"Little Dan’s" Big Fivium Journey
Most people’s stereotypical view of a software engineer usually consists of a person wearing a free conference T-shirt, having large over ear headphones who codes for 8 hours a day usually only stopping to refill their caffeinated or carbonated drink! My career as a software engineer has been very different and very much customer focussed.
My first experience of working in a professional software engineering role came in 2014 as part of an industrial placement year working for the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), who at the time were the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). NSTA is responsible for regulating and influencing the oil, gas and carbon storage industries while helping meet the UK’s energy demand and accelerating the move to net zero. One of the tools NSTA uses to regulate the industry is via the UK Energy Portal.
The UK Energy Portal is a platform comprising numerous services allowing both NSTA and industry to manage the various licences, permits and consents required to undertake exploration, production and decommissioning activities within the UK and North Sea. My placement role was to help enhance and support the UK Energy Portal. I worked closely with various NSTA service stakeholders during this time. So close that I sat one row of desks in front of them! This allowed me to see first hand how users interacted with the services, any issues they faced and how their team worked day to day. After a successful industrial placement year with NSTA, I came back as a graduate to work for Fivium and continue my relationship with NSTA.
Unsurprisingly, when I first joined the NSTA, I had no knowledge of any aspects of the energy industry let alone the regulatory aspect. My first few months working for NSTA involved undertaking a technical training program run by Fivium as well as understanding about the NSTA’s regulatory requirements and the digital services which help facilitate them.
The technical partnership between NSTA and Fivium resulted in lots of NSTA staff knowing a lot of the Fivium staff. Fivium’s head of Digital products is also called Dan and it quickly became apparent that having two Dans in the same meetings was going to cause some confusion. Ever since that day I have been known at NSTA as either “little Dan” or “young Dan” as I was only 20 when I started! This nickname still comes in handy whenever Dan and I are both on calls with NSTA and it still makes me smile whenever someone mentions it. Everyone at Fivium now knows my NSTA nickname as John Seabourn (NSTA Chief Digital & Information Officer) expertly mentioned it in a talk he gave at our recent company away day, thanks John!
One of my many highlights whilst working with NSTA comes from a service called Energy Pathfinder which we built during the pandemic. For me this project involved both learning about the new service and its business impact while working with new stakeholders at the NSTA.
As with most projects Fivium has run with NSTA, we had really great engagement from the product owners and business analysts at NSTA. This included NSTA attending the daily standups, which during the lockdowns turned into a great way to have a quick chat each morning about how we were coping in those difficult times prior to looking over the sprint board. This strengthened the team's relationships with the NSTA as we got to know each other on a more personal level which I believe helped the junior members of the team engage more with the stakeholders which made them more confident with demos and asking questions.
“The NSTA has worked closely with Fivium for many years and produced some incredible outcomes. Like all good partnerships, this has been a result of personal interactions between our teams at all levels, especially at the working level.”
"When I first join NSTA I was new to the Energy sector like ‘Little Dan’, working closely with him during our formative years we establish many improvements surfacing licence information from PEARS into our external GIS systems and maps”
John Seabourn, Chief Digital & Information Officer, NSTA
Once the new service went into production it was really motivating for the Fivium team to see it spoken about at the COP26 conference! How’s that for doing something which matters! Every quarter we have a catchup with the Energy Pathfinder stakeholders to see how the service is performing, review any feedback and talk about how we can ensure the service keeps delivering business value.
Working very closely with lots of stakeholders has helped me grow as a developer in many ways. I feel I have got better at understanding the business reasons behind requirements and confidently giving my opinion. Equally, I believe that stakeholders trust my opinion and feel that I am giving them advice that is in line with their business needs. I am very confident at speaking with external stakeholders, even from when I was a graduate which I don’t feel is very common (especially at more junior levels) in other companies.
For me, the key elements to building a good stakeholder relationship are:
- Understanding the business benefit the stakeholders are trying to achieve and not being afraid to challenge or offer alternative suggestions.
- Understanding early what success looks like for the stakeholders. This may not be as simple as delivered on time and on budget.
- Build trust by being open and honest with updates and opinions and not afraid to show work in progress designs or functionality to get early feedback.
- Ensuring stakeholders feel engaged in the project and have avenues to communicate with the development team.
- Ensure that stakeholders are able to frequently get their hands on new features to gather early feedback.
I believe my experience of working closely and consistently with stakeholders throughout my career has enabled me to have a greater understanding of their business needs and strategic direction and appreciate how the products we deliver can help reach those objectives. I take great pride in the relationships I have built and I feel that they have helped me become a more rounded developer. It has been a privilege to see the real world impact of the work we do day to day and how it helps our customers meet their strategic objectives.