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Simon Foster
Simon Foster

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at funkysi1701.com

Lone Developer to Senior Developer, my 2021 story

Welcome to Day 5 of the Festive Tech Calendar!

Usually at this time of year I like to take the opportunity to look back on the last 12 months, highlight some of my achievements and make a few goals for the new year.

Like many of you 2021 has been a difficult year, but it has also been a year of change, and I am in a much better place now than at the start of the year.

To tell you my 2021 story I first need to give you a bit of a history lesson about my career. So, lets fire up your flux capacitor (or Tardis of similar value) and journey back to 2006.

Back to 2006

In 2006 I got my first IT job. My housemate, who was working as an IT Manager for a small Health and Safety Company, suggested I come work with him. I was currently working an admin job with no idea what to do with my life, so I said yes.

So, in October 2006 I joined as a member of the IT Team. I worked mainly on first line support, but as the IT department was small, I learnt about all sorts of IT things, from fixing printers, setting up the CEOs BlackBerry mobile phone with emails, administering active directory, writing SQL queries to swapping tapes for the weekly backups.

The company had many faults which I won't discuss here, but the work was varied, and I was always learning something new so I stayed with the company.

At the end of 2010, the IT Manager resigned, shortly followed by the rest of the IT department. In January 2011 I was IT Manager, I had no staff, plenty of IT problems and no clue what I was doing.

This was an amazing time for me, I learnt how to interview and hire staff, I learnt more about the different systems we used. It was approximately at this point in time that I switched from being exclusively a SysAdmin to starting to learn Development.

I had been creating simple websites for a while, mainly using PHP and MySQL. But since I started working in IT I learned more and more about databases, SQL Server and writing T-SQL scripts. I was the companies "database guy", so the company naturally asked me to do more and more database work. This led to learning other technologies like MS Access and C# so I could do more and solve more of the company's problems.

However, the company was small, and I would always be dragged in to fix SysAdmin problems so I never managed to spend 100% of my time doing development, so in 2016 I moved on to my first full time development job.

The new job was great, but I kept in touch with my old CEO, Ally and helped out with bits of work on the side, writing SQL queries, updating the odd bespoke application.

Back where it all began

In 2019 I started formulating a plan to go back to my old job as a contract developer. To my amazement Ally almost bit my arm off to get me back, agreeing to all my terms. So, in the summer of 2019 I started full time as a contract developer, mostly working from home with the occasionally meeting in the office and supporting the business with IT issues.

My second stint with the company was different than my first, I was able to concentrate almost exclusively on development work. As the only developer I was in full control of development, I decided to use dotnet and Blazor.

Late in 2019 I was given advanced warning that the company was being sold. In Feb 2020 the company did get sold, the new owners kept me on to finish the project I was working on but made me a permanent member of staff. In March 2020, the whole company began to work from home due to COVID-19, with parts of the business being furloughed.

This was a difficult time; on top of the stress the whole world was feeling from the global pandemic I was trying to assist with various IT integrations that you would expect when any company gets sold.

January 2021

This is pretty much where you find me in January 2021. I was working remotely developing internal applications with dotnet/Blazor with the occasional Teams meeting to demonstrate what I had built so far.

Working on your own as a developer is great! You start work and can write code all day. There is no daily stand up, you don't need to explain what you have been working on, or what challenges you are facing. You don't have any process or formality to follow, only what you impose on yourself.

I created a build/release pipelines in Azure DevOps, I created pull requests that would kick of a build, run my unit tests, and run some static code analysis. I would glance over my PRs but 99% of the time I would approve them.

This was the greatest weakness of working on my own, no one to suggest ideas of better ways of writing code, no one to bounce ideas off, no one to encourage or be encouraged when I figured out something clever or offer to help you overcome a problem.

Redundancy

In Mid July I was told that the development function was no longer required, and my job was at risk of redundancy. As I was the only one working in development it sounded very much like a done deal. I had a couple of redundancy meetings to attend and I would need to talk through how various applications worked as part of a handover.

To be honest I agreed with the decision to make me redundant. New development work was not coming through, although the users of the applications I had developed loved what I had created, upper management were keen to migrate off these systems and use more centrally managed systems. If I was in charge, I would probably have made a similar difficult decision.

As soon as I found out I was at risk of redundancy I called up a couple of recruitment agents I had spoken to before. They told me that it was a great time to be looking for a job and immediately arranged some interviews for the next week. I also took advantage of social media and asked on twitter if anyone was looking for developers like me. To my surprise this resulted in at least one interview.

One thing I stressed in all my conversations with recruiters and companies I spoke with, was that I was looking for a team. I wanted to work in a team, bounce ideas off others, mentor others, learn from others. This was the most important thing I wanted in whatever my next role was going to be.

Other important things for me was continuing to use Azure or similar cloud technologies. However, I always think that the tech stack and technology can be learnt on the job, tech moves so quickly these days that you have to be constantly learning to stay relevant.

About two weeks after I first found out about my impending redundancy I contacted (or more likely was contacted by) a third recruitment agency. It was this third one that eventually got me a job, however all three were brilliant, and kept me updated and answered all of my questions.

