How does Cole Henley make life work?

The one when Si talks to Cole about the pioneering days of the Web, getting through a serious health scare and drunkenly offering to illustrate Michael Rosen’s book.

The one when Si talks to Cole about the pioneering days of the Web, getting through a serious health scare and drunkenly offering to illustrate Michael Rosen’s book.

Show Notes

Automatic Transcription by Descript

[00:00:00] Si: Welcome back to the Make Life Work podcast with me Si Jobling, father of two full-time engineering manager and side project hustler. This is the ninth season of the podcast, which takes a slightly different direction from previous seasons, and now focuses on how people find that work-life balance, so ideally you can learn some little tips and tricks too. Nobody has pure harmony, but everyone has their own approaches that work or possibly don’t. 

[00:00:30] Si: This week, we’re talking to Cole Henley, technical director of web agency Mud. Cole is a good old friend and we go way back to the golden days of the web community. He’s recently published an illustrated book with renowned author, Michael Rosen, and also been through some serious health scares during the pandemic whilst parenting two kids. Naturally, I was keen to catch up with him for many reasons. So this felt like the perfect opportunity. 

[00:00:56] Si: Let’s get into it, how does Cole Henley make life work?

[00:01:00] Si: So welcome along, Cole, how are you doing mate?

[00:01:02] Cole: I’m doing well. Thank you. The sun is shining. I’m in Somerset. and I’m not working today.

[00:01:07] Si: Oh, so I’ve caught you on your off day.

[00:01:10] Cole: Yes. I I’m giving you my valuable time.

[00:01:12] Si: Oh Cole. I feel bad now. I don’t wanna ruin your good day.

[00:01:16] Cole: Why would it ruin? It’s made it better?

[00:01:19] Si: I try, but you know, you don’t wanna be sat on a computer on a day off. Do you?

[00:01:23] Cole: It’s alright.

[00:01:24] Si: It’s all good. Just treat it as a lunch break the other way around

[00:01:27] Cole: Without the food,

[00:01:29] Si: Without the food. Well, eat after 

[00:01:31] The food for thought.

[00:01:32] Si: Food for thoughts. Very, yeah. Nice. Um, Thanks for joining me, mate. And, I think we’ve got a few things we wanna touch on today, uh, around your work life balance, but, um, I let’s, let’s talk about your arrangements, you know, what, what, what is your job?

[00:01:46] What’s your family arrangements, maybe go through some of, to start off with.

[00:01:49] Cole: Sure. Yeah. so I’m the technical director at a web development agency called Mud. So we are based in Bath. There’s about 12 of us now. I think there’s me and Matt, my business partner been going for nine years. So the big 10 next year, um, we make predominantly contact managed websites, design and build for anything from charities through to, well, mostly third is it third sector, they call it, you know, nonprofits, charities, businesses for good, but then we have some enterprise clients like Warner Brothers just finished a website for Genomics, England, which is a big, uh, organization managing genomics data within the UK. Uh, and really, yeah, bit of everything, bit of variety keeps us on our toes, um, is we’re not doing the same thing day in day.

[00:02:39] Si: Yeah. Technical director then. So what does that kind of encompass for you? Is that very hands on engineering or is it a bit of a mix of things?

[00:02:45] Cole: A bit of a mix. So when we, me and Matt started, there was just us two and one employee. So technical director was I was the coder and he was the sort of creative director and managing director. So he did the money and the, and the design. It hasn’t really evolved much, much further from that. Um, although with a growing we obviously need more money through the door.

[00:03:04] Cole: So Matt’s role in the business has, has expanded. Um, mine is not retracted, but I, I suppose. I came into the business as a bit of a front ender and a bit of a backender and, and those roles have expanded exponentially in the last nine years. Um, so I’ve retreated into my coding cave and just stick to PHP mostly and turning servers off and on.

[00:03:27] I can’t profess to keep up with the, the front end stacks these days, but then we have a, we have a team, five or six developers that are, you know, very able and, uh, intelligent and much better than me at keeping on top of that sort of stuff.

[00:03:42] Si: Cool. So you are sort of leading them in a way, all the other engineers, but being more backend focused more than

[00:03:49] Cole: Yeah. So I sort of, I primarily lead the back end delivery. Um, and then the platforms that we run with, um, which is still, still sort of predominantly PHP, in terms of sort of service side. And then I guide the front end. So I will get approached saying we want to look into this and then I’ll be a grumpy old man and go, no. And then they’d say, I’ll go on and they’ll say, I’ll go on then. And then, then I’ll complain when I have to support it. And they’ve changed their mind about what stack they wanna support, what blog posts they read on the latest bit of Javascript to throw at a website.

[00:04:21] Si: Yeah. How else can we complicate this?

[00:04:23] Cole: Yeah. Some things never change.

[00:04:26] Si: Never. Techies and engineers love it though. Don’t they

[00:04:28] Cole: Yeah, yeah. Um, keeping everyone on their toes.

[00:04:32] Si: Indeed. Sounds like some fun projects. Come down the line though. You got good some great clients on the books as well.

[00:04:37] Cole: Yeah. Yeah. And we were constantly, I mean, Matt is fantastic at, at the, the sort of the, getting the work in, and also not just getting the work in terms of a sales point of view, but really sort of, you know, we like to work collaborative. We collaboratively with clients. He’s great at getting into a business and trying to understand, you know, the classic is I want a website or even, I have to watch my pulse here. Uh, I want a WordPress site and we don’t work with WordPress. I think we’ve got a couple of sites, but that’s, you know, that’s more, um, luck than judgment or the opposite of luck, bad luck. So yeah, he’s very great at going in and sort of helping understand, well, why do you want a website?

[00:05:12] Cole: What do you hope to achieve out of that? It is, you know, time old questions, but very often people don’t really ask those questions internally. um, and then it is a real mix, like I said, so we do some brochure websites. We do some sort of content manage websites, but then we do some more sort of application driven websites.

[00:05:28] Cole: So websites where, you know, whether that’s eCommerce or whether that’s, um, a tool to help a business, engage customers and transform them into a CR you know, into information that they can then use as a company.

[00:05:43] Si: Yep.

[00:05:43] Cole: Um, so real, real full range of things.

[00:05:48] Si: Cool. Enjoying it still?

