So, Simon you have the honour of being Exploding Phone’s first employee, but when did you actually join the company?
I became an employee of Exploding Phone in 2010 however I’d been working as a contractor before-hand. In fact I’d worked with Andrew (Long) for many years before that, and I therefore had no hesitation in coming aboard when he asked me to join the company.
Tell us about what your job entails on a day-to-day basis.
At a fundamental level my job is to take the designs and wireframes that our designer Greg produces and make them into realty. In my case I am equally happy to turn my hand to either native Android or iOS coding, and then of course there are all the supporting systems to build, for example, Content Management Systems for the apps. This means I need to be proficient in everything from Java, Swift and Objective-C for coding native apps. And then there’s React-JS for front-end Web coding, PHP with CodeIgniter for the back-end and MySQL for the database layer. Over the past few years I’ve also broadened my role to include project co-ordination and developing estimates of work for proposals. Finally, I’ve become involved in mentoring new engineers when they join the company.
You’ve obviously completed a lot of implementations while at Exploding Phone. Any that you’d like to highlight?
Well, recently I completed an App Dashboard for a client. This was relatively challenging as initially the project was to re-write a Dashboard to work with a third-parties’ app. This is not something we would normally do, but I got the job done. However the client then decided that it wanted us to re-build the app as well, so I ended up creating an app that needed to replicate some of the other app’s React Native communication model to allow it to talk to the Dashboard we had built. Might not sound too complex but the reality was somewhat challenging. Makes me almost nostalgic for those early days of app design where one project had a Magic 8-Ball app with animations of a hamster being slung around inside the ball and another app called Big Mouth where animated exaggerated mouth shapes are used to support speech therapy.
How have you developed professionally since joining Exploding Phone?
I would have developed wherever I had been working for the last 10 years but my time at Exploding Phone has been transformative, both technically and personally. Having worked for a large corporation previously I feel that the opportunities and challenges of working for a start-up and then a small business have definitely allowed me to broaden my perspectives and develop in ways I wouldn’t otherwise have anticipated. In particular I’ve enhanced my soft-skills, for example, running pre-sales meetings and deputising for Andrew when he’s not around. So while my job title is ‘Head of Production’, it would be equally accurate if it were ‘Head of Getting Stuff Done’.
How would you describe the Exploding Phone culture?
That’s an interesting question. On one level the culture is pretty relaxed but I think this is because we all work more efficiently in this type of environment. And as I think other people have said Exploding Phone is a fun place to work with a friendly collaborative atmosphere where everybody is passionate about technological innovation. After 23 years as an engineer it’s great to be able to work for a company that continues to excite and stimulate me.
How has Covid-19 and Lock-down restrictions impacted you?
It was initially quite challenging, particularly with two children and a partner who’s a key worker. However we managed to make it work and things are returning back to something similar to how they were before. That said, I suspect a hybrid work model is probably here to stay which feels a bit like going full circle when I reflect back on my earlier days as a home-based contractor.
What are the key characteristics for someone to be successful in your role?
You have to be flexible, for example, willing to switch between platforms, projects and technology, while also be able to support customers, colleagues and even the sales people! You also need to be able to thoroughly test your and other people’s deliverables.
What is your favourite memory of working for Exploding Phone?
Thinking back I recall how Andrew and I used to fly drones around the office however there’s generally too many people in the office now to allow for these sort of shenanigans!
If coding was no longer an option and you could have any other job in the world what would it be?
That’s a tricky question when I am extremely happy with the job I have. As I’ve got older I’ve come to appreciate the great outdoors. Not sure whether the reality would match the fantasy but being a shepherd in the Lake District seems pretty idyllic. However I suspect the weather and the salary might be a bit of a disappointment.
How do you expect your job to change over the next three to five years?
Naturally coding languages will evolve and new ones will appear, for example, Kotlin for Android. The smartphone platforms seem quite mature and updates are generally incremental rather than revolutionary, but maybe there’s a bolt waiting to appear out of the blue. In any event I hope to get the opportunity to do more mentoring and helping prospective clients engineer their vision.
So tell us something about yourself that not many people know.
Ha! Perhaps that’s for a reason. Well, I have a YouTube channel called Simon’s Shed. This is where I get to share my passion for N-gauge model railways. It also allows me to get creative, for example, with video creation, and I even designed and sold a few Simon’s Shed T-Shirts. So I’m a fashion impresario. Does that count as something not many people know?
It certainly does. Thanks very much for your time today Simon.