My experience as a Summer Intern

Toby Whittome, Summer Intern

My name is Toby and I’m studying Computer Science at university. I’ve just completed my second year and during these past two years, I’ve felt a hunger and desire to know what a role in tech (and the world of work) would look like. I found that although university had taught me about interesting and complex areas of the subject, I often struggled to relate what I was learning back to its use in real-life software engineering situations. I wanted to experience it for myself.

Through a little research, I looked for opportunities over the summer break of 2022 and it was at this point that I found Compare the Market – instantly recognisable from the meerkats that we all know and love. They offered three types of tech internship: Software Development, Cloud Operations and DevOps. Initially I was unsure, but after reading into each role a little more, Software Development was most suited to me. I decided to apply to Compare the Market after speaking with a current employee who described the company as friendly, reputable and empowering – all of which have proven to be true during my time here.

“Overall, I had an amazing experience and would happily come back and work for Compare the Market after finishing my degree. And whether you are just starting your career, or would like to change into tech, I couldn’t recommend the internship experience more!”

Toby Whittome

Summer Intern | Tech

Interning at Compare the Market has developed my skills in a huge range of areas. I’m part of a team of around eight developers and I work with them daily, doing activities such as pair programming, testing and code reviewing. I’ve learnt and improved my knowledge of front-end development, using React JS, Docker and more. I was buddied with an experienced engineer on my team who taught me the process of working to solve problems when I didn’t understand or was stuck on something. And within my team, there’s a personal development day once every fortnight, the idea being that you use it to learn a new skill, which will benefit your personal career development. I found this idea very forward-thinking and employee focused.

Overall, I had an amazing experience and would happily come back and work for Compare the Market after finishing my degree. And whether you are just starting your career, or would like to change into tech, I couldn’t recommend the internship experience more!

Aside from tech, one of the most interesting things has been just being involved in a large-scale company. An opportunity to learn from first-hand experience how they run, how teams collaborate on projects, company ethos and much more. Working in large-scale companies had previously been described to me as uninspiring and constricting and as a result, I was initially sceptical. However, my worries quickly disappeared after learning that Compare the Market really does seem a great place to work. They put the needs and health of employees above enforcing severe hours and deadlines, which was very attractive to me. I also had intern perks, including free breakfasts (in the office), Meerkat movies + meals, regular team building sessions and company socials.

Becoming an Engineering Manager

Like many others, I began my career as a Junior Engineer, moved after several years to being a Mid-Level Engineer and then Senior Engineer. As the scope of my role grew, I started mentoring my teammates and really enjoyed sharing my experience and knowledge of software best practices. I also had the opportunity to mentor undergrads during their placement year at university.

Within this small firm, I progressed to Team Lead – which meant that I was still writing code but had the added responsibilities of mentoring the team of engineers, keeping track of the project delivery and dealing with a lot of aspects of the project management process.

At this point in my career, I joined Compare the Market as a Senior Software Engineer. From the moment I joined the company, I got to know the framework of the software services and all the systems, and I was tasked with mentoring a Junior Engineer straight out of uni. Once again, I really enjoyed being able to guide and influence the success of others.

As the team grew and the engineers matured in their skills and abilities, I moved more into a role of looking at what we were being asked to create and providing solutions to achieve these goals. This meant that I was having to share these solutions with both the stakeholders and the engineers, and here I had to hone my communication skills with the ability to deliver to different audiences.

As part of the role, I’d also be challenged with looking at future projects and building these into the architecture of the services. This would often be in collaboration with other teams within the company, so I needed to take their needs into consideration too.

But after a while, you have to think to yourself, what next?

For me, the next logical step was either Staff Engineer, where I’d grow my technical scope to impact a wider part of the company, or Engineering Manager, where I could transition my influence from an individual level to a team level.

Both roles appealed to my nature but when it came down to it, the fundamental question remained, ‘What makes me want to come to work in the morning?’. I really enjoy working in a team, building a strong culture and team spirit, having the opportunity to create a new feature and iterate on it with others whilst helping people to grow and fulfil their potential.

