I would say I am a web developer who does the odd bit of design – I’m more of a programmer than an artist – but I am quite fond of the aesthetic elements of the work I do. From time to time projects fall over before they get anywhere so there is the odd logo I’ve done which has never seen the light of day apart from on this site.
I’ve always been interested in drawing and so colouring in the internet seems, in retrospect, quite a logical choice of career but I didn’t exactly aim to get here.
Manchester University: 1995 – 1998
I did my degree in Manchester in Maths & Philosophy which is an odd combination but gives you a weirdly good grounding for computer programming. Looking back I did do a bit of programming at school. I remember building a hotel booking database but ran out of time before doing the check-out module so I called it Hotel California – you could check-in but never leave.
After (and during if I’m honest) my degree I worked in the first branch of the (now ubiquitous) Revolution Vodka Bar chain. I got quite a lot of good experience there and it taught me a lot but eventually I moved on and got a real job. The real job was with IBM at their software development labs in Winchester. They were having a bit of a recruitment drive to bring in people who weren’t from a computer science background so there were a few of us who arrived at the Hursley campus in January 2000. It soon became apparent that they weren’t quite sure what to do with people without a computer science background.
IBM: 2000 – 2003
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time in the IT industry it’s this: Never do anything by hand if you can write something to automate it – even if writing the thing to automate it takes longer than doing it by hand. You never know if you’ll need to do it again.
For IBM I worked in Business Integration for a thing called MQSeries Integrator which is now called something like Websphere Broker. I worked at IBM during the beginnings of Web Services and so learned a lot about SOAP and the underlying technology and architecture needed to deliver those automated inter-organisation transactions. We were running a suite of performance tests against each successive build of the software on a variety of different Operating Systems. After a while I’d pretty much automated my entire job. I automated each test, automated the sequencing of the tests, automated running the tests across each platform and then wrote a web interface so the results were automatically published online with traffic light graphs showing whether things had got better or worse.
Having done that my time was a bit awkwardly freed up so they started sending me to see people. I went to Morgan Stanley in the World Trade Center and worked on the 80-something-th floor and to somewhere in Zurich where they all went home without telling me – I found out they’d all gone when the office went dark.
After a few exploratory trips I got recruited into pre-sales technical support for EMEA and spent a while flying all over Europe teaching course, meeting prospective customers and developing and demonstrating proof-of-concept models of their business processes. I couldn’t do that forever – it was a lot of travelling – and I had this idealistic ache that made me want to go and do something environmental rather than working on software that helped giant corporations make the little people redundant.
There was some wilderness time where I did all sorts of odd jobs to pay the rent whilst looking for something that fit the bill.
Humber Environmental Data Centre: 2005 – 2007
In 2005 I got a job with a project funded by the Yorkshire Regional Development Agency – Yorkshire Forward and moved to Sheffield. The job was a project called Humber Environmental Data Centre (HEDC). Yorkshire Forward’s aim was to encourage inward investment in the big industries around the Humber Estuary but because of the estuary’s protected status, any development application needed to be assessed so as not to have a negative impact on the nature of the estuary. By some weird alignment of the stars, sharing environmental data meant implementing the sort of web services which were being used primarily being used for online stock trading, logistics and so on but re-imagined for nature conservation.
Obviously the nature of environmental data is that it is very largely geographic. So my first steps at HEDC were to learn about GIS and about geographic web services WMS/WFS (eg GeoServer) and formats like KML (GoogleEarth). It was a steep learning curve and not just in terms of the technologies involved. I also had to learn quite a bit about nature conservation in order to understand how to bring the data together and analyse it to produce a meaningful product.
Yorkshire & Humber Environmental Data Network: 2007 – 2014
In 2007 the HEDC project funding ran out but I moved to be employed by one of the companies I’d worked closely with during the HEDC project to continue the work of sharing environmental data under the guise of Yorkshire & Humber Environmental Data Network.
The work of YHEDN has been pretty varied. I have developed a framework called Second Site and several templates built on that framework for managing different aspects of environmental data. I have set up a suite of tools for managing public engagement events. Most recently we managed a big professional habitat survey project which involved setting up optically read paper survey forms built using some open source market research software LimeSurvey and QueXF. The nature of conservation work is that you end up doing a bit of everything so I’ve done pretty much all aspects of IT from purchasing hardware and hosting contracts and systems administration through to software development and training. I’ve also done a fair amount of the business side of things from writing and submitting project tenders and funding applications, managing the budgets and delivery of projects and even writing company policies and process documents for accreditation.
I met my wife through this job and got married in September 2012 which focussed my mind on trying to look more like a grown-up.
Both YHEDN and HEDC continue to exist as projects of the Yorkshire & Humber Ecological Data Trust.
Good Things Foundation (formerly Tinder Foundation) 2014 – 2018
In 2014 I moved to work for Tinder Foundation – not swipe right Tinder – as their senior developer. This meant taking over the management of quite a large and varied code-base.
Tinder Foundation is an amazing organisation both in terms of what they set out to achieve – balancing the inequalities of our society through enabling people to access welfare, support and services – and how they run as an organisation. It is an extra-ordinary organisation to work for and has taught me a huge amount.
During my time we went through a process of standardising the existing code using a combination of AngularJS front-ends and a Silex API to create apps that can be run inside Drupal, Joomla, WordPress and an internal user infrastructure seamlessly meaning we can shift apps from one site to another or choose to create a new site on a different CMS without requiring a massive refactor.
Government Digital Service (GDS) 2018 –
I am now working for GDS working primarily with AWS, Terraform, Python and Chalice. The move to GDS was motivated primarily by reading the GDS blog. GDS go out of the way to create a good working environment which makes it a really nice place to be on a daily basis.