Hey Craig, tell us a bit about your background and your career so far…
I left university with a BSc in Computing and a burning desire to do anything but sit at a computer all day. I had this notion that I’d like to get into filmmaking but, having no industry experience or qualifications, it wasn’t going to be my first graduate job! I started working for a design agency in Peterborough as a full stack developer. Mainly writing PHP for WordPress, alongside maintaining legacy .NET sites. After two years I left there to go freelance. My, then, girlfriend (now, wife) had moved to Leeds for a new job and so I followed her up to Yorkshire.
I worked for various companies around Leeds as a freelance developer for a while but was finding it difficult to get work as a sole developer in a world where everyone wants the full design/development package! A designer friend of mine ran an agency for his freelance work and so I joined forces with him and became a director of Flo Design. Throughout the years, we worked for a number of established companies and startups doing websites and web apps. We also created our own Software-as-a-service product, Edna, for childminders and nurseries.
COVID hit the business hard and it was becoming difficult to find work with companies tightening their belts. After 7 years of running an agency, we decided we’d had enough of the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and fancied something a bit more steady. Fast forward a few weeks and I’m starting my new job at Aveni…
Tell us about your role at Aveni and what a typical day looks like for you and what are you currently working on?
I start around 9 am and usually pick up a ticket or do some research on the latest frameworks and best practices in the industry. At 10 am we have our daily standup where we let each other know what we worked on the day before and what we’ll be doing that day. The rest of the day is usually spent on tickets to create features in our products or improving our workflows and processes within the development team. At Aveni, we have a fairly flat structure so we’re all ‘Developers’ with various specialities and experience. However, as I’ve been in the industry for some 10-odd years a lot of my day is helping some of the more junior members to solve problems. I spend a good portion of my day on calls with the other members of the team, sorting out issues or lending a hand.
Currently, I’m working on Aveni Detect, our AI SaaS product. As my title implies, I work across the stack, building the frontend UI, the backend-for-frontend APIs and the backend pipelines which power the application.
What are some vital skills you need to perform your responsibilities and which frameworks/techniques are you using to help you succeed?
The most vital skills, I find, are the ability to problem solve and communicate well within the team and with stakeholders. We approach every ticket with the mindset that it has to solve an issue that our users have. Putting ourselves in their shoes allows us to solve their problems and, thus, increase the value of our products to them.
As for techniques, I’m a big advocate of Test-Driven Development when writing code. Tests document the specification of the feature you’re creating, while also giving you a way to automatically test the implementation. They provide a safety net when refactoring so you know the feature will carry on working while you make the code elegant and easy to read.
What attracted you to work for Aveni and what do you find interesting about developing NLP solutions for the Financial Services industry?
I’m always excited about shaking things up within an industry and being able to mould the kind of solutions and practices we come up with as developers. Aveni, being a startup, means rapid development cycles, lots of learning and getting to grips with new technologies and techniques which might be difficult to implement in larger companies. Fintech is a sector with a lot of change happening right now so it’s exhilarating to be at the point of the spear, so to speak.
Neural NLP is a really emergent field within software engineering and one that’s exciting to be part of. I’m a big fan of learning new languages (a smattering of Swedish and Japanese under my belt with varying levels of success!) and love to speak to people from different countries. The idea of, one day, being able to converse in real-time between two different languages is very invigorating. I’m also big into accessibility, so the idea of opening up choice to those who don’t have English as their first language is a big motivator.
In your opinion, what makes Aveni different from other startup companies?
A lot of startups have a commitment to learning but when I first spoke to Mark, our CTO, it was obvious that he prized mentorship and knowledge particularly highly. I am a life-long learner so the fervour with which the team are encouraged to learn new techniques and technologies really resonates with me.
What motivates you and what are your core values?
I’m highly motivated by acquiring knowledge and skills and passing on what I learn to other people. Alongside learning new skills within the development, I’ve also been pursuing music-making. In 2020 I started re-learning how to play the guitar (first time in 20 years), taught myself how to write dance music and I’m now looking at where I can put a drum kit so I can learn that!
I’m a firm believer in teaching people what I know. One of the reasons I joined Aveni was for the ability to mentor the junior members of the team and participate in a culture of knowledge sharing.
What advice would you give to someone interested in a career as a Full Stack Developer?
Focus on the problem-solving and communication aspects alongside learning to code. Once you’ve got a grasp of the fundamentals of programming, the languages and frameworks come easily so don’t obsess over how many languages you know or which ones are ‘best’. Other than that, soak up knowledge like a sponge and ask tons of questions!
Here are some fun questions we asked Craig to get to know him a little better!
What’s the first concert you ever attended?
I can’t even remember my first! One of the best concerts I’ve ever been to was to see Less than Jake at the 02 academy in Leeds. I didn’t realise Zebrahead were supporting them so it was a nice surprise when they came on stage. Those guys have a ton of energy and always interact well with the crowd so it was really good fun.
Which country is at the top of your bucket list?
I’ve been to quite a few countries, both near and far but I have a particular fondness for Scandinavia. I’m big into motorcycle touring so one dream is to go to Iceland and blast across the volcanic sand and camp out under the clear skies.
What is the first thing you would buy if you won the lottery?
Probably something boring like paying off my mortgage but you better believe the second thing I’m buying is another motorbike! The ideal number being N+1 with N being the number you currently own!
Who would win a fight between Spiderman and Batman?
I’ll say Spiderman as he actually is a superhero. Batman can’t compete with his amazing ability to *checks notes* have lots of money.
Jam then cream OR Cream then jam?
Alternate between the two just to annoy the pedants who insist on one over the other!