Introducing the Band – James Bell

Posted by on April 26, 2019

The Product and Engineering organisation at FreeAgent is now a broad group of over 90 engineers (of various flavours), designers, data scientists, product managers, UX specialists, business analysts, managers and testers. And we’re still growing apace! We thought it would be fun to interview some of the team to share a bit of their career history and to provide our readers with some behind-the-scenes insight into what goes on day in, day out in our metaphorical ‘dev pit’. So here’s the first installment – we hope you enjoy the series!

How long have you worked at FreeAgent and what did you do before you joined?
I started working at FreeAgent about five years ago. I moved up to Edinburgh from London, where I’d been working as a software developer for a digital agency. We specialised in building custom e-commerce and business management systems for small to medium-sized businesses.

What team do you work on and what’s the mission of that team?
I work on the Compliance team; our mission is to help UK micro-business owners and their accountants deal with all their UK tax and accounting obligations. I usually simplify this to “work on all the bits of the app that interact with HMRC”.

One of the challenges is working with lengthy, jargon-laden and labyrinthine processes such as submitting payroll or self assessment returns. These are often areas of worry and confusion for our customers, so we spend time to make each piece as easy to understand as possible. Ideally, we want them to feel in control. It’s immensely satisfying.

What does your typical FreeAgent work day look like?
I work in our office in Edinburgh, so I usually walk or cycle to work in the morning. If the team doesn’t have a planning meeting in the late morning, we’ll have a quick status check meeting first thing. After that, it varies. On some projects, we will pair program for large chunks of the day, so I can spend a lot of time on a video call with a remote colleague. We’re also fairly cross-functional, so I might spend time with our designer or our business analyst working out some rough direction for upcoming work, or with our test engineer working up some acceptance criteria for a story.

At FreeAgent we write a lot of Ruby and Rails code. Did you join FreeAgent with Ruby experience?
I’d worked with Ruby and Rails a wee bit before starting at FreeAgent. At my last job, we had an internal tool written in Rails for which I occasionally wrote small bits of functionality. However, I was essentially a PHP and Java developer when I started.

How has your opinion of Ruby changed over the years? Is it still fun to work with?
I’ve been working with the language for six years and I still love using it. The tools have improved over time and I enjoy how it allows me to write code that’s easy to understand, while modelling the problem domain well. More importantly, I still enjoy the community. As with all programming languages, that’s the most important thing. The Ruby community has built wonderful tools over the years, has a whimsical sense of humour and has lots of folk who are curious and who want to work for what is right.

I’ll admit though that I still find date handling awkward- gosh does Ruby like to pass around nils!

What are you most excited about in the world of software right now?
I’m excited that we’re talking more and more about the human factors of software. From the teams that build it to the people that use it and others who may even be unaware that software has influenced their lives in both positive and negative ways. I’m happy and delighted that all of these things are being discussed and thought about more widely.

What’s something you learned recently that you want others to know about?
The developers of Sorbet – a gradual type checking library for Ruby- announced at Ruby Kaigi that they’re working with the core team. Also, Sorbet itself will be open sourced this summer – if you’re a Ruby developer, this is pretty exciting.

What music do you listen to when working?
I listen to the radio. There are two shows that I try to keep up with on a weekly basis – the Radio 1 Rock Show and Travelling Folk. There’s also two shows that I try to listen to at least once a week – Annie Mac’s evening show and DJ Target’s evening show. I tend not to notice links and skip through interviews.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *