On to something new

Posted on 2017-12-12 13:59 +0000 in Life • Tagged with coding, work, life, news • 2 min read

Today is a fairly significant day for me. For the past 21 (and a bit) years I've worked for the same company. I know that, for lots of people in my industry, that's a hell of a long time to be in one position. It was a setup that served me pretty well; the company was small (I'm not much of a big company person), I generally got to dictate the development tools and direction, and I also got to work from home.

The working from home part was especially helpful as other life events involved me and happened around me. The job I've been in has seen a marriage come and go, and a move from Hampshire to Lincolnshire, and then from Lincolnshire to Midlothian. There's been a few adventures along the way.

But, three months ago, I got a call to say that I was to be made redundant. This sucked, obviously. It also appeared pretty stupid on the part of my employer: a company that is based around software had decided it no longer wanted an in-house software developer. A bold, and I think unwise, choice. From this point on they've decided to only go with contract developers and only contract developers from overseas (or so the story goes).

As it goes, things have turned out okay. Today is my last day with my old employer and, as I'm sat here typing this out while having some lunch, I'm actually glad that it's coming to a close and that I can get to move on.

I have a new employer, and will be starting in my new position during the first week of January. It'll be very different. It'll all be different. Not only will I be back working in an office (one where jeans and t-shirts are the norm, thankfully!), I'm also going to be working in an industry (as a developer still, of course) that I have no background in and no real knowledge of. It's going to be a seriously exciting challenge.

New book

Over the next couple of weeks I've got a fair amount of background reading (and video watching) to be doing. This isn't so much that I can get on with the job of development (although there will be a good bit of that to do too -- who doesn't want to be trying to understand new options for development?), it's more about understanding the language of the industry I'll be in and so that I can understand the needs of my users.

Goodbye fashion retail and all related things. Hello genetics and... well, I don't know, I'm going to find out. :)

Virgin East Coast 21

Posted on 2016-11-03 13:00 +0000 in Life • Tagged with travel, Virgin • 2 min read

Yesterday I got the call about the Virgin East Coast Ticket Wallet app that I was promised last week (well, actually, promised a couple of months back). It didn't go well.

Well, I say "didn't go well", the conversation itself went very well, the chap I spoke to was polite and apologetic and helpful, but the outcome wasn't really very brilliant.

It didn't get off to a brilliant start when I was first told that the solution to my problem was that I needed to uninstall and then reinstall the app (something I've done more than once while trying to get to the bottom of the problem). I asked if that was really necessary and I was informed that it was the only way to fix the problem of the tickets not showing. Problem is... that wasn't my problem. So I then had to explain the exact nature of the fault I was experiencing (and also explained my guess as to what the cause of the problem was).

After that, much of the content of the conversation involved vaguely confidential information (nothing too terrible or that big a secret -- just stuff that isn't generally known yet) which I'm not going to repeat here. The upshot of the chat though is this: they can't do anything for me.

Simply put: they acknowledge there's a problem with the app, the problem is at their end, it's a problem that needs to be fixed and there's nothing they can do to fix it any time soon.

The causes of this will sound familiar to anyone with experience of large companies who outsource much of their development and get involved in areas that they might not have much experience with.

I also found out the cause of some of the delay in actually getting back to me: the person who was supposed to originally call me went on maternity leave just after they'd first tried to call and, it seems, nobody thought to pick up their workload. This left me in the bizarre position of trying to call someone who was off work for an extended period of time, and whose phone wasn't being answered in any way.

Of course, it doesn't explain why that person's boss, who I was promised a call from a short while after, never bothered to call.

So, I think, to some degree, that's the end of this silly saga. Their software is buggy, they can't fix it any time soon, and I'm out of luck.

As for the extra free tickets I was promised a couple of weeks back now... they've still not appeared. Time for me to chase that up again.

Virgin East Coast 20

Posted on 2016-10-29 16:53 +0100 in Life • Tagged with travel, Virgin • 2 min read

After my last post I sent off an email to chase up what was happening with the promised phone calls about the Ticket Wallet app and the general delays with getting things sorted. Here's what I wrote:

Hi again Mike.

It's now a week since you replied and, I think it's fair to note, it's no longer "early" this week. I've had no call -- neither form yourself nor from anyone related to the Ticket Wall App -- and I've not received the promised tickets either. While I do try to be patient I have to admit that it's starting to get very frustrating, being made lots of promises about progress that simply never happen. This has been going on for months now and I'm always having to chase things up.

I'd very much appreciate it if you could explain to me what's going on, and why.

