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Life at Kainos: Spearheading engineering practices in a new capability

  • By Steven Johnstone, Workday Extend Architect.

    I joined Kainos in 2012, one of the first people to be based in the Derry office. I was the fourth to be exact! I’m an 80s nerd at heart, and I grew up programming in my bedroom – on an Amstrad that I still have. But when it was time to go to university, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do full computer science. I was also interested in engineering, so I did the Electronic and Software Engineering degree at Queens.

    I started out doing system admin, setting up networks and Linux servers. Then I got into Java development, and web and mobile app development. It was really early days in this space, I was developing for phones like the Nokia 3210s! I graduated in 2002 and wanted to stay in Belfast. But because there wasn’t much work around then, so I decided to do a postgraduate degree.

    After graduating I started working for a company in Derry and eventually moved over to England with them. A few job moves later I was ready to come back home, Kainos was opening an office in Derry and the rest is history as they say!

    I like that Kainos are a homegrown company and has a good reputation. And the fact they have a presence in Derry – it’s a great city.

    I joined as a Technical Architect and my first project was a large telecommunications company, building a self-service web portal for customers to manage their mobile, landline or broadband contract. Then we started getting into more modern concepts, like enabling families to share data. There were a lot of old legacy systems, so a lot of our work was to integrate a lot of old systems with modern technology so it's quite a good challenge. From the get-go, I worked on new parts of the system, directly with the customer and the other vendors.

    I then moved on to the Scottish SAAS project – the Scottish student loans service. That was my first job as a Solution Architect, responsible for the full solution. So again, I was working directly with the customer through the requirements-gathering phase and figuring out how we could migrate from the old system.

    I’ve also delivered a few projects for the Northern Ireland Civil Service where I worked with the Inland Fisheries Group and Department of Justice to deliver citizen-facing services along with back-office support services.

    During this time I also completed exploratory analysis work with the Civil Service to investigate the feasibility of and prototyping a single portal concept for Northern Ireland citizens to use for various things such as accessing their official personal documentation or their historical school exam results to aid school leavers when applying for jobs.

    The variety of projects you can get involved in is great here, but you can also get involved in other things. I have been involved in pre-sales and bids, so I’ve been able to develop my writing style. It’s an invaluable, transferable skill.

    More recently, I worked on a project for the Welsh Revenue Authority from discovery right through to delivery. That was the first time we've done a full-scale delivery of a Platform-As-A-Service project within Microsoft Azure, at the start of that building of that Kainos/Microsoft relationship. And then we moved on to digitising how they manage the Welsh Childcare offer.

    And now I’m a Solutions Architect in our Workday Extend part of the business. I was allowed to move over to this new position and jumped at it as I was looking for a fresh challenge. One thing that drew me to this new adventure is the fact that it’s a new capability in Kainos. It’s an exciting time to be part of this new capability and it's like working in a start-up environment.

    We are delivering projects to prove what can be done and what Kainos can do within this space. Right now, we’re creating a new rewards and recognition product. It’s a new team, and there are a lot of good engineering practices that we’re bringing from Digital Services.

    There is great flexibility here in Kainos, not only in moving to different projects but also moving across disciplines – the opportunities are endless!

    For me, it’s an opportunity to use my experience somewhere that needs it, build on my abilities, do more capability-type work outside of projects, and contribute to the wider team to help build a first-class engineering team within our Workday Extend business unit.

    At my level, you need to build your team to a point where you’re comfortable not only delegating but collaborating – trusting people. It builds the confidence of the team too and everyone feels empowered. So, they don't just get the confidence when you deliver a project, you have it while you're delivering it - and even before you deliver it!

    The core part of being a good engineer is technical capability. But we’re also consultants so you’ve got to be able to work with customers as well. And the thing you then need to develop is teamwork.

    One of the great things about working with Kainos is that, through any challenge, you’re working with senior people. The support is always there. We always work together to try and figure it out. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been here so long. It is really easy to reach out to anyone here, sort out problems and get advice.

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