Learnings from my jobs

Published on 
8 min, 1572 words

Categories: life work

I have had lots of jobs during my life and I think I can identify at least one thing I have learnt at each of them. I usually know it is time to move to a new role if I no longer enjoy it or I am no longer learning something new.

JobWhat I learnt
SkittlesWhen I was a teenager I set up skittles for 2 local teams. It's a bit like ten pin bowling but with 9 bins and large rubber balls; and my brother and I had the role to replace the pins as they were knocked down each time. For a men's match that could be in the order of 600 in about an hour.
I learnt a lot of words I probably shouldn't as well as it is horrible working in a very smoky environment - this was before the ban on smoking in public places.
Fushard DiscoMy brother ran a mobile disco for about ten years and I used to "roadie" for him. I learnt that I could lift things heavier than I thought and that testing if a speaker is working by sticking your ear directly in front of it is not a good idea.
Pilton Cabinet WorksEvery Saturday morning for about 8 years I swept up the sawdust and rubbish at a place that made custom handmade high end reproduction furniture. The first week I did it it took me 4 hours and I was paid £3. This later rose to £5 when my brother helped and we shortened the time. We would pick up between 15 and 25 dustbin bags of sawdust.
I learnt that sawdust is unpleasant and it can make you sneeze for 30 minutes non-stop (which hurts). I also found out that I could do manual work that was not necessarily fun.
De VereWhen I was at school I did a mock interview with a company that made large photographic enlargers. It went so well they offered me a job during the summer. I had to cycle for about an hour each way, up some pretty steep hills, and then spend the day soldering electronics to boards for 8 hours a day.
I learnt that I am rubbish at soldering. I had 6 boards to produce. By the end 3 didn't work, one actually caught fire and 2 just about worked. I decided a life in software rather than hardware like my dad and brother was the path for me.
Marks and SpencerWhile at college I would spend an hour each day stacking the fridges and freezers at Marks and Spencer. I learnt that I am a morning person, that the quickest thing to stack was Chinese style chicken and even in Devon people would fight over which turkey they wanted at Christmas. I also learnt that doing work before college every day impacted my results.
ALSThis was my first real job out of university. This means I learnt a huge amount about what a real job is - the stuff they don't teach you. I also learnt a lot about life. In the job itself the main skill I learnt was to debug programs. When I started there we would make the changes on a very old PC and then have to blow the software on to something called a "prom pack". This was effectively burning it onto a chip. This was then inserted into a terminal where we could then test the changes.
It took between 15 and 30 minutes from the point you completed the change to when you could see the results. This was also before the days of real debuggers so we had to rely on interpreting the code as we looked at it and random print statements. There was an art to tracking down issues and it taught me well for my subsequent career.
HISHIS was a consultancy that covered a number of industries. I was an introvert and to step into a consultancy role was a massive step and one I forced myself to do. I learnt how to cope with very steep learning curves when placed regularly in different roles and also the confidence and people skills required to be a consultant. It certainly didn't happen overnight but it had a huge impact on me personally.
AtrialThis was the first company I was involved in starting. Four of us started it and grew it to about 40 people before a change in the market caused it to implode. I learnt how to pick up programming languages and sectors very quickly (I programmed in about 10 different languages). I also became the engineering manager for all the technical staff so I had to learn quickly how to manage people and projects. I gave it my best shot and I did okay but I also learnt that I still enjoyed coding more.
Evolution/DeticaI joined a consultancy in the city. My first project was a placement as a Sharepoint expert where I hadn't even used it a week before. The project was a success but it was a huge challenge. I did a number of projects there for various financial institution so I learnt about working in finance and the city.
BluecrestI joined a hedge fund and an incredible technical team. The ability of this team was head and shoulders above any I had worked with previously. I learnt so much from a technical perspective about distributed systems and how to scale them. We were using stream processors and column databases even before they had been released to production. I also learned the value of culture and leadership. Towards the end of my time there the CTO left and he was replaced by someone else, who was not up to the job. The culture changed completely and nearly 20 people left within a month or so.
RBSMy first role as a contractor so there was everything related to that that I learnt. This was my first real encounter with a "pure" agile project with pair programming, test driven development, retrospectives etc. so I learnt about the good and the bad of this approach. I am glad I had this introduction as it was a good learning exercise but also allowed me to form my own views on what does and doesn't work.
EndelecAnother startup only this time very short lived. We tried to develop a ground-breaking product for a customer but were undermined by some unbelievable office politics. I learnt that sometimes people are more concerned with their "empires" than the overall good of the company.
Credit SuisseI was involved in developing a front end for a risk platform. This involved developing a data grid pretty much from scratch as the requirements could not be met at the time by existing options. I learnt that sometimes it is better to change the requirements than try to meet them - it became too complex and unwieldy and a simpler solution would have been better - although it did sort of work. I also learned about the impact of stress when it took a toll on my manager at the time.
Morgan StanleyWith this role I was one of a team of four. Within about six months I was left on my own to support a trading desk completely without any support. I learnt that it is a huge responsibility and you have to learn every aspect of the system to a high level. I learnt that every change needs to be checked multiple times and also that you can earn the respect of traders (well some of them).
BNP ParibasThis was one of my least favourite roles. There was a lot of red tape and very little trust. You had to check in and out every day and make sure you did a set number of hours and the IT support team wielded all the power which meant development was very difficult.
Morgan StanleyBack at Morgan Stanley I was the technical lead for a front end for a trading platform. The biggest thing I learnt here was that helping someone learn can make a huge difference. I was able to mentor and teach one of the more junior developers. I won't take full credit for it as a lot of the success came down to this developer having the right mindset to learn and take advice on board.
CIBCThis was my first real encounter with a web front end project. I was taken on to do a Windows front end and between accepting and starting they changed direction. It was okay but I was unable to convince them to use a web framework that has subsequently been shown to be more successful and easier than the one they picked as I didn't have enough relevant experience to influence the decision. I learnt that sometimes you might end up in the wrong place but you can still make an impact and do your best.
iov42And now to my current role. I have learnt a lot about architecting large distributed systems. I have learnt a huge amount about company/team culture and the importance of it. I have learnt a lot about managing engineers and projects and also a lot about start-ups and the do's and don'ts of running them. And I am still learning ...