A while later I got a reply. He said he'd be getting the tickets in the post the following day (so a Friday, which I think I can safely say isn't the start of the week) and would also phone me.

The following day he did keep his promise. He called (I managed to miss him the first time, but when I was finally free I called back and we got to chat). He promised I'd get some more tickets early next week and also that someone with technical knowledge would finally call about the app problem.

I have, of course, been here before. This is exactly the promise that was made a couple of months ago. It's easy to make the promise, apparently not so easy to deliver on it (or address the issue of not delivering on it).

So now I wait. Again. I'll be sure to update when something happens (or doesn't).

Virgin East Coast 19

Posted on 2016-10-27 11:21 +0100 in Life • Tagged with travel, Virgin • 1 min read

I think I need to rethink the meaning of the word "certainly". Anyone still bothering to read this blog will recall that, last week, the Customer Relations Manager at Virgin East Coast said:

If you can leave this with me I will certainly be in contact early next week to try and get this resolved once and for all. In the meantime I will pop a further couple of tickets in the post for you, just so you have them incase you need to travel urgently.

That email was received last Thursday evening. It's now the following Thursday. Personally I'd take "certainly", in the above, to mean that there's little to no chance that I won't be contacted in the early part of this week, and that there's little to no chance that the tickets won't arrive in the early part of this week.

I'd have thought that "certainly" would be used to create a huge contrast between what has gone on before, and what will follow.

But, like I say, it's Thursday the following week and I've had no call from anyone about the Ticket Wallet app, I've had no call or email from Mike (the Customer Relations Manager) and the tickets haven't tumbled through the door.

I'm not surprised. I'm not in the least bit surprised. I am, however, rather disappointed.

And, of course, I'm now going to have to chase things up again.

Virgin East Coast 18

Posted on 2016-10-24 11:29 +0100 in Life • Tagged with travel, Virgin • 2 min read

Late on last week some progress was made with the issue of no longer being able to contact Mike at Virgin East Coast. After chasing up via twitter (mentioning the MD as well as the normal support account) I finally got a reply from the support account, saying they'd get a message to Mike and let him know what was going on.

I wasn't really very hopeful about it, if I'm honest. If I couldn't get a reply from him via the channels I'd normally used what hope was there that I'd get a reply this way?

The following day was mostly spent traveling but my phone was on and always to hand. I never received any call. However, late in the day I did get an email! This was the first direct contact, that replied to an attempt to contact him on the current issue, I'd had from the Customer Relations Manager since the previous month.

Here's what he said (quoted in full):

My sincere apologies for the silence, I have been away and it was remiss of my not to advise my regular contacts, of my colleagues details.

If you can leave this with me I will certainly be in contact early next week to try and get this resolved once and for all. In the meantime I will pop a further couple of tickets in the post for you, just so you have them incase you need to travel urgently.

My apologies again David, and I look forward to chatting early next week.

I am, of course, a little skeptical of this at the moment. A few times before I've been told they'll be in contact "early next week", or something similar, and nothing has happened. It'll be interesting to see if this will be different.

Will I get an update? Will I finally get a call about the Ticket Wallet app? Will the extra tickets turn up?

Virgin East Coast 17

Posted on 2016-10-19 11:28 +0100 in Life • Tagged with travel, Virgin • 2 min read

The Virgin East Coast Trains saga gets more and more odd. Following on from yesterday's update I thought I'd give Mike an actual call. As in, a call on the phone.

I don't generally like calling people. I'm one of those people who gets a little anxious about using the phone and much prefer email. I'll use a phone as a last resort and, given how long this was going on for, I thought it time to break my normal "no phone" rule and pick mine up and call to find out what the hell is going on.

Turns out the number is no longer available!

The last email I have that was sent from Mike was on September 25th. The number I used was the one in the footer of that email. It doesn't work. There's also a land line given. Calling that gives the same result.

As of now, if I try and call the customer relations manager for Virgin East Coast Trains, someone who I was referred to by David Horne (the MD), I get a message that the phone isn't available.




So, given that, I thought I'd drop David a direct message on twitter. We'd spoken that way back on August 9th when he requested my contact details. Nope. Can't send him a DM any more. Guess I got unfollowed.

So I've tried tweeting him instead:

This did get a reply from @Virgin_TrainsEC and I let them know what I was after. They say they've sent him an email too now:

Really, this is a silly mess again. My query is simple and straightforward. I'm simply chasing up two promises that were made by Mike, on behalf of Virgin. All I seem to be getting now on those two points is complete silence.

I'm really not in the business of telling people how to do their jobs but... wouldn't customer relations involve actually talking to customers and delivering on promises made to them when you do talk to them? That strikes me as the sensible thing to do.

Virgin East Coast 16

Posted on 2016-10-18 13:27 +0100 in Life • Tagged with travel, Virgin • 3 min read

It's now almost 2 weeks since I last posted an update here and, frustratingly, I don't really have much progress to write about.

What had been a promising start (well, middle; the actual start of this process was as frustrating as hell; it was only when the MD got involved that things actually started to happen) has turned into more of the same: broken promises and lack of actual results.

Only, this time, I'm not dealing with some call center. This time I'm dealing with the office of David Horne.

Since I last wrote I've emailed Mike Ross three times. The first time was to chase up what was happening with the promised phone call regarding the Ticket Wallet app. Here's what I wrote 12 days ago (on 2016-10-06):

Hi Mike.

Just wanted to try and chase up what's happening with being able to speak with someone about the original problem with the Ticket Wallet app. It's now around 2 months since I missed the single call from Katie Fisher (which I attempted to return every day for a week after, and a couple of times the second week after -- never able to leave a message because there was no voicemail system). It's now also over a month since you said that a David Ridley (you you said was Katie's boss) would contact me and I've still not had any sort of call.

With respect, this is exactly the sort of thing that I initially found frustrating about dealing with Virgin East Coast Trains: the promises of calls to get things sorted that never happen and the constant need, on my part, to chase things up to even try and get something happening.

It's also nearly 4 months since I first ran into the original problem and I'm still no nearer getting an explanation as to what the problem is or any nobody would initially believe the problem I was reporting.

Could I please get an honest update on what's happening with this?

This got no reply whatsoever. Now, I appreciate that people can be busy, but when you have an ongoing issue to resolve with someone it makes sense you at least say something like "I'm sorry, my attention is elsewhere at the moment -- I promise I'll get back to you as soon as possible". That's not an ideal thing to do, especially if your job us customer relations, but at least it lets the customer know you're there and listening.

But, no, nothing.

So 5 days ago I replied to the above, with a little chaser:

Hi Mike. Sorry to trouble you but given it's a week since I wrote, I wanted to chase this up.

And still nothing.

Later this week I'll be on the trains again and, despite getting no sort of reply whatsoever from Mike, I decided to drop a line anyway and ask for seat reservations to be made (as had originally been offered). These were done in no time at all.

While that is great it also tells me something rather odd: my emails are being read and acted upon -- at least when they're a request for a seat reservation -- but they're not being replied to.

And here's the thing that's even more frustrating about this. The email where I requested the seat reservations had this on the end as a PS:

PS: Did you receive the catch-up email I sent last week? Seeing as how I'm about to use the last set of tickets you provided me I'm very keen to get to the bottom of the Ticket Wallet app problem so I can finally resolve the problem of getting WiFi on the train and working without having to spend £10 extra every time.

That has to have been read and... given the lack of reply I can only conclude that it was ignored. I like to think it wasn't really ignored but a lack of reply looks exactly like you're being ignored.

At this point I don't know what to make of this any more. It's a simple problem I'm trying to get to the bottom of. I've been made plenty of good promises, almost all of them broken. On top of that I can't really escalate the issue any more because I'm already receiving the best help that Virgin East Coast's MD can offer, apparently.

Anyone got Richard Branson's phone number?

Virgin East Coast 15

Posted on 2016-09-29 13:12 +0100 in Life • Tagged with travel, Virgin • 2 min read

It's now a week since I last wrote an update and, given that I'm sat on a Virgin East Coast train right now, I thought I'd do another.

As mentioned last time, I'm currently waiting for a call from someone at Virgin East Coast regarding the ongoing situation with the Android Ticket Wallet application. It's now over 3 months since I first ran into the problem (and, of course, ran into all the issues of trying to get some sensible help and response from them) and nothing has really improved:

Still can't log in

It's now around six weeks since I was promised a call from someone who works on the application; a call that did come the once but I couldn't answer at the time (I'm not the sort of person to fiddle with a phone while driving) and which I attempted to return for the better part of 2 weeks afterwards but never even got an answer to the calls.

It's now also 3 weeks since I was told that I'd get a call from the boss of the person who was originally supposed to call me. I've yet to receive a call from them too. I've mentioned this to Mike Ross on a couple of occasions now and haven't had any sort of direct reply as to what's going on with that situation.

While I am enjoying the benefits of the tickets I was provided as compensation from the earlier troubles (and also very much appreciating Mike's reserving of seats for me when I need them -- I do find that booked seats take a lot of stress out of traveling) I'd really love to get to the bottom of the problem with the Ticket Wallet app.

Frustratingly and amusingly I suspect I'll finally get an answer around the time I don't need to use the train quite so much.

Virgin East Coast 14

Posted on 2016-09-22 10:55 +0100 in Life • Tagged with travel, Virgin • 2 min read

It's now about 3 weeks since my last post about my exploits in getting a problem solved with Virgin East Coast so now's a good time for a little update.

Two things were "outstanding" the last time I wrote about this. One was that Mike (the customer relations manager in the Virgin East Coast MD's office) wanted us to meet up for a coffee and a chat about my issues and how things were progressing, etc. Sadly I wasn't able to make the original date we'd picked out as a possible so another date was arranged. At least, it was kind of arranged. It was noted that this week might be a good time to meet and I'd written back to him to say that Wednesday 21st would be good. Since then I've had no reply at all.

The second thing that is outstanding is having someone call me about the issues with the Ticket Wallet app. I've yet to receive a call from the person who originally phoned me and who I missed (and who I chased up every day for a week afterwards). I was then told by Mike, about 2 weeks or so back, that that person's manager would call me instead and that I should expect a call early last week.

That call didn't happen. Didn't happen early last week, late last week, at all last week. It's now Thursday this week and I've still not had a call.

Just this morning I've chased up both of the above.

It's now over 3 months since I first reported the Ticket Wallet app problem and I seem to be no closer to seeing it resolved, or even having an explanation as to the cause of the problem.

Virgin East Coast 13

Posted on 2016-09-02 09:54 +0100 in Life • Tagged with travel, Virgin • 4 min read

It's just over 3 weeks now since I wrote about how I was finally getting somewhere with my problems with Virgin East Coast, so now seems like a good time to update on what's happening. Here's the things that the PR manager in the MD's office said he'd be sorting, along with what happened afterwards:

Virgin would BACS me the value of the cheque they kept failing to send

This happened and happened quickly too. The money turned up in my account (actually rounded up a little) without any fuss or bother.

That said... I did receive a cheque from them anyway that is written to a value that has no relation to the refund I was entitled to and isn't even similar to the rounded-up value that I received via BACS. I've not done anything with the cheque yet; there was no accompanying letter to say what it was for, nothing to explain why it differed by around £10 (more) from what I was expecting and what turned up in my account, nothing to explain why I was getting it at all.

I emailed Mike (the customer relations manager) last Friday and got a reply last Saturday so say he'd look into it when he got back to his desk this last Tuesday (Monday being a Bank Holiday in England and Wales). I'm writing this on Friday morning and haven't had that update yet (so I have sent off an email to chase this up).

In the mean time I'm doing nothing with the cheque. It seems unfair to cash it if it was a simple error on their part.

Someone with knowledge of the Ticket Wallet App would phone me direct

This happened. Sort of. The day after things started to get resolved I received a call. Sadly I was driving at the time and was in no position to take it. When I finally got home and tried calling back there was no answer. Since then I've tried calling the number every day for the first week and a couple of times in the second week; I've had no answer at all. Neither have I received a call from the person who originally tried calling.

I let Mike know about this in an email about a week back and he said he'd chase it up. So far I've had no word on the subject since (again, I've sent off an email chasing this up this morning).

They'd send me 4 First Class return tickets by way of an apology

This happened and happened quickly. I've no complaints on this score. Also, Mike has been very kind in allowing me to email him direct to arrange seat reservations each time I've needed to use a ticket (once so far, second request went off this morning for the use of the second of the tickets).

The CR manager would keep in contact to update me on how things are being improved

This one not quite so much, but I didn't see this as quite so important and it wasn't something I was looking for. What mattered to me was that the refund I was owed got to me and that the apparent problem with the Ticket Wallet app got fixed.

That said... back in the early 1990s a lot of software that I developed was designed for complaints handling departments (used in some pretty well-known companies too). It was all about keeping customers happy, keeping in contact with them, keeping track of how well you're doing, keeping track of promised contact dates and ensuring they were met (that whole thing of a call to say you've failed is better than no call so you appear to have failed twice), that sort of thing. I guess, from this point of view, I do have an interest in how Virgin East Coast handle their customer relations and what systems they have in place so they appear to be competent.

As for getting to chat: Mike did name a couple of dates when he'd be close to where I tend to be working and suggested we get together for a coffee and a chat about this subject. Given we've both got fluid diaries (his far more than mine, I'm sure) it's all a little up in the air but I think there's a possible date in the next week.

So that's where I'm at: one problem solved (with an offshoot curiosity that I'm trying to get to the bottom of) and one outstanding.

Not perfect. Not terrible either.