[00:05:50] Cole: Yep. Yeah, no, definitely. And I think sort of, I mean, will probably sort of go on off on this in, in a bit, but like lockdowns made things very weird. I think sort of, I do still enjoy the coding side of things. I don’t profess to be able to keep up quite so much with the everyday changes in how websites are built.

[00:06:06] Cole: Um, I think that’s why I quite like PHP because the methodologies behind it and the, the way you write it haven’t really changed much. So it’s perfect for an old dinosaur like me, you know, like I can go in, you know, I think it’s more about things like how you deploy websites that have changed rather than actually how you build them.

[00:06:24] Si: Yeah, you’re right. Text me back to my days of like FTP and what’s wrong with it.

[00:06:28] Cole: Alright, let me just fire up this copy of dream Weaver and, uh, and see what we see, what damage we can do on a server.

[00:06:34] Si: Now we’re talking. Yeah. Good times.

[00:06:37] Cole: Well, that’s where the archeology sort of becomes and useful. I think when I start talking about old, old technology,

[00:06:42] Si: Yeah, well, that’s probably a good segue. Cause you got quite an unconventional trip into, uh, tech and engineering. Haven’t you? So tell us how you got into it from archeology originally, was it.

[00:06:51] Cole: Yeah. So I did, um, I did archeology and then I decided I wanted to be, uh, an archeologist. And so I did a initially an undergraduate and then master’s and then PhD in archeology in Cardiff doing the neolithic of the outer Hebredis of Scotland, which it was great. You know, I was very fortunate to be able to go up there and, um, study it and, and get a better understanding and write a thesis on this fascinating period of human history.

[00:07:17] Cole: But then when it came to getting a job that was less fun, um, very low paid, very low job security. There was, there was a lot of requirements to move around a lot for work. By the time I’d done my PhD, we were talking about wanting to start a family. I was hitting 30. and that was, I suppose it was just weighing up what was gonna be, do I want to be sort of moving around the country, trying to chase very low paid jobs, uh, not see my family a lot, or drag them around with me or do I look at other opportunities?

[00:07:51] Cole: And I’ve been teaching myself web staff. We were very fortunate as an undergraduate to have some very engaging members of staff in the department that were very supportive in trying to push the internet and computers as a way of sort of democratizing knowledge. I suppose, you know, a lot of the early internet came out of these very sort of hippie, west coast America, dudes and ladies, of course, um, that were all about like, you know, knowledge is power. Share it, man. um, and you know, the Genesis of the internet, as we know it today was about connecting people and information, um, before it was massively monetized. So I, I always had this sort of being a massive socialist, this idea that the web was gonna help me get my information out there and sort of break out these ivory towers.

[00:08:38] Cole: They, they weren’t quite ready for that yet. I think they’re sort of slowly catching up, but, yeah. So one of my last archeology jobs was a landscape archeologist. So we were mostly desk based sitting at computers, mapping, most of Scotland in terms of old stuff that survives in the landscape.

[00:08:56] Cole: And I was really sort of telling them that they really need to get a lot of this stuff online and they started listening to me. So I, I basically, they decided that they were gonna have a web role, which they never had before I applied for it. My interview was basically talking them through the, the PHP blog I’d written about our kid being, or at that point he wasn’t born. He was, um, in utero. Uh, so I’d written this blog and it was mostly cuz we were in Scotland, you know, and the Facebook and Twitter really didn’t exist and all my family were down, down in England. So essentially wrote this blog partly to scratch itch.

[00:09:33] Cole: Cause you know, anyone that wants to build the blog should have had to have written their own first to understand why it’s an absolute nightmare idea to build your own blog. Uh, so I wrote this thing and, to keep all the family down, south up to date with what was going on. Uh, cause I hate using the phone, like most web developers and yeah, and then that was basically, that was my interview.

[00:09:55] Cole: I just said like here’s a blog I wrote and they went, oh, sounds great. You’ve got, and, and I think they saw the benefit of having someone that had an archeology background, but also knew at least some tech stuff, starting to push them in their direction that wasn’t the guy in the building that knew Dreamweaver and second mention today, uh, and actually could be a bit more proactive about using that as part of their outreach, um, in, you know, be again outside of our ivory towers and academic circles and archive circles actually sort of starting to use this information and get it out there.

[00:10:28] Si: so, yeah, using your kind of foot in the door, I guess, with archeology and then going, we should try this and then kind of moved on from there. Guess.

[00:10:37] Cole: and it was, it was good, cuz it was a really blank slate. They had not had that role before. But then on the flip side there was, um, the institutionally, it wasn’t prepared like for actually. That move. I think sort of, you know, both cognitively where I think a lot of people felt threatened by the idea of putting stuff online, that they were gonna lose that gate keeping they had to information.

[00:11:00] But also there was a sense that technically they just weren’t prepared. They still had like a server in a building somewhere in Edinburgh. I think one of the attractions early on is it was all about innovation because they didn’t have a web presence really. But then on the flip side, all their, their security policies were, you need a zip file.

[00:11:18] Cole: You need three site signatures from various levels of project management to be able to download a zip file off the internet. So I was having to do a lot of stuff at home and then just bring it in on which probably contravened all security policies just to, so for example, If we wanted a light box, you remember when those first came out a light box to be able to look at a slightly enlarged version of a very small image on my website,

[00:11:39] Si: Mm.

[00:11:40] Cole: That was quite tricky at the time.

[00:11:42] Cole: But, and when we started to see things like Moo tools and Prototype come out, and these tools were written for you, you still needed to be able to sort of download them to try and use them. So there was a lot of barriers let’s say to doing anything, but, but actually it was great cause it was a period of innovation.

[00:11:57] Cole: It was quite exciting, and that’s when I started sort of going to these web conferences to sort of expand my knowledge because the government generally doesn’t pay very well. But what it does do is it financially will often support you in role. So there will be training budgets, there’ll be education budgets. So I just grabbed everything I could. So, you know, went to dconstruct when we first had those in Edinburgh and Future Web design down in London, things like that.

