We are very excited to introduce you to Pete Willingham, Head of Development at Degree 53.
Degree 53 is an award-winning digital agency, specialising in mobile app and website development, UX and design and consultancy services. They offer bespoke solutions to a number of industries globally, including online gambling, sports, finance, education and retail.
1. Being Head of development, what teams / job titles do you work closely with?
I’m lucky as I get to work with the majority of the business! On a day to day basis, I work closely with the development team members, the QA team, Design Director and the UX/UI team, as well as Chris, our digital strategist. I also have regular meetings with our Business Development team, working on solutions for new and existing customers, project management and BA teams on delivery and design, and of course, our various business teams (management, HR, reception and marketing) with the daily needs of looking after our staff, customers and visitors. Hope I haven’t missed anyone!
2. What is the career path you took to become Head of development?
I’ve been writing software for many years (of course!), starting with Basic programs from a teach yourself template on a ZX Spectrum. I quickly worked out how to change the programme to do something else, or my favourite memory, changing a game so I could always beat my brother! Luckily, I knew pretty early on this was going to be my career. I had a fantastic IS/IT teacher at GCSE, and got on one of the few A Level courses that included actual programming (and was at the time the largest Mac network in the country, just before the first iMac was released!). From there, I went to university, so a pretty standard end to my education. My professional side started at a big multinational company, where I learnt a lot about coding in the real world. After a few years, I got an opportunity at a small business that I actually did work experience at during university holidays, which allowed me to be a much bigger cog, albeit in a smaller wheel. Thanks to their great support, I learnt so much during my 8 years there, this also gave me my first taste of management. Both of these roles taught me about writing good code, as they both exist in a safety critical or life critical world…. very important to not have bugs there! After this, I continued my journey into management, working on software products rather than single systems (on premise and SaaS systems integrating to a variety of different external and internal data sources) as a Development Manager before joining Degree 53 as the Head of Development last year.
3. What brought you to this area, what’s your background?
I grew up in Blackpool where my parents still are, but have lived in Lancaster, Preston and Chorley most of the last 20 years. I like having access to the countryside, having worked in Cumbria for quite a while. Chorley, to me, is a great balance, with good access to Manchester via trains and the motorway for travelling further for both business and pleasure.
4. What time does your day start, and what does your typical work day schedule look like?
I’m quite an early bird, usually in the office just before 8am after my commute. I get the train, which I like, as it gives me chance to read a few things on the way in. In the office, my day starts with a few stand ups with the teams. Then it really varies from client meetings, solution design, code reviews, problem solving, retrospectives and 1-2-1 meetings with the team.
5. What kind of projects are you currently working on?
We’ve got a few interesting projects on at the moment, supporting our customers’ live products during a busy change period, building a native app for one of our tourism industry clients and working on full stack pieces alongside new solutions, involving cloud technologies – can’t quite tell you about them yet!
6. What do you consider the greatest achievement in your work to date?
In a previous role, I took a collection of successful software products that were being sold within one branch of the business, and pitched them internally (nationally and internationally) to be invested in throughout the global business. This was an in-depth technical and functional investigation and it really pushed our team to prove that our products were the best of breed in the business. Believing in what we had, and equally important, what we wanted to do with our products, they were chosen, which got more investment and support for our team.
7. What is the one app you could not live without?
The National Rail app. Not glamorous, but having live train updates is a must to decide which station to go to and when on the way home! Especially when going for a swift beer on a Friday!
8. What’s the best thing about working at Degree 53?
The team(s). We’ve got such a mix of knowledge and experience, which leads to a nice diverse skill base and the desire to improve. You can always learn something off another developer, junior or senior and everyone in between.
9. Where is the after work hangout?
We’re new to the city centre still, having moved here in November, but I think, increasingly the bar opposite the office – Dogs ‘n’ Dough – has become the defacto starting point.
10. Who is your professional role model?
I have a few, because I believe you can learn different things from different people. There is a CTO, a COO and a MD I have worked for in the past, all of which I draw experience from, as well as some people I work with today. As development is an ever evolving landscape, you can’t stop learning!
11. What makes Manchester a good city for technology, startups and diversity?
I think Manchester’s position with a mix of culture, tech and small / medium / large businesses puts it in a really strong position as a home for technology and the tech community. There are so many meet ups with such varied participants, there are plenty of people at different stages of their journeys you can talk to.
12. Which tech trends are you most excited about?
Serverless architecture and containers are quite exciting as the possibilities for the ability to scale services appropriately without being too cost heavy. Most systems don’t have a steady level of traffic, so throwing more “tin” at something isn’t always an answer. These technologies give us more in our kit bag, not just for delivery but also a quick and effective tool for development to spin up and down quickly.
13. What are the top 3 qualities you look for in an employer?
Values, vision and honesty.
14. And finally, what is the one piece of advice you would give to a tech professional starting out?
Learn as much as you can from the people around you – especially when the work is difficult. We will all face challenges – some technical, some knowledge or limitations on time. Being able to deal with that the best you can will make you a better developer, and the best people to learn it from are the people around you. Obviously other developers – but don’t forget your other colleagues too!