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Surviving a decade at MadeCurious.

From career to changer to long-standing employee, what's kept Mark so curious?

Mark, one of our senior software developers, recently hit 10 years at MadeCurious!

If you’re a career changer or keen to find out what a senior dev gets up to in a high tech services company, read on to find out more about his career story and life at MadeCurious...

How did you find yourself at Media Suite (MadeCurious)? You had a career change before you got into software development, right? Tell us about that transition 

Straight after I finished school, I did a pre apprenticeship course at Christchurch Polytech to become a mechanic. I worked at Team Hutchinson Ford for 12ish years in the workshop, then I moved up to a team leader role and after that a service receptionist. There was quite a bit of change throughout the life cycle of that career. But I got pretty sick of that work and decided I wanted to retrain. 

Initially I went to the university to do mechanical engineering, but dipped out pretty badly in my first year. One of the first year papers I did involved modelling a physical situation. This was, firing a projectile to trigger avalanches, like they do in the mountains and ski fields. We had to write a programme that calculated the trajectory of the missile and where it would hit on the mountain. This was the first time I'd done any programming, and it was in a language called MATLAB.

Suddenly all the people that I was leaning on for help in all the other papers were coming to me asking for my help and that’s when I thought maybe there's something in this. So the next year I shifted to computer science. It just all made sense. I went from getting C's to getting A's. I felt much more engaged and interested.

What were your next steps after graduation?

Before I had finished my last year, I'd found a job at a Christchurch tech company.

They were mostly building show and tell websites using Ruby on Rails, for companies like architecture firms wanting to show off their design plans and houses, things like that. So that was a pretty cool intro to the industry.

It was really interesting to see the very high level stuff you learned at uni, versus the actual nuts and bolts of how to do software development and how some of the things I learned were super relevant.

Mark with his certificate
How did you find yourself working at Media Suite (MadeCurious)?

After two years at that company I got approached by an old uni mate who was working at MediaSuite (MadeCurious) while we were at uni. 

There was a lot of talk at the time about all these JavaScript frameworks, like Angular and Ember, which I was interested in but we weren't doing any of that at the company I was at. Media Suite was getting into that stuff pretty seriously and the technical challenge really appealed.  

So, I decided to make the big move after a very informal interview over a long dinner. There was very little digging into my specific capabilities but my uni mate knew what I was capable of and talked me up massively. It was more them trying to get me on board rather than the other way around.

When you started, what was your role and what did that involve? 

Straight away I was thrown into a project that had already kicked off. The dev that was leading the project was leaving, so I had to step into this project that was someone else's brainchild essentially and try and extract loads of information from their head. Happily, I'd also studied at uni with this person too so it was a pretty good handover working for a while with two people I already knew so well.

I started off using NodeJS and Express for the server side framework, and Angular 1 on the front end. It was a pretty big change for me. Going from multi-page app frameworks to, essentially, a single page app was a massive paradigm shift. 

At the same time I was learning the domain of this new project and expected to lead our part of the effort as well. I was going to lots of meetings, trying to show up confidently but I was really only three years in at this point, and needed to learn fast. While at times I felt like I’d jumped in the deep end, in the end I managed to keep my head above water.



A lot has happened over the last 10 years -  you’ve worked on a bunch of projects and MadeCurious has gone through a rebrand. What’s been a highlight during this time?

The period of time that I was basically embedded in the team out at the University of Canterbury was a pretty big highlight, albeit challenging at times. It was a really interesting piece of work and a good insight into what it’s like to be part of a smaller team within a larger team as well. The university had formed a multi vendor situation, so we were working and collaborating with people from other companies/agencies in Christchurch to try and get this massive thing over the line. I think I was there for about three years in the end.

Did it feel like you were working in a different job at that point?

Yeah, it did in a lot of ways. It was almost like I had another job for a while and then I came back to Media Suite (MadeCurious). Long term augmentation definitely brings its own challenges. Of course when I came back to base, things had changed and we’d grown so much during that time. 

I always intended to spend more time at base during my time with the UC Programme. While I came back for Friday drinks every now and again, I was pretty much embedded in UC over that period. During those years, Media Suite went through rapid growth. We had moved to newer offices, new people were employed and others had left. When I initially came back, it was a little confronting, on one-hand I was an “old timer” on the other there were lots of people that I didn't know, and a bunch of changes in processes that come with scaling and maturing. 

On some level it was kind of like coming into a new job again, with a few people that I used to know. So, while I’ve been here for 10 years, it’s been more like three periods of quite distinct experiences and work.

Mark at his desk
Had you set any career goals when you first began here? Did you think you'd stay around for 10 years? 

I probably did expect that I would be here for a while. I remember saying from the outset that I’m a bit of a stayer. Ten years was probably more than I was expecting though. 

For the most part, I’m someone who tries to make the most of the situation I'm in. That's my attitude with life in general. I try to find opportunities to enjoy the things that I'm doing and not get too stressed out about worrying about what might be greener on the other side of the fence. I reckon that might just be the secret to longevity.

What are your biggest takeaways from the last 10 years? 

I've learnt not to doubt myself as much as I used to. But that’s definitely taken time and comes from experience and learning.

If you can pick one, which project have you enjoyed working on the most?

I have really fond memories of working on the Cruise Guide for Marlborough project. It was a small team and it was my first real introduction to Silverstripe, which was a good and bad thing. We explored a bunch of spaces that I hadn't really touched before, like offline data caching and mobile apps. It was one of those projects where there was a lot of pressure and timelines but there was a really good energy at the same time.

To me, that project proved a lot of what my uni lecturers had been talking about with the agile methodology. We'd demo the exact thing that we'd built that sprint and they'd be able to basically sign off on whether it was done or not based on the demo without having to do a bunch of testing themselves. They were also able to bring in new features as they thought of them and we would change up priorities for the next sprint. 

We were able to shift with their needs, which came out with a product at the end that I think was better than what they were expecting and was quite different from what they originally asked for. Because they were so involved in the process, they were able to define exactly what they wanted along the way and come out with something really good.

So, what is your actual role now, 10 years later?

I’m a technical lead, which usually means that I am involved in the early stages of a lot of our larger deliveries. My job is to try and help our partners collaborate with us to define the structure of the technical solution to a project. I’m usually involved in that delivery as far as shaping the work, shaping the tickets and refining them. Sometimes I will continue on and see the delivery to the end, other times I’ll pass it on to other engineers and take on more of a guiding role, like doing a lot of code review.

What are your goals for the next few years? (If you’ve set any)

If I was to think of goals, I have been doing a lot more training and upskilling in the last few years and want to continue doing that and keep focusing on improving my technical skills.

I also want to continue to be someone that people look to to help them out or mentor them in any way I can. I feel like that's actually a pretty key part of my role at MadeCurious. People turn to me when they've got a problem that they need solving. I find a lot of the less-experienced engineers will come to me if they're stuck and need some guidance. I’ve fallen into a type of mentor role and I absolutely enjoy it.

Marks almost 40th Birthday cake
Now you’ve been through it, what advice would you give to someone who is looking to change careers?  

Just go for it.

The time that I spent at uni changed my perspective on life massively. I was a bit sheltered from growing up rurally and probably some of my attitudes about life and people were pretty ‘small town’. My way of thinking hadn't really changed that much moving to Christchurch because the industry I was working in was maybe a little bit small minded as well.

Going to uni and seeing the massive cultural differences made a big impact. I made friends with people that I would have never had the opportunity to have contact with previously. 

I’d also say, if you’re going to change careers, don't only do the papers required for the degree. Instead, be open with doing some interesting side-papers as well. The amount of things I learned about the world in general that I had no idea about before was really amazing. 

Is there anyone in the industry or any companies in the industry that you admire or look to for inspiration? Or any go-to digital sources for information?  

Stack overflow was always the go to, right, when you need to find the answer to some question, but it seems like I’m using it less and less these days. A lot of the questions that I need answers to I'll end up finding on someone's blog post. I'll also ask chat GPT to write code for me too.

Have you found advances like that type of technology helpful? How have you adapted to that?  

Initially I didn't get on board with it too rapidly. I’m not someone that you might call an early adopter but definitely there's been quite a few times where if I'm working in a technology or a language that I'm not super familiar with I've just asked chat GPT to write me a function that converts the CSV file to an XML file. Just spit out some code and it's a good starter for 10. You definitely have to modify it to whatever you need to do but you can get pretty close with a few more prompts. If it spits out something that's not quite what you're looking for, you just keep pushing it a bit more.

That's definitely sped things up in a lot of situations. There were definitely cases where I would have been looking at documentation for a few hours to understand how to get to that point, whereas now I can save a lot of time using Chat GPT.

From when you started 10 years ago through to now, have changes within the industry overall fairly positive?

Absolutely. Especially with the amount of changes in the text editors and the IDEs that we use to write code. They were pretty basic when I first started, like Sublime Text, which I used to use and, at the time, didn't have a lot of extensions or smarts or anything like that. You had to know your own way around the code and know where functions were defined. But now you click on a function call and it'll take you directly to the definition of it. Documentation is right there at your fingertips without having to look it up on the internet. The world of a developer these days is a lot easier than it was when I first started.

Are there any changes that you'd like to see that haven't happened yet? Be it within technology advances or social/environmental issues, etc?

I think there's been a massive change in the diversity of people in programming in general over the period of time that I've been doing this for, but I think there are still less female engineers. It has come a long way, but it feels like it could still be better. We’re going in the right direction, but I think it still needs to go further. 

mark avatar
What are the top moments that aren't work related, more social or something fun that stands out?

Something that I've tried to forget many times, but it seems to be burned into my brain, was a Thanksgiving dinner at work and George (our founder) dressed up as Daisy Duke with the very short jean shorts and a white t-shirt tied up at the front. Was that a highlight? I don't know. It caused quite a lot of conversation, at least. 

In general I think MadeCurious do look after their staff and do the work do’s really well.They always enjoy a good blowout at the end of the year.  

If someone is thinking about working here, what would you say are the best parts about the job and the actual company itself?

The trust and flexibility aspect has always been my main reason for enjoying and staying at MadeCurious. The ability to say, ‘oh, I've got this school thing on’ and just pop out to that and either finish up those hours at home that night or pick it up some other time. That's a level of flexibility that's really been useful for me. 

Media Suite
is now

All things change, and we change with them. But we're still here to help you build the right thing.

If you came looking for Media Suite, you've found us, we are now MadeCurious.

Media Suite MadeCurious.