[00:12:25] Si: Nice. That takes me right back to where we met. Really wasn’t it? I think it was through those conferences. We started chatting and social media was sort of taken off at 2007, eight,

[00:12:34] Cole: Yeah. It’s much smaller world, but then I don’t sorry, I don’t wanna sound like the granddad in the background, but it was easier to talk to people there, uh, than I think 

[00:12:43] Si: It was a smaller community though. Right? Yeah, it was a very much smaller community. Um, and it was very new, new days. It was like infants years of the web, I like to put it. And now we’re sort of going into the teen’s twenties sort of years of mature web as

[00:12:59] Cole: The, um, the Kevin and Perry years of the web industry, you don’t understand me.

[00:13:06] Si: This is rubbish. It was good times. Um, but you, like you say, the, the, the roots into tech, you, you didn’t have much support by the sound of it, but your support network was the community

[00:13:18] Cole: Yeah. A hundred 

[00:13:19] Si: grabbed it and used to.

[00:13:21] Cole: Yeah. And I think sort of, there was, there was two sides to that. One. Was that just, I, I did have quite a lot of imposter syndrome cause it was my first, it was essentially my second career. And then the only way of, I was thinking about this the other day. So the only way of really getting knowledge was to read people’s blogs and buy books.

[00:13:38] Cole: And so immediately they became your sort of the pedestals you compared your work to. There wasn’t really, although we were all online, there weren’t really online communities, um, as such to sort of, to bounce stuff off. It was still all by email and, and things. So, yeah, it was quite, I was quite excited, but intimidated.

[00:13:59] Cole: And when I discovered, you know, the whole web standards and accessibility community and that they pink friends of ed books, it was really exciting. It was like, it was like starting my degree again, in the sense that, cause I’m still, I’m still a guy that likes books. I’m a bit nerdy. But it was quite exciting to sort of, there was so much new stuff to learn and, um, but there was very passionate people being very vocal about it and just quite exciting to be around.

[00:14:24] Si: It was, I I’ve got very fond memories early years to be fair. You know, we’re part of a movement that was, you know, making it a lot more open with the Web Standards movement, stuff like that. And I think we both played around with some Microformat stuff and all those sort of things in CSS as, as it was kind of maturing into a more versatile language.

[00:14:41] Si: Yeah. It was good times. And I think, you know, we shouldn’t lose sight of that. It was just a massive learning curve for a lot of us.

[00:14:46] Cole: Yeah, it was. And I still, I still, this days struggle with JavaScript. Uh, but there’s, there was a lot to learn, but, but no, you’re right. I think there’s the word that KA pops in my head is pioneers, but not in the sense that we were innovators. It was more in the sense of like in the Wild West where people are finding stuff out for the first time, um, you know, circling the wagons and working out what works, what doesn’t.

[00:15:06] Cole: And again, I think that’s sort of the idea. I think we all know that monetizing thing has kind of corrupts at a wee bit, but that sense that there was a real, I suppose, the word, the intoxicating sense that, the web is open, you know, so the micro formats, for example, and, and, and those early web applications were, they were all built around API.

[00:15:25] Cole: So like Twitter and Flickr they were built API first that they, they were designed to sort of help people, but do like play and do stuff with their information and vice versa. And then, and then sort of, so to see these sort of, The walled garden approach sort of just get bigger and bigger.

[00:15:44] Cole: It’s just sad. I mean, it’s, there’s not a lot we can do with it because, but it’s sad that those means of playing and they’re, so there’s such core parts now of, of, of society. It’s gonna be very difficult to sort of a, for them to pivot or B to sort of even try and construct alternatives. Cause you know, I think we all have sense of nostalgia about those early days.

[00:16:05] Cole: Uh, those that were. You know, you don’t have to look at things like, um, oh, what was it called with an M there’s sort the Twitter, Mastodon. That’s it. So 

[00:16:15] Si: Oh, yeah. 

[00:16:16] Cole: just to clarify, I said, Mastodon say

[00:16:18] Si: Mastodon. Yes.

[00:16:20] Cole: Don. Yeah. Any kids listening. Um, but yeah,it’s a real shame, but then that that’s, I think that’s what happens when you get older.

[00:16:25] Cole: Anyway, you know, it’s like our parents moaning about hip hop in the early eighties and the beasty boys walking around with Volkswagen logos, not as good as the good old days of that, that, that very polite Woodstock festival and, and rolling stones, smashing everything up.

[00:16:41] Si: Yeah, the Web aint what it used to be when I, when I was a lad

[00:16:44] Cole: I remember when you could put it all on a floppy disc,

[00:16:47] Si: Oh, the good times. Yeah. You didn’t need a, an NPM map package to load a website. Anyway, we could grumble about the old days a lot. Couldn’t we?

[00:16:55] Cole: let’s look forward.

[00:16:56] Si: let’s fast forward, fast forward to now. And yeah, so it sounds like you’re very hands on with a lot of the projects coming down, the line, you, you, you know, you, you guiding your help and your contributing.

[00:17:06] Si: What is your typical day look like? You know, how, how do you structure your days and your weeks, or however you do it?

[00:17:11] Cole: Well, I’m very fortunate that largely other people do it for me because of the after nine years, we’ve realized that I’m really terrible at organizing my day and my priorities. Um, we have some fantastic project managers that know what’s needed of me, uh, at various times. And so there’s sometimes like you, like you say, sometimes I will be very, no pun intended up the coal face. So I will be rolling my sleeves up and doing some coding and, I mean, I’m mostly doing more sort of modular and, uh, plugin development. So we use almost exclusively the Craft CMS, uh, which is, you know, I’m happy to plug that because it’s a fantastic content management system.

[00:17:49] Cole: Um, put in the show notes. Yeah. Um, yeah, and we use that and we love it in our front ends. Love working with it. Cause both it, it comes out the box. The ability to work headless, but also it’s just completely neutral in terms of the HTML markup. So we’ve been working with that for a number of years, but I’ll be mostly because it’s kind of so easy to work with, I’m more at the sort of whenever we need it to talk to something else,

[00:18:11] That doesn’t give you an answer to your question. So, at Mud, I think certainly since lockdown we’ll have a kickoff meeting, it’s kind of a little bit agile, but we, we, we are not an agile agency. We have clients that don’t wanna spend more than their budget.

[00:18:23] Cole: So , just work in a sort of wagafile kind of way.

[00:18:27] Si: Wagafile. Nice. I like that. 

