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Allstate’s Greg Craig on the value of NI Dev Conf

  • On Saturday 9 June, Riddel Hall on the Stranmillis Road will be buzzing with more than forty sessions split across four rooms at the Northern Ireland Developer Conference, providing an inspiring day of talks, project demonstrations and opportunities for networking.

    Allstate’s Greg Craig is looking forward to attending. He’s senior lead engineer in the CompoZed Lab, based in the firm’s new Laganbank office.

    The Information Technology graduate from Queen’s University Belfast told Sync NI that he’s always been interested in computers.

    “I got my first computer when I was about eight years old, an Amstrad CPC 464, and I can still remember sitting with a big fat book working through the coding lessons at about 8 years old and running out to show my Mum that I’d been able to draw a big red circle on the screen! loved it.

    Over the last ten years in Allstate, Greg has moved through many different roles.

    “I came in as a junior developer and worked my way up to become a lead developer across a number of sites on one of the Allstate’s flagship claims applications. Then I moved into a solution architect role for the next four years. It was fun and I learnt an awful lot, but I spent all my time in meetings talking to people. I have always been very hands-on and two years ago, when the company was starting to spin up a new way of working with the CompoZed Lab, I took the chance to go back to a more hands-on engineering role.”

    CompoZed Lab adopts an Extreme Programming culture, embedding the principles of paired-programming, test-driven development, continuous integration and continuous delivery in the everyday work practices of the growing team.

    “It gives us quality assurance over the code and the applications that we build as well as speed to market. We work in one week iterations and we remain very flexible. Our business partner is usually part of our team. We’re not hard and fast in our requirements, so if they want to change something, we can change it. It’s creates more customer- and user-focused applications that are better quality and go into production sooner.”

    Previously, a typical cycle time from idea to an application going live might have been nine months. “In that period of time a lot can change and competitive advantage might already have been lost” says Greg.

    “We recently had a big project. My team got three weeks’ notice to develop a new API to ingest claims data coming in from a large potential customer. We turned it round inside the three weeks and had the API live in production processing their claims, helping win a massive contract for the company.”

    Successes in the lab have had “a big impact on the business, our users and our customers” says Greg. “And with every one of those wins, we’re starting to get more and more traction and more and more important strategic work coming through CompoZed Lab. So we are actively growing.”

    While Java, Spring, Node.js and JavaScript are common – along with React used for front-end development – each team determines what technology is the best for the application they’re building. And when building the team, Greg says that Allstate look for engineers with a mindset and an ability to learn quickly rather than only focussing on specific technologies and frameworks.

    “I’m learning every single day. That’s what I love about the job. There’s always something new, something fresh that I haven’t worked with before. Across the lab everyone is encouraged to continually learn and to share that learning. We have ‘learn days’ where people volunteer to run short sessions on something that they’ve been working with. You don’t have to be an expert in it. It’s about fostering a learning culture.”

    For Greg, events like the NI Developer Conference are important.

    “It’s great for engineers and the IT community in Belfast and across Northern Ireland to be able to meet up and share ideas, thinking and network.”

    “It promotes the huge amount of really interesting tech work going on. The local industry is really vibrant, with lots of new companies coming in, and conferences like also help shine a light on and promote us to the rest of the world. You get an opportunity to speak to engineers from other companies and find out how they solve problems that we might be struggling with.”

    The line-up of speakers and agenda for the sold out Northern Ireland Developer Conference is now available on their website

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