Waracle is Scotland’s largest mobile app developers, IoT and Voice company, specialising in creating digital tech solutions for a range of companies, from small local firms to multinational corporations. As well as the Dundee office I work in, we have offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London with plans to expand to other countries.
Waracle started as an embryonics project out of Abertay University in Dundee and grew to about 35 employees before I joined. Becoming part of the Exception group in 2016, the team is likely to be over 100 strong by the end 2017.
I graduated from the University of Dundee in 2008, just before the financial crash was beginning to hit the world’s economies hard. So as I was leaving University the IT industry, like most, were seeing a lot of layoffs, particularly in the finance-heavy Edinburgh IT sector, where many Scottish graduates traditionally started their careers. I was fortunate to join the graduate programme at a company in Fife specialising in software for the broadcast industry.
I then spent a few years at a small Dundee startup, where I led on all non-native-app development. This involved architecting and building the APIs, deployment pipelines and maintenance of the platforms. Working in a small setup was vastly different to a large firm and I immensely enjoyed the chance to make meaningful change in the company and help guide the development direction instead of simply being a cog in the machine.
Then, in September 2016 I joined Waracle in Dundee as a Systems Engineer. My primary responsibility is ensuring the various platforms are performant and available. I also split duties with our support manager to triage the issues that come through the support desk.
I’d heard good things about Waracle (the tech community isn’t huge so usually someone knows someone at any given company!) and coupled with the stability that the organisation has, when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it.
Even though Waracle is well established with major clients and competing for major contracts around the world, the ethos is still that of a dynamic, fast moving company, which I value highly on my job wish list.
There’s been a major shift occurring in the tech world particularly over the last 10 years, to streamline the release process, aiming to get the newest features into the hands of the users as fast as possible. Historically, releases were scheduled monthly (or even yearly!), but with the advent of the app store, cloud computing and better tooling, the gap between releases can be brought down to daily or even hourly (Amazon deployed a new feature every 11.6s in 2011 1 , and Netflix deploys hundred of changes daily 2 .
At Waracle, we follow agile methodologies, allowing us to quickly deliver products to our numerous clients. As an agency with a mixture of clients, from those who require infrequently-released apps to others who have a rapid release cycle, being nimble and adaptable allows us to meet and often exceed their needs, we use Kanban to manage the projects, as this allows us to continually prioritise and deliver what the customer requires. We’re able to produce mobile apps and websites early, inviting collaboration from customers and end users, and more importantly incorporate the feedback into the process at the earliest possible opportunity.
Throughout my career I have enjoyed solving problems by building software in whatever language best suited the task. Joining Waracle has provided me with the opportunities to do so with the latest technologies and tools, which unsurprisingly is immensely enjoyable.
As the keener eyed readers will have realised the process described above is part of DevOps. However, when asking “What is DevOps?” to 10 people in the industry, they’ll undoubtedly be 10 different answers.
DevOps is a misunderstood 3 term and I strongly disagree that it’s a job title but see it as a company-wide philosophy that encompasses every part of the business, with the end goal of providing robust, featureful software to end users, which can be efficiently progressed through the various stages of the software lifecycle. By quickly, I mean with the minimum of pain points and the maximising the time spent doing the things that need done. For developers, this is about moving the non-development tasks out their way, allowing them to focus their efforts on building new feature and improving the product. A simple way (but complex to implement well) is having CI automatically run unit, integration and functional tests on new code commits.
I’ve found having faith that new code won’t break the existing platform gives more confidence to the developer’s ability. CD removes the need to have the developers environments polluted with production assets, config, etc which could affect development, eliminating the works on my machine scenario. For QA, being able to reliably test (and reproduce) the software at any given point is invaluable for providing a level of confidence in what is being delivered to the customer.