[00:18:28] Cole: Wagafall. Uh, um, well, yeah, what that agile delivery waterfall budgets. Just like every, every company’s worst nightmare, but no, it works for us, our clients, uh, et cetera. So yeah, the project managers will have an idea of projects and then I will, we’ll have a meeting in the morning, particularly since lockdown cuz most of our team are we, we, we are kind of in the office, but trying to keep those numbers down.

[00:18:53] Cole: So we sort of have this hybrid working, you know, we’ve always very relaxed.We trust our staff. We want them to be happy. We always have done. That’s where we get, you know, good staff retention and good productivity. So they’re two main things. Uh, yeah, so we’ll have a kickoff meeting in the morning, half nine, I think the half line’s a bit, another one that kind of started because we just had one guy that was always a late riser, but it’s kind of stuck now, even though he is no longer with us, he’s not dead.

[00:19:19] I should clarify. He’s just, changed agencies um, so half nine meeting. At the start of the week, it’ll be all the weekend bants, but throughout the week, it’ll just be more what’s everyone working on what their blockers, how, how was yesterday? Um, and as much as anything, I think particularly cuz a lockdown part of that is just actually just seeing your teammates 

[00:19:39] Cole: And then from my point of view as a director is seeing what everyone’s working.

[00:19:44] Si: just keep an eye

[00:19:45] Cole: Yeah, because sometimes, you know, that hybrid role where I’m at the call face, but also doing a more director level stuff. Sometimes I have no idea what’s going on with the company. Um, I mean, me and my business partner will we have regular meetings.

[00:19:57] Cole: We have a look at budgets together, you know, the only way it can work is if we have conversations about stuff and talk to each. But generally sort of on a day to day basis, I’m very fortunate that sometimes we’ll launch a project and I’ve not been involved in it at all. That can be quite refreshing. 

[00:20:10] Si: Refreshing and rewarding, but a little bit worrying at times going wait, what projects? Oh, nice. Cool. That’s great.

[00:20:15] Cole: I’ll just wait until things go wrong and then I get air air dropped in. Um, but yeah, so

[00:20:20] Cole: yeah, the Reddi air approach to web development. So yeah, the morning meeting and then generally. Uh, we’re gonna come onto my health in a bit, but also like one of the side effects of my health at the moment is, uh, I can’t deal with lots of things flying around at the same time.

[00:20:38] Cole: So it’s, I think sort of the PMs recognize that and they’re, um, sort of trying to line stuff up so that it’s more easy for me to digest and focus on. And I’ve still, I still, as a, as a sort of the more backendy and senior backend role, I will still have to drop in if things go wrong. Um, not, you know, or am a last line offense if our first line is defense at work when a server falls over or, uh, a client’s forgotten to update their DNS or renew their domain 

[00:21:06] Si: Got it. So your typical day starts around 9, 9 30 by sound of it. And you just kind of typical nine to five, maybe. I don’t know.

[00:21:13] Cole: Yeah. So I try and work a nine to five. So after my health problems, I tried to do shorter days cause I can’t, I can’t work full time and my body just can’t. Um, so originally we tried to do shorter days, but what I ended up finding is without that definite cutoff, I was working full time anyway, and then struggling.

[00:21:34] Cole: So we’ve gone to, I work a four day week that gives me Wednesday, i.e. today, uh, to like either do side projects and hobby stuff, or just life admin, or just recover depending on how I’m feeling at any one moment in time. And there’s something we have done before, I think sort of before I, I, and before lockdown and everything, me and my business partner did look at, ways that we, as, as sort the benefit, you know, it’s the dream to run your own company or to be self-employed. But very often it’s actually, I was gonna say, it’s a nightmare. It’s not a nightmare, but you know, the dream is hard work and it’s, you know, it’s not nine to five is, is rarely a nine to five.

[00:22:14] Cole: You’re working weekends and evenings. And very often with when you’ve got staff, you work a lot of extra hours to make sure that they only have to work nine to five. So that’s fine, but it’s also, it does, it can take its toll. So I think, uh, about three years ago, we did look at both of us going off and it was partly also to sort of reinvest in the company to say, well, let’s kind of have a, a pay rise in, but in lieu of that, let’s just work less and keep the same salary.

[00:22:41] And we, we came out of it differently. Like, I, I actually felt like I really needed that. Um, Matt was actually sort of, maybe because he’s much more on the sales side of things. He wanted to sort of me much more available for things. But also I think, you know, it’s different individuals, different get different things outta stuff.

[00:22:59] Si: So four day, week, Wednesday out for you. Um, but yeah, like say you don’t turn off when you, especially when you running the business, you need to kind of keep your finger on the pulse or be available for stuff like, you know, the fires as it were,

[00:23:11] Si: Yeah. And I like I’m, I’m on notifications for things like server outages and stuff. So, there is that always there? I only ever turn those off when I go on holiday holiday,Proper holiday, that’s good. You’ve alluded to your health problems as well. Let, let’s go into that a bit more. And what’s happened over the last couple of years, cause I know you’ve had a all sorts going on.

[00:23:30] Cole: Um, yeah, so I was sort of, I dunno, I think, I think I thought I was burning out. So towards the end tail end of 2019, um, I was really struggling. I was falling asleep a lot during the day. Like my brain was just mush, struggling to concentrate on things. And I just thought I was either burning out or not looking after myself.

[00:23:52] Cole: You know, I was smoking quite a lot of the time. But one thing that stuck in my mind is a couple of, like, my wife had said, oh, you seem to be losing weight a bit. And I was like, nah, you know, I’m always skinny. So I wasn’t really noticing. But then a couple of other people mentioned it and that sort of raised alarm bells a bit.

[00:24:07] Cole: And I was like, maybe I need to go see someone. So I went to the GP and they were quite, they took some bloods. Didn’t see anything that was worrying or anything. But then I was, there was an incident where I almost fell asleep, driving home from work. Cause I was commuting into Bath, our offices in Bath.

[00:24:23] Cole: Um, and I was like, no, there’s something definitely up here. So I went to, I saw a different GP and I was like, look, I’m not happy. I don’t really know what’s going on here. This feels, I don’t, this feels like something’s up, but I can’t put my finger on it. And she said, right. Okay. I want to make sure that you are happy.

[00:24:39] Cole: So, let’s have a look at your concerns. Um, you’re a smoker. Let’s get a chest x-ray. So she booked me in for chest x-ray. I went in, I remember it that day. So clearly. Cause my wife was away visiting friends. I went in at 10 in the morning for chest x-ray and very fortunate that the hospital’s just over the road, it was on a Friday and at half 11, I got a phone call from a GP that had been referred by the x-ray technician saying that they thought they’d seen something and it needed looking at straight away.

[00:25:14] Si: Wow. 

[00:25:15] Cole: So, but then, cause I was in the house wor I was in the house working. I generally, when I’m working, I have my phone on silent cause I’m very like a lot of people in our sector are quite easily distracted.

[00:25:27] Cole: Um, so I tend to have my phone on silent during the day. So I’ve seen her, had this missed call, went out for a cigarette. Picked on the voicemail. And it basically was the GP saying, come in today, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll make an appointment for you, bring your wife. 

[00:25:38] And at which point I started shitting myself and put my cigarette out, of course, cause like, you know, , nothing’s gonna make you stop smoking then finding out that your GP wants to see you and they want you to bring your wife.

[00:25:48] Cole: Um, and yeah, and I went in, not with my wife cuz she was like I said away with friends. And what I didn’t wanna do is tell her this and her drive back in a panic. Because that would just be, you know, she’ll stress out the whole time, if not have an accident or something. So, so I went to GPS on my own, um, and they said, you think you got lung cancer.

[00:26:08] Cole: Um, and I was like, okay, right. What does that mean? And they said, well, we don’t know yet. We’re gonna have to do lots more scans, lots more tests, lots more bloods. Um, and then ultimately we’re probably gonna have to do a biopsy. So immediately rang Matt, my business partner and said, this has just happened. And he said, right. Okay. Well, don’t even think about work. You are off work as of this moment. Um, Wait till Peta gets home, talk to her. And then, and then there was just basically about a week or so of coming to terms with stuff before the NHS, when they have these situations are very good. Um, but it takes a little while for the cuz it was particularly with the Friday for the, the machine to start working. But once it works, they were so on it, you know, I was in there twice a week for like scans and tests and things and it ended up, so it ended up in the respiratory, not in the unit, but just sort going in for tests and they, you know, biopsy and God that was about, I can’t remember how long it was, but it felt like forever waiting for the results of those.

[00:27:10] Cole: And they said, they said, well, beforehand, they said it was one of three things. It’s lung cancer, which is not a lot they can do about, um, or the treatment’s gonna be very aggressive with unknown outcomes. The, the, the sort of preferred option was, Lymphoma. And that was, that would be like a sort of, you would have chemo, but it’s like, if you’re gonna get a cancer out of those twos, it’s the better cancer.

[00:27:34] Si: Yeah.

[00:27:35] Cole: then the third one was this obscure autoimmune disease called sarcoidosis, which at the time I should have flagged cuz there’s a lot of, there’s a lot. I’ve never heard of it, but there’s a lot of immune diseases in my family. I should have really thought. Hmm. Maybe that’s the one, but your mind kind of goes from like, oh, it’s gotta be the worst one.

[00:27:54] Cole: Eventually the biopsy came back and it was sarcoidosis and sarcoidosis is basically a very hyper active immune system that when it thinks it’s under attack, it goes crazy. So like, it’s like, it’s not that scene in Anchorman where someone goes to a bar fire, essentially like a punch up in the street and brings a hand grenade.

[00:28:12] Cole: It just it’s over it completely overreacts. And with any overreaction, there’s a lot of collateral damage. So what was happening? And probably cuz I was smoking, but also cause I was stressed and, and the things mentioned now is that those conditions, they all, if you’ve got it, you’ve always got it.

[00:28:28] Cole: It’s just waiting for something to kick in. So what was happening? I think sort of, I got to this critical point of either stress or not looking after myself drinking a smoking too much. Um, the body thought it was under attack. I might have had a virus or something. And what happened was then my immune system just attacked me like myself.

[00:28:49] Cole: Um, and so the clouds on the x-rays were just essentially, uh, the way sarcoidosis attacks you is. You know, in the Incredibles that, that scene with the big black balls it’s like that they just sort of, it just, it builds cells around things to try and protect your body. But ultimately those clusters of cells become problematic because they particularly in your lungs cause they block your airways, but in your blurred it’ll block things and it causes information, etcetera.

[00:29:15] Cole: So that’s basically what happened. And, uh, of course I was delighted that it wasn’t cancer, but then also, as a long term health condition, there is not a lot you can do with it. And then with all the best love, uh, in the world, the NHS just, isn’t set up for long term health problems. And, and definitely like there’s been I’ve, I’ve been having regular appointments and go back and just checking everything stable.

[00:29:40] Cole: And thankfully it is, I mean, I had a slight blip in 2020. um, where it started attacking my eyes. And I think that was partly cuz of working during lockdown. I think the like a lot of us that, you know, I think because of the way, what, the way we work and what we work on, it was a very busy period for a lot of people.

[00:30:00] Cole: I think we were very fortunate, that was certainly in our agency, you know, we’d never been busier. And I think a lot of us were very welcome of the distraction. But that also meant that none of us ever took any holiday. So you ended up just working nine to five for, you know, however long, 40 weeks or whatever it was.

[00:30:18] Cole: And then what, what ended up happening in September, 2020 is my, I started getting it in my eyes. And then that’s, that’s suddenly where they do, they freak out. Because if you damage your eyes, they’re damage permanently, you know, lungs. Yeah. I, I, I find that pills a bit of a struggle, but generally, it’s it’s more about tiredness and managing he energy levels. And, but with eyes, everyone needs their eyes. Um, it’s pretty scary when, and for me that was like blood start basically it’s started bleeding on the inside. So it was just like, yeah, it’s not nice. Um, but fortunately responded well to steroids.

[00:30:55] Cole: Um, so yeah, and it kind of manifested lots of other ways. So it is just about trying to, pace yourself, I suppose, which comes back to what I was saying about having very good project managers that just, you know, very understanding, supportive and just go, like they, they know when I’m flagging, like, and just, almost like just constantly listening out for me and just telling, and I’m very upfront telling them what I think I’m capable of during the day, um, or during any one day.

