This month we have interviewed Joel, the youngest member of the Exploding Phone team.

So Joel, when did you join Exploding Phone?
I had my university placement year at Exploding Phone between August 2017 and September 2018, and after my final year I started as a full time employee in August 2019.

What are the skills and deliverables that your role entails?
I am primarily focused on client side of developing Android apps. So in practice this means taking the wireframes and visuals that we initially create with the client and turning these into reality. Of course this is just one part of the total system and I also work with or develop APIs and how the app integrates with the online database that we usually build to support the apps.

Tell me about the software languages and coding tools do you use.
Until recently it’s been mainly Java for Android. However recently I’ve started coding in Kotlin which is a new Android programming language. When I’m building the User Interface I typically use XML as a mark-up language. As you might expect I use PHP on backend and MySQL and SQL on the database tier. Beyond that pretty much all data communications is via JSON.

What is the most complex project on which you have worked?
I would have to say Uni Wellbeing. While there is not one specific hugely complex area, there are lots of relatively challenging aspects to the app. For example providing for bespoke views which dynamically change based on the particular instance of the app, customisable rules for how the app behaves and lots of other different types of functionality, e.g. a podcast element.

What is the most interesting project you’ve worked on?
WheelySafe! This is a system that allows users to programme tyre pressure sensors with the required value via Bluetooth. From a programming perspective this involved getting quite deeply involved with Bluetooth communications protocols. It also involved a lot of going out to my car to test the sensor. The neighbours must have wondered why I needed to check my car’s tyre pressure so often, particularly as this was during lock-down and I wasn’t actually going anywhere in my vehicle.

How do you think you have developed professionally over the last few years?
A university education is great but in reality it is only the start of a journey, and not necessarily the journey that you end up taking. So since joining Exploding Phone I have learnt a lot more in terms of real-life coding. I’ve had to become a lot better at time management as well, which basically means staying focussed on the task in hand. One of the great things about working for a ‘boutique’ software development company is that you are really close to the project and the clients. This has really helped me develop my project management skills and of course communications skills, be it with clients or other members of the team.

How would you describe the Exploding Phone culture?
As it’s my first company perhaps I’m not the best person to ask, but on reflection I’d say down to earth and realistic complimented by high engineering standards. We like happy customers which means you’ve got to be prepared to help ‘engineer’ the customer’s vision where appropriate.

How has Covid-19 and Lock-down restrictions changed the way you work?
I mentioned earlier about the challenges of staying focussed. I have to confess that working away from the office made this a bit more difficult for me. So I’m glad to be able to go back into the office every day and so perhaps Covid-19 won’t end up changing that much for me.

What motivates you professionally?
I suppose I’m the archetypal engineer in that I just like making things, and the more useful these things are the more I enjoy the task of making them. In that respect building apps is a dream job. I also relish being able to work across a variety of different types of projects. I’m sure this is one of the aspects of the job that keeps me and the team fresh.

What are the key characteristics for someone to be successful in your role?
Excellent coding skills of course. However as I’m still the most junior engineer in the office I’d say it was important to be able to take instruction but also be able to work independently. With a wide range of projects to deliver the ability to multi-task across several projects is paramount. I think that someone doing my job has to be able discriminate between elegant and pragmatic solutions and understand which approach is required in a given situation. Finally, it’s a friendly team but with a little bit of gentle banter every so often. As such, this person would ideally have a health sense of humour. Finally, did I mention excellent coding skills?

What is your favourite memory of working for Exploding Phone?
We used to have regular office nights out which were always great fun. I particularly remember going to one of those Brazilian restaurants, the type where they keep on bringing more courses until you give up. There was a salad bar but I don’t think many of us bothered with it.

If coding was no longer an option and you could have any other job in the world what would it be?
Interesting question… I’ve always been interested in the numbers side of banking. So I’d like to be a number cruncher in the financial sector. If that’s too close to the range of jobs that you’ve abolished then I’ve always fancied being an actor, and I’m guessing that job still exists.

How do you expect your job to change over the next three to five years?
I expect to be doing a lot more programming in Kotlin. I’d also like to enhance my skill set so that I can start coding for the back-end environments and maybe even Swift for Apple devices. I expect my communication with clients will increase in line with a greater ownership of projects.

So finally Joel, tell us something about yourself that no one else in the office knows.
Not many people know that I almost went to school at Hogwarts! Or perhaps I should say that the producers of the Harry Potter films wanted to use my school as the set for Hogwarts, but the headmaster declined.

Thanks Joel, it’s been great to talk to you.

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