As we all continue to adjust to social distancing and remote working, it’s more important than ever to keep connected, stay positive and celebrate each other’s successes.
We’ve been catching up with our clients and contacts to share the different journeys, challenges and opportunities taken by some of the UK’s top tech talent that’ve helped land them where they are today.
We sat down with long-standing advocate of Burns Sheehan, Dan Mepham-Lagrue, to hear about his projects, experiences and advice as an Engineering Lead at Zoopla. We’re proud to have worked with Zoopla over the years to help build out their pioneering Engineering Teams and were keen to hear about some of the exciting projects the team are currently working on…
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role with Zoopla?
I've been working at Zoopla since last summer and I'm what they call an Engineering Lead - that really means I'm a People Manager and Team Leader, as well as being an Engineer.
I've been in the PropTech business now for 2 and a bit years and come from a background of helping Backend Developers. I try my very best to empower Engineers, to get teams talking to one another and connecting them with the needs of the business. Rather than being a full-on Product Manager, my focus is from an Engineering side. That’s me in a nutshell.
What’s your favourite part of a typical workday?
Talking to people! I'm not your archetypal engineer. I'm generally an extrovert in all things, as well as having the ability to be analytical and dive down into some code. But the thing that always excites me is talking to people, hearing what people are doing and going ‘ah you should be talking to that person! There’s something really interesting over there that you should be aware of’. Reading the vibe of a room or an office floor and connecting the different departments, as their needs are often so intertwined. When that clicks and you hear that Developers across different teams and verticals have connected and are communicating together, that gives me such a sense of pride.
It’s different now that things have suddenly gone virtual due to COVID-19, but there’s still the ability to talk and collaborate; to see what's going on and be able to ask technical and analytical questions. When all that comes together it's magnificent and the impact can be huge.
So, you’ve been at Zoopla around 8 months now. What have been your greatest achievements?
Time has flown, I never anticipated time flying as fast as it has! Those 8 months started with me coming into an organisation that was reviewing every aspect of its operations to learn how it can improve the service it offers its customers . It had transitioned the previous year from being listed to coming under private ownership and as part of this was going through a process of getting the right leaders and management in place, restructuring itself so it could reimagine how people find and sell property.
I came in quite early in that process. I can remember being on the phone to the person who is now my boss and listening to what they were saying for the first time and thinking, ‘wow this is what I want to do, I want to be a part of that’. I’m able to utilise all parts of me to Make Things Better - MTB – that’s my personal motto!
It’s been amazing to have had the opportunity to land in an environment where I can immediately have an impact and help change the shape of the company and be part of that transition - and that’s just in 8 months! So, I'm looking at this like what can I do in 3 years?! It’s exciting.
Has there been a particular pinpoint or project you’ve been particularly proud of?
I think there are certain key tick boxes where I can say ‘this is where I made a substantial impact’, but it's the sum total and the result of those smaller events or meetings, rather than any one transition point. Because I was part of a like-minded stream of people, it's not my individual impact or my individual acts, it's the sum total of the collaboration between different teams and people that's really tipped the dial from one thing to another.
What would you say have been some of the most interesting challenges you've faced across your whole tech career?
Ah man. I've made my career out of dealing with old technology. When I go back to my very first jobs where I was working for a FinTech company and then in media, I was dealing with old systems and technologies and helping modernise those. It was great being a part of that journey and shaping an old way of working and twisting it from something negative into something positive.
But I think the thing I’m most proud of in my entire career is this project I'm a part of now at Zoopla. We’re going through a fundamental transition looking at how we can reshape an industry that hasn’t benefited from a huge amount of innovation since the portals first launched. It's fundamentally, stupendously complex and it’s really hard work because you're dealing with so many decisions and you've got so much to do. It's about finding the right things to unpick this gordian knot and identifying where the pain points are. Finding the thread that needs plucking to change the impact and the momentum and having amazing Engineers around me that are bought into the idea of ‘let's just keep making things better’.
Everything I've done in my professional career has prepared me for this moment and I'm so proud to be a part of it. So proud of my team and so proud to be supported by a company that makes this happen. I can see that this will be something that sticks with me for the rest of my life. The lessons I've learnt here and the opportunities I’m getting out of it are really going to shape what I do going forward.
What advice would you give to a Junior Engineer looking to rise through the ranks, perhaps striving to become an Engineering Lead one day?
Never invest all of your time in just becoming the best coder you possibly can be. The impact you can have by taking your head out of the cogs every now and then and looking at the machine is so much bigger than just being the expert at making cogs. Get used to looking at what other people are doing and understanding the bigger picture. Not just what the work is or how the work is done, but why it's done. What’s the end goal - the outcome that you’re looking towards when you’re developing. How do you connect the work you're doing to the business needs and the customer value? And if you can understand this, you're going to be able to start adding more value as you’re going to be able to question things.
You need to be able to spot opportunities, and it starts with that one step of not just looking at your code but looking at the cogs and the machine as a whole.
A huge thanks to Dan for taking the time out to share his thoughts and insights. Highlighting the need for collaboration amongst technology functions and the impact a connected team has on a business and its outputs!
This is the first in a series of catch-ups with talented tech professionals, sharing their experiences and insight working for some of the most inspiring and innovative tech-led businesses across the UK.
If you’re interested in telling us your story, please get in touch! We’d love to hear from you and to share your journey with our tech community.