The Setup

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

Paul Tweedy

Paul Tweedy

Senior Technical Architect, BBC

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Paul Tweedy, and I'm a Senior Technical Architect at the BBC. I work within the Future Media division, helping to define & develop the BBC's online platform to keep it up and running, performant, and fit for the future. In my time at the BBC I've worked as a software engineer, product manager and technical lead across several products and services, so I've seen things from a few angles.

Outside of work I'm principally a commuter, husband, father (to a wonderful one-year-old) and occasional musician. Throw in the need for a bit of sleep, and that's the week sewn up!

What hardware do you use?

Somewhat predictably, I rely on a MacBook Pro for work and play. I did Linux-on-the-desktop for years and years, before I finally got bored of the constant round of customisation, kernel recompilation, drivers and things just-not-quite-working, and made the shift to OS X. I've never regretted it! Virtualisation takes care of the need to run Linux occasionally.

I did have a stand-alone camera at one point - but the fact I don't know where it is tells you how much I use it now. The camera in my phone is miles better anyway for all my point-and-shoot needs. I have a Sony HDR-CX730E camcorder for capturing video, which just seems to accumulate without the time to edit any of it down.

My phone is an iPhone 4S. I'm a current affairs junkie, and since becoming a dad there's no time to sit down with a laptop at home, so I rely on it to keep up to date with the world. It's nearly 18 months old now and I could upgrade it, but I don't see any need - and the bigger phones seem to get, the less I want to carry round a huge pane of glass that still won't hold a charge.

For the very rare times I get to sit down and dabble with music, I use an Edirol UA-25 audio interface and a M-Audio Axiom 61 MIDI controller. My Beyerdynamic DT-250 headphones mean I can work in relative silence, which is important when you've got a delicately-sleeping baby in the next room! I also have a rather crappy Asus 19" monitor that I'd love to replace with something bigger and sexier, but can never quite justify the cost!

And what software?

As a Technical Architect within a large team I don't get to do serious coding any more - my time is variously split between meetings with engineers & product people, email generation, IRC (irssi) and working up specifications and approaches for things, which can then be iterated on. But I do keep my hand in, mainly working up small prototypes or proof-of-concepts to prove or disprove one theory or another. I'm kind of old-school, so I reach for Emacs to do all my non-trivial editing. The reason is simple - using and learning it since 1997 or so, I know it better than any other editor and my muscle memory does half of the work for me. My .emacs file is a carefully-curated history of customisations, workarounds, hacks and blatant bad habits that I've grown to depend on over the years. I've tried other editors (BBEdit back in the old Mac OS days, TextMate on OS X) but nothing can seem to wean me off Emacs. I'm happy using vim for most quick editing tasks, though.

Taking notes quickly and being able to find them again is important, and Notational Velocity has served me well for years. It's an elegant piece of software that does one job well. There are plenty of web equivalents out there but offline is important too. Fewer things annoy me in software more than the assumption that everyone's always connected to the Internet. Often I'm on strange corporate networks behind a HTTP proxy as well - imagine that? Few people seem to.

For diagramming and communicating visually, Omnigraffle Pro is king. For a while (when I didn't have a Macbook at work), I had to use an awful piece of Windows bloatware called Enterprise Architect - never again!

Aside from that, just about everything else I do is achievable in the browser these days. I resisted Chrome for years because I don't auto-subscribe to Google hype, but I've somewhat grudgingly moved towards it (from years of Firefox and Safari) because the dev tools are so good - the Postman REST client alone sells it for me, it makes driving APIs a doddle.

For music, Logic Studio 9 is my workstation, Propellerheads' Reason for all my squelchy synth needs, with Toontrack's EZdrummer as the basis for any live-sounding rhythm tracks. I love Toontrack's software as they take away a lot of the faff of drum programming, and go with sensible defaults and musician-intuitive UIs that just work. When you've got an idea you want to capture but not a lot of time, you start to really appreciate that.

To keep everything manageable across different locations, I rely on Dropbox to backup and sync all my important stuff.

What would be your dream setup?

As I get older, I get less bothered about having the latest, greatest shiny hardware - there's nothing I can't accomplish with the tools I already have, the limiting factor is nearly always time. It's great that software in general is so much easier to update these days, and that most applications (and even your OS) self-update from the Internet - gone are the days of having to carve out your weekend to update things from several hundred floppy disks. So as long as I'm running the current versions of the software I need, I'm happy.

That said, I'd love a phone that lasts a week between charges, just like they did in the 90s.. Oh, and a flying car, and a pint of McEwan's 80 Shilling. :)

Previously: / Next up: