It is often said that 24 hours is a long time in politics. In my experience, the same amount of time can flash by in bespoke software development. I guess that’s because time flies when you’re having fun.
I’ve been a software engineer consultant for nearly eight years, having started coding at aged 14. Contrary to the stereotype, I don’t avoid sunlight, wear black t-shirts and hide whenever strangers come into the office. I don’t live off pizza and takeaways, and I don’t spend my spare time hacking into some big corporation or other.
I do – however – drink rather a lot of tea and coffee, and spend a typical day working with some very clever people, learning about new technology and meeting a host of varied clients at different points throughout their project journey.
Here’s what a typical day looks like for me.
Flexitime is a perk of the job at Helastel and, so long as the work is getting done and contracted hours are hit, I might come into the office to start the day anytime between 8–10am. Pretty much all software development companies and digital agencies have a similar regime.
The first half hour is taken up dealing with emails and scheduling my workload. Emails can contain all sorts of fun and games, such as the time someone asked me to implement 10 pages of changes to their software by lunchtime. That’s when you need to work as a team to get round the problem and communicate effectively. You also need a sense of humour!
The other thing I’ll do early-doors is logon to the in-house developed CRM system we use to manage clients, projects and individual cases. Cases break down further into actions and all of it is tracked to ensure quality and completeness.
For the remainder of the morning, I’m usually just focused on coding. There are invariably a bunch of different projects going on in parallel, so it’s vital that I get the work done in the correct priority order, according to what I believe is of greatest importance.
I might not burn many calories as a software engineer, but it sure as hell makes my brain tired. Caffeine can only do so much, and it’s always advisable to make the time to have a proper lunchtime meal. Often that means eating ‘al desko’, rather than al fresco, with a Sainsbury’s sandwich in one hand while the other keeps on coding. That’s just the nature of deadlines sometimes. Getting out for lunch from time to time is always rewarding around our way – Clifton’s Triangle in Bristol – with plenty of choice so you’re never bored with the same old, same old.
This is when meetings are typically scheduled for. So between more coding, I’ll be pulled into either a general business/update meeting, a technical discussion around a new feature, or a more urgent meeting around a major issue. It might be all three. It may also be time to have another of my regular review meetings – typically with the HR manager – to get across my views on how things are going job-wise.
We have regular updates on how the business is doing, what new clients and new work are coming on-board, and what else is new among the group that we’d like to share. It always seems to me that the last part of the meeting – the AOB (Any Other Business) part – is the bit everyone seems to relish. It’s clearly intended as the bit where anything we didn’t cover in the agenda can be mopped up, but the reality is that the AOB part IS the meeting! It’s good that there are always lots of opinions and people chipping in, as I know of lots of other workplaces where people choose not to be vocal because they don’t really care so much.
New Feature Discussion
I love these sessions as we bounce ideas off each other and get the creative vibe going. These meetings are more likely to be impromptu affairs, and that almost makes them flow better as they are a little off-the-cuff.
Major Issue Resolution
Problems arise from time to time that individuals just can’t solve on their own. It isn’t much fun being the person who calls one of these meetings, but it’s important to grasp the nettle sooner rather than later. In any case, it can be extremely rewarding and heartening to have your colleagues rally round, and you soon feel better about it. We always seem to conjure a great solution from somewhere pretty efficiently!
Hopefully there aren’t more formal meetings taking up the rest of the day. If so, I tend to squeeze them in between more development and bug fixing, and helping out colleagues (or receiving a bit of training from them). We keep each other up-to-date on new technologies that impact on the role of software engineers, but my advice is to concentrate on taking responsibility for your own learning so your don’t become over-dependent on others.
We work closely together, both figuratively and literally, but it never feels claustrophobic. Personally, I enjoy it when colleagues ask for my advice and this happens half a dozen or so times throughout the day. They invariably repay the favour in kind and we’re stronger as a team because of it.
As time ticks on – especially in winter for some reason – the need for caffeine hits fever pitch. We have a tea urn called Urnie who – we believe – is the fastest tea urn in the West! He needs to be, frankly, as we add more people the team and the tea round grows ever bigger.
As the day draws to a close, I often find I’m hitting peak productivity. A few of the early starters have gone home by then, and there are less meetings – all of which adds up to fewer distractions and longer spans of time to focus on the bigger challenges.
That’s about it – a day in the life at a bespoke software development company. I’d love to hear what it’s like in other similar organisations!