“When the opportunity to become an Engineering Manager within the company arose, I applied for the position and all of the skills I’d honed as an engineer were needed in the role – communication, problem-solving, big-picture thinking, collaboration, mentoring and delegation.”

Michael Kitchen

Engineering Manager | Tech

And now, here I am! I have more meetings in my day than ever before, but I still have the sense of achievement when the engineers complete a new feature that is delivered to the customers. I am proud when an engineer feels that they have improved, and I am happy to be leading a team of people that want to make things better for our customers every day.

At 26, I was a Window Fitter

When I was 26, I worked as a window fitter – I enjoyed the work, but I think it’s fair to say that it wasn’t a career I’d chosen. I’d always done well at school but lost motivation during my A-levels. At the time, I didn’t have a plan for any future education or real career aspirations, so I quit school and moved between a few jobs in the building trade.

I started to feel like I needed a new challenge, preferably in a different industry. But on reflection, there weren’t many opportunities available, and I still had no idea what I wanted to do. As we entered the 2008 recession, it felt like the ideal time to make some drastic changes – my work was quietening down and I had a young family to support.

So, I quit my job and enrolled on an Access to Higher Education course, which upon completion would give me the entry requirements to study for a degree. I settled on Business Studies because it covered a broad range of disciplines, and I could later decide on an area to focus on career-wise. But when I looked into it, the only Access to Higher Education course available was a Business and Computing Diploma with only two modules of business and eight for computing! To cut a long story short – I loved the computing side of it and on completion, enrolled on a Computing and Information Systems degree at UCP Peterborough.

During a second-year lesson, we had guest speakers from Compare the Market come and talk to our class. They explained how they take a feature from an idea through the software development life cycle and how it eventually ends up in front of their customers. I’d started to wonder what would be next after university and at the end of their talk, they told us that they would offer two summer work placements – not only could we gain some first-hand experience, but we’d get paid too! They held an interview day, and I was successful.

The placement lasted for three months. I was part of a team that developed an iOS app that could read a QR code on an electricity bill and then provide quotes for the customer to switch to and save money from. It was a great experience!

I was a peer from day one, ideas I had were listened to and sometimes actioned. I wrote code, I paired with other developers, I released features to production and resources were provided to me to allow me to learn. After this placement, I knew two things:

1. I had made the right decision to choose a computing degree and
2. I wanted to work at Compare the Market.

Fortunately, they offered me a position as a Junior Software Engineer to start once I had completed my degree the following summer. I finished my degree eight years ago and I’ve worked at Compare the Market ever since, and I’m now a Senior Software Engineer. I have been given so many opportunities, continued support and resources to learn and grow as a developer. In software, there’s always something new to learn or a problem to solve and I love the challenge.

As Compare the Market has evolved, new technologies have been adopted and there’s always opportunities to move between teams to learn something new – it never gets boring. And as well as developing code, I’ve had the opportunity to lead the development of features, allowing me to improve soft skills.

At Compare the Market, I’ve learnt that a career isn’t set – you can move roles, learn different languages, make a wrong choice, recover and continue to progress. Now I, along with many of my colleagues, help to support our newer developers who are just starting their career in software engineering.

A degree in modern languages, a job in software engineering

Juliana Giwa, Junior Software Engineer in Test

Starting my Career in Tech at Compare the Market

I joined Compare the Market in February 2022 as a Junior SDET (Software Development Engineer in Test) and here’s a bit about my background and experience so far at Compare the Market.

What inspired me to get into tech?

I studied Modern Languages at university and in my final year, I took a Translation, Subtitling and Interpreting module. After that I gained quite an interest in computer-assisted translation and machine learning as I’d seen how much Google Translate (machine translation) had evolved over the years.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to get into this field without having a STEM or computer science background, however, after two years in my previous role, I decided I wanted a new challenge in my career as I felt like I was in a monotonous pattern. After some soul searching trying to find out what I really wanted in a career, I decided to try my hand at programming using The Odin Project. I found creating something from scratch to be extremely fulfilling and getting something to work after debugging for ages was truly rewarding.

