Made Tech Team Interview: Tess Barnes, Senior Software Engineer

This month we continued our Made Tech team interview series with our Senior Engineer Tess Barnes to better understand her role and to feature the great work she has been doing.

Our Senior Software Engineers deliver digital, data and technology outcomes that improve society. They do this by delivering and architecting software, and coaching others to do so in public sector organisations.

If you would like to watch the full interview, it is available here.

Q: How did you become interested in tech?

A:  When I was a kid, my dad bought me a spectrum and we spent a lot of time programming games on that. Then I got involved in bulletin boards at University and started doing early websites and it’s just grown from there.

Q: Outside of tech, what other hobbies do you have?

A: I sing in a covers duo. We used to gig but that’s on hold at the moment. I’ve done some training in martial arts and I go out in nature with my camera now and again. I like to do lots of different things.

Q: Before you joined Made Tech, had you ever worked in the public sector before?

A: I hadn’t actually, so it was a new venture for me. I wanted to get involved in something a bit more meaningful and give something back. I’ve been in the tech industry for quite a while, but it was that jump from making money for stakeholders to actually supporting the rest of the community I live in. It was a good jump.

Q: How do you find working in the public sector?

A: I’ve found it really interesting. There’s a lot of constraints and challenges that I wasn’t expecting, but there’s a really good feeling of wanting to do things in an efficient and modern way. I had a terrible impression that it was all in the dark ages and it absolutely isn’t. It really has some good tech in there.

Q: How long have you been at Made Tech?

A: I joined Made Tech right at the end of February this year. It’s been an odd time to join due to COVID, but it’s quite interesting to think I’ve been here for nearly a year. It’s gone really quickly.

Q: How did you find out about the company?

A: I was looking for work after being made redundant in my previous role and a South West recruiter contacted me and said ‘there’s this really great company. Have you thought about working in the public sector?’ That sounded quite exciting. I’d not worked in the public sector before, as I’ve said, so it was a chance to see new companies and Made Tech really stood out.

Q: What attracted you to Made Tech?

A: The openness and the transparent culture was a really big sell. The idea that I could have a look at the Handbook before I even started talking to the recruiter about more serious contact. I liked the idea that there are books out there that Made Tech have written. There’s also quite a heavy involvement in the tech community from a speaking point of view. All of those things are really big pluses in my mind.

Q: What was the interview process like?

A: It was very slick and quite intense. There was a question part, a pairing part, and then more questions with HR. Being able to do most of it in one sitting was fabulous and I got some really rapid feedback. I heard back pretty much the same day that there was interest there which was a huge plus. It made me feel wanted.

Q: What does your role here involve?

A: I get involved in so much. I split quite a lot of my time between stakeholders on the project I am working with and getting some really good code written. I work with other engineers on the client side on good practices and getting some great tests written. I also work on upskilling and learning from everyone, which is a really good two way process.

Outside the normal client stuff, I mentor a couple of people as well. I find it really rewarding to be able to share knowledge at any level and learn stuff every day. Those are all big wins.

Q: What do you like most about being a Senior Engineer?

A: It is the ability to get hands on, get into the code, and really enjoy the engineering. But also being able to step back and look at things from a slightly bigger picture. I like talking to stakeholders, understanding what we’re trying to solve, what outcomes are really important, and helping the culture and confidence building with my temporary colleagues on the client side. Also, sharing a growth in skill and growth mindset is a really big thing for me.

Q: What are some of the most challenging things about this role?

A: We discover so much working with the client. We tend to uncover a lot that they really want to change and we’re forever finding ways to improve, which is wonderful. The downside to that is that we can’t fix everything. We have to focus on the outcome that is most important for them right now.

The other thing that I find I need to be very aware of is what pace the client is working at. At Made Tech, we can crack things quickly and we’re really good at doing things efficiently. But sometimes we have to go, ‘actually, the client’s working at a different pace and this is what they are comfortable with right now’. Measuring that pace is a really important thing.

Q: What has been one of your favourite projects you have worked on?

A: I think the thing I am working on today is the most important and most fun. I work at a project with HMRC on one of the internal tooling teams. I think the reason why I enjoy it so much is because we get to support those folks that are working on critical services. It means a lot to me to support these guys to get critical services out on time and to make their onboarding and offboarding experience much more painless. Just making their day better basically is what I enjoy most about it.

Q: Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to be a Senior Software Engineer?

A: Never stop learning and never believe that you know everything. There’s always going to be something new and interesting out there. I always have to temper that with, what is the best fit for the solution that is in front of us right now? What is the real problem? If you understand the real problem, then you can brainstorm solutions as much as you like. Starting with the problem is always the first thing I would suggest.

Q: What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to face since lockdown started in this position and how did you overcome it?

A: I struggle with energy. I have to be really disciplined with myself about taking breaks. I like being a positive person and I like having conversations face to face as much as I can, even when we’re talking tech, so I’m having to pace myself during the day because video calls can be quite tiring. 

It’s just understanding where I am and being really clear and honest with myself about where my energy levels are. I just started doing yoga in the morning to see if that can build up my energy and so far it’s really helping.

Q: What do you like most about working at Made Tech?

A: The people are a really big part of working at Made Tech. We build our own culture and we have some great, remote extravaganzas and get-togethers. There’s a great social atmosphere. 

There’s also this wonderful drive forward to look at the best solutions and the best fit for the situation in front of us. Asking ‘what can we improve on?’ That continuous improvement and continuous learning is brillant. It makes it a great place to work.

Q: Do you have any books or resources you would recommend for someone interested in this position?

A: I find I depend more and more on a really good search engine and a critical thinking approach when it comes to a search engine. You can copy any old code out of stack overflow, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to work. Knowing which one to grab and which one to not is important.

I also rely quite strongly on conversations with the team that I am working with. That’s really good for opening up thought processes. Many minds tend to look at a problem from lots of different angles, so that’s really important.

From a book and resource point of view, I really value The Pheonix Project, which is a novelisation written by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford. I found that to be a bit of a game changer looking at devops. 

From a cultural point of view, I really recommend Rebel Talent by Francesca Gino. She’s got some great insights from Harvard Business School as to when following the rules is a good idea and when not following the rules is a good idea. It can help with bouncing out of a rut. 

I also refer back to the Modernising Legacy Applications in the Public Sector book that Made Tech have produced quite a lot. I tend to trip over a lot of legacy applications and it’s really good to have that focus and ideas of how to approach it. 

If you have any more questions for Tess about her role here, you can get in touch by reaching out on Linkedin or Twitter. Additionally, if you are interested in joining our team, you can view our current open positions here. Be sure to stay tuned for our next Made Tech Team Interview coming next month.

About the Author

Karsyn Robb

Digital Marketing Executive at Made Tech

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