, so I couldn’t understand the delays.
The second problem is that most of the folks I’ve spoken to are contractors. This I gleaned from their email addresses and also lack of access to the tools that can solve customer issues. It seems that only the second line support folks are actually full time employees, but this is merely speculation. Though I think this disconnect has an affect on the quality support.
From multiple conversations with support personnel over the life time of my requests I also discovered that the escalation mechanism works in a weird way. Support contractors can’t really escalate. They can only request for it to be escalated. It seems that someone else then does the escalation. This escalation is also not really an escalation beyond the second line, it feels like more of a flag added to the request, which the second line seem to ignore completely.
The second line support folks are untouchable. The first line of support can’t call them. Only emails are allowed and replies seem to be optional. This is baffling in a telecommunications company. You can’t call the person to whom request was escalated to; to query delays or what the progress is. From my understanding, service requests go into a black box. It comes out only when it’s done, until then, the customer waits.
My last attempt was to try social media. The twitter folks at Vodacom were so nice, but even they couldn’t figure out what was happening and why there was a delay. They were the only people to call me to tell me that my query was resolved. That was special and the way the first-line support folks could operate to win at customer service.
My conclusion is this: the technical folks in the back office are either overburdened or under performing. Even if you hide this from the customer and the first line support. We can see that something is off and it gives such a lack of confidence. For me, working from home, this has actually pushed me to move to another provider.
My advice to Vodacom, would be to rethink their fibre support. Empower your first line to actually handle the cases. Allow the first line tighter integration into your organisation. Yes they are contractors, but they should be moving more towards customer champions. Back office folks should be held accountable by the folks dealing with customers directly.
It’s been five months since I last thought about work. My laptop is in its original packaging. My home office turned into a guest room and work goodies packed away. I’m currently taking a six month break from work since the arrival of Ariah.
Long parental leave is normal in some countries, but for a South African father, 10 Days is the maximum. The Lord has blessed me tremendously through Automattic. Their benefits are truly world class, specifically the generous paid time off. This is my fourth paternity leave period during the last 5 years. Through sheer privilege, I was able to be on paternity leave for 16 months all together.
Before tell you about the experience, I wanted to note the following. I’m not on standby. I don’t have to do any checkins. There are no work emergencies to take care of. I’ve handed over all my responsibilities to my team. Even after becoming a team lead, a great team mate (thank you David) stepped up to handle my responsibilities. That’s the way Automattic expects you to do it: when on leave, focus on your personal life, not your job. For the sake of communication, no news is good news.
So, how does it feel?
With our first two boys, Judah and Hosea, I had a lot of down time. Lauren breastfed exclusively which left me waiting on her call for assistance, but from Avah onwards, it felt like I was switching to another full time job. The more kids you have, the more valuable longer paternity leave becomes. With each new family member, everything becomes exponentially more complex.
The first few weeks was more about switching off from work and switching on to the reality of a new family member. I’ve already written about the challenging times we had with this pregnancy, but to add more context, with Ariah arriving early and then further complications with Lauren I was the full time carer for Judah, Hosea and Avah. I had a lot of help from my family as we moved back to my moms house during Lauren’s long hospital stay.
I’ve heard many people say “kids grow up too fast”. They all wish they had more time to spend with them. And this is the best benefit of paternity leave: a special time spent with your wife and kids. You get to take them to school, the park, outings and longer walks at the end of the day. You get to support your wife and entertain the new baby with your “googoo gaagaa” impressions.
Paternity leave is not a holiday. You don’t get to simply pick a destination and enjoy your time off. Having a baby is a serious responsibility and they limit your options quite a bit, especially in the first 3 Months. It is tempting to use the time for traveling and getting out, which we did, but during these outings we always realised that the best thing one can do is stay at home. The last few weeks felt more relaxing. We decided not to make any plans, avoiding the stress brought on by the desire to maximise time off.