What I enjoyed was the definitive nature of programming – if the code isn’t doing what you expect it to do, you know that it’s something you’ve missed, and the challenge is to work it out.

Why I chose Compare the Market to start my journey

I decided to apply to the Software Engineering Apprenticeship with Compare the Market, firstly because I knew that Compare the Market had a lot of experience with apprenticeship and graduate programmes and secondly, because there was a lot of emphasis put on professional and personal development in the job description. I knew that I’d be joining an environment where my growth would be supported, and I’d be encouraged to step outside of my comfort zone.

My Makers Experience

Before starting the Makers programme, I was made aware of how fast-paced and intensive it was, so I was pretty nervous but also excited going in. In the first few weeks, we were taught to use the command line, Ruby Fundamentals, TDD and Debugging. We then moved on to Intro to Web and Databases before doing a project called Makers BnB. After this, we learnt Javascript as well as two further projects. As you can imagine, it was quite tough having to pick up a new concept every week but as soon as the penny dropped, it was amazing.

What I really did appreciate about my Makers’ journey was the supportive community that we formed. We had daily peer group stand-ups where we mostly talked about how our days went and had emotional check-ins. Along with that, we also had weekly cohort retros. Through our weekly retros, I realised that a lot of us felt the same with issues of imposter syndrome, but we also used it to motivate each other. The stand-ups, retros and pair programming got me through Makers.

Stand-ups: catch-ups that are generally held first thing in the morning to give an update on how your work is progressing and if you have any blockers.

Retro (retrospective): a meeting held at the end of a work cycle (sprint) to reflect on the work done so far including successes and things to improve.

Pair programming: working together with another developer where one person does the writing (driving) and the other navigates.

My experience so far at Compare the Market

I’m now in the Identity team at Compare the Market and they’ve been extremely welcoming and have created a nurturing environment for me.  While at Makers, my line manager arranged fortnightly chats just to see how I was getting on and offering me moral support when I needed it.

Since joining, my team regularly encourage me to get involved in mobbing and testing. They always reassure me that no question is a stupid question. If I’m stuck on a concept, I feel confident enough to ask any member of the team a question, and they take the time to explain things to me and refer me onto documentation that would be beneficial.

I got stuck into things pretty much from the beginning by creating tests to get a feel of how our UI and the test frameworks functioned. I’ve also been given the time to continue learning on my own.

And the ladies of Tech Amplify are very open to us exploring and experiencing different teams within the tech department, so the future is very exciting. Lastly, the £150 a year learning & development budget has been a great resource to have – I’ve bought multiple courses and books that I’ve already started using. I also really like that the budget is not just for professional development but for personal development too.

What I’m looking forward to at Compare the Market

I’m looking forward to being able to independently contribute to the team during sprints in both production and testing. I’d like to gain more confidence with code and earn more responsibility as I increase my skill set. I’m very excited to explore the different paths available to me at Compare the Market and I would also love to get involved in programmes aimed at helping women, especially those from ethnic minority backgrounds with their journey into the tech industry.

I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my career

Chalyssa Pasay, Junior Software Engineer

I spent 20+ years of my life dreaming of a nine-to-five office job with weekends off, only to find out that it’s not at all what I thought it’d be! After being an Administrator and a Customer Service Manager for five years, I wanted something new, challenging and thought-provoking. In search of this, I became a Live Video Game Streamer on Facebook and Twitch where I was lucky enough to be partnered with Riot Games to promote their newly released game (at the time), Valorant. I also built gaming PCs and dabbled in intraday trading.

But like anyone in their not-so-early twenties, I wanted stability too and, unfortunately, playing games and waiting for the British Pound to increase against the US Dollar didn’t offer that. Have you ever tried looking for something, but you didn’t even know what you were looking for? Yeah, that was me.

I couldn’t plan my career progression because there was no career for me to progress in. I couldn’t see my life in two to three months’ time, let alone two years. I enjoyed being organised, so naturally I looked for jobs in project management. But I didn’t have a university degree, so I started looking for online courses and certifications that I may need. That was when I came across an apprenticeship for Software Engineering with Compare the Market.

