Career Stories is a recent lunch and learn initiative that we launched at TAB - an opportunity for TABbers to share their inspiring and engaging journeys which have led them to where they are today. Below, I share the details of my unique career story and how I jumped from Intern to Engineering Lead at TAB in only three and a half years.
The first thing to say, though, is that my career didn't start out either at TAB, or in iOS development.
My TAB journey began at Silicon Milkroundabout in November 2012, and at the time, I was working as a Digital Media Planner for an ad agency. My role was interesting, and I learnt a lot about myself during my short stint - but I always felt restless, as I didn't have an outlet for my creative side.
Feeling my way in the working world
Five years earlier, in 2007, I had graduated with a BSc in Maths and Computer Science from the University of Bristol. Coincidentally, it was the same year the iPhone launched, although I thought nothing of it at the time. I secured a job as a programmer, developing transaction processing software that was sold to banks. This was a fascinating role that took me all over Europe and the Middle East, working with incredibly intelligent people.
But, after a few years, I got restless. As I say, I felt I didn't have an outlet for my creative energy. So, towards the end of 2010, my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I ventured to the Alps on a winter sabbatical working as chalet hosts in a ski resort.
Just as your typical Maths and Computer Science grad/snowboard geek would, I began to dabble in iOS development. This was, of course, in between cooking for 14 guests at a time, cleaning seven bedrooms and snowboarding all the hours the ski lifts were open. And after a bit of tinkering, I was able to release a puzzle game to the App Store.
Snap back to reality
In the summer of 2012, I decided my career needed a new direction, which is how I found myself working in an ad agency. It was something new and enjoyable and led me to work with some amazing people.
One day, whilst on the Tube, I looked around to see that everyone was staring down at their phones, scrolling, tapping and swiping at various apps. It was only 2012, but apps were already everywhere. It was then that I thought to myself, "What am I playing at? I can make those products! I should be making apps!"
I was fascinated by Mobile. I'd always been interested in software, but now there was something I could hold in my hand. Something intuitive that comes with me wherever I go, and that I can interact with it in so many ways. I knew being always connected was going to take over the world, and I wanted to be part of it.
Up until now, I'd only thought of myself as a hobbyist app developer, but my puzzle game was doing well in the Store. At its peak, it was the top-selling game in the Puzzle category in Denmark for one day only! - so I began to hunt around for app development jobs.
I was introduced to TAB at Silicon Milk Roundabout in 2012. I was offered an internship, despite having no commercial app development experience. Snapping it up with no hesitation, I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it was something I was passionate about.
I dived in head first, and surrounded myself with talented people - people that inspired and challenged me to become a better engineer. Many of these same people still challenge me today. I also got as involved as I could in the company's culture. As an engineer, I've always been fascinated by how things work, and that doesn't end at software. I was intrigued by how two strategists from Media Arts Lab, Rob Evans and Dan Joseph, had formed a rapidly growing app development agency that included, even in its early days, such global powerhouses as Unilever.
I realised that accelerating my career progression meant pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Although I had a steep learning curve when I joined TAB, I knew that learning in working hours wasn’t enough. I took it upon myself to read widely, write code and teach myself new frameworks in my own time. After all, this part of my career had started as a hobby, so writing code at weekends hardly felt like work.
I tried to read every blog out there and even started one myself, setting myself realistic targets to post frequently.
I created open source software and put it out there in the community for people to scrutinise. I was fearful of this at first, but I realised having my work beaten up in the public arena was the best way to learn.
I was afraid of public speaking - and still am - but I do it regularly to push myself out of my comfort zone. I seized every opportunity to speak in public, starting first with my team and eventually to an entire conference audience. That’s because I know that strong communication skills - whether to team members, the entire company or to a client is just important of a skill as the ability to develop great software. That’s regardless of whether you want to be a leader of people, or just a thought leader in your area of expertise - or even if you don’t wish to be a leader at all.
My biggest learning so far
The main takeaway from my journey so far is that change is good and it’s never too late. I’m fortunate to be at a company that welcomes and encourages change. You'll never know what you might enjoy more unless you try new things. Lots of TABbers have shifted their career direction in radical ways to do something they enjoy more - from Product Owner to Product Designer; from Strategist to Agile Delivery Lead; from Strategist to Experience Designer.
Since joining TAB, I’ve decided to take on more leadership responsibility, and that’s because I’m continuing to feel my way around the working world, constantly looking for new things to try - new challenges to test myself against.
What I've learnt from being a lead
Imposter Syndrome is something that has always been at the back of my mind: that constant feeling that everyone around me is smarter, faster or more intelligent than me. At TAB, it can be daunting to work alongside such incredibly talented individuals. Every time this feeling creeps forward, I send it right to the back of my mind - and tell myself I’m also talented, as much as I struggle to admit that!
As a Lead, I consider myself responsible for ensuring I continue to be surrounded by talented people that challenge me in new ways - and that means hiring great people that match TAB’s high standard.
Delegating responsibility is something I still struggle with, so my goal is to surround myself by people I can trust to do an ever better job at something than I could do - as a leader, that’s such an important skill to possess.
What I learnt as an intern
I was given the opportunity to try a variety of things surrounded by a great support network of experienced colleagues. As an intern, my aim was to learn the ropes as quickly as possible which enabled me to work on some interesting projects striving to prove value to TAB and my own capability to myself.
An employer has the responsibility of providing an environment in which interns can prove themselves. And an intern should take every opportunity presented to them to try new things.
And, always ask! If new opportunities aren't presented during an internship, then when will they be presented? It's the intern’s right to ask for more.
I've been in my current role as Lead Software Engineer for less than 18 months. The more responsibility a role presents, the longer I would expect to spend in that role before transitioning into something new. In my experience, nobody is ever given a new job title and suddenly finds themselves doing a different type of work. People have usually been transitioning into that role for some time before they take on a new job title. That's not because it takes an employer a long time to recognise achievements, but rather because a new role requires consistency, which doesn’t come overnight.
When stepping up into a role with increased responsibility and accountability, an employer is looking for someone that has delivered consistent results. It's also really important for the individual to experience that consistency. It takes time to feel your way around in the working world, and to take on a significantly different role is not something that should be done too hastily.
I'm constantly being challenged to provide more value by continuing to step out of my comfort zone. New types of challenges are presented to me daily by different projects, and the people I work with or help develop. There are also challenges that lead me in a new direction, such as working closely with our Demand team on pitching for new business, or working with other TAB Leads to figure out how our capabilities will evolve as our industry continues to change rapidly.
I thoroughly enjoy building software products that people love - and I feel so lucky that the majority of my day-to-day work is spent doing something that started as a hobby. However my role evolves at TAB, I doubt I’ll ever lose that same sense I began my career with - to challenge myself and find new ways to satisfy my creative urges.
We're currently looking for passionate engineers like Sam who are looking for their next career move. Check out our Join page for our current openings.