Towards the end of paternity leave, your mind starts to wander back to work. How will you adjust? What must be put in place with the family to make the transition as smooth as possible? How will we cope with kids during late night meetings? What if I have to travel? The situation changes from being supportive to needing support. All these questions will be answered in the next few weeks, as we make the transition back to normality.
Whenever I’m away from work, I realise the great value it adds to life. It gives a sense of purpose, belonging and the feeling that you’re spending time on something more important than yourself. You’re in a team, part of the crew, rowing in the same direction.
Am I ready to work and take on the challenge of juggling more responsibilities? As I write this, I have little more than 3 weeks left. My mind is slowly making its way back to work. I’m about to setup my office again. I’ve started working on a side project just to see if I can still write some code. Planning to setup a few meetings before I return, just to get the feel for where I’m going to fit in again.
The past 6 months was life changing. I’ve grown as a father, man and a believer. I’ve realised how quickly things can change and how precious this life is that we all share.
Since the family is full, this is also my final paternity leave. Again, what a great privilege.
Being a team lead at Automattic is not a promotion, but it is very challenging and after doing it for the last year, I understand why.
During 2020, just before an intense hiring spree, I got the opportunity to lead a small team of 3 software engineers. Our primary responsibility was WooCommerce Payments (alongside 3 other teams). With payments being a business focus, we needed more engineers. And in what felt like no time, a 6 month onboarding rollercoaster season led to the team growing to 8 people!
My vague team management ideas did not serve me well. I hoped to figure things out as I went along and expected work to remain as is, with a few leadership tasks added. No big changes. I was very wrong. Two major areas changed: my schedule and work type.
As an individual contributor I had two standard meetings per week. One with the team and one with my manager. As a manager, I now have eight check-in’s (1on1 with each member of the team), the team meeting and the meeting with my director. Along with these there are also other meetings that I have to fit in the gaps.
The type of work also changed. I was no longer writing code, but rather, spending a lot of time in google docs, messaging and P2 (our replacement for email). I could still help out with code reviews and do minor code changes, but I really struggled to find uninterrupted time to think deeply about the technical problems. Along with this I had to get used to the constant context switching.
Automattic truly supports team leads. We all get access to one on one coaching with a professional external coach. The company runs remote training cohorts specifically for team leads and on top of this you have access to any learning resource that could help you become a better leader and manager.
Besides work there were also so many changes in my life. The Covid-19 pandemic, loss of loved ones and 2 new arrivals in our family, Ariah and Avah. On top of it all I also undertook completing my academic qualification. I’m not complaining here, but just wanted to highlight how there really wasn’t any time for extra hours of reading and learning about the new path.
While figuring everything ways to handle the new path, I began to discover how valuable an impactful team lead can be. I began to see small things that came about as a result of my championing. I realised how my impact on other team leads can move the organisation forward.
As a new team lead you try and throw things together, a mix of what you’ve seen others do and you try to avoid the bad things that you’ve experienced. This mix doesn’t really help as you constantly doubt yourself. I think this past year helped me to discover the type of lead I’d like to be and what I can work towards.
My grandfather used to say: “Time changes many things”. I feel like this new path challenges me to change into a better version of myself. The great thing about the team lead path at Automattic is that because it’s not a promotion, you can always switch back. Maybe the pendulum will swing back and I will become a better individual contributor or perhaps I’ll stick it out and be the best manager I can be.
Thinking ahead about easter/passover weekend, I’m reflecting on the reasons for observing it. I consider this to be the perfect weekend to consider who Jesus is, why He was born and died in such a gruesome manner.
Back in 2016, I wrote about believing in a Creator, which came after a period of searching for answers to make sure that I’m not just blindly believing what I was taught growing up. Since then I also rediscovered a personal Jesus, and how He was God’s plan all along.
There isn’t much written about Jesus’ early days, but some of His first words in public were: “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. – Matt. 4 v 17. Repent, meaning to turn away, also implies that we turn toward something else. In my mind this is narrowed down to one thing: turning toward God. In every area of your life.
