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60 Second Interview: Software developer

Stephen works as a software developer. He explains why he thinks programming is for everyone, and gives his tips for getting started in tech.

Name: Stephen Walsh

Company: Distilled-SCH

Industry: IT & The Internet

What is your job? iOS software developer

How long have you been doing this job? 3 years


Bachelor of Science in Applied Computing from Waterford Institute of Technology

1. What was your very first job?

Like a lot of folks, my first job was a summer job at a local café by the beach as a waiter/cashier/pot-wash/mop-man. I was sixteen and absolutely hated it. Dealing with hoards of impatient customers while constantly trying to keep the place clean and tidy on a hot* summer’s day is not my happy place. On the plus side, it did give me a lot of respect for service workers - it can be a tough job!

* May have fibbed about the hot summer’s day part

2. What did you want to do when you were at school?

To be honest, that varied drastically from week to week in secondary school. Sometimes I wanted a creative career in fields like animation, illustration and graphic design. Other times I wanted to work in a more “left-brain” job like accountancy.

When it was time to fill out my CAO form (the Irish version of UCAS) I decided to study architecture, thinking it was a nice marriage of creativity skills and logical thinking

…but then I switched to computer science!

3. How did you find out about the industry?

Well I didn’t really find out about it - mobile technology is everywhere these days, so it’d be very strange not to have some understanding of it. I’ve always had a fascination with how computers work.

4. How did you get there?

I did a computer science degree at university and worked on a lot of side projects to boost my skillset. The best way to learn programming is by doing it, so if I ever had an idea for an app I would try and build it, learn a few skills from that and slowly build up my portfolio of different technologies I could use with.

5. What is a typical day like?

I work on the mobile development team, which is a sub-team of our software development team (of around 20 developers). In the morning we have a “standup” – that’s where we talk about our plans for the day and what we worked on the previous day. It’s a good chance to get an idea of what everyone is working on.

Then I’ll usually have about 2 hours of coding alone before our tea break at 11am. Between 11am and 1pm we have our “sprint planning” meetings. (A sprint is a two-week period where the team plans to complete a task or series of tasks.) In the evening I’ll usually have a couple of more hours to code, interspersed with brief meetings with our product and design team to plan upcoming projects.

6. What’s the best thing about your job?

In my experience, the tech industry has a wonderful culture of “learning while working”. A lot of employers offer stipends towards furthering your education, on top of the fact that a large portion of your time is spent on researching how to do a particular task.

7. What is the most challenging thing about your job?

I find context-switching very difficult. That is, rapidly switching from a mindset of intense logical thinking to one where you can jump on a call with less “technically minded” colleagues to discuss an upcoming project.

8. What advice do you have for people who want to do what you do?

Think of programming as another way of saying “problem-solving”. All you’re doing is writing some instructions that a computer can understand. The hardest part is realising that you already know how to solve problems; you just need to format your solutions in a very particular way.

One of the best aspects of software development is that you don’t necessarily need a formal education in computer science to get a great job. There are literally millions of tutorials available online right now on “How to become a rockstar software developer”… happy learning!

9. What things do you wish you’d known before starting your career?

Programming is for everyone. There is a huge misconception that a career in software development necessitates being gifted in maths. This is absolutely not the case. I would say the two most important traits are a curiosity for figuring out how things work and a passion for creating.

10. Where would you like to be in 5 years?

Ideally, I’d like to be living on a tropical island somewhere remotely running my billion-dollar crisp-sourcing company (think Uber but for crisps!).

Realistically, I’d like to be working in a startup environment in financial technology, probably more on the product development side of things.