National Coding Week – Interviews with our Development team

National Coding Week was created by former headteacher Richard Rolfe and tech entrepreneur Jordan Love in 2014. The inspiration behind it was to help adults to improve their digital literacy to fill a growing skills gap in the UK. National Coding Week takes place each year on the 3rd Monday of September and lasts for the entire week.

We’re celebrating the event with a Q&A with some of the members of our amazing tech team. We asked questions to our expert coders, Jake Heath, Jordan Porter, and Thomas Lovelady, to see what inspired them to pursue a career in coding, resources for new entrants in the industry, and their hopes for the future.

Tell us about yourself and your current job role.

Jake: I’m Jake and I’ve been with Fleetondemand for 2 years. I came from a coding bootcamp training programme, and I currently work as a Front-End React developer. Outside of work, I have an avid interest in outdoor activities such as skiing, golf, and countryside hiking.

Tom:
I’m one of several Toms dotted about the company. I head up the DevOps team who are responsible for looking after the servers, networks, databases, tooling etc. that the developers build their platforms on top of. It’s a very dynamic and flexible role full of challenges that put a whole array of skills to the test regularly – it’s great fun.

Jordan:
I’m Jordan and I joined FOD just over 3 months ago. I studied Physics at Leeds University but haven’t really had any formal coding training. Most of what I know has come from self-teaching from online resources and picking things up on the job in a previous role. Currently, I’m a Front-End Developer working on the Fleetondemand product.

What does a typical working day at FOD look like for you?

Jake: We start with a daily meeting to discuss the work to be done on the day and to follow up from previous day. I’m responsible for implementing visual changes to the various web platforms we have within the company and to fix errors or bugs that have become known. I also provide support to other developers.

Tom:
Between trips to the coffee machine, my day is usually spent writing configuration files, building tools, automating things, tinkering with servers, and helping developers with any hiccups they encounter.

Jordan:
A typical day for me is quite varied depending on what kind of work is required for the product. This could be working on a new feature, change or a bug fix. We have a daily stand up in the morning with the rest of the team where we get the chance to chat about what we’re working on and can offer help where needed.

What inspired you to choose a career in coding?

Jake: Technology is an ever-changing industry and has a huge impact on day-to-day tasks and business operations. It’s an extremely thriving field to get into, now more than ever.

Tom:
A well-thumbed copy of PHP + MySQL for dummies that somehow turned up on my bookshelf. To this day, I have no idea how it got there but a weekend with no internet and a lack of beer tokens got me started down a path that I’m still travelling.

Jordan:
I’ve always enjoyed reading about technology to find out how things work under the hood. Coding gives you the opportunity to take that further where you can actually make changes to how things work.

What do you think are the key traits that coders need?

Jake: Coders need enthusiasm and the curiosity to constantly want to learn. They also need to enjoy a good challenge and have patience.

Tom:
Curiosity, tenacity, attention to detail and the flexibility to change your approach when new information surfaces are all important.

Jordan:
Logical problem solving is important to break down complex problems into smaller parts. Perseverance is needed as sometimes it can feel like you’ve hit a brick wall on a problem. Learning to ask for help from your team-mates or researching is a key part to overcoming this. It’s also important to be inquisitive because there’s always new things to learn and technology is always changing and evolving.

Jake: “Coders need enthusiasm and the curiosity to constantly want to learn. They also need to enjoy a good challenge and have patience.”

What is your favourite programming language and why is it your favourite?

Jake: JavaScript is the most popular programming language now. Once you understand the fundamentals, there’s a simplicity to how it is written which makes it a great language for all levels.

Tom:
C# by a country mile. It supports the whole range of must-have features for modern programming. It’s strongly typed which forces you to think about what data you’re putting where. It’s also surprisingly fast and has a mature, reliable suite of tools which help you to measure twice and cut once.

Jordan:
Outside of work, I’ve been teaching myself Swift which is used for developing iOS apps. It’s a fairly modern language with the code being designed to read more like plain English. The code is also strict in how you write it which makes it a safer language at runtime which I quite like.

Jordan: “When you take a bunch of data that may not make too much sense on its own, then process it and present it in a usable way – that can sometimes feel like magic!”

What do you enjoy most about working in coding?

Jake: The best part is being able to work on projects that have a core impact within the business and seeing your work come to life on-screen.

Tom:
There’s always room for improvement and there’s always another way of getting the job done.

