A day in the life of a Software Engineer at Science Warehouse

30th August 2016

Ever wondered what it’s really like to be a Software Engineer at Science Warehouse? We interviewed software engineer Robert Toller to find out…

What do you do?

I’m a Software Engineer who works in the eMarketplace team.

How long have you been working at Science Warehouse for?

Just over five years – I started off working in a different team within the company that looked after Supplier accounts and catalogue data, but after three years moved into a software engineering role.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I usually get into the office at around 9.00-9.15am. It’s okay to come in earlier as well if you want to leave the office a bit sooner at the end of the day (being a cycle commuter, I only manage that in summer when it’s lighter in the mornings). We have our ‘stand-up’ (daily team meeting) at 9.30am so I usually just catch up on emails or finish up any quick tasks before then. Afterwards, I grab a coffee then knuckle down to work.

I’ll dive into whatever was being worked on the previous day unless an issue was raised in the stand-up, or try to progress a story that is waiting for a code review. The morning is usually my most productive time and most days I work straight through to lunch, which occasionally consists of a game of table football or table tennis with colleagues (more often if there is a tournament on).

Meetings are reduced to avoid too many distractions… Tuesdays and Thursdays have even been declared meeting free zones. The most interesting meetings we have are those where we elaborate on the work we will be doing in future sprints.

The rest of the day generally continues as the morning did (interspersed with tea breaks and maybe a sneaky game of table football). Throughout the day, we will converse as a team to discuss how work is progressing. Sometimes this will lead to pair programming or we will all gather around one machine and work as a group to solve an issue when it’s blocking progress.

I usually get engrossed in my work so it’s no surprise to look up and see it’s 5.30pm and home time, which means a five-mile uphill slog home on my bike to North Leeds.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Primarily the people – it’s a privilege to work amongst a group of such intelligent, insightful and dedicated people.

As a team we work across a whole suite of products whilst designing new services where appropriate. Over the course of a couple of years it’s helped me develop a breadth of knowledge from server to front-end UI.

We practise 10% of the time so each sprint we have time to work on our own projects. Then, every month or so, the whole of the engineering team has a get together where we demonstrate what we have been working on.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

I would imagine it’s the same for most software engineers – having to learn new languages, frameworks and systems. At Science Warehouse we want to move forwards and that means embracing new tools and languages that will help us improve the product suite, so there is plenty to learn.

How did you get into software engineering?

As I already mentioned, I started working for Science Warehouse in a different role, we used spreadsheets a lot and having always tinkered with code in my own time, I realised that we could automate certain aspects of our work. Over time, I taught myself the ins and outs of software. I started with python scripts that would normalise data into our standard format; then gradually I built tools within Excel that could be used by the whole team to speed up repetitive tasks. Eventually, I was given the opportunity to work on software full-time and moved into the engineering team, for which I will always be grateful to Science Warehouse.

What advice do you have for people who are interested in pursuing a career in software engineering?

  • It’s hard work – there is no doubt about that, but all the best things are.
  • Learn by doing – keep making things and apply yourself, no matter how small.
  • And never forget: “You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know.” (Oscar Wilde)

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