Tech Trailblazers

Tech Trailblazers: Jonny McAlister

  • Name: Jonny McAlister

    Role: Team Manager, IE eQuote Team, Applied Systems

    Biography: I have worked at Applied Systems in Belfast for almost 8 years after graduating from Queen’s University Belfast where I studied Computing and Information Technology.

    Since joining Applied Systems I have progressed from a junior developer through to management and have helped develop and manage various evolutions of our web-based insurance solutions.

    What does your typical day look like?

    My typical day has changed a lot over the years! Nowadays it mostly involves managing a team of developers who strive to produce top quality software, while still dabbling in some coding when I can. Throughout the day I also have various meetings such as daily stand-ups, backlog grooming and calls with our customers to discuss project work etc.

    Working in a web-based insurance software team means collaborating with various other teams in the company, so frequent meetings are important especially in the new Zoom era!

    What are you currently working on?

    At the moment we’re developing additional insurance product lines onto our new Angular system and the ability for customers to manage their insurance products via a mobile app. This project is part of a larger undertaking to upgrade our eQuote solution to a new, exciting technology stack. It has been built from the ground up using the latest tools and features available so it’s been a great learning experience for the team.

    What inspired you to join this company in particular?

    I spotted a job advertisement for Applied Systems in 2012 after I graduated and the main thing that stood out for me was the chance to work within a growing company that is passionate about producing great software. In university I enjoyed developing websites and designing databases, so I knew this role would have provided me with the opportunity to gain experience across the full stack of development.

    Did you always want to work in this industry (tech)?

    Throughout school I was mostly passionate about history and geography until I studied IT in 6th form and realised that creating software was actually great fun. For me being able to write code and design something attractive and intuitive as the end-product completely changed my career plans.

    What’s your favourite part about your work?

    My role is quite diverse now that I’m in management, but my favourite part is definitely still in coding. I get a lot of satisfaction from refactoring code and improving the functionality of a feature, I like to think that I have a good attention to detail so I enjoy focusing on things and making them work better.

    What would you say to other people considering a job in this industry (tech)?

    From a coding perspective, if you enjoy problem-solving and learning new things constantly then I highly recommend it. Every day brings a new challenge, it’s never stale or boring. I.T. is very fast-paced and it’s continually evolving, you’ll always have new skills, technologies and languages to learn about to better yourself.

    Even from a non-technical aspect there are more and more roles being made available to support the designing of software products, so there are roles available for almost anyone due to how widely used software is these days. Also don’t be concerned about the area of software when applying for a job, I had no understanding of insurance before Applied Systems and now I know far too many acronyms!

    Who inspired you to work in this field?

    I don’t really have a famous person to name here, but in secondary school another pupil showed me a website that he developed back in 2006 and it really made me want to design something similar myself. Also while growing up I had a keen interest in computer games, it always blew my mind how games were developed so that’s where my initial interest in computing came from.

    What do you consider to be the most important tech innovation or development in recent years?

    Probably one of the most obvious answers in terms of I.T., but for me it has to be the advances made in A.I. and machine learning.

    How do you see this technology impacting on our lives?

    It’s a scary change to think about, but it’s inevitable that robots will replace more and more jobs in the future; however it shouldn’t take away from the fact that machines being able to learn how to act more human is so impressive.

    None of us really know how much more it will impact our lives yet because A.I. is still nowhere near its limit. I think we’re some way off A.I. being able to replace software developers so thankfully our industry is safe for a while!

    A.I. Bots are increasingly common these days in customer help chats and so on, so we’re already seeing online forms and customer service operators being replaced by bots that are continually learning how to better respond to certain things. I think the insurance industry will see a lot more A.I. usage in the future too.

    What tech gadget could you not live without?

    The obvious answer here is my phone, it’s crazy to think how we’d function without the use of messaging apps etc these days to stay in touch with people. My handwriting is awful so I’m happy that the days of sending letters is long-gone!

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