We are very excited to introduce you to David Wheal, Head of Solution Architecture at Degree 53

This successful Manchester based UX Design and Software Development Agency uses their skills in design and user experience to work with leading brands, family businesses and fast-growing start-ups in gambling, affiliate, sports, financial sectors, ticketing and education. Some of their services include creating mobile apps, websites, UX & design and Bespoke .NET Development.

Can you imagine what it takes to be Head of Solution Architecture for Degree 53? Read below to find out!


1. What is the best part about being a Head of Solution architecture?  

I’ve been a developer for a long time, my career has gone from programming DEC PDP11s through the advent of personal computing and on to today’s cloud hosted solutions. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. My current position is great because I get the best of both worlds. I can be involved in projects at an early stage and spend my time designing and estimating a technical solution, drawing on all of my experience. I can also get my hands dirty with the implementation of my design.

2. What brought you to this area, what’s your background?  

I went to university at UMIST from home in Wolverhampton and studied Computation. After that, I came to the Manchester area. Even after spending a few years living and working in Italy, I returned to Manchester. I’ve lived in East Lancashire mostly, I moved to Ramsbottom after Uni and now I live near Accrington. In my opinion, it’s a great place to live and bring up your kids, with great countryside and great amenities. When I came to Manchester, I had very little idea what being a developer entailed but the UMIST course and my first placement in industry made me realise that it was definitely the job for me. Since then, I’ve never looked back.

3. What time does your day start, and what does your typical work day schedule look like?

Being a developer, I’m not great in the mornings but I try to get in for 8:30am, if at all possible. At that time of day, you can generally have a relaxed chat about a project and get an idea of progress. Solutions to problems left over from the day before generally pop into my head during the night so I like to apply the fixes in the morning as soon as possible, before I forget them. At 9:15am, we have a project scrum where we all report on the previous day’s work and what we are planning to do during the day. This keeps us all in touch and helps make the day productive. After the scrum, when we are developing a project, it’s usually heads down, headphones on and get on with it. The day may be broken up with the odd meeting but we try to minimise these. A lot of the time, I’ll be coding or doing some form of technical documentation. At other times, I’ll be doing telephone or face to face interviews as we are recruiting heavily at the moment. I always try and get to talk with team members through the day. We have a messaging system, Slack, to use but I often prefer face to face communication. I’ll have a sandwich at lunchtime and then it’s more of the same in the afternoon. If we are in the testing phase of a project, most of the time is spent fixing bugs which involves administration of the bug tickets and deployment of the fixes for retest. We use Microsoft’s cloud platform, so I spend a lot of time configuring systems to perform well and to be secure for our customers. I drink tea and coffee at a great rate through the day and, before I’m ready, it’s time to go home again.

4. What kind of projects are you currently working on?

I’ve been working on the same project for most of this year. It’s quite a big one and an interesting challenge for us. We have undertaken to create a full gambling platform for an exclusive bookmaker to support current operations and future business plans. It covers a lot of technology areas implementing some sophisticated business processes. The entire team are enjoying the challenge, so there’s a great can-do atmosphere around the place and the occasional ‘spirited’ conversation!

5. What do you consider the greatest achievement in your work to date?

I don’t think I’m after great achievements, just steady success with each project that comes along.

6. What is the one app you could not live without?

Currently I’m using WhatsApp a lot because my daughter has just gone to uni and we have a family group going that lets us keep in touch. Apart from that, I could not last a minute without Apple Music (or Spotify, or Tidal etc).

7. What’s the best thing about working at your company?

The culture at Degree 53 is fresh and optimistic which makes it a pleasure. We work hard (really hard) but when it’s time to play – it really is time to play (for some more than others).

8. Where is the after work hangout?

We have just moved into the centre of Manchester so that’s yet to be determined. I suspect any karaoke bar will do (at least for our MD, Andy).

9. Who is your professional role model?

There’s no one particular person. I like the attitudes you see in the Silicon Valley start ups, where there is a more long term vision than we are used to in the UK. I am not too keen on their work ethic, though, which I consider a bit over the top. I think a good work-life balance is important for everyone especially those who are a tad older.

10. What makes Manchester a good city for technology, startups and diversity?

Manchester has grown mightily over the last 30 years and is now a modern city to rival the best. Its industrial heritage has been preserved, so we have a lot of beautiful buildings to admire. Students arriving from all over the world will find many reasons to stay here and take part. Media City will also play its part in attracting talent to the area. Culturally, Manchester has always had a great atmosphere, with some fantastic orchestras, great theatre, brilliant shows and some great bands.

11. Which tech trends are you most excited about?

Personally, I’m waiting for the Apple HomePod. I like the idea of those intelligent speakers but I’m waiting for one that will be a little more hi-fi than the current Amazon and Google offerings. As usual, this excitement will translate into overspending but I don’t mind too much if I can get the music I want without effort.

12. What are the top 3 qualities you look for in an employer?

I like an employer who rewards achievement and doesn’t indulge in pointless politics. Those qualities keep everybody happy and secure and create an environment where it’s easy to make the best of the employees. Finally, for me, the work must be challenging, making me stretch my skills and learn new things.

13. And finally, what is the one piece of advice you would give to a tech professional starting out?  

Stay calm, talk to people and read a lot!