Senior Consulting Engineer Matt Peperell has been with Automation Logic just shy of 4 years. He started as a consulting engineer and, as one of the early members of the AL team, he helped shape the company and the career progression that comes with the roles.
Matt has seen more of AL life than most of the engineers with us today and has been a key part in a number of our top projects, involved with every one of our DevOps Academy runs, and is now working on a major government project. As mentioned he helped shape the career progression process as it is at AL, so we started by talking to him about what that means for his career…
What would be the next step for you to work towards on your career path?
The next step up from Senior Consulting Engineer is a Lead Consulting Engineer, but for me at least at the moment, I’m happy where I am. For a couple of reasons: one reason is I only acquired the senior title 6 months ago, and secondly I’ve taken the lead capacity at a project it’s already given me a taste of what lies ahead as I continue to progress. I sometimes find myself isolated from tech which is, of course, a necessity at times, but I want to remain close to tech. At least for now.
Back in the early days when the founders were still working with us closely on a day-to-day basis, I said I was enjoying tech now and felt I was good at it. (Editor’s note: he’s bloody good at it, he’s being humble) I was worried people entering would be so much more new and knowledgeable with tech being such a fast-moving world to work in, so I asked ‘what can I do to protect my career?’ Kris, partner and co-founder mentioned his plans to found the DevOps Graduate Academy (it hadn’t started then) and leadership roles (they too hadn’t been formalised). I know at some point I would have to go into leadership more than I am doing now, but at the moment I want to remain as I am.
How, in your experience, does AL differ as a company from other similar companies in the market?
They are very people-orientated, both in terms of welfare and career progression. The leadership team is not just focussed on delivery and client services. We do that of course, but so do other companies. The difference is they seem to be very invested in the people. About 2 years ago on my last project, I asked the General Manager if we were going for the investors in people award. They said it was something they would always be striving toward, and now we already have a GPTW placement twice in two years. Even back then the feeling I got from AL is that they are very people orientated and that hasn’t changed now.
Do you think this is staying the same as we grow?
If anything it’s getting stronger. Maybe because we’re talking about it now, maybe as we’ve grown we’ve hired people who can focus on that, not that it wasn’t a focus before, but now we have people who are able to focus on wellbeing rather than the founders doing it along with everything else. So this has become more apparent.
Do you feel you’ve been able to try things with the company? Such as training, trying out new technologies, testing out leadership abilities and so on…
Definitely, all of those are great examples. When I first started at AL, we weren’t big enough to have our own office and were subletting office space from another company. So we had a desk and 4 seats in their office; most people were on client site. Whilst I was waiting for a client project to come up, I asked Kris what to work on, I can’t remember his wording but it was very non-prescriptive, very flexible. At the time I’d been playing around with Terraform and it didn’t have a feature we needed, I asked if I can add it, and what was the company policy on open source, and he said to do it, play around with it, gave me permission and blessing to work on this. So I added that feature and it then got rolled into the product. That’s one example, and that was my first 2 weeks because I was only there for 2 weeks before being put on a project.
Fast forward a year, I had the conversation mentioned earlier with Kris about protecting my career, he started talking about his ideas for the academy and asked if I’d be interested, of course, the answer was very much so yes, although I was hired as a consulting engineer. So Kris searched for a trainer who would be able to take STEM graduates and train them into DevOps Engineers, luckily for us he found Steve Shilling, and brought me and steve together to co-design the syllabus. With each academy, I’ve had some teaching time and enjoyed it. I’ve also then taken on a technical lead, I was acting in a leadership/supervisory capacity with mentoring grads, then when the latest project came about this was made more formal as line management. But rather than being thrown in at the deep end, the AL team have been supporting me along the way, asking how I feel about it all and how can they can help me, and it’s been a great learning experience.
When teaching at the academy, I was cognizant of the fact that tech can be daunting. I made a point of saying to each group of grads that tech is so broad a domain that it’s impossible for any one person to know everything even if they’ve done it all their life. But there will come the time, sooner than you think, that you’ll be doing things I myself haven’t had exposure to. And happily for them, even in the short time the most recent academy intake have been with me on client site, they’ve been doing things that I haven’t done on the project and I’ve frequently had cause to turn to them for help!
Do you feel you’ve been given a good range of projects that have been both enjoyable and helped further your skills?
Even the ones which haven’t been my favourites of the portfolio have still been useful. One example, even though less enjoyable (in the traditional sense) was very good because I was able to influence a lot of policy and procedures there. At the time, the project was in its infancy and it was necessary to have something to give a bit of cohesion, so I did things like creating branching policy/model, and the code review policy.
My first government project was at the Ministry of Justice. The organisation is very special – the government can have a stereotype of being slow and bogged down by process. When I was at MoJ there wasn’t any of that, probably one of the most frictionless places I’ve worked in my entire working life. Kudos to Dave Rodgers for that, he was then CTO. I’ve worked in other gov projects since and there has been a full spectrum: some have had some elements of bureaucracy without being to the point of impediment, some have been very process heavy to the point of impediment.
How do you find the social aspect of AL?
We have “families” which are groups of 10-12 people who have a shared budget for events once a quarter. Having a small group makes it easy to arrange something together, and these groups get shuffled around every so often for variety. If a social event isn’t full then space will be opened up for people from other families. This works well because I’ve crashed a few recently; the fact we have that ability shows that the social relationships (as well as the professional ones) are healthy. People use the office even over the weekend to play games, in the evenings the office gets used by groups as well.
Has your time at AL helped you to progress as an engineer?
Definitely yes, it’s pushed me in ways I couldn’t have imagined but at the same time in ways that I’ve needed to protect my career. I’m not so worried right now, but it’s worth thinking of where I’ll be in 10 or 15 years time. I’ve been writing code professionally on and off for 20 years, building infrastructure for 15 years, but then there’s always the challenge that people entering the industry will be outperforming me. I need to do more, gain a new skill on top and assume it takes 10 to 15 years to progress those. With that in mind, I need to start now, so I have those 10 years of experience in leadership, or project management to be proficient at that level. The thought is becoming a little more relevant in my mind as I get older but for the moment I’m living and loving the world of tech. I’m hugely grateful that AL is able to provide me with these opportunities.
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