The next few days were packed with phone calls, interviews, tech tests. I had a lot of different types of companies that I spoke with, from Software Consultancy companies, FinTech companies, Energy suppliers, Legal companies and many others.

During this time of interviews, I can think of only two in person interviews. The rest made use of Teams, Zoom, Google Meet and even Skype (yes at least one company still uses it for video chats!)

The usual way the process went was a conversation with the recruiter about a role after which my details were sent to the company, If the company liked the sound of me an initial informal interview was arranged, after that a second more technical interview was held, sometimes there would be a tech test, sometimes it was more technical questions being asked in the interview. Some companies had more stages that this, but this was what I typically encountered.

I lost count of the actual number of interviews I had, but I used a spreadsheet to try and keep it all straight in my mind. The last thing I wanted was to ask a question about the wrong company!

Positive No

I got plenty of noes from these interviews, however all were phrased as a positive no. That being they liked me as a person but something about my skill or experience wasn't quite right. A friend once described me as an odd mix of junior and senior developer. I agree with that statement, I have a lot of experience in some areas and a real lacking in others.

A common one was working in a team. Being a lone developer is not good for gaining experience working in a team. However, each time I spoke with companies I stressed that the team was what I was looking for.

Another weakness of mine is front end. When I am building something, functionality is more important than getting it looking good. I came from a database and backend start, so it is only natural that I am more at home working on these things. Also, my most recent projects are working with Blazor, which is brand new and few companies are doing much with it yet.

I tried really hard not to be discouraged by these noes and that the right company was just around the corner. One no hit harder than most. I had an initial chat with the team of a FinTech Company and then there was a second interview with the CTO which I felt had gone OK.

From what I had heard it ticked a lot of boxes, the team sounded good, with lots of support and development opportunities and they were moving to the Cloud, so my Azure experience sounded ideal. The CTO liked me and thought I would be a good fit, but I was part way between a junior and a senior, so he had gone away to try and make a bespoke role for me, eventually it would be a no.

Looking back, it is easy to see, that this was really encouraging. They tried to create a bespoke role for me! However, at the time all I could think about was all the noes I was hearing.

The job for me

About the same time, I had my initial interview with the company I would eventually accept a role with. I kept being told that there was a tech test to do, but for some reason it never got sent to me, so the interview featured a lot of tech questions and they really grilled me. I came away without much of a sense of if it went well or not.

However, they liked me and wanted me to do a presentation at their office. I am rubbish at public speaking and doing presentations, so I thought I will do this presentation, but it is very unlikely they will like what I do.

The topic of my presentation was how I upskilled a team on a new project or technology. As a lone developer what an earth could I do for a topic like that? I thought about what I had done to upskill myself on various things, however that doesn't really address the question, as they wanted to know more about what I had done to upskill a team.

I thought back to a time when I helped get a largely un-version controlled codebase into source control and automated the build and release pipeline using Azure and Azure DevOps. This involved talking to SQL and data developers so could be a better option for a presentation.

I arrived at the office to do my presentation. First of all, I parked next to the factory where all the forklifts were, I was directed to the correct place to park. Then I tried to go to the wrong building, a very helpful employee helped me go to the correct place. I was introduced to the people who would be interviewing me, one of whom I had worked with in the past, who immediately said you should hire this guy, he is an excellent developer! As introductions go, that's not bad!

In my opinion the presentation was bad. I didn't have a PowerPoint or similar to go with my talk, so I just waffled on for ten minutes about what I had done a few years back about how I helped get source control being used.

The next day I got the job offer.

I was very surprised to get the offer as I thought I had done so badly the day before they would give me another positive no. I took a few hours to think about it, however all my other applications were either not started or waiting for the next stage, so I was 99% sure I would accept.

I had no idea what to expect when I started, as I didn't really ask many questions at the last interview as I was convinced, I was going to get a no after my presentation.

I worked my notice period and at the start of October I started my new job. My contract only arrived the day before I started, so in the days before I started my mind was making up reasons why the job would disappear.

The job started with a two-day induction. Things that were covered on the induction were, mental health, sleep cycles, company values, health and safety and of course a bit of form filling and photocopying passports that you would expect on a first day.

Conclusion

Back when I had been job hunting, each time I stressed the importance of team. The company I had joined had an amazing focus on supporting its staff and getting the best from each other. I had got the best possible fit for the kind of team I was looking for.

Usually when I start a new job, I get a large dose of imposter syndrome. Now, two months after I started, I can say, I didn't really get that this time. Maybe it is how the team functions, maybe it is my level of experience, or maybe its just something else.

I am happy in my new job. There is a lot to learn, both technology and how to work well in this team. But I am supported, there are people to ask question, I am contributing almost from day one. I have already shared a brief talk about my experience with Blazor, which went down better than I expected. I am excited to learn what is next for me.

If you have read all the way to here, Thank you! This is my story and I hope you have found it interesting. If you are looking for a new role, I would encourage you to focus on the soft skills you are looking for next, if you concentrate on team like I did, there is a good chance you will land in an amazing team.

Don't forget to check out some of the other great content that is being created by all the amazing Festive Calendar 2021 contributors.

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