As part of our Tales in Tech series we’ve been catching up with members of our tech community over the last few weeks to share the journeys, lessons learnt and advice that has helped them through their careers to date.

This week we sat down with long-standing advocate of Burns Sheehan, Davide Scalzo. Starting out his tech career as a UX Designer and going on to spend 6+ years as a Product Manager, Davide transitioned into the Engineering world 2 years ago and is now a Senior Software Engineer for global on-demand data collection platform Native.

We chatted with Davide about his unconventional journey into Engineering and how his Product Management background helps him view problems with a different perspective.

Tell us a little about yourself and your role at Native:

I joined Native about 7 months ago as a Senior Software Engineer. I’m part of a small Engineering team and being such a small team, our work spans a lot of aspects of Software Engineering, so we kind of jump around between everything.

I focus mainly on the frontend and web application in general and more recently we’ve started doing a lot of machine learning. As a company we do data collection on demand, so it’s sort of like Uber for the collection. There are a lot of business challenges we try to solve with technology and a lot of country specific challenges that you wouldn’t know if you weren’t actually trying to solve those problems. It’s really interesting work.

Do you enjoy working a mix of frontend technologies and machine learning or would you prefer to focus on one?

I personally like the variety. I find it interesting to not get stuck on one thing. I’m probably working 70% frontend and 30% machine learning.

I don’t come from a particularly standard software engineering background. Generally, I am a ‘maker’, I like to make stuff regardless of how or what preparation. I like to push myself and get shit done.

So, what was your journey into tech if it wasn’t traditional?

I have been working in tech for over 10 years and was a Product Manager before becoming an Engineer, which has a different kind of mindset in a sense. I’ve always been an advocate for the idea that if you’re involved with the product you should understand how things work. I’ve been building websites since I was 14. I worked on loads of smaller projects and then started my own company, which unfortunately didn't work out due to GDPR compliance issues. That’s when our very own D-Lo said I should apply for a role as a Frontend JavaScript Contractor.

Do you think you’d ever go back to the Product side of things or are you happy in Engineering?

I like the Engineering side. In Product Management, there is a lot of people management and making sure everyone is happy. Product allows you a certain degree of flexibility in figuring out how things are going to move forward. However, in my current role because the team is so small, we don’t have Product Management, we are Software Engineers and Product Managers at the same time.

The fact that I come from a background where I started out focused on design, then I moved into Product and now Engineering, I maybe have a perspective that other Software Engineers don’t have. I care a lot about the user problems and business problems.

What would you say has been your biggest achievement in your tech career?

A few jobs ago I was working for an investment firm called Octopus Investments. A few weeks after I started, I was assigned not only the Product Management responsibilities but also operations for one of the products we were incubating, a peer to peer lending platform. Our targets for the first year were more than doubled and being a couple weeks ahead we not only managed to reach the target, but we had actually built the fastest peer to peer lending platform ever made in the UK without realising!

Have you attended any virtual meetups recently or are there any traditional (pre-Covid) meetups that you would recommend?

I used to go to all your events! I try to come to most of them. ‘ProductTank’ is a very Product focused one but I still like to go because you always learn something new. Also, ‘London Innovators’, which is an invite only meetup for Entrepreneurs and Investors in London. It’s a great event because you find out about all these weird and wacky companies! I also like the events on specific technologies when I want to get deeper into something.

Is there any advice you would give to a Junior Engineer or someone who is just starting out in their career?

Coming from an unconventional background and falling into this industry almost by accident, I have found there are sort of two paths. You will reach a point, typically around a mid-level Software Engineer, where you will need to choose between a managerial track versus a technical leadership track. A lot of companies do recognise this and prepare you well.

I guess the second bit of advice is to focus a lot more on user problems and business problems, you will always need to learn new languages and frameworks but the fundamentals are nearly all the same so don’t get too tied down in learning languages in their entirety because you will always need to adapt.

The truth is that even if you have experience in language and framework, you are going to have to learn project specific needs and setups and quirks, so I think learning the specifics of a language becomes less of a problem overall. You’re still going be a little slower, but I don’t think it’s a blocker.

A massive thank you to Davide for sharing his journey into tech. We can often ‘fall’ into new roles we may not have originally considered, but our previous work experience and challenges can often better equip us to take on these new opportunities.

If you’ve had an interesting pathway into tech, or have transitioned into a new industry or position, please get in touch! We’d love to hear from you and share your story with our tech community.

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