Meet the web developer who used to run campaigns for the Labour Party

Ollie Haydon-Mulligan is proof that it’s never too late to change careers. When he started his transition he’d never written a line of code in his life. Now, he’s an experienced web developer building a global product.

Leaving the Labour Party wasn’t the only change in Ollie’s life. Soon after, he and his wife embarked on another big adventure to start their family.

Ollie, can you briefly tell me a little bit about yourself and your background?

I grew up in Camden Town in London and went to university at Cambridge where I studied Social and Political Sciences. I started working for the Labour party in 2010 in the build up to the General Election and worked there until just after the 2015 General Election. That was when I left politics and started my career as a coder. I joined Cookpad in 2018.

Campaigning to coding is quite a shift. What happened?

When I resigned from the Labour Party I had no notion that I would start coding. I’d never written a line of code in my life. But, after more than five intense and exhausting years working on campaigns in Plymouth, Swindon, Bristol, Cardiff, London Oldham and Scotland, I decided it was time for a change. I’d spent a lot of energy dealing with problems, managing people and getting things done, without really developing a craft that I could take pride in. Looking back, I think that’s what I was missing and looking for from my next move.

How did the coding come about?

After leaving the Labour party, I started applying for jobs but found it hard to articulate my transferable skills. I put a lot of effort into interviewing, but after a number of interviews and no job offers I thought, what other options do I have? I wasn’t going to retrain for 10 years as an architect or a doctor. Then, one day by chance I was talking to a family friend who mentioned that she’d done a coding bootcamp which sounded really interesting. That’s where it all started.

Was coding something that just came naturally to you then?

I’ve actually thought about this before. You know how Harry Potter is a wizard from birth and finds himself talking to snakes without even realising it? It wasn’t like that for me. I wasn’t secretly a coder the whole time. It’s something I learnt and I believe anyone can do. No one should feel it’s too late to start.

“I wasn’t secretly a coder the whole time. It’s something I learnt and I believe anyone can do. No one should feel it’s too late to start.”

Ok, you’re not Harry Potter, so how did you learn to code?

I started by checking out a few coding websites and working my way through various coding challenges, while continuing to apply for non-coding jobs in parallel. After a while, it got quite addictive so I started researching bootcamps. Eventually, I decided to give it a serious go and joined a bootcamp called Makers Academy, mainly because I could do it remotely and their focus was on preparing you for a first developer job.

I’m sure you already know my next question. Did you get a junior developer job?

Yes. Shortly after completing the bootcamp, I secured a job at an agency called Simpleweb in Bristol. I had a new project, client, technology and experience pretty much every few months, so it was a great but very steep learning curve.

Where does Cookpad fit into everything?

One of my agency colleagues left to join Cookpad and after a while he asked whether I’d be interested in applying for a job there too. The main question I had was, if I move will I continue learning? Working in depth on a single product would be very different to multiple projects and clients every few months. Eventually I decided to go for it. Cookpad seemed like a cool product and I was confident I’d face lots of new challenges in a really talented and supportive team.

What are your reflections on your time so far at Cookpad?

Cookpad has been a continuation of my learning journey. It has challenged me in so many ways. Everyone I’ve worked with has been generous with their knowledge and supported me along the way and now after two years, I really enjoy feeling I can share my knowledge and help others. I’m no longer always asking questions, but often answering them.

“It’s important to have a growth mindset because Cookpad is a place where people reach out of their comfort zones and tackle new problems every day.”

Looking back, is there anything from your time in politics that helps you in your role today?

I’m definitely a better communicator but broadly speaking, not really. I still feel like I’m feeling my way in the tech world but I’m convinced that’s a good thing for two reasons. Firstly, I still approach everything with curiosity and scrutiny and try not to be phased when things are uncertain or difficult. That mindset defines my whole experience of coding so far and I think it’s a really effective way to try and solve any new problem. The second is that I know how it feels for things not to make sense, so I never assume that other developers or non tech people understand what I’m talking about. I always try to simplify things and explain them clearly.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about joining Cookpad?

Everyone at Cookpad has their own ‘secret sauce’, so think about what yours is. It’s also important to have a growth mindset because Cookpad is a place where people reach out of their comfort zones and tackle new problems every day. Everyone embraces the challenge of learning and sees it as an important part of their personal development. Finally, I’d say communication skills are key. Coding isn’t a solo activity, at least not at Cookpad. Being part of a big global team and product means it’s crucial to be able to communicate well.

We now know you code, but do you cook?

Yes. My wife isn’t a big fan of the kitchen so I cook almost every evening. My confession is that I very rarely follow recipes, I just watch cookery shows and borrow techniques and ideas from there. Cooking is a relaxing activity for me and I love to make things up as I go along.

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