[00:31:21] I mean, what a journey mate. Um, I didn’t realize it was kind of, that was the panic mode for you, I guess, was like the warning signs get into hospital, bring your wife like, whoa, what,

[00:31:30] Si: thankfully it wasn’t as bad as you thought it might be. But having that support network with work with your, your partner saying you’re not working and your wife being right, let’s work this out.

[00:31:39] Si: It must have helped you.

[00:31:41] Cole: Yeah, no, you know, like I said earlier with the NHS or everyone, everyone drops everything and throws everything at it, when they think you’ve got cancer and, and it’s the same with life, you know, people, people that are not even, you know, vaguely, I met them in a pub a few times offering to cook meals and things like that.

[00:31:59] Cole: And particularly with kids as well, people offering to help out with the kids. It’s a really stressful period of time, but actually it was really, it’s the same. It’s the same with lockdown. You know, I think a lot of people. Lockdown, very galvanizing. It was very stressful and uncertain time, but actually there was a, you know, the fo fostered a really great community spirit for a lot of people.

[00:32:18] Cole: I mean, certainly for us, we, you know, neighbors that we’d never spoken to and we were suddenly cooking at each other meals and, having socially distant drinks together and things like that. So 

[00:32:26] Si: So you, you came out of the pandemic actually slightly better off in that sense. You, you know, you, you knew what was going on and you had you’d readjusted you, you recalibrated your, your demands in life. I sound.

[00:32:38] Cole: Yeah, I think, I think there is a sense that I think a lot of us, again, crazy lefty here, I think there was a sense. Lockdown brought out side of people that we hoped. And, and also the idea of flexible working, you know, actually work life balance is really important. Um, and so the way as an employer and also an employer, uh, that has an illness and as a nice guy, I think I’d like to think me and my business partner are nice people.

[00:33:07] Cole: Um, you know, you want that work life balance and you want to respect. You’re borrowing people’s time. You don’t own them. You know, you’re borrowing their time and you wanna make that time as comfortable for them as possible. So that comes back again. You know, if you have happy staff, you have happy work.

[00:33:27] Cole: And if you have happy staff, you have good staff retention. And the biggest pain in the ass winning a business is hiring people. So, you know, there’s a bit of it, which is self gratifying, but, you know, part of it’s just fostering a nice team.

[00:33:40] Si: Totally. Um, and as an engineering manager in that sort of, you know, role of line managing people and making sure they’re in a comfortable place, it, you do need to remind people sometimes going turn off don’t you don’t need to be working stupid hours. I appreciate you trying, and I love that you want to, but no, you need me time and you need to get away from that screen, as you realize, you know, through just trying to process your mind and relax a little bit more and enjoy what you’re.

[00:34:04] Cole: Yeah. And it’s sort of, we obviously with, with what we do, we all love this ecosystem that we inhabit and work in, but we also, I think, I think we also recognize how toxic it can be in a way that a lot of people sometimes don’t. I always think like with, um, I always think of the web community that we had, like going back to the pioneers is that I think, you know, there’s, there’s a bit of an early warning system in that community about the dangers.

[00:34:32] Cole: Um, of, of inhabiting that space too much of being online and being switched on all the time. Partly that’s. I think a people that are predisposed to work in our industry that are, are overthinkers, you know, that, that sort of lateral and logical side of the brain. I mean, of course we’ve got in loads of incredibly creative people as well.

[00:34:54] and those two aren’t mutually exclusive, but there’s that degree of overthinking, which is what a lot of us got in, you know, that, that the curiosity is what brought us into this profession is also if unchecked can be quite a dangerous thing, I think, um, and I think sort of the web community has more than its share of those kinds of people and they offer up, I think, quite early warning signs of the things we need to listen out for. 

[00:35:20] Si: Yeah. And learning from each other, you know, shout about stuff like he’s going back to, you’d mentioned blogs at the start of all this, you know, how you learned and stuff, actually putting stuff out there about health, imposter syndrome, dealing with it and people going, Hmm. That actually brings home too close for me.

[00:35:35] Si: I might have to rethink what I’m doing.

[00:35:37] Cole: Yeah, completely. There was a really great, um, energy. I’m trying to think when, when it would’ve been, it was around shortly after we, when we moved down Somerset from Scotland. So, you know, 2012, about 10 years ago, 8, 10 years ago, there was a lot of great energy about, um, talking about these things where that was like the people down in Milton Keynes doing the geek night.

[00:35:55] Cole: And, um, Craig Lockdown have that, you know, devoted some time at his conference in, Cardiff to talking about it. It was great to see that kind of dialogue. Um, I think sort it is quite it’s one of the suppose the sort of sadness is with that, the whole death of blogging is that you, you, you are less having that kind of focus conversation about things anymore.

[00:36:18] Si: Yeah, it is. Well, I mean, it’s, it’s fascinating to hear your story. and you’ve, you’ve obviously been through a tough couple of years with, you know, adjusting and all that sort of stuff, but you’ve had some successes recently from what I can gather, you know, with, um, another little side project you found time for. Can you tell us about the book you’ve been making?

[00:36:35] Cole: Yeah. Yeah, sure. I think sort of, um, well, one of the plus size to come out of the health scare was just being a bit more. Well, it was double edged sword. I mean, one of the plus size was, I just mentioned curiosity. I think we’ve all got a bit of curiosity and I’ve always had a bit of curiosity about being more creative, cuz I went down on a very academic path. Then I went to web and, and had a bit of a freak out trying to be creative. So it became very technical. And when I was ill I was, you know, I sort of, kind of vowed myself to care less about stuff and just throw myself in at the deep end. I’ve kind of always had a bit of that then.

[00:37:09] I sort of thought, you know, I’m gonna just sort of embrace this a bit more. And it must predate it, but yeah, basically, um, I drunkenly tweeted Michael Rosen. He was asking for a graphic, novel collaborator, and I would convinced myself that I could write, uh, not write he’d written it. Um, I could create a comic book out of a book he’d already written Then yeah, that was something, there’s been times where I regretted it, but it’s just recently been published. It took a lot, it was a bit of an uphill struggle at times, um, particularly around. So I have my, obviously my health problems and then Michael, that if you dunno, Michael Rosen really famous British, and children’s author poet and children’s Laureate, previous children’s lawyer, um, fantastic writer and educator and entertainer, went into a coma.

[00:37:57] Cole: He got COVID very early on sort of, uh, during the pandemic, and was in a coma. And so that sort of, that sort of put hold on we things a wee bit, as well as my health problems. And then, the other thing with lockdown was we had to furlough some staff and it was, it was unavoidable. We didn’t want to, but as a business, we had to sort of, you know, pair things back to consolidate.

[00:38:21] Cole: So that meant obviously we were working a bit harder, um, or even harder than normal. So as, and because I’ve, I’ve my already mentioned health limited health reserves, I sort of was really, um, finding it quite difficult to, to find time and make time. But then sort of, I think when we came out that first year I was, I just needed to take some time out.

[00:38:43] Cole: So I took, I was able to take a time out a month out from the business. And just say, like, you know, I hadn’t taken much holiday the year before, this is just a recharge period. And so that gave me time to, to recharge, but also to sort of just actually sort of invest some time into and get the, get the momentum going on on this project. And it was a lot of work, you know, it’s 118 pages, which I had to sort of write a script for. Draw letter color, and doing it has been hard, but we got there in the end and, and it’s great, you know, it’s, it’s a kid’s book. And I think at long times I was sort beating myself up about, in the same way we were talking about imposter syndrome with web development, you know, like there were times at the start of my web career where every time I’d I’d do some HTML code or CSS, I’d be just imagining Andy Clark or Simon Collison looking over my shoulder, just going, what the fuck you can do? Excuse my French. Uh, what, what are you doing with those classes? Don’t know you don’t use an ID you fool, but then, but in the same way, I was just sort of, when I was doing this book, I was thinking, oh no, all these, all these famous comic artists are just gonna take one, look at it and think this is rubbish. What you doing? But actually, yeah, I sort of had a, not an epiphany. I was just, I think it was more my wife shouting at me saying you’re being a moron and then just going, actually, this is for kids. You know, they don’t want, they want it to be colorful and exciting and irreverent and stupid. They don’t want, they don’t want like perfect composition in every panel. So yeah, I had a bit of, had to develop a bit of a mantra about caring less in that instance. 

[00:40:07] Cole: Um, but we got there. Yeah, we got there and it’s just great to see that it’s been well received. The, the people that have got it and have read it, seem to like it. Yeah, it’s great. And we went down to it was sort of crowdfunded, but published.

[00:40:20] Cole: So there’s a publisher called Unbound that have this sort of weird, unusual hybrid model where they crowd fund to get the production costs so that they don’t have any risks as a business. Then once they meet those costs, it goes down the more conventional publication route. So they, they will get it into bookshops.

[00:40:39] Cole: They will sort of, you know, give ISBNs, they’llthey will sort all the printing costs of distribution, et cetera. And so as part of that, because it was crowdfunded, people could request copies that were signed or sketched in or what have you. So had a rather nice day in Basildon, uh, me and Michael had to go down to this sort of FedEx factory in the middle of nowhere, and just sit there for a day, chewing the fat and signing these books.

[00:41:04] Cole: Which was really nice and it was not, it was actually only the second time I’ve met him. so it’s weird having done a book together where there’s been not a lot of collaboration in the conventional sense. I mean, I’ve sort of taken his book, adapted it, phoned him copies of it at various steps of the way, and generally he’s gone.

[00:41:19] Cole: Fantastic. Brilliant. Love it. Yep. Great. He’s trusted you again.

[00:41:23] Cole: Yeah, but I think what’s been interesting with hindsight is actually that’s the way he’s always worked. You know, if you think of apparently with the Going On A Bear Hunt, he didn’t even see them until they were ready for print. And he was, you know, this, his most famous book.

[00:41:39] Cole: And when he first saw it, he was like, this isn’t what was in my head, what you doing? but obviously it is a classic and you know, and it is about that mu I mean, the thing he says, it’s about mutual trust. You know, me as a creator, I trust him implicitly with the words he’s produced, uh, and the story he’s, uh, conceived of and delivered.

[00:41:57] Cole: And then his trust in me as an artist. Um, although yeah, was, was implicit, you know, he’s, I do my job, you do your job. And, and then the end of it is 118 page full color, hard back book available from all good book sellers. There you go.

[00:42:14] Si: Well plugged um, I can vouch for the quality as well. I’ve got my, uh, signed copy from you a couple of weeks back and I, I love it. Honestly, the illustrations are wonderful, great stories. As you say, you know, you can’t go wrong with Michael.

[00:42:27] Cole: Yeah. Great. Right. Thank you.

[00:42:30] Si: It’s lovely to hear your gratification at the end of it. You know, sitting in, even in a warehouse, signing him with Michael, but that was your last chance to kind of go.

[00:42:36] Si: Wicked. We’ve done it, man. Let’s high five this and just get it out there.

[00:42:40] Cole: Yeah. And he’s a lovely bloke, you know, I think that sort of, come back to sort of that chat about people on pedestals. And actually sometimes you meet people as pedestals and you’re a bit disappointed, but no, he’s an absolute legend, uh, as he would be foolish not to think he would be. And he’s really funny as well, because it’s, so everyone, you mentioned having worked with him, you’ve got three generations of Michael Rose fans.

[00:43:02] Cole: You’ve got the, sort of the people that have, you’ve got the older generation that listen to Radio 4 that know his stuff, well through the years, but also his sort of command and conversations about the English language and education on Radio 4 and The Guardian. And then you’ve got this sort of our generation where we sort of, we’ve got kids and we’ve read his story to the children.

[00:43:21] Cole: And then you’ve got that other generation coming up where they just know him through YouTube 

[00:43:26] Cole: and I like noise. And you just like, he has a way of connecting because he is a child he’s, he’s just a massive child.

[00:43:34] Cole: He’s, he’s 80 

[00:43:36] Si: A grown 

[00:43:37] Cole: And he has a way of communicating, I would say with different ages, but ultimately he just communicates children and the children in every generation and that’s, you know, it’s, I don’t know. Cause we, we did a signing in Brighton and talked about working together at this, um, it was this sort of small com convention on, on comics for children. You got young adults, we were invited to speak to.

[00:44:02] Si: Nice. 

[00:44:03] And there were, and suddenly lot children wanting their book signed and it was just really rejuvenating, you know, so be being with him and being around him and just the way he talks to kids and the way that he, he completely understands again, the word is irreverent.

[00:44:18] Cole: You know, kids don’t care, they want bottoms and fart jokes and raspberries. They don’t want it’s prim and proper and, uh, politeness. They want to be irreverent and anarchic and stupid and silly and, the way, the best way to engage that is to be like it

[00:44:34] Si: Yep. maybe we can all be a bit more, embrace that in a child a bit.

[00:44:39] Si: I agree. Definitely. Uh, yeah. I don’t think you mentioned the title. You’re Thinking About Tomatoes is the name of the book, right?

[00:44:44] Cole: Yeah. You’re Thinking About Tomatoes, which is absolutely almost nothing to do with the book.

[00:44:50] Si: No,

[00:44:51] Cole: it like, which

[00:44:52] Si: one of the opening lines. Isn’t it? But that’s

[00:44:54] Cole: yeah. And cause when we was talking, so the book was actually written originally or even written, it was delivered as a story for his two children. One of which, um, ed Eddie sadly died, um, and was the subject, or that experience was subject of his sad book, which is if you’ve not come across as a phenomenal read.

[00:45:13] Cole: And it’s a great way of talking about loss to people, particularly young people where it, they’ve not encountered that before. And it, so, and it becomes very. There’s not a vocabulary for it. Let’s say. So you, you find that through talking about it and he’s, he’s articulated that brilliantly and the sad, but, but his other son, Joe, who makes, uh, he’s a video producer and he’s done he’s, he’s been in charge of a lot of the word YouTube work that Michael’s done, but was also invested in getting this process started and over the road, um, and feeding back on various stages.

[00:45:48] Cole: And, and we were having these conversations as we were getting nearer to completion about, hmm, should there be more tomatoes in it? It was likes very difficult to think about, I mean, I could, I could imagine sort of hiding them, like, you know, just, almost like sort something for kids to do, like see how many tomatoes you can find.

[00:46:04] but yeah, I think I just, I just stuck to having, having them at the start as in the book, the original book. Cause it was a book originally, um, just a sort of normal textbook. Uh, no, a couple of pictures by Quinton Blake, but just a, a kid’s story book.

[00:46:20] Si: And you’ve replaced Quinton Blake, what an achievement

[00:46:22] Cole: uh, I’ve not replaced him. just like, I’d just like to clarify. Uh, I

[00:46:27] Cole: have, um, I have my moderately small feet have stepped into his very large and accommodating shoes.

[00:46:36] Si: Well said, but to be fair mate, again, get rid of that imposter syndrome, you know, you should be really proud of what you’ve done with this. I was, I was so satisfied to see you deliver it and cause I know all the troubles trying to get it out there and to get it land on the floor and like he’s done it. Yes. And we’re gonna have to get you on the podcast to talk about this. Cause that’s what I was thinking straight away. 

[00:46:54] Cole: Brilliant. just rubbing your hands more audio content 

[00:46:58] Si: Oh, fresh content. Yeah. honestly, Cole, I reckon we said at the start, we we’re gonna have to be careful on how we don’t ramble too much, but it’s been, uh, it’s great to hear your stories. Um, before we sort of sign off, have you got any sort of tips for the listeners? Like how, how to balance life work and all that sort of stuff? You know, there’s probably some tidbits from what you already said. 

[00:47:18] Cole: I think that’s sort of, I’m not sure cause I’m not very good at it. I think, I think sort of, and my health problems are probably a, I suppose, a warning sign to you all that, if you do try, do too much, it will catch up with you. Um, but I think sort of, as I alluded to, I think the one thing. Sort of our experiences over the last few years collectively is that it’s just work, you know, and actually, you know, with the cost of living going up, housing prices going up, inflation going up, you know, if the, if coronavirus hasn’t taught us that then maybe the current situation will is that sometimes, I think, I think this, it is quite to this country and I’m sorry, I don’t mind going off on a tangent that with the cost of housing so high, that we, we tend to obsess about the cost of living and that being a priority. And so we work to put a roof over our head, rather than have a roof all ahead and then have work in life together.

[00:48:13] Cole: It’s, it’s a peculiar British phenomenon, I think. I mean, maybe America, but, um, so yeah, I suppose the lessons I would have are just try and have balance and that balance doesn’t have to be, you know, sort of extremely working hard and then going off and doing yoga and running and, and, and extreme cycling.

[00:48:34] Cole: Sometimes that’s just what people are built for? Sometimes it could just be reading a book. Sometimes it could be having a few drinks, you know, don’t I suppose the lesson is don’t beat yourself up about stuff.

[00:48:44] Si: Good shout. Don’t beat yourself up. We’ll take that. And, uh, we’ll, we’ll hammer it home as well. Um, Cole, uh, really pleasure, mate. Uh, how can people get hold of you and find out about the book and all sort of stuff? What, what’s the best

[00:48:55] Cole: Uh, I well, as always and on Twitter, um, that’s probably the best place I do have a blog, which I update once a year. Uh, but all the links will be on, on my Twitter profile, which is at Cole, C O L E double 0 seven.

[00:49:10] Si: Oh, and there it is. That last bit double oh seven always makes me smile.

[00:49:14] Cole: Big Bond fan.

[00:49:16] Si: Good stuff, Cole. Cheers buddy. 

[00:49:17] Cole: All right. Cheers. Thanks so much for having me. It’s been pleasure.

[00:49:21] Si: Much love and thanks to my old mucker Cole for joining us this week. I hope you all found his story as inspiring as I did. What a legend. Obviously connects with Cole on Twitter and grab a copy of this amazing book, so You’re Thinking About Tomatoes at all good bookstores. 

[00:49:40] Si: That concludes season nine of the Make Life Work podcast. After some amazing guests have joined me. Massive thanks go out to all seven guests, Michelle Hansen, Carlo Beschi, AJ Wilson, Louis Prescott, James Norton, Patricia Manley and Cole Henley. Listen back to all the other episodes if you haven’t already and reach out to me if you would like to join us at the season 10 later in the year

[00:50:05] Si: Remember to like, review and subscribe to the podcast. Reach out to me at Si on Twitter or email hello at make life work