Another graduate from our highly successful Answer Academy

The Answer Academy is a unique programme for graduates with a burning desire to develop beautiful solutions to complex problems. We believe it offers unrivalled opportunities for graduates to become part of a close-knit team of digital technologists committed to delivering world-class solutions for our customers.

We spoke to one of our graduates “Deep-sea Dave” to find out what makes the Answer Academy so special. Here’s what he told us.

Hi. My name is Dave; always David to my Mum, and now Deep-sea Dave to my new colleagues. (I think they gave me the moniker before they gave me the job.) I've been with Answer Digital for 6 months, starting in the Academy and I’m now a level 1 developer. However, this isn't where my story starts.

Why they call me "Deep Sea Dave"

For ten years I worked offshore creating maps of the seabed for various industries including oil and gas, and telecommunications. I worked mostly in the North Sea sailing out of Norway, but my work also took me to the Mediterranean; the Black Sea; the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Gabon, and Ireland; and all the way into the Arctic circle and the Barents Sea. The projects I worked on included finding unexploded ordinance from the second world war to commissioning the Skandi Africa Norwegian Ship of the Year 2015, which involved testing the 900-metric ton crane down to 3000-metre water depth.

In the latter years of working offshore, I started to realise that I wanted a change. The long periods away from home were starting to grate; the changing situation in the industry meant that redundancies were becoming common; and I was beginning to lose interest in the job itself. For years I had dabbled in electronics and programming as a hobby. Purely amateur stuff, but something I felt could be interesting to do full time. I knew changing industries would be difficult and would involve effectively starting again. I decided to become a software developer and started by brushing up on my Java skills with books and small projects.

I should have said I thought I was ready. However, I may have jumped the gun a bit. I started looking for jobs in my local area of Leeds and Bradford and quickly became overwhelmed by the lists of skills required for beginner software developers. The lists of languages and frameworks were long (what the hell was the difference between a language and a framework anyway?). Opinions online were contradictory. Was Java on the way out, or was it still going strong? Should I switch to a new and sexy language like Swift or Go? Was front-end the way to go? Were server-side languages going to become a thing of the past thanks to the cloud? I stuck with Java after I read a bit of sage advice which said 'Often the best technology for the job is the one you know.'

The start of becoming a Java developer

So becoming a Java developer was the plan. But that still left a multitude of skills that were needed for a job. I had barely scratched the surface of the Java world and then there were all the other tools used by developers and the inescapable world of front-end. In the age of the internet, it seems that no developer is complete without at least a passing knowledge of the basics of front-end. The online learning site Udemy and YouTube came to the rescue. I watched many videos on a multitude of topics, some of which were mistakes, but I guess you make many wrong turns when the path in front of you is unknown.

Whilst cramming in lots of courses and trying to retain as much information as I could I applied to Answer Digital to join the Academy program. This was probably my best decision since leaving my former life. The Academy provides an excellent onboarding process for new developers with a thorough and flexible introduction to the world of software development. It is normally split into two stages; a period of learning and a period of shadowing. In the learning stage, you spend time covering the back-end process and the front-end process and then combine the two in a project covering it all. Then you become part of a real team, working for a real client, where you get to put what you learned in the first phase into practice. At all times you are surrounded by experienced professionals who will guide you with constructive advice and instruction. Each Academy member is assigned a mentor who is available to answer questions and help you learn how to become a developer worthy of representing Answer Digital.

The Academy process is very flexible and adapts to your individual strengths and weaknesses. My back-end phase included more in-depth Java and Spring development building a REST service for a fictional fast food restaurant with a focus on test driven development and continuous integration. The front-end phase included learning TypeScript, Backbone, Marionette and Bootstrap whilst developing a front-end to work with the fast food REST service. We covered lots of front-end tooling including Sass, NPM, Webpack and Gulp.

For my real-world experience, I was lucky enough to finish my learning phase just as a new project was starting up. The introduction to the fast-paced world of agile software development was eye-opening and exciting. Within my first week, I was attending sprint planning meetings, completing tickets and contributing to a large project that had been 3 years in the making. It was nerve-racking and exhilarating to know that my code would be used by real people to help them coordinate and manage care homes across the country.

No need to travel thousands of miles anymore!

It would be an understatement to say my new career is a bit different to my first. I used to travel thousands of miles to work; now it’s less than 30. Offshore I wore overalls and a hard hat; now it’s jeans and a t-shirt. The tools of my trade used to be snips and a screwdriver; now it's a keyboard and mouse. But it is surprising how much of the skills I learned in my first career have transferred to this one. Problem-solving was a staple part of my job offshore. Getting many systems to work together that were designed in isolation always comes with its quirks and no two projects required the same mix. Working in extreme environments meant that equipment was destined to fail at some point and downtime could mean an entire ship off hire while repairs were made. And problem-solving seems to be a staple part of my new career. No two software systems are the same and each has its own quirks. Constantly changing requirements and the addition of features ensures that old code needs to be adapted to work in ways it wasn't intended.

Embarking on a new career has not been without its challenges, but it was definitely the right decision. There have been days where impostor syndrome has reared its ugly head and I have felt swamped by all that is in front of me. Thankfully those days are few and I always have colleagues on hand to offer words of wisdom. Answer is very inclusive and everyone I have worked with has been welcoming and willing to help where they can. New ideas are welcomed but vetted thoroughly and a technology needs to be proven to be reliable before it is included in the Answer skill set. I find this approach mature and refreshing for a technology company. That said, the company is always keeping an eye on what’s coming around the corner to make sure we embrace change when it is ready and right for us. Each day contains new challenges, new things to learn and there is always a win to take home. My dramatic career change was absolutely the right choice for me.

Thanks, Dave

Check out if the Answer Digital Academy might be the right choice for you.

About the Author...

Rich heads Answer Digital Retail, delivering world class solutions to clients including Costcutter Supermarkets Group, FCUK, Arcadia and Ramsden International. Richard has a passion for retail and the transformational impact technology is having on customer experiences.