Growing up in an Asian household where university was the only way forward in life, there was always a stigma that apprenticeships were only for people that couldn’t get into university – and I was so clueless to even think that.

Now, I personally think that an apprenticeship is one of the best forms of education. No tuition fees, no student loans, no debt, just real industry work experience AND you earn a salary from the very start, even when you’re still learning.

If you show determination, your passion for the role and your eagerness to learn, you’ll be given the opportunity to build a career.

I was sceptical about switching to a career in tech. I doubted my knowledge and thought it would take years before I’d be good enough to get an entry level job in tech. But I came to the conclusion that there was nothing to lose from applying, other than losing the opportunity that life was presenting me with right now. And I’m so glad that I took that chance because I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my career.

I now know where I want to be in two to three months’ time. I know what I need to do to progress not only in my career, but also in life. I have the support I need from my line manager, mentors and my team at Compare the Market as well as individuals outside of my team that want to see me succeed in my career – which, unfortunately, you don’t see in most organisations. They help me to set my goals, work on my action plan, and they push me to take responsibility and accountability for my work.

Compare the Market embraces diversity and understands that combining people from different walks of life is where the brightest of ideas come from. They frequently hold online and in-person events for Diversity and Inclusion, where everyone is educated on the different backgrounds and cultures around the world, and the people in Compare the Market who represent those countries.

To be in a company that truly cares for you and your progression, that knows the importance of your culture, and with just the right balance of professionalism and fun in a workplace, is with great pleasure. Compare the Market was the company I didn’t look for, but one that I’m incredibly lucky and grateful to have found. Then again, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

My role as a Staff Engineer

James Ford, Staff Engineer

Going from Tech Lead to Staff Engineer at Compare the Market…

When I first started working for Compare the Market I was as a Software Engineer on a short-term contract, getting an update or two out for the pet insurance journey, and then I moved over to a different team to help rebuild the car insurance journey using React. Eventually contracts ended and I moved on to other places. Then the opportunity for Technical Lead with my old team at Compare the Market came up – so I applied and got the job.

As a Technical Lead, I was suddenly responsible for the technical output of a single team and had to figure out how to work with the Architects, Software Engineers and Managers to define our roadmap and deliverables – the shape of our code and the tools and processes we’d use to build and support it in the longer term… and eventually the way in which we would collaborate and communicate with other teams.

Over the course of a few years, we’d built out our product. There was lots of iterating, moving and improving in small increments along the way until we’d practically achieved our ambitions and taken the solution to the point where we needed to expand our scope into new areas, and I started to desire something new.

My next move was to the role of Staff Engineer.

So, what’s a Staff Engineer?

A Staff Engineer is one of the tech leadership roles here at Compare the Market with a speciality that means it’s often less about being the person doing the work and more about future vision and working out where we need to be in the next three to six months. On paper, the role has two key areas of responsibility, which are:

1. Maintaining our engineering standards.
2. Making the engineering teams more effective.

In practice, I would informally summarise the role as ‘figuring out the most important thing for engineering at any point in time and ensuring it gets done!’

As a Staff Engineer, you’re slightly more distant from individual squads. It’s not about you being the person who delivers the work anymore – instead you’re bridging the space between squads and teams and working to ensure that everything slots neatly into place, works in harmony and everyone is happy with the end result. It’s vague, daunting and exciting all at the same time.

Across the business, we have a handful of teams and dozens of squads with Staff Engineers being responsible for a couple of squads each. Every squad has different roadmaps, different skillsets and different technical maturities, which unsurprisingly means that everyone is tackling different challenges!

Fortunately, we’ve got a lot of support through the other complimentary roles within the business – such as Principle Engineers, Engineering Managers and SDETs (Software Development Engineer in Test) – and we have numerous cross-cutting communities and working groups for specialised topics. This leaves you with a reasonable degree of freedom to find a strategy that will help to resolve the many different challenges.

What are my lessons learnt?

