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Published on
31 March 2021
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Moving slowly and (not) breaking things

On collapsed ceilings, why living in Portugal will teach you patience, and why we’ve been working on our latest product for a year.

I’m not the world’s most patient person. I have a lot of ideas, and I always want to do everything immediately. I talk too fast. Honestly, I’m not even great at waiting thirty minutes for dinner.

But living in Portugal has—sort of accidentally—taught me patience. Everything takes longer than I expect here. I’ve been working at renovating our garage bathroom for months—a task I claimed would be “cheap and fast” back in January—and I’m only just now ready to install the plasterboard walls.

There are many reasons it’s taken so long—I’ve been making it up as I go, the home centre is incapable of delivering anything on time, I already have a day job, and that one time a ceiling collapsed full of dry rot. But every time I have to push things back yet again and I think to myself how I could be done by now if I just didn’t bother building out that niche—I remember how badly things tend to go if I rush them needlessly.

I was worried I'd find huge spiders under this ceiling. Turns out it was just decades of dry rot, and a beam that crumbled to pieces as I pulled the plasterboard down. I was only mildly terrified I was going to cause the house to collapse.

I’m always grateful when I’ve taken the extra time to do a good job, no matter how painful it is to introduce yet another delay just because you have termites to deal with now too or you just really need a damned nap. (I really need a damned nap. And for my house to stop having major catastrophes on a weekly basis.)

Moving fast breaks things

And not to extrapolate too much, but I feel like this really applies to working in technology as well. Matt and I have both worked in tech for long enough to get pretty jaded. There’s a lot to love about the tech industry, but there’s also a whole lot that’s broken about it too, and that has serious knock-on effects for the world at large.

Tech has long proclaimed the virtue of “moving fast and breaking things”, a concept popularised by Facebook—a company known for their upstanding morals and innovative design (…right?) That’s all well and good when all that you’re breaking is your own servers, but it’s just wilful ignorance to claim that’s as far as technology reaches into our lives.

Be NASA, not Facebook

Instead of moving fast and breaking things, we aim to move thoughtfully and fix things. We don’t want to be Facebook. We want to be Margaret HamiltonExternal link, the absolute conker of a woman who sent a rocket to the fucking moon without a single bug, way before Facebook decided to destroy the fabric of society.

It’s easy to be impatient—I get it. But it’s so easy to fall into the trap of responding to everything with a kneejerk reaction and failing to follow through, especially with a twenty-four hour news cycle and social media that rewards us for talkingExternal link—not for listening.

What we’re up to now

So right now, we’re taking our time, and trying to be thoughtful. Things aren’t moving as fast as I’d like, but I hope that means we’re doing better, more thoughtful work that actually helps people.

We’re currently hard at work on TurnipExternal link, our timer for freelancers and other people who need to track the time they spend working on projects. We’ve been using an internal version ourselves for over a year now, and it’s almost ready for its beta—but not quite. We’d been hoping for an April release, but then our ceiling caved in and now it might be more like May.

There's a 32% chance it will still look like this when we're finally ready for a public release.

Somewhere along the line I wound up completely redesigning the interface and branding (we’re not even at a beta yet and it’s already on its third logo), and Matt completely overhauled the technical architecture. I’m not even sure it’s the same thing we started working on a year ago, at our hack weekend to Aberdeen we cancelled two days before the first UK lockdown started, because it seemed irresponsible to go anywhere.

But I’m sure it will be better, and that’s something that my impatient heart can wait for.

A photo of a young redhead wearing sunglasses and smiling.
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Written by

Sarah London Semark

Chief Design Octopus. Advocate for the user. Believes in constructive criticism. Buys books based on their covers.

Octopus Think

Octopus Think is a design & development duo based in Scotland and Portugal. We build smart, inclusive, usable digital products that make people’s lives better.

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