A changing career

Roni has worked in DWP Digital for the last six years, having changed careers and achieved her goal of becoming a software engineer. She’s based in the Newcastle hub and works on the award-winning Searchlight application, one of DWP Digital’s biggest projects, with over 80,000 users across government.

Roni, a woman with short, colourful hair and glasses, smiling towards the camera. She is standing in a large open plan office.

Learning to code and developing new skills

I’d been a bit of an amateur coder for years, creating small apps using Microsoft VBA within Excel, largely to automate spreadsheet collation. While working for DWP, I started a part time degree with the Open University in 2005, which convinced me engineering was for me.

Because of my grade, there weren’t many opportunities to move into a technical role. Eventually my persistence paid off and I took a sideways move into a role more suited to my new skills.

I was 45 when I joined a 16-week coding bootcamp, and shortly after I moved into the role of software engineer at DWP Digital.

Solving problems with users 

I love troubleshooting when something’s not working, and being creative to work out why, or to prevent problems from reoccurring. The scale of our service means even the smallest problem could affect millions of users, so there’s a lot of challenge. 

Accessibility’s a big thing for me, too. I’ve made it my mission to ensure our service can be properly accessed by screen reader technology.  

Getting our app to work properly with accessibility solutions means that our users can focus on their tasks, without needing workarounds to make things more compatible with their software. 

It’s been fascinating to meet with a blind user, whose perception of certain tables on the app was entirely different to us as sighted users. As an engineer, this kind of experience is incredibly helpful — you can focus on the reality of a user’s experience rather than the ideal situations we’d see in our test environments. 

I often have lots of ad-hoc sessions to troubleshoot issues with our development environment, or to assist on deployment calls. In addition, I provide third-line support for our application, which includes some out-of-hours work. 

Flexibility and collaboration 

The idea of a ‘typical day’ is a myth in this job — every day can be so different. But my days usually involve collaboration in some form. 

Hybrid working and flexibility means I can easily co-ordinate work and family. I usually start quite early and spend that early part of the day catching up on emails, Teams messages or Slack conversations, then join our daily stand-up. Hybrid working also means I can have that occasional lie-in on work-from-home days. 

Lines of code on a computer screen

After stand-up, I’ll do some pair programming with one of our apprentices. I find this really rewarding, as sometimes you see things more clearly if you’re trying to explain it to someone else, or you’ll identify gaps in your own knowledge. 

We have a lot of promising apprentices, and it’s so important to get that introduction to the job right, to ensure that we get to keep the talent we’re investing in. It does take time away from my ‘normal’ work, but I get repaid with the enthusiasm and drive of our apprentices when they feel properly supported by their team. 

We also have several routine meetings spread throughout the sprint. Over the sprint fortnight, I might get involved in backlog refinement, sprint planning, sprint review or the retrospective. There’s also our ‘Three Amigos’ sessions, where we assess a ticket’s readiness to be developed and estimate the team effort needed to deliver it into the live environment. 

If I could improve one thing it’d be ‘collaboration’ tools that don’t always work properly on a MacBook, or that require multiple layers of authentication to do so. Life sometimes becomes a blur of authenticating and reauthenticating — but that’s the challenge of collaborating across lots of teams with diverse tools and systems. 

Looking to the future 

I’m keen to enhance my engineering skills outside the structure of my team’s usual work, so I’m looking at more focused training and code challenges. Ideally, I’d like to expand and move towards more backend logic to strengthen my skills in that area. 

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