Two of my biggest motivators are purpose and autonomy, and the role gives both of these in spades. When I started as a Staff Engineer, I had my own agenda to take my technical lead work further. I thought I had the answers but, as it turns out, I wasn’t quite correct – perspective and hindsight are wonderful things! In the early days, I also saw some challenges affecting some teams as well as further challenges on the horizon for other teams, and as a multi-role leadership team we’ve done our best to keep things running smoothly but it hasn’t been without its challenges.

Looking to the future, I have two versions in my head – one where I know what’s going to happen in the next three months, and the other where I have no idea – and that’s a good thing.  It’s part of the job description to have a plan, but at the same time we’re all about being agile and able to pivot to new strategy as the situation dictates.

Either way, we have exciting times ahead, but sometimes the things that are exciting at a technical level are far from exciting for our end-customers and we always have to be mindful of this.

My advice if you’re looking to develop your career to Staff Engineer

If you have the opportunity, go for it. If you’re unsure about whether you want to jump in at the Staff Engineer role, ask if a secondment or trial period is an option. Your career is what you make it, and no two people ever follow the exact same career path. People often find themselves feeling either underqualified or overqualified for a role and if you feel overqualified and aren’t happy with that, it’s definitely time to find something new before you get frustrated, bored and lose your motivation.

If, however, you feel under qualified, see it as an opportunity to learn and grow!

I won a Top 20 Women in Software Power List Award

Esther Ogunmefun – Software Engineer

My career highlight was winning a ‘Top 20 Women in Software Power List Award’

I’m Esther, a Software Engineer (Android) at Compare the Market and I started my career as a Makers apprentice in January 2021. Makers apprenticeships offer a three-month coding bootcamp for those who are trying to get into the tech industry – no prior experience needed. Once the bootcamp is complete, each apprentice enters a permanent full-time role as a Junior Software Engineer within the company that they applied for the apprenticeship through.

Over the first year, we completed various exams and created a portfolio showcasing the work we’ve done, followed by a final interview in order to achieve a Level 4 BSC Diploma in Software Development. I am pleased to say, quite coincidentally, that I was able to both get my diploma with distinction and get promoted to a Mid-Level Software Engineer in one fell swoop in May 2022!

Although this was a very happy moment for me, I’d have to say that the highlight of my career (so far) was back in September 2021 when I won a ‘Top 20 Women in Software Power List Award’. In a nutshell, this award is a celebration of women in tech, which showcases women who are working hard to transform the tech industry for the better. With a focus on growth, influence and innovation, women across the tech industry were nominated by friends and colleagues to be recognised for their impact in the coding community, and I was lucky enough to be one of its 20 recipients.

The main reason I was chosen to win this award was down to my contributions surrounding diversity and innovation in the tech industry. Within six months of starting at Compare the Market, I was able to write articles, do various panels, Q&As and presentations as well as create a YouTube channel dedicated to help those who want to kickstart their career in tech.

I was very grateful to be recognised for this in the wider tech community and it gave me the ammunition and drive to continue to do more! I went on to host webinars, write an article about the world of Black women in tech and attend podcasts as a guest to share my experiences whilst continuing to advocate for diversity in the tech industry.

Among other things, this really helped my career development as it put a spotlight on the ways that I was going above and beyond to exhibit the behaviours and values that Compare the Market would want to see in an employee. Coupled with my growing technical knowledge, this led to great mid/end of year reviews and eventually a promotion to a Mid-Level Engineer. It meant a lot to feel valued within my team, the company and the wider tech community, and it solidified what I already knew… Tech was the place for me!

To others seeking to enter the tech industry, to grow in knowledge and confidence or to gain some recognition, I would advise you to find out what it is that you’re most passionate about within tech and aim to become an advocate for it.

For me it was diversity and inclusion as well as top tips on where to start as a beginner in tech. It’s a lot easier to be consistent and progress when you enjoy what you’re doing whilst feeling like you are making an impact. Once you identify your passion, find a medium that works for you to make your voice heard, such as blogging, presenting or even becoming a mentor to those earlier in their career than you. In the words of Tesco, ‘Every little helps!’

Above all, never stop learning! In a dynamic and ever-changing industry like tech, it’s important to continually develop and adapt.