What is Software Development?
There can be a stereotype when it comes to a computer programmer or a software developer – that they are holed up in their rooms, typing away on their computers late into the night.
If the photos of the Google offices haven’t thrown this myth out just yet, then meet Tom, an LSE grad who has been working in the sector for nearly 30 years.
Read on to find out how developers are actually highly sociable, excellent problem solvers and welcoming a bigger range of people than ever before.
Why did you choose to go into software development?
“Two of my uncles taught me programming when I was at school and it became one of my greatest hobbies. I had no idea how to get into it after university so just got another job. When I left London I made a conscious decision to look for a programming job because I realised there would be programming jobs wherever I moved to.”
What has your career journey been so far?
“This is my fourth software development job and I am still a developer, though have had brief spells as a manager – wasn’t really for me. I have been in each job for around three years before choosing to leave – generally having got fed up with some aspect of the job (location or people usually) and deciding I wanted to do something else. Each time I’ve moved I’ve ended up with more money and less responsibility, which is a nice combination!”
Is the job what you expected?
“For the most part yes, it’s like the programming I used to do as a hobby, in that you still give yourself a headache struggling to solve problems and then get really excited when you get something working.
A couple of things that have perhaps surprised me are: firstly, that working in video games (my first programming job) was actually no more enjoyable than programming in another environment – it was the work rather than the product that was fun; And secondly, that programming is a much more sociable job than people might think – I have lots of discussions about how to make things work and how things will work together, which is great!”
Did you want to go into software development when you were younger?
“I did actually, in so much as I thought about it. It was like the dream job, if I couldn’t make it as a rock star. (Ed: Tom is actually a mean musician – multi-talented man). Essentially, two of my uncles were programmers and it sounded like a cool job.”
What does your job involve?
“I sit at my desk trying to breaking down a problem and then trying to write code to get the computer to do something, then sit in meetings where we argue about what it should do and how, I wander around the office smiling sweetly at the person who already knows how to do something I don’t, and then I leave my desk to help other people fix things that I know how to do and they don’t.
Finally the testing team tell me all the bits that don’t work and I have to fix them, or tell them why actually it’s supposed to do that.”
Day in the life:
“5am: I am an early riser so play on the computer for two or so hours before getting ready for work.
8am: I have a five-minute drive to work. Once there I check my emails – often from testers in India who have found problems or have questions which I need to answer. I then try to remember what I was doing yesterday and plan what I should do today.
10am: We have a 5-minute meeting where our little team say what we’re doing and then maybe some discussions about priorities. Then I’ll try to fix things / write things / design things / help other people.
1pm: Normally I eat lunch at my desk, but on Fridays we take an hour to go to the local pub and play pool over a burger.
4:30pm: I leave work pretty early – an early start and finish is common in programming. Once home I have dinner and hang out with my wife and sons.”
What are the common misconceptions people have about your job?
“Perhaps that everyone is really nerdy and unsociable. Yes, some of us are, but there are some really cool people here and actually the job involves a lot of talking.
Sadly the preconception that it is mainly male is true. There is a real problem of not enough women being involved. The tiny number of female programmers I’ve worked with have been brilliant, and I don’t think it’s as nerdy or macho a culture as many might think.”
Is there an opportunity for further training?
“Software technology is always changing, so continual learning is essential or you become an unemployable dinosaur very quickly.
Employers don’t always want to spend money or time teaching you things that aren’t relevant to what you’re doing now, so often you need to use your own initiative to learn new things. Equally, you often get given bits of work using technology you don’t understand so it’s important to be able to learn on the job.”
What skills do you think are important for your career?
“Firstly you need to learn quickly – this is a fast paced industry.
Secondly you need to learn from your mistakes – I’ve developed a great instinct for the ways in which software fails to work and what causes it. This comes largely from mistakes I have made in the past.
Thirdly you need to be able to tackle a complicated problem. You need to structure the problem into simple parts, and THEN keep those parts and the larger structure in your head at the same time.
Fourthly a lot of the work is people oriented. You need to be able to find out and REMEMBER what other people have done that will help with your work.
Finally, you need to be able to turn off the outside the world and focus on a computer. You need to think your way inside the computer for long periods until you can work out what’s happening and why.”
How could you describe your job in 3 words?
“Creative problem solving.”
Any final words?
“Programming is a job that allows for an unusual level of autonomy. You have a lot of freedom to solve problems in your own way; and there’s a lot of scope for ingenuity to make tasks easier, quicker, or more interesting.
People that enjoy it get addicted to the cycle of struggling with a hard problem followed by the exhilaration of seeing something actually working for the first time.”
So there you have it, the real world of development in the cold and light nature of the office.
So, if you enjoy programming in your spare time, why not make it into a career; or maybe you have another hobby and you could try looking for a job in that field. If you like gaming – write the games, if you like writing – edit a newspaper, if you like talking to new people – go into customer relations. You get the gist.
Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website.