10 Questions With…Iain Brown, Engineering Manager at Administrate

Iain joined Administrate in 2015 as a Software Engineer and over the last seven years has worked his way through the business and is now an Engineering Manager.

Hamilton Forth’s Bruce Arrighi recently caught up with Iain to find out more about his career at Administrate and his experiences within software engineering.

 

What does a typical day look like for you?

We have two ‘stand ups’ each day – one in the morning to organise ourselves and get our priorities in place for the day, to establish what is ready to be closed off and can go for testing so that it is safe to release out to our customers. As Engineering manager, I coordinate with other departments, engineers and the leadership team to make sure we are communicating effectively. I conduct regular 1-2-1 meetings with the team, and generally manage the team and ensure they have the required support to hit our objectives and key results. Our afternoon stand-up is where we check progress and monitor whether we are on track and do we need to shift things to make sure we get on or remain on track. Communicating with other departments to ensure everything comes together.

 

What do Administrate do and what attracted you to join the organisation?

Administrate provides training management software. We help companies that are either training companies or departments to run their training operations. We take off the administrative aspects a business may have as this can be done through Administrate. Things like scheduling, resourcing, bookings, and automated emails etc. are basically what our core platform does. Most companies in sales will have Salesforce and in- HR will use Workday. There wasn’t really a go-to software for training providers 10 years ago and Administrate was born out of this need.

This is our main platform however we have addition software options such as learning management solutions and integrations and a number of other aspects. We want to offer a Platform as a Service (PaaS) and offer our customers the chance to run their entire operations through us. We may even get to a point where we are able run things headless for other big companies and bring all the information into one place and automated.

 

What defining career moments has there been for you?

I joined as a relatively junior Engineer and was given the opportunity to step into a Scrum Master role and run the team and make sure things were getting done week to week. This was my first opportunity to move away from just being an engineer and get an opportunity to plan the bigger picture stuff and how we achieve this as well as running the Agile Ceremonies.

I really enjoyed this and the teamwork and camaraderie we had whilst working on the objectives. This sparked my interest in running a team, and I was given the chance to step up as a team lead and gain management responsibilities.

In 2018 I was then given the opportunity to run multiple teams and in 2020 stepped up to cover for my boss for a short time when he was particularly stretched.

I have managed to move my way through the business in various roles and this has made me realise I wanted to be an engineering manager. Administrate is still a small company in some respects but I am proud of how organically we have grown and continue to grow.

 

What do you perceive to be the most disruptive technologies that will be forthcoming in the next couple of years?

Not so much disruptive but some of the basis of the NFT technology is very interesting in terms of being able to verify ownership.  This could have some very interesting applications in terms of certifications and qualifications.

The core aspects of being able to independently verify that a person is who they say they are or owns a qualification could be very interesting for the future of things like driving licenses, passports, and for a way in which we can have global body for verifying. I am still a bit sceptical of the whole space, but I am interested to see how it goes.

 

Any advice you would give someone looking to start out in Software Engineering and the various directions they can go in?

Start doing something in maybe opensource or building a couple of projects. I think software engineering is one of the spaces where you can be self-taught and do very well actually. The main thing is getting exposure to different paradigms and different languages and trying things out, especially if you are more interested in the technology path e.g., getting software design and architectural patterns experience. If someone is more interested in the management and project planning aspect, then getting more involved in how to understand what problems you are trying to solve for the user – user story mapping.

The crucial point for both is having the skill to understand why you are doing what you are doing. Very often software companies can fall into the trap of telling engineers to do this, this and this and they end up building the wrong thing because of poor communication. It is very important even when going down the management route to have an understanding at any given point why we are doing something and what we are trying to achieve. This is hyper important!

You can spend hours getting better at software and architectural designs or how to manage and structure your work but the WHY is the most important thing. I have heard of many projects which haven’t gone to plan due to not grasping the WHY and not being clear on what they are looking to achieve.

 

If you weren’t in Software Engineering, what would you be doing for a career?

That’s a very interesting question! I kind of fell into Software Engineering. I studied Music, Maths and Computing. Maths and Computing made me think I could study Computer Science. If I wasn’t in software, I think I would like to be building something so the idea of construction or carpentry appeals to me.

I read a book about disconnecting from the internet and becoming financially independent through things like stocks and shares and how people earn enough of a wage from that that it allows them to build something they are passionate about. In many cases people seem to gravitate to things where they can use their hands to make or build something and I am no different.  I could also have seen myself doing something musical as I play a lot of guitar.

 

If you were to host a dinner party and could invite three guest (living or deceased) who would you choose and why?

Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has been my hero for a long time. I appreciate he can be a bit of a controversial character however just following his life journey, his experience being in the army, wanting to get into body building and moving to America is really interesting. I really like his entrepreneurial streak and how he has moved into politics and in particular his desire to push green energy in California where he was the Governor for many years. I find him utterly fascinating and would love to meet him.

Marcus Aurelius is another hero of mine. He was a Roman emperor. There is a whole branch of philosophy which albeit not founded by him was popularised by him. He again is an utterly fascinating character and leader. Essentially in my mind he was one of the best leaders of the Roman empire.

Jimmy Hendrix. Why not? That would be fun.

 

Any advice you would give your younger self given your experience?

I’d probably assign myself some reading. I think the two best books I would read are the DevOps Handbook and Peopleware. Peopleware is a quite an old book but it’s very important today. DevOps Handbook is kind of a bible for software engineers

 

How would your colleagues describe you?

Focused and to the point but also very eccentric and passionate about the things I care about. ‘Congruent’ is one of my favourite ways I have ever been described before. I am incredibly consistent – there are things I care about and there are the things I don’t. I have a way I live my life and I bring that into to every aspect of my life.

 

Administrate have a number of positions available right now. For those who might be interested in joining the organisation, what kind of person do you look for?

People who are not complacent and want to make the change they see in the role effectively. We don’t want candidates to come in and sit in the seat and do the work that’s been assigned to them. We want people who can contribute to the work and trying to improve us and change the status quo. We all want to be doing better. There are people who I have worked with in the past who the second they hit the ground they have their baseline and have come up with ideas on how to make things better.

We want people who can make Administrate better by working as part of the team.

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