Welcome to the next feature in our Leaders in Tech editorial series. Speaking to leaders in the industry to capture their stories, career highs and lows, their trials and successes, their current company and their role, most recent projects, advice to others, and the individuals who they most look up to in the industry.
This week, we talked to James Healey, Lead DevOps at Carbon, to find out more about why he joined the tech industry, what his role entails, what are the challenges he faces as a tech leader, and his advice to aspiring engineers and developers.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
Carbon is a data management platform, a SaaS product for publishers to improve the understanding and monetization of their audience. We currently handle around 25 million page visit events a day, as well as understanding the content of tens of thousands of pages to build up a picture of each user.
I lead DevOps and am responsible for infrastructure, monitoring, tools, and incident response.
I’m also responsible for several of the key .NET APIs, and mentoring some of the junior devs.
What inspired you to get involved in the IT industry?
I’ve always been interested in tech, and growing up I always dreamed of working for Rockstar on the latest Grand Theft Auto. When I was deciding on courses for university I initially wanted to specialize in Game Development but decided to keep things more general with a Computer Science degree, knowing I could specialize later if I still wanted to.
That choice paid off, and during university, I became less interested in game development and began to enjoy the coding itself, rather than just as a means to an end.
Can you tell me about your journey and how you got where you are now?
I’ve always lived in Teesside and was lucky enough that Teesside University is well known for its good Computing degrees. I stayed local for my placement year at Clicksco, a company that at the time was making a travel website. I built out the flight booking API there and was lucky to be part of a team that would teach me so much about different parts of the industry (agile, TDD, git, etc).
When I rejoined Clicksco after graduating, large-scale machine learning projects had taken the place of the travel website, and I helped guide the new students through their placements. A while later, Clicksco’s newest project Carbon was spun off into a separate business, and the monitoring and deployment side of my role grew. I eventually became the go-to person for all things DevOps, and this was reflected in the role title.
In the last year or so, Carbon has merged with a company based in New York that had a SaaS product that showed publishers real-time revenue information from the ads on their sites. The merge has gone well, and the last 6 months or so have focused on a ground-up rewrite that brings the two ideas together.
My job has been to help with the infrastructure side of that rewrite, deploying a whole load of Go microservices to ECS Fargate and all the other setups that AWS demands. We’re now in several different cloud environments, and it’s been a great learning experience seeing how they all stack up against one another.
Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
In my placement year, there were several devs that really took me under their wing and helped me grow as a developer, introducing me to Test Driven Development, for example, or ensuring my code was always the best it could be in pull request reviews.
There’s a tight group of friends I met at university and at Clicksco that are all at roughly the same level of experience but have gone off in different areas. That’s been really useful to see what else is out there and how everyone has progressed.
There are also hundreds of people I follow on Twitter and blogs that I read regularly – Monzo being a particular inspiration for the work they do there on monitoring and incident response.
How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?
Thankfully there aren’t many conflicts. I suppose the way we keep motivated is to keep things light-hearted and friendly, as well as giving people the freedom to decide their own priorities and own the areas they work on regularly. Help is always at hand if anyone ever needs it, and we’re quick to jump on a call and work through things together to get things unblocked.
What are your current goals?
We’re at the final stages of the initial rollout of the big rewrite, and it’ll be great to see that going live.
I’m happy with the current mix of development and DevOps, so I suppose my goal would be to keep that mix, but at a larger scale as we grow. I’m constantly learning new tech, and I’d like that to continue.
What is the favorite part of your job?
The freedom to decide my own priorities is a godsend; being trusted to keep others in the loop but make decisions myself rather than consult with others before doing anything means I can focus on fixing and improving things instead of spending the day in meetings.
Do you have a memorable story or an anecdote from your experience you’d like to tell?
Thankfully no production databases accidentally dropped or anything like that, but there’s been a load of memorable characters over the years, from eco-warriors to aspiring hip hop artists.
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring engineers and testers who want to grow in the tech industry?
If you’re in university, I’d really recommend the industrial placement year, if one’s available.
If not, one thing I’ve done in the past takes a look at the job descriptions for roles that look interesting and try to incorporate any skills I might be missing into my existing role. For the most part, though, it’s about being easy to work with and eager to learn, as long as you keep pushing yourself then the rest comes with time.