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A Q&A WITH STEVE TRAPPS

Monday 11th April 2016
Tags: guest blog
 Hi Steve, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. We can see  you've had an impressive career in IT so far.  What prompted /  encouraged you to pursue a career in technology?
 That's no problem. Well I was 8 years old when the first personal  computers became readily available i.e. ZX81, Commodore Vic 20.  Building on messing around