As mentioned previously, Waracle utilise modern tools on the basis of the best tool for the job. We rely heavily on Docker, to provide consistent environments, Bitrise and Bitbucket Pipelines – to build, test the numerous apps and AWS and Azure to deploy and manage the platforms. At the development level, we like Node, but have lot of expertise in PHP, Java and C#. Angular and React are used in the front end for portals and we build natively in iOS and Android, and use Ionic and Cordova for hybrid solutions.
Waracle are fortunate to have a good team who are always willing to learn, experiment and prototype. In our spare time and more formally in Friday Missions (where we work with local firms with interesting ideas, providing our services for free, who might be otherwise unable to afford the Waracle experience), we continually innovate and aim to remain at the cutting edge, looking to incorporate new ideas and ways of working that can improve what we currently do.
Given that many (myself included) believe being happy at work is fundamental to a happy life 4 , I feel in a fortunate position earning a living doing something I really enjoy. Furthermore, I firmly believe our industry is entering its golden age, with technological advances happening at a fantastic rate for those of us who have an interest beyond that of simply turning up at work on Monday mornings (which I do!). I think being able to have a supercomputer in my pocket and development environments that would rival governments of the past, to have the opportunity to work at the frontiers of AI and the power to really affect positive change for real people is a great privilege.
Specifically, our Friday missions has given me the chance of working with RaptorUAS drones that can map coastal erosion, help develop innovative green energy solutions for Ecodyn for cheaper heating of homes and Leverhulme Research Centre apps to track the types of narcotics being seized in drug raids. The missions have been set up to give the opportunity to learn different project roles within a less formal structure, from working with the creative team to taking the lead and meeting with stakeholders. The variety and frequency of interesting projects at Waracle means that no week is ever boring and I’m excited as the next challenge is always just around the corner.
Waracle understand the importance of investing in people, specifically helping me to develop my skills which will allow me move from an engineer to leading others. From purely anecdotal and entirely non-scientific observations through my career, as developers approach forty, their ability, and possible desire, to remain at the cutting edge diminishes 5 . Therefore, I see my natural career progression will migrate into leadership roles, and ideally to mentor younger developers and ensure they can flourish. With the varied work and clients we currently have and will acquire, I am glad that Waracle will continue to grow, opening many avenues for my progression. 5 (Usually non-work pressures, such as starting families and a general reducing of free time to work on side projects, etc.)
Another area which I’ve recently been contributing to is that of presale architecture and estimation. I enjoy looking at the big picture as I feel it helps my development to know where the component I’m working on, fits into the system as a whole. Understanding the wider project provides a clearer insight of how to deliver what the customer needs right now, but also designing an extensible architecture for the future. I’ve observed in the past, each discipline, be it technical, creative or sales and marketing, retreating into their respective corners. When this happens projects suffer as the teams don’t have a proper grasp of the impact the others have to it. By working alongside sales when they meet with clients, or creative when they delve into how the client works, I gain insight into how we can better deliver exactly what the customer needs. Sales don’t promise the impossible while still pushing for the best digital transformation solution, technical can suggest cutting edge ideas and creative can design state-of-the-art UI knowing that it can actually be implemented.
To summarise, I have always enjoyed building things and being in talented company. When I was young (and now again with the excuse of my children) it was Lego, with computers, it was Rollercoaster Tycoon, SimCity, and the best part of the Sims was building increasingly elaborate houses (`motherlode !;!;!;` amirite 😉 ), and now it’s my career to build tools and platforms for others. With football, I always wanted to play with, and against better players, for the challenge of improving is one I still enjoy today. At Waracle, I get to do just that. The goal of building better and faster is ongoing and my colleagues will continue to push me to improve.
If you think you’ve got what it takes, I implore you to get onboard, because the next chapter hasn’t been written yet. Artificial intelligence, Machine Learning, Augmented and Virtual Reality, the Internet of Things are all areas that will power the next generational leap in technology and Waracle is positioned perfectly to capitalise. So, check out our vacancies and you could be joining our team!