If we read the bible, we see throughout all the books that God truly hates sin, which is simply going against His design. In the Old testament, the only way for sins to be forgiven was through animal sacrifice, which was temporary and needed to be done every year. With the death of Jesus, God made the forgiveness permanent; it need not be repeated. The only way we can receive that forgiveness, is to believe in Jesus and as part of our faith, add the action of following Him every day through obeying His commands.
The bible promises us, that if we do this and receive forgiveness we avoid His wrath and receive His eternal blessings. A lot has been written about this. I am 100% convinced that we can choose between life and death. Life is with Jesus, forever, and death, well the bible doesn’t have anything nice to say about that.
Moving on to something that really triggered me a year ago: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13 v 44 . If Jesus died a terrible death at the age of 33, in the prime of his life, so that I can avoid God’s wrath, why am I not excited to give my life up for Him?
That’s why I’m so happy to write this post. My life and everything I have belongs to Jesus. The bible talks about Him as Lord and Saviour. As Saviour; He was the perfect sacrifice for sin, as Lord; He owns everything.
This easter, consider Jesus, what He has done and what that means for your life. I’m not ashamed to talk about Jesus, and hope that one day, He won’t be ashamed of me, and invite me into His eternal kingdom.
Our family has grown! We now have 4 beautiful little humans trying to rule our lives. Ariah Rhoda Maralack joined the gang after a very challenging pregnancy. She arrived at 34 weeks after Lauren was in hospital for 7 weeks leading up to it: read more on my Lauren’s blog. During this time I got to spend a lot of time on the road, driving between Paarl and Panorama Mediclinic, as well as many hours entertaining and looking after Judah, Hosea and Avah.
I became a team lead, or and engineering manager as we call it in the industry. I’m managing a team that spans 5+ timezones. Working with amazing folks from Brazil, Canada, Scotland, Wales, Spain and Turkey. This new role is not a promotion at Automattic, so you can switch back to working as developer as soon as you no longer enjoy it. I’m learning a lot from the challenge, but will share more about this role change in a separate post.
While adjusting to team lead responsibilities I’ve also taken on an academic course, finishing up a course I started 10 years ago: Advanced, Diploma in IT (or the new name Information Resource Management). I underestimated the impact the program would have, but, thank the Lord, I made it through. I finished this up and achieved something I always wanted, to get my qualification “with distinction” (cum laude). I also want to write more about my academic journey and what I learned here.
Finally, I also turned 35, and I’m grateful to my eternal Heavenly Father for blessing me with such a wonderful life. I was an average student and not one of the greatest minds. I don’t deserve what I have: A beautiful wife, strong and healthy children, a loving larger family and a comfortable home and the blessing of a great job. “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastics 9:11)
It’s been a busy year for us all. With all that’s behind me I’m grateful and excited. It’s wonderful to be alive and to have the opportunity to choose life everyday. As for writing. I hope to blog more often. I hope to avoid heavy filtering and unwanted colouring. Above that, I hope for my writing to be helpful. I hope to live fully.
I am 34 years old! Today is a day for counting blessings and thinking about the great people in my life and most importantly the Lord’s goodness towards me and my family.
The highlights of the past year were celebrating Judah turning 3, Hosea turning 2, and that our beautiful daughter Avah was born. We also celebrated 9 years of marriage! We were fortunate to have been employed through the terrible COVID-19 pandemic and the bonus for me was that we realized how toxic negativity was and started to encourage one another to not think that way anymore.
I also stepped into a “management” role at work and have really been challenged to grow through the experience. I celebrate the team I’m on and the individuals I get to work with every day. It’s an adjustment to think of success through the lens of helping team members but it’s interesting and I look forward to learning more.
Besides our family and work, the last year was a great challenge. Lauren and I contracted covid and sadly lost Lauren’s father and my grandfather to the virus. All plans were thrown out and motivations were low.
In the next year, I hope to grow deeper relationships and be better at understanding others. I look forward to a year filled with positive thoughts and friends who uplift. I hope to spend many hours with family and have more fun.
If you’ve been reading while I was 33 wait till you see me at 34 🙂