Old Crew Interview: Luke Shillabeer

12 months ago  •  By  •  0 Comments

The CareerLounge team recently celebrated the one year anniversary of engineering superstar, Luke Shillabeer.

Through highs and lows, product launches, late nights, sprints and plenty of ramen – Luke Shillabeer has been the backbone of not only the engineering team, but the entire CareerLounge team. Between creating Paddl, supporting the B&C team out on the road at events and being the office coffee master, we managed to steal some time with Luke to chat about his journey with CareerLounge over the past year.

What brought you to CareerLounge originally?

I finished my undergraduate degree and wasn’t satisfied with the direction I was heading, just because the work wasn’t as interesting as I hoped it would be. So I then did a masters degree in Bioinformatics (which is a big nerd word you should look up – it’s basically data science and biology smooshed together) and got two thirds of the way through the course when the funding for it was pulled. All my research got cancelled so I had to go off and do something else. I really enjoyed the coding parts of the degree and after some thought decided to do a short course with General Assembly in web development.

There can be a bit of an attitude whilst you’re at university that web / product development is less interesting or fulfilling than academic alternatives. It isn’t uniform throughout all university, and web development definitely isn’t discouraged, but I definitely felt the opinion that there was “more interesting / fun work elsewhere” being put on me.

That’s what made the decision to pursue web development tricky. I had been somewhat indoctrinated by this thinking and so I wanted to make sure that a career in web development would be interesting, complicated and cool enough to keep interest. Towards the end of the short course I started talking with a bunch of recruiters and interviewing at different places in Melbourne. John Collins (one of CareerLounge’s founders) actually found me on LinkedIn and approached me for an interview. Having recently been stuck in the wheels of academia, I’d felt the pains that Paddl and Comet are trying to solve and amongst the offers-for-work that I was hearing, it was the most exciting and interesting!

What’s the thing you love most about your role?

Coffee. People. Getting to transform the thoughts in my head and the discussions that we have around the office into something real that everyone can use. Honestly building stuff is just a really great (if sometimes tremendously difficult) outlet.

What was week one at CareerLounge like?

Intense. There was a lot of work to do right away. It was really cool to jump in and be treated like a real dev though, like, “here’s some work – let’s get it done”. I was basically exclusively working on Paddl from day one, and have been ever since. It was also really nice for my opinions to be asked and for them to impact the decisions that we were making quite quickly. That’s part of the benefits of being part of a startup: building a product from the ground up, you get to impact things in ways that you definitely wouldn’t at a larger organisation.

What changes have you seen over the last year?

I think we’ve gotten better at defining what is and isn’t important for Paddl; refining what we’re actually trying to do and then being able to make decisions about what we next should be doing based on what is important to the company as a whole. We still have a long way to go with that (as most companies do) and that’ll involve going out to our communities and asking what is important to them, and watching people use the app.

So yes, the biggest change I’ve seen aside from resourcing (ie. having more people onboard and so more work being done), has been a refinement of what Paddl should be and what people want it to be.

Tell us about the Engineering team? What does a day in the life look like?

A day in the life of an engineer at CareerLounge is generally focussed around short pieces of work that we as a business, and as a team, have decided are the most important things for us to focus on. A lot of the time, we’re breaking the problems down into smaller and smaller pieces that are easily solvable and definably correct. It’s also a lot of back and forth over questions like, do we like this feature, do we think it makes sense? Especially discussing within the teams and stakeholders of those pieces – whether it’s the business that’s defined the logic, or CJ (our Head of Design) that’s defined the look of the user experience.

There’s probably less coding than you’d expect for a team that’s definitively software engineers but I think that’s actually a good thing. The worst thing to happen in an engineering team is for people to sit down and, without thinking about what they’re doing, write thousands of lines of code. It’s really good for us to write as few lines of code as possible to get the job done, and then make sure what we do produce doesn’t break what we’ve done previously and is also replicable and correct.

There’s also lots of coffees and the odd cake.

What’s been your biggest win?

That’s a hard one. There’s been a few really cool things happen! The Paddl launch was great but it was a very spiky type of high. We were all really excited to get it to a place where we could ship a set of features to our users, release it, show people and officially become a product.

More recently too, we’ve got a piece of process down where we can very nicely define how we work, when people can expect a new piece of work to come out, what that looks like and be fairly reliable and rigorous. It’s hard to build out both the amount of features that have been requested (Paddl gets iterated on pretty quickly because people want new things in it all the time) and also keep the standard of work as high as we in engineering want it to be, which is actually very high. So I think one of the biggest highs for me has been hitting our stride with the process and finding our feet within our sprint cycles. Giving ourselves enough time to build and test, and even review the process, has been the source of a longer high for the team.

What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve overcome?

One that immediately comes to mind is the fact that it’s really hard to find good engineers in Melbourne!

There’s been a lot of interest in Paddl too, in different amplitudes and at different levels from educators and employers, which has sometimes made prioritising tasks difficult on a day-to-day, week-to-week and even month-to-month basis. Because we get a lot of feedback, and requests for cool stuff it can sometimes be difficult to meet everyone’s expectations and also stay on a set course that’s true to the original vision. That’s part of being a startup; finding what it is you’re doing and what your product is and isn’t. Putting in place a process that’s fairly rigid but not unadaptable in the way that we do work in engineering has actually really helped with this.

Q: What does the future hold for you and for CareerLounge?

More coffees, that’s 100% for sure. I’ve recently transitioned from being just an engineer who officially gets done what to do and does the work they’re given, to more of a running the team type position. I’m not necessarily a manager, but I am in charge of making sure that the work we have promised we’ll do actually gets done. I can definitely see myself continuing to do that. I’m not sure I’d want to step up again in terms of managing multiple teams until I’ve had more experience with someone who’s done that previously, so I can definitely see plenty of opportunity for me to keep learning where I am.

On a broader note, I would really like to see CareerLounge grow to a point where the engineering team has eight to ten members, both working simultaneously on two different products or doing project rotations. I think that’s what CareerLounge as a business deserves, in terms of the position we’re currently in and the potential we have to expand. I would love to continue being part of running those teams and building amazing new products for our users.

If you are interested in being part of the CareerLounge journey, as an engineer, tester or user, get in touch with the team here.

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