The short version...
Starting with a background in Physics and Computing from Imperial College, I've had a varied career in academia and the tech industry, where I've developed a broad range of technical and business skills. After an initial foray into academia, I transitioned to the tech world, first joining several startups before a long stint at development agency New Bamboo. There, I rose from lead developer to Head of Operations, acquiring invaluable experience across multiple roles.
When New Bamboo transitioned into thoughtbot's London office, I assumed the role of Managing Director. This expanded my experience in managing international teams and navigating diverse cultural landscapes. Now, I've pivoted to a solo career, focusing on projects that leverage software to enhance businesses of all types.
Read on for the full story...
It starts with physics
I always found physics enjoyable, which, combined with an inherent curiosity about how the world works, led me to a four-year physics degree at Imperial College.
I was immediately taken aback by the pace of learning. We were expected to grasp new concepts 2-3 times faster than anything I had experienced before. This steep learning curve was challenging, but it taught me to absorb new ideas rapidly!
During my first-year project, I had to write some software to analyze experimental data. This was my first real insight into the power of computers. I was fascinated by their potential to make things faster, easier, and more accurate. A concept that ended up being a core principle in my future career.
Following my physics degree, I found myself at a crossroads. Further physics research seemed constrained to very narrowly defined subjects. On the other hand, computing offered a more expansive playground for experimentation. An opportunity for a fully funded PhD position at Imperial College appeared, and I seized it.
My research focused on optimizing the use of network-connected supercomputers. An unexpected but fascinating part of this was delving into economic theory to model the problem. I had to grapple with microeconomics before employing genetic algorithms for problem-solving. It was a blend of worlds that I found deeply fascinating.
During this time, I was introduced to the art of writing high-quality code. I was developing more complex pieces of software than ever before, and I quickly realized the stark difference between just writing code and writing it well.
The research group I joined became a cornerstone of my PhD journey. We spent countless hours in discussion over coffee, ranging from computing to philosophy. This vibrant intellectual exchange taught me to think critically, challenge ideas, and test their mettle before accepting them.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of my PhD was the culmination - writing the thesis. I had to pen down a piece akin to a book, a daunting task for someone like me who doesn't naturally lean towards writing. But I got through it somehow!
Entering the world of work
Upon completing my PhD, I decided academia's bureaucracy and politics weren't for me, and I eagerly ventured into industry. My first landing spot was a web analytics company that specialized in improving website usability, a precursor to what we know today as UX and Design. I was a key member of a small software team developing a tool for tracking website visitor patterns - a valuable tool, unfortunately, made obsolete by Google's acquiring one of our competitors and making it available for free as Google Analytics.
This experience paved the way for a new opportunity at a social media startup. At a time when competing with Facebook was not entirely unrealistic, I became a team lead, inheriting code from an agency initially tasked with building the platform. Here, I faced my first clash between business requests and technical realities. One memorable case involved a manager's insistence on a specific website feature that just wasn't compatible with how the internet worked. It was a challenge, but I eventually devised an alternative solution for the same outcome. This experience taught me to approach problems from different angles and consider the hidden value of seemingly unworkable ideas. Interestingly, advancements in internet technologies have since made that manager's initial request feasible and common.
Regrettably, the startup's journey ended due to financial constraints, and we were all made redundant. But as one door closed, another opened: the agency that previously developed our software reached out with a job offer, and I accepted, ready to embark on the next chapter of my career journey.
A dancing detour
During my PhD years, I'd taken up Latin dancing as a hobby, as part of the university team. As I moved into the professional world, I no longer needed to study in the evenings and had ample free time. Instead of lounging, I put more time into dancing, competing beyond university circuits in local, national, and eventually international competitions.
This decision transformed my routine. My evenings became dedicated to training sessions, and weekends were spent learning from amazing and inspirational teachers. My vacation time? That became synonymous with attending competitions.
The pinnacle of my dance journey came when I participated in the world championship event. Competing against an elite field of dancers, I surpassed almost half of them, an achievement I'm incredibly proud of. Dancing in one of the world's most elegant ballrooms, with over a thousand pairs of eyes watching, was an unmatched experience. I'll always remember the exhilaration and sense of accomplishment.
This period of my life was instrumental in shaping my self-confidence and comfort with performing in front of large crowds. More significantly, it taught me invaluable lessons about leadership: clarity of intent and effective communication, not just issuing commands.
Following the start-up I'd been at, New Bamboo presented an exciting contrast. A Ruby on Rails development agency, it offered me the opportunity to gain wider project experience. Starting as a lead developer, my journey at New Bamboo saw me progressing from hands-on coding to introducing agile software techniques through being a scrum master and agile coach and, eventually, becoming Head of Operations, overseeing all ongoing projects.
One of the most rewarding parts of this job was the cultural echo it had to my PhD research group: vibrant conversations over shared lunches, intellectually stimulating debates, and a sense of belonging that I hadn't felt since my PhD days. The friendships I formed here are ones I still cherish.
While we worked on projects for big names like Intel or RedBull, I often found the most rewarding experiences came from working with smaller, lesser-known companies. This diverse portfolio of projects gave me profound insights into what determines the success or failure of a tech project.
During this period, I had a humbling realisation. Even though I was a good developer, I was surrounded by developers more skilled than I ever would be. Rather than discouraging me, this inspired me to identify my unique strengths. I'd previously experienced friction between business and tech team members. At New Bamboo, I saw this issue come up more and more. However, I also discovered my unique ability to bridge this gap, helping these two worlds to coexist more effectively. This realisation became instrumental in shaping my future career path.
In 2015, New Bamboo was acquired and turned into the London office of thoughtbot, a larger, similar organization. The transition was smooth yet intricate. I found myself not only navigating the legalities of acquisition but also leading the London office. As Managing Director, my responsibilities expanded, making me accountable for both the success of our projects and the financial viability of our London entity.
Thoughtbot, while reminiscent of New Bamboo, had its distinctive culture. Being part of a company with offices across the US, Sweden, and London, I learned different business cultures and processes. My understanding of business operations, honed at New Bamboo, was put to the test and pushed to new limits. Negotiating contracts, devising strategies, and introducing a marketing dimension to a previously marketing-agnostic company all formed part of my expanded role.
Every year, the entire company gathered in New York or Boston for several days of networking and camaraderie. I led sessions on organizational adaptation, process modification, and strategizing for the future.
Though my journey with thoughtbot was rewarding, an itch for something new started to emerge. It was time to try going independent, an adventure I'd long been curious about...
The tug of wanting to do something new had been growing for some time. I wanted to see how I could use tech to help companies that weren't really into tech themselves. Thus began the next chapter of my career.
An opportunity arose to collaborate with the University of Edinburgh, a project centred around using software to assist in reviewing extensive medical research. The work was reminiscent of my early days, merging software with science, a nostalgic and satisfying experience.
Launching a solo career just as the global pandemic hit was, admittedly, challenging. Yet, amidst the difficulties, I was able to help the University of Edinburgh adapt its platform to focus on covid research. Following that, I managed to secure several meaningful projects, which helped me navigate the challenge of starting a solo career amid a global pandemic.
In my solo work since, I've drawn on both the business and technology skills honed over the years. One project called for initiating the tech side of a new business, others required enhancing the technical prowess of existing companies, and there were projects when I focused on improving the business side of my clients.
These early projects assured me that I have the necessary skills to add substantial value to my clients, even without the backing of a large team. While the path was challenging, it has also been gratifying. Now, looking towards the future, I'm excited about the potential of the journey ahead.