What happened on my ThoughtWorks sabbatical

Working at ThoughtWorks has many perks – one of which is a paid 12 week sabbatical after ten years service. I took mine over the UK Summer holidays in 2016 and thought I’d stick some stuff up about what I got up to. I’ll post again with some more updates about what I’ve been working on. So, the sabbatical…

I’ve been at TW for over eleven years now and in summer of 2016 I took the opportunity to take my 12 week sabbatical. It was over the school holidays since my main goal was to spend time with my family – we all know the impact that consulting has on this I guess. My plans were pretty fluid but I knew that I wanted to get away with the kids as much as possible and that I wanted to take some time for myself. I guess I really wanted to know what to focus on next at TW since I’ve done many of the roles in professional services before spending the last couple of years as a principal on teams, a lot of architecture consulting, writing and speaking at public events. A pretty full schedule basically.

Anyway, on to what I got up to, which I guess was the point of this.

I started the 12 weeks off by getting married – which was pretty much the perfect start.

I followed this up with a trip to South Wales with the family – Castles and beaches featured highly as you can see (as, unusually for Wales, did good weather!).

Carreg Cennen Castle

Tor Bay, Gower Peninsular

Next up, my wife and I managed to get some time to ourselves (not easy when you have four children between you) to go on honeymoon. We decided to hang out in the Dordogne and Loire areas of France for a bit – good wine and good cheese FTW.

Château de Chinon at sunset

When we got back it was time to head down to Wales again – when you have beaches like this ten minutes from your parents house it’s rude not to go to them as much as possible.

Pobbles bay

At this point it was time for the children to go back to school. Sarah too, since she works in Primary education. That left me with about six weeks on my hands. Fortunately I’d been planning a little walk so I took a week to prepare (all the gear, no idea of course) and set out for, you guessed it, the Welsh hills. Well, the Welsh Marches technically – I love that name, it sounds like it should be in a Shakespearean play.
I decided to walk as much of the 177 mile Offa’s Dyke national trail as time and fitness would allow. The trail follows the former Wales – England border and was where King Offa (circa 880 AD) ordered the construction of a defensive earthwork to project the Kingdom of Mercia from the expeditionary attempts (ahem) of the Welsh Princes of the time.
Also, after investigating how much it would be to stay in hotels and have my luggage portered between stops (a lot), I had decided to carry everything on my back. Now, you need to keep in mind that I’m not particularly fit. I had done something like this when I was in my early twenties, but that was in the distant past as far as my legs were concerned. Also, turns out if you are going to build a defensive earthwork, you build along the tops of hills. Who knew?
So, I set off at Chepstow and got as far as Monmouth on my first day (just!). My planning had extended to making sure that most of my overnight stops were in campsites with easy access to a beer so I carb loaded and then set off the next day. And so it went. Highlights of the trip were losing my glasses and being unable to read a map or compass (I had multiple redundancy with both maps and compasses but a single point of failure with my glasses. Doh). Also, I gave in and stayed in Baskerville Hall at one point (fun fact, it’s not in Devon as it is in the Sherlock Holmes books – he was a friend of the family and when he asked if he could set his book there they asked him to relocate the location since they didn’t want to be bothered by the great unwashed masses).
Looking back to the highest point of the trail
The hound at Baskerville Hall
This is at about the 60 mile mark looking backwards towards the highest point of the walk and to the Brecon Beacons. I wasn’t dressing for style…
Views west over the Marches. You would normally see the Black Mountains in the distance. But weather.
In the end, I made it 90 miles before deciding that I had made my point and that carrying on was kind of selfish to be honest so headed back home from Knighton having learnt a couple of things including that your legs need some time to get used to carrying a 30kg pack for 20 odd miles per day over rolling hills and mountains.
It was a fantastic experience and I would recommend it to anyone – it certainly gave me time to think, although it was mainly about putting one foot in front of the other. Also, take spare glasses…
The rest of my sabbatical was spent chilling out at home. It’s really lovely to be there when the kids get home from school and to generally be around more for them. Also PS4. My Battlefront game is pretty strong.
So, that’s the story of my sabbatical. It went by in a bit of a blur and suddenly it was time to get back to TW – which started with a keynote on the future of software at XT16 and a talk on organisational design at GOTO London. I’m currently split between a couple of clients and carrying on the public speaking. And already looking forward to the next one. Onwards!

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