TAB Asks: Ryan Loader

Laura Kassapakis
By Laura Kassapakis under #TABLife 01 November 2017

Ryan is a relatively new addition to TAB and joined us as part of the App Services Community of Practice (CoP) back in June, which includes polyglot engineers focused on web, backend, and integration. Ryan usually describes his CoP as anything that isn’t native iOS or Android development.

Recently, Ryan and I sat down and got to talking about his role and experience so far at TAB. We also tackled the big questions: why he got into tech in the first place, and what prompted someone who began studying design to move increasingly toward backend development.

So, Ryan, what’s your favourite thing about your role?

Definitely the diversity. Working at a company like TAB provides a broad range of projects - they are long and short, mature and hectic... there are all sorts of different work to be done. Being able to move into entirely different business sectors facilitates cross-pollination of ideas. That diversity was something I really missed when working at a product company.

In addition to all the different projects I get to work on, there’s a wide range of skill sets within our CoP. Within the same team, we have front-end devs, back-end engineers, networking experts, ex-designers, ex-scientists, writers and recent graduates. It is a melting-pot of all sorts of experience which ensures you’re are learning new things every day.

Tell us more about the Community of Practice (CoP) you belong to and what you guys do at TAB...

As mentioned, my CoP is App Services, which essentially means “anything that isn’t native iOS or Android apps.” We’re a big team of primarily polyglot and full-stack devs, working on websites and APIs, but we cover a lot of DevOps, CI and cross-platform apps built with web technologies (eg. React Native, Cordova).

What’s been your most memorable moment at TAB yet?

One of our Android devs, Moj, shared an amazing product story - drilling into the detail of what moves a project from good to great. Moj’s story was about how labels are positioned in the Met Office app we built. Two things struck me during that presentation; the first was how Moj’s brilliant explanation of complicated algorithms to a largely non-technical audience using just a whiteboard; he obviously had a very strong understanding of the subject matter. The second was the amount of work that went into a feature that no user was ever going to think about, but which improved the experience for everyone. It was a fantastic story I found really inspiring.

What does an average day at TAB look like for you?

The first hour of the day is for Slack catch-up. There are usually a few interesting reads shared by TABbers on all sorts of topics; new web frameworks, business trends and ways of working. Then it’s stand up, catching up with my team and squeezing in three or four Pomodoros before lunch. After lunch, it’s peer programming, maybe a few meetings, sometimes an interview (or CV review).

Every day is highly varied. Sometimes we’ll be stuck into a project, plugged in and highly focussed on getting a user story over the line. Other times, it’ll be an afternoon of learning, sharing ideas with my project team and the App Services CoP, looking for ways to improve.

Why did you get into tech in the first place?

I actually started university studying architecture and I really enjoyed it! My first year was incredibly experimental and we worked on a lot of projects that felt more like art than architecture. When I heard the second year would be learning all about how to make a building stand up, I looked for an alternative and found media design (design on a computer). Studying design led me to programming, programming lead to more programming - and eventually, I found myself really enjoying engineering.

What makes your job different to other Engineering jobs?

The thing that makes this job different (and exciting!) for me, is how much visibility I have over the inner workings of the business. I haven’t been here long but I’ve been part of the hiring process, pitching new opportunities to clients, had great, candid discussions with the founders of TAB about what it was like starting the business and where we are heading… It’s such a transparent place, you can get as involved with non-engineering activities as much (or as little) as you like.

What career advice would you give those starting out in tech?

Start broad and keep an open mind. Learn a bit about what it’s like to be a Product Owner / Developer / Designer / Scrum Master, then focus on what you want to be doing. I think understanding how your colleagues' roles work is important in any industry but tech is probably the easiest place to actually get that knowledge. There’s so much focus on cross-functional teams now, that understanding how different roles work can make you really valuable to an employer.

What’s been the steepest learning curve since you joined TAB?

I’ve struggled the most with learning how to document a codebase effectively. In a product company, you tent to rotate around different projects much less and teams work together for extended periods of time. Contrastingly, a handover here is almost always in everyone’s mind. We need to make life easy for the next dev who picks up the work. It’s interesting trying to think about the knowledge that is a prerequisite to your day-to-day.

What’s been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

One of the most challenging moments of my life was making the decision to leave the company I started with two friends out of university. In hindsight, it was absolutely the right decision -  it wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore, but at the time the decision was agonising. We had investors and my partners in business were my friends, so I felt like I was letting everybody down. But I think the lesson was that by surrounding myself in people who were all on my team, nobody thought ill of me for leaving, they all understood it was what I needed to do. That felt really good.

Describe TAB in 5 words?

An awesome place to be.

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We're currently looking for awesome App Services engineers like Ryan to join the CoP. Check out our Join page for more info.