Jordan:
The ability to improve an experience someone has through software. When you take a bunch of data that may not make too much sense on its own, then process it and present it in a usable way – that can sometimes feel like magic!

What’s the most challenging aspect of working in coding?

Jake: Coding involves a lot of problem solving, learning new techniques and coding patterns, and constantly keeping up with trends in technology.

Tom:
The industry changes frequently. It’s not “blink and you miss it” frequency like some would have you believe, but it does regularly go through sea-changes. Keeping up with those changes and how it affects best practice can be tricky.

Jordan:
It’s easy to get dissuaded when you get stuck on a particular issue for a long period of time. It can make you question your own abilities. It’s hard to push through that doubt and keep working on it, try new things, or just plan to tackle it later. It’s amazing the amount of time I have revisited certain subjects I have found difficult in the past and the second time through the solution seems obvious.

Tom: “I believe in the power of achievement over academics. You can (and should) revisit the academic side of things later once you have a practical footing that you can apply it to.”

What advice would you give to a newcomer looking to start a career in coding?

Jake: Do a lot of study using the free materials available online to make sure you understand the basics of the programming language you want to learn but most of all, enjoy it.

Tom:
Firstly, learn how to learn efficiently. A massive part of life in this industry is learning new things, getting good at reading documentation and then putting it into practice. Adding your own twist will take you much further than filling a bookshelf with unread programming books.
Secondly, focus on results. In the early days, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can get something running, but you’ll be even more amazed at how quickly you can expand on that and have your project begin to do even more things.  I firmly believe in the power of achievement over academics. You can (and should) revisit the academic side of things later when you have a stronger practical footing that you can apply it to.

Jordan:
When you get started, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with how much there is to learn and thinking you’re never going to know as much as some of the more experienced programmers; I still feel like an imposter sometimes. Just focus on a small area, such as a particular language or framework, and learn as much as you can about that. As with much of programming, it’s all about breaking it down into manageable chunks rather than having to take on everything at once.

What online/offline resources would you recommend for improving coding and digital literacy skills?

Jake: freeCodeCamp (https://www.freecodecamp.org/) and YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/).

Tom:
Codeacademy (codeacademy.com) is great for interactive, self-paced problem solving. For a more difficult level, try HackerRank (https://www.hackerrank.com/). Pluralsight (https://www.pluralsight.com/) is quite expensive but is a brilliant platform with video courses on a massive variety of subjects, from web development to game design and everything else in between. MDN Web Docs (developer.mozilla.org) is a fantastic knowledge base covering every facet of the web and how it works, straight from the developers of the Firefox browser. Microsoft technical documentation (https://learn.microsoft.com/en-gb/) covers far more than just C#, there’s even C++ docs if you’re feeling brave. SourceMaking (sourcemaking.com) is my go-to resource for information on design patterns. Dangit, Git!?! (https://dangitgit.com/) – You’re going to run into problems with git, just… trust me, read it ahead of time. GitHub (https://github.com/) is an incredibly useful service for hosting your code and collaborating with others. Even if the thing you’re building is a 30-second experiment to indulge your curiosity, chuck it on GitHub so you can refer back to it later.

Jordan:
W3Schools (https://www.w3schools.com/) is a great free online resource for learning the basics of web development. It has excellent examples too which I sometimes still reference if I need a quick refresher. If you want to take things a step further, then something we have access to at FOD is Frontend Masters (https://frontendmasters.com/). This is great for a more structured, traditional teaching-style format. There is a free ‘Bootcamp’ course you can take to go through the basics without having to subscribe. Finally, for iOS development these tutorials are what I used when I was interested in learning more outside of web development: https://developer.apple.com/tutorials/app-dev-training/.

Jordan: “You don’t have to be a super genius – anyone who has an interest in coding can make a dent, no matter what level you are starting at.”

What innovations would you like to see in the coding space in the next few years?

Jake: I would like to see more ways to encourage females to get into coding.

Tom:
I’d like to see more guidance or technical frameworks around data protection and privacy, something like an optional community standard that developers can follow to more easily build software that’s ethical and commercially viable.

Jordan:
Getting more people involved in coding! You don’t have to be a super genius – anyone who has an interest in coding can make a dent, no matter what level you are starting at. It’s great to see that computing has become part of the UK school curriculum in the past decade as IT lessons didn’t cover this when I was at school. It’s also great to see non-profits like Women Who Code gaining traction to improve diversity in what is traditionally a very male-dominated industry.

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