Interview with a Code Enigma member
Phil Norton, web developer
Phil is a developer at Code Enigma who works with many different clients. He’s had experience working with different platforms but is a Drupal specialist.
Three interesting things about Phil
- I have a degree in Microbiology and another in Computer Science. Both from the University of Aberystwyth.
- I am an avid gamer. In fact, I’m not very good at talking about the latest TV show because I’m normally playing games instead of watching TV.
- When asked what my favourite food is I will normally respond with “curry”. However, I have a love of cereal. I enjoy sitting down with a lovely bowl of Shreddies or Choco Pillows. I like cereal so much that I devote an entire cupboard in my kitchen to cereal.
How did you start a career in tech?
My journey into web development took a few turns before settling on the right path.
When I finished my Microbiology degree, I found a job in a clean room with a start-up company. Here, I prepared medical implants made from pigskin. Importantly, they were developing a voice-activated computer system too.
Whilst this is normal now, back in 2002, voice-activated anything was cutting edge. I would look at the implants and talk into the computer. This would record the numbers. Eventually, I ended up helping with the maintenance and development of the platform.
Within 6 months, I was taking database backups, running tests, inspecting data and some development. I always thought I wasn’t smart enough to become a developer, but after getting involved I realised I could. After a couple of months of night school, I decided to go back to university to do a Master’s in Computer Science.
After I graduated I got a job at Ceredigion Social Services. I was looking after the Social Services databases, training users and answering helpdesk tickets. It was good work. I was doing some interesting things, but I was more interested in web development. So, I was learning those skills on the side.
I managed to land a job doing technical SEO with a firm in Cheshire. In a nutshell, we were given a checklist of best practices we’d update sites to fit them. As a new starter in the web development world, this was a good start. It introduced me to different languages, frameworks and CMS systems.
After a while, I got involved with SEO research. I headed a (small) team that would build tools to inspect the SEO footprint of a site and show what needed to be improved. This was back in 2008, so it was a little before tools like Moz were established, so it was really cutting edge.
Around that time I decided to concentrate on pure development and moved companies to become a full-time web developer.
What inspires you in your professional life?
It depends on the subject matter in hand as different things inspire me in different ways. There is a commonality in that I tend to look to experts in different fields for inspiration. As an example, the Drupal community is full of people I look up to for inspiration. Well known Drupal people like Alex Pott, Gábor Hojtsy, Angie Byron and, of course, Dries Buytaert are highly knowledgeable and awesome people. However, the Drupal community is full of people like this and there are too many to name here. Their knowledge and drive are what inspires me to be part of the Drupal world.
Outside of Drupal, I’m fascinated by the complexity created by simple rules. Things like fractals or cellular automata are examples of a couple of simple rules that produce a complex output. Have a look at the Mandelbrot set or Conway’s Game of Life to see what I’m talking about.
Studying these gave me an interest in things like genetic algorithms and neural networks. These are simple mechanisms that have a feedback loop of self-correction. Meaning, with a few simple rules, complexity can be created. More, that complexity can be shaped towards an outcome. The humble biased neutral net is so good at this self-correcting behaviour that it has almost entered into our daily vernacular and moulded our modern world.
What do you like most about working for Code Enigma?
For me, one of the best changes between working in an office and working remotely is the absence of a daily commute. I was spending 2 hours a day getting to and from work. Driving stressed me out. The fact I can get up later and enjoy a coffee before work is great! It has removed a chunk of stress from my day.
For Code Enigma particularly, despite everyone being remote, there’s a sense of teamwork. You’re part of a community. There’s constant communication. It’s common for developers to pair-off to solve a problem or help each other. There are many knowledgeable people. You’ll easily find someone who knows something about what you’re working on.
There’s a drive for improvement at Code Enigma. Not only on a personal level but across the company. Everyone is given a training budget and encouraged to use it. Be it to go on courses, buy books, or do whatever they need to build their skills.
On a company level, there is a lot of measurement. Everything from time spent on tickets to client satisfaction. Even employee happiness is measured! This is never used to beat people over the head; it’s a guide to see where we can improve and make our processes better.