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Interview with Rupert Madden-Abbott

Rupert Madden-Abbott Lead Software Engineer

We sat down with Java Developer, Rupert to learn more about his role at YellowDog and how he found joining the company during a national lockdown.

What Does Your Role as Java Developer Involve?

As Java Developer, I look after and build all of the back end services, all of the complex plumbing that our Front End Developer, Liv adds her beautiful work to! I’m responsible for how our Platform talks to all of the hyperscalers, as well as the valuable features we add to our offering.

So, essentially my role involves staring at a lot of code all day!

It’s a Collaborative Effort

Fortunately, in between concentrating on lines and lines of code, my role also involves a lot of collaborating with others.

Every two weeks, as a team we set out the features we are going to prioritise, depending on what it is we’re aiming to achieve at the time. Sometimes this results in us all having very separate aspects to work on and sometimes the features overlap. Oftentimes, I find myself working closely with Software Architect, Ben.

When Ben and I are working on the same feature, we are really methodical about how we go about things. We can’t just start hammering away at the keyboard, independently of each other and hope to arrive at something that resembles a coherent, finished product. When the change is very complicated, we do a lot of whiteboarding to plan our actions – which is interesting because it’s all via online tools – and then we move into a design phase, before we start development. Once we have a plan in place, we sit in a Zoom meeting all day as we work to make sure we’re always on the same page. It’s nice that Zoom don’t put a time limit on two people meeting because Ben and I will sit in a meeting for 6 hours at a time!

Whether we are working on the same feature or not, it’s good to have someone there to review your code. We make sure we are working to the same high standard and challenge each other to see if there are better ways to do something. Ultimately, there is always something new to learn, so by supporting each other we’re constantly developing.

What Does Your Usual Day Look Like for You?

My day starts with a stand up with the team. Then I often sit in meetings with Ben, with either one of us sharing a screen so as one is developing, the other can watch and make suggestions.

Although the job is very technical, it involves a lot of creativity, as you have to constantly think of solutions to a number of different problems.

Do You Enjoy the Creativity?

I’m not very creative in any other aspect but what I really like about programming is that while creative, there’s still a range of correct answers you can make a stab at. Compared to painting, or most other creative pursuits, you have no kind of metric or measure as to whether the painting is at all good. I look at some paintings in an art gallery and they do nothing for me, yet for someone else they will.

When you’re coding, you’re trying to achieve a particular goal and there are a number of different ways you can achieve it, but you get fast feedback. If you write something that’s completely wrong, it won’t work at all and you can use that to give you some reassurance that you’re heading in the right direction.

I like that comforting feeling you get from running the code and it working. It may not be doing it quite the way you wanted it to – it may be hard to maintain, hard to read, or too slow – but you can improve it and iterate again and again until you get something that delivers what you’re aiming for. It’s an interesting combination of creativity and logic or reasoning, which I really like.

What Else Do You Enjoy About Your Role?

I like the confidence you get with coding. You regularly have to deal with problems you’ve never encountered before, so you get used to dealing with the unknown. Initially, when I started programming, I had an anxiety around tasks that were outside my usual day-to-day. Then after a few years of doing it I realised there wasn’t a “typical day”.

Every day you’re doing something you’ve never done before and after solving a million new problems, you reach a stage where you recognise, “OK well I don’t know how to solve this now, but I will get there eventually and it’s just a matter of time and thinking about it.”

That was a nice realisation to come to. It’s very rewarding – although it can also be frustrating, when you’re in the midst of it and you don’t know if you’re nearly there or three months away from it…

What Is the Biggest Challenge You Face in Your Role?

I really enjoy working with other people. I enjoy the initial phase when you’ve joined a team and you’re learning what makes each individual tick, how they think about problems and what’s important to them. However, when you are trying to work through very complicated problems and you have 6 or 7 people all looking after a slightly different piece, it can be challenging to work out how to align everyone’s point of view.

I think it’s really important to get feedback from everyone, and for everyone to be on the same page so you can work through the physical problem in front of you. This sometimes requires knowledge of some deeply technical information that may fall outside your usual remit, so we need to be able to reframe things so we’re talking the same language and not excluding members of the group.

At YellowDog, I feel a lot more connected to the different roles people are doing, where we’re going and what we’re trying to do and that really helps me.

Joining a Team During a Lockdown

It was definitely strange meeting people virtually – but it was easier to learn people’s names as they were there on the screen!

I also didn’t have another choice but to meet the team remotely. I joined when working from home was the only option, so it immediately became the norm. I don’t even have a card to get into the office yet!

Fortunately, people are very available at YellowDog, so it didn’t take long to get to know everyone.

Any Predictions for 2021?

I’m generally feeling very optimistic, which is unusual for me because I don’t normally put much stock in arbitrary points like years changing. 2020 has just been so awful, on so many levels, and there are number of things happening in 2021 that make me feel like the new year is a turning point.

I’m looking forward to my kids and my brother’s kids being able to see more of each other as they grow up, especially when they get to the ages where they care about seeing each other, that will be really nice.

And What About Things You Do in Your Spare Time?

This will have to be historical because I haven’t actually had any spare time since having children!

At one point, I used to spend a lot of time playing computer games. Single player games, that kind of stuff. I also love playing games with family and friends, especially as they’re quite scattered across the country. It’s nice to jump on a call and chill out together, and that’s become a lot more normal during the pandemic, which is a good thing to come from this.

Currently, I’m enjoying a game called ‘Among Us’, which is based on the in-person game ‘Mafia’. I love it because people from all walks of life have started to play it. All you need to do is jump on a Zoom call, so I’ve been attempting to play it with my wife while bouncing my son Nathan on my knee.


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