Life After Heriot-Watt – A Computer Science Perspective

Max Manders @maxmanders
BSc (Hons) Computer Science (Graduated 2005)

Max MandersThe Watt Club recently caught up with Max Manders, a graduate from Heriot-Watt’s Computer Science course. Max discussed his career in the industry to date.

What are you up to these days?

I’m currently employed by Cloudreach as a systems developer, working in the NOC (Network Operations Centre) in a role bridging both traditional software development and systems administration and operations; the term DevOps engineer is gaining popularity as a title for this multi-disciplinary role.  Cloudreach is a very exciting place to work, offering me the opportunity to work with a diverse range of clients and tackle a wide variety of technical challenges.

We also won first place in the Sunday Times’ Best Small Companies 2013 award!  Almost a decade after graduating, having worked with different technologies for different companies, I feel like I’ve found my ideal job: a fast paced mix of software engineering, systems administration and managed services operations.

What got you interested in Programming & Systems Development?

From an early age I was interested in computers.  I was fortunate enough to have access to the Internet from a young age, and I was hooked!  It soon became a hobby.

From an early age I was interested in computers…I knew I had to make this my career.

I taught myself how the web worked; how to create web pages using HTML and CSS; then progressed to learning how to make web sites dynamic and interactive with PHP and MySQL, and JavaScript. I knew I had to make this my career and a degree in Computer Science seemed like the obvious next step to take after finishing secondary school.

Why Heriot-Watt?

Although my various University applications were all accepted, I chose Heriot-Watt because the syllabus sounded exciting, and I really liked the Riccarton campus — featuring a lake, swans and an on-campus pub!

Max Manders

Max in his student days!

For some lucky folk university was a breeze; I’d be lying if I said that was the case, but after four years I graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Computer Science.

I would advise any new or potential students to the Computer Science course tomake sure you expose yourself to as much Linux as you can, and gain some key systems administration knowledge. This would be invaluable to new students pursing a career in IT.

What were your first steps after graduation?

Having graduated, I focused on an IT career.  I was looking for something web-related, and was fortunate enough to quickly find and apply for a job working for the Information Systems Division of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.  I stayed at COPFS for about 18 months, working to develop and improve their intranet.

I was keen to further my career in  web development, making use of open source software such as PHP, MySQL and Linux, so I got a job with local Edinburgh based bespoke software company Valley Technology. While at Valley Technology I really skilled up with a variety of open source technology, Linux, PHP web development and system administration.

I was responsible for everything from installing Linux web servers to bespoke online shopping cart development.

I then joined a small Musselburgh based start-up called Diet Chef. A delivered diet food company is certainly not where I expected to be, but every company needs someone to provide IT skills!  When I started, I was the sole IT provider and worked on everything from provisioning and installing Linux web servers to configuring our Asterisk PABX telephone system, to bespoke development of the online shopping cart.

I then moved to Maglabs, which was exciting.  We worked with some pretty big clients: Universal Pictures, Marks & Spencer and Manchester United to name but a few.  The core business was the development of bespoke workflow and digital asset management software.  Again, I was writing web applications using PHP on Linux.

My latest move has been to Cloudreach. Working here suits my personality and interests perfectly.  I’ve never been an ‘academic’ programmer, I’m not the sort of developer who’ll come up with the next big algorithm.  But I do enjoy writing code to solve problems.

Being able to work in a middle ground between development and systems administration is just what I’ve been looking for!

What else has been happening?

In the last few years, I’ve been expanding my horizons outside of work too.  Last year I helped organise the inaugural Whisky Web conference here in Edinburgh; a conference with prominent international speakers covering a range of web development topics.  By all accounts it was a roaring success, and we’re doing it again this year on April 12th and 13th.

Max Manders Whisky web

Max (centre back) with colleagues at the Whisky Web Conference 2013.

I’ve spoken at one of the Edinburgh TechMeetup evenings, and more recently in February 2013, came back to Heriot-Watt to give a talk on Cloud Computing to undergraduate Computer Science students.  A number of students asked about whether Cloudreach offer internships and happily for the first time, we are able to.  So far, we’ve had three Heriot-Watt students accept a position over the summer!

I’ve also been invited to attend the Heriot-Watt Computer Science Industry Steering Board in May, with a view to shaping the future of the undergraduate Computer Science syllabus so it may more accurately represent the tools and technologies being used in industry today.

We’ve been delighted to offer summer internship positions to Heriot-Watt students.

So after almost a decade in industry, I’ve pursued a career working with the web and found the perfect job that I’m fortunate enough to also call my hobby.  I’m also excited to be back in touch with my alma mater, hopefully being able to contribute to shaping in some little way, future Computer Science graduates.

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