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DevOpsGroup Blog The Return to Engineering

The Return to Engineering

Written by Rich Coupe – DevOpsGroup Engineer, and former Agile Coach

It’s said that the best journeys take you to places that remind you of where you began. It helps to reinforce what we’ve learned along the path trodden and avoid the “shiny and new” overwriting the dull, iron-like supporting structure that holds us up. If we take this to apply to our careers as much as in any other context, then the meandering path I’ve taken is one with which to be pleased.

Where my engineering journey began

I began my IT career as a technician – in fact, as an entire IT team at the company in question. It wasn’t what I wanted to do forever, but it was a foot in the door. Eventually, a position as an in-house web developer arose, but I was told (rather bluntly) that I wasn’t perceived as having the skillset required for the role. I left for a role at an online retailer, as a web developer. I eventually moved on from there to another web development role, this time at an agency. From there, I moved to Sorenson Media – now a part of Nielsen – as a software engineer and for the first time really had the chance to appreciate a “right” way of developing and, more importantly, delivering software. I was exposed to Scrum and agile ways of working for the first time. Physical kanban boards galloped over the horizon in all their post-it-laden glory, revealing the importance of work visualisation and some of the basics of devops principles all in one. I was no longer in a development team; I was in a delivery team.

I was inspired by the ways of working I was experiencing and pursued qualifications in agile ways of working. After acquiring the Professional Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Master accreditations, I was promoted to Scrum Master at Sorenson. I later moved into Product Ownership, before leaving the company for my role at DevOpsGroup. I left the company having experienced what I liked to dub the 360-degree view of agile software delivery – engineering, Scrum Mastery and Product Ownership and my understanding of good practice had ballooned as a result.

My career at DevOpsGroup

I joined DevOpsGroup as a Scrum Master, working with a team embedded within an enterprise client, with a view to a near-future move into full-blown Agile Coaching. This was work in my comfort zone inside a client that was not – some of the challenges involved in enterprise are quite different to those within the start/scale-up firms of which I had prior experience. It was, though, another wonderful chance to grow and develop skillsets that I hadn’t otherwise had the chance to employ. The engagement was successful but relatively short-lived, however, and I was soon on the “bench” waiting for a new client to come along. Time passed, and I began to fall out of love with my tenure at DevOpsGroup. As the company places such value on learning, I thought I’d pursue some AWS certifications, if only to help our partnership level with them. I filled my hours with learning and enjoyed studying for and passing my AWS Cloud Practitioner exam and, soon after that, the AWS Solutions Architect Associate exam too. Because of DOG’s desire to encourage more people to become certified with AWS, the cost of the training materials and exams were funded entirely by our Partnership department, rather than coming from my own training budget.

The engineering epiphany

A couple of small client engagements later and I had an epiphany; it wasn’t the people at DOG, it wasn’t the company itself – it was the work. I’d lost my passion for Agile Coaching and missed being as close as I had been to the coalface. I still fully understood the value in the coaching I was delivering, but it wasn’t scratching the itch in the way I wanted. Agile Coaching involves helping others perform better in their roles, to “do the work” in a more efficient or effective way. I wanted to be in that hotseat, actually doing that work myself. I briefly pondered the prospects of returning to Scrum Mastery, but then asked myself why I’d push for a diluted version of what I really wanted: I wanted to engineer again. I had intended on pushing for the AWS Solutions Architect Professional certification, but lurched sideways a little and chased the AWS DevOps Engineer Professional path instead. I had wondered if I might be biting off more than I could chew, but it was something to work at even if it only came slowly.

Ryan, our People Success (what other companies might dub HR) Lead had already noticed what he had described a “groundswell of unhappiness” around me and had proactively booked me in for a chat on the following day, but I was so struck by my realisation that I asked if we could sit down for a few minutes there and then. Fortunately, he had time, and I laid out my thoughts and asked what prospects there might be. The response was a briefly thoughtful look and “I don’t see why not”. Obviously, I’d have to confirm to my peers that I wasn’t essentially winging it when it came to engineering nous, but that aside the path was clear for me to transition roles within DOG – indeed, I’d be the first person to move into engineering from a non-technical role.

Moving into my new role

I took the same technical test as any new applicant would. It could be performed remotely or in the office, and it concluded with a show and tell to some engineers from the company. It wasn’t a binary situation of achieving a goal or not, but more focused on the path I’d chosen to take and what I’d learned along the way. What would I have done differently? What did I see as the biggest misstep? What was the best decision I’d made? Being an impossibly harsh critic of myself, I was thoroughly despondent about my own performance, but was informed in the following feedback session that my peers all agreed that it was a role I could fulfil and, while I might be a little rusty, I had a bright future in the sphere itself. It was swiftly confirmed that I would transfer to engineering as soon as my existing commitments to clients were met. As I remarked to a colleague at the time, I was not just excited by the prospect, I was excited at merely finding myself excited.

I took the AWS DevOps Engineer Professional exam and, while it was undoubtedly the toughest of the three I’d taken thus far, I passed again. In five months, I’d acquired three certifications from a premier cloud platform and achieved a level typically reserved for those who have spent over 2 years working with the technology in question. Because of the flexibility and performance-focused culture at DOG, I was able to shift away from work I wasn’t enjoying into a role that fit me much better. After an informative, educative and immensely beneficial sojourn into the world of agility, target operating models and flow, I’m putting down my post-it notes and marker pens to pick up some coffee and a monitor so bright that it causes the text on screen to reflect on my face (so Hollywood insists).

I’m an Engineer!

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2 thoughts on “The Return to Engineering

  1. Amazing stuff and great article!
    It must be exciting and slightly intimidating at the same time (certainly was for me) – I’m sure you’ll excel and enjoy it and well done on achieving all those certifications too.

    Would you consider doing a follow-up article in 6 months or so to see how your journey is progressing?

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Gus! I’m riding the certification wave, for sure, but the big one – AWS Solutions Architect Professional – is on the horizon and will surely be the toughest of the bunch. I think a follow-up sounds a great idea; I’ll definitely pencil that in for March or April.

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