23 Feb 2021

Guest blog: Unboxed's Women in Tech interview series

Read techUK member Unboxed's first interview from the series, which tells the story of Rhian Lewis, developer and author

techUK member Unboxed is a dynamic digital agency that prizes diversity and celebrates individuality, made up of a group of developers, designers, thinkers and creatives. They recently launched a Women in Tech interview series which starts off telling the story of Rhian Lewis [pictured on the right], a developer at Unboxed and author of “The Cryptocurrency Revolution”, who describes her career trajectory as having begun as a writer who codes as a hobby to becoming a coder who writes as a hobby.

Read below part of Unboxed's interview and find out more about them here.

Q: Can you give our readers some background information on your role at Unboxed and what set you off on your current career path?

A: I'm a Ruby on Rails developer at Unboxed. I was originally a freelancer doing a mixture of writing code, blockchain consultancy work and writing, but I have decided to focus on improving my Ruby on Rails skillset, so I have four days a week at Unboxed. I really enjoy being able to solve problems by building things that make people's lives better, even if it’s just making systems more efficient in order to reduce frustration or providing technology that enables communities to function better. This is a powerful motivating force. But I also like the mental stimulation of writing code. To be honest, this is the least clock watchey career path that I've ever had. I find that it's like if you enjoy solving crossword puzzles and then somebody pays you to solve crosswords all day. The challenge of solving problems, working with colleagues, pair programming, even remotely, and learning to become a better technician, a better engineer. These are all things that fuel me with energy.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you or isn’t there such a thing as a typical day?

A: Days follow a typical pattern over a couple of weeks because we follow agile methodology which means that we work in sprints. A sprint is a package of work that takes, normally, two weeks. The start of a sprint involves a lot of teamwork where developers, designers, product managers and researchers come together to discuss how the product we’re going to build should work and what pieces of development to prioritise over the upcoming weeks. This is followed by a couple of weeks of intense coding where I could just be working on my own for the whole day. More likely, I might work on my project with two engineers who I get on really well with and who are really, really smart. We tend to be constantly talking to each other on Slack, answering questions, getting second opinions about things. Quite often, we'll jump on a conference call and screen share. Sometimes we can sit for hours, screen sharing, talking through a problem, coding through stuff together. That happens for a couple of weeks and then at the end of the sprint, we’ll get together again and have a demo session to show the client, who is still involved throughout, to show them an impression of what we've got. That same day, we’ll have another planning session and then the sprint starts all over again.

Q: What have been some of the most memorable projects that you’ve worked on?

A: At Unboxed, it’s been my most recent project. We have just finished the first phase of building some software that improves the housing planning process for local authorities (Southwark Council & Partners - BoPS - Back-office Planning System) This has been super interesting because I’ve sat in on a lot of the user research sessions and heard first-hand about the issues that planning officers have working with really old fashioned systems and then watched them interact with the software that we’ve built. This has been really inspiring! Of all tech projects that I've been involved in, one of my favourites was a car hardware project that I did for Audi in Berlin. It was great! We actually had a real car to work with. That was cool because we were designing what was at the time the first keyless car rental system and an IoS app that would allow you to open and close the car and pick your choice of rental car. The app would allow you to walk to the car, open it up and drive it off. It's fairly common technology these days, but back in 2014, it was really cutting edge, which made it a lot of fun to be involved in, and of course, having a car to play with made it even more fun.

Q: One final question: if you could go back in time and give yourself advice while you were making that career change and entering into a new industry and new space, what would it be?

A: Just to be more fearless. You've got this one life to enjoy and if it's something that you enjoy, you've just got to give it a go and hope that it works out because life's too short not to, at least, have tried. Also, not to care what people think of you. I mean, that's not quite right. I wouldn't want people to think that I'm a bad or horrible person but to not care if people think that you're stupid or eccentric or a bit strange or whatever. Not caring about that. I think that's really important.

Read Unboxed's full interview with Rhian here.