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New theme & general spruce-up

If you see this post on the web, you’ll see that this blog finally looks a bit different. After having the same theme for well over a year, I finally updated it.

Normally I wouldn’t write about it, but I have to tell you about the Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha. I first heard about it from David Pennock on his “Oddhead” blog. What’s incredible about the theme is a) it’s free and b) it’s incredibly customizable.

The Suffusion theme supports a wide variety of layouts, with sidebars, various headers and footers, and widgets everywhere. And then those widgets can be customized. In fact, it looks like every single element of every feature of WordPress can be customized. It’s even got a variety of standard icons built in (for Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc.) and supports key products like Feedburner, Google Analytics, etc.

So if you’re looking for a new theme for your blog, check out Suffusion.

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Getting Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK – my experiences

I started working in the UK nearly five years ago on a Highly Skilled Migrant Programme visa. It is/was a fantastic programme. At the time I applied I just needed to show my level of education and what I’d been getting paid; because I was younger than 28 when I applied it was easy to obtain. For the last five years it let me work without any real restrictions in the UK. I was free to change jobs, and even stopped working for a year to get my MBA.

Long story, but I had a year-long window in order to apply for my “Indefinite Leave to Remain” (ILR) visa, which grants both Annie and I to officially be “settled” in the UK. We finally got around to applying for it this month, and because of my travel commitments for work we had to apply in person.

This is that story.


(To be honest it’s pretty boring, but something I wish I could have read before I showed up. I’m posting it for anyone that might be interested in the details of the process)


Booking an appointment online is easy, but not at all straightforward. (Annie and I had to register separately, then she had to send me her code so that I could book an appointment for both of us at the same time.) We could get an appointment within a week or two of when I looked for it online, at least at the Public Enquiry Office in Croydon.

Our appointment was for 3pm, and they tell you to show up 30 minutes early. We arrived about 2:20pm, and spent 30 minutes going through security and standing in a queue to speak to the first person in the process.

For anyone that has to do this for themselves, know this: There is a Border Agency agent who does an initial review of your application before you ever get to the point where you have to pay and then do a formal interview. This person checks your application to make sure it’s complete, reviews the documents that you’ve brought as proof, and checks your current visa. In my case he caught a mistake: when I was granted an extension of my HSMP visa the Home Office had mistakenly entered it as a “work visa” instead of “HSMP visa”. Luckily I had my paperwork from when the extension was granted, which showed that it was their screw-up and not mine. (Lesson: bring all of the documents that you’ve received from the Border Agency / Home Office, whether they’ve asked for them or not.)

Only after that review do you have to go and pay. That queue took another 15 minutes or so. You might want to give your bank a heads up that you’ll be making a big charge; I had to do a phone verification with my bank. (At this point you still aren’t guaranteed of getting your visa, as about a hundred signs tell you.)

The next wait was a big one; in our case from 3:15 to 4:20pm. There was just a big room with rather uncomfortable rows of immovable chairs. (It looked/felt a bit like prison furniture, perhaps because of problems with people getting angry in the past?) The other big feature was about a thousand screaming children running around everywhere. It was difficult to concentrate on my book. There are a couple of Coca-Cola vending machines and a very small snack shop available in the building while you wait.

The original 3pm slot that I booked must have been one of the last of the day. We were finally seen my a Border Agent around 4:20pm, and because our application was very straightforward we were all done at 4:40 when she told us that we had been granted our ILR visas!

As you might expect, the final wait was a long one as they actually created the visas and put them in our passports. They quote an hour and a half, but ours were ready by 17:45. (Another wait in the prison furniture room with the screaming children.) We received our passports with our shiny new full-page visa stickers/stamps, and letters detailing our new status and what it means.


Summary

This is just our story; your mileage may vary. Our visa application was very straightforward, and I’m sure they can get pretty complicated pretty quickly. If this is at all helpful or useful to someone that’s about to do the same thing, please let me know by commenting below!

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Great management tip for new hires

I was at a dinner a while ago with a well-respected Director of sales at Google. We were discussing hiring, and he mentioned one of the things he does with all of his new direct reports. I thought it was really smart and wanted to pass it on.

He requires all of his new hire direct reports to prepare a presentation to him after they’ve been on the job for three months. The presentation is supposed to include things that have surprised them about Google, both good and bad. The theory (and his experience!) is that after three months any new hire will have enough context to clearly see where the problems are, but not have lived with them for so long to have become immune to them. His direct reports all have experience prior to Google and therefore have sufficient background to say either “Wow, this is fantastic” or “Wow, this is really a load of crap.”

The presentation isn’t hugely formal, but this kind of critical thinking at about the three-month point is a great way to get honest and quality feedback about the organizational status quo. (Of course, then it’s up to the manager and his/her team to actually do something about it, but that’s for another time…)

Has anyone else had to do something similar, or required it of their new direct hires?

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Blogging to resume soon…

So I clearly haven’t been blogging much recently. Between my job and rowing, I haven’t had time for anything else.

But I’m into the last two weeks of the rowing season now as the biggest event of the year (Henley Royal Regatta) runs from Wednesday, June 30th to Sunday July 4th.

I’ve got a number of draft posts that I’ve started but haven’t finished, so expect to see those starting in July. Until then…