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Hard work and dedication pays off with a career in development

After leaving school, Paul McMurray worked in call centres for several years. Aged 25, he “threw a dart” at a university prospectus and went on to complete his IT Degree at Northumbria University. He soon gained an interest in writing code, doing ad-hoc projects for friends and family. Paul then fulfilled various contracts within web development and ecommerce, further honing his skills in databases, CSS, writing promotional software and building systems from scratch. Now a senior Full Stack developer with over 10 years’ experience, he talked to Nigel Wright’s Sophie Elliott about coding, his favourite technologies, and tech careers.

What have you learnt about coding over the years?

Before my IT degree, coding was a mystery. I had to prove my way onto the course by reading books and doing my own research. When you gain employment, you then learn different approaches depending on the ‘house style.’ However, the fundamentals are the same – if there’s a coding mistake, you must figure out where the line error is.

Coding is problem solving. Each step is an important part of the process and the steps remain unclear until you get to them. Adaptability is important; you must have an open mind and break projects down bit by bit. Brains process information like this, and it’s the only way to guarantee success. That’s why we use agile. Agile allows you to see progress. People used to call it ‘fag packet development,’ because you should never attempt more steps in a day, than you’re able to write on the back of a cigarette packet. Things become granular, and it’s always clear exactly where you are with functions and processes. Developers gain a sense of achievement at every stage, no matter how small.

Coding in a language is similar; you must endure the pain of learning what the basics of that language are, but also identify the tools you need to satisfy the project. You pick the starting point, but you don’t always get the choose the end.

Which languages and tools do you always use?

PHP has been a constant in my career. The internet has universal foundations, so to make it user friendly I rely on HTML, CSS, and maybe a bit of JavaScript. Being open and adaptable is the most important lesson I’ve learned. Don’t pigeonhole yourself and become restricted by using one tool or language.

Are there any emerging technologies that excite you?

I’m doing a part time Master’s Degree and my thesis will focus on blockchain. Blockchain works like a real chain. Inside the chain would be some encrypted information, and each link in the chain acts as a component of that information.

However, the links could be anywhere in the world and accessing each one requires a validation key. Any business or personal information is stored and protected without the risk of being hacked. Transactional authentication and proof of ownership is only possible if you unlock each link. Blockchain is a huge trend that will become even more popular when more uses for it are discovered.

 What advice would you give to people interested in tech careers?

Coding is for anyone. If you’re interested, start by reading books and following online tutorials. Then maybe take a course, but if you do, make sure you complete it. And apply for jobs, even if you don’t ‘tick all the boxes.’ Most developers suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ – we all worry that our skills aren’t strong enough and that someone will find out eventually. There’s a cheesy saying which applies to me: ‘If you find a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’ K eep trying, and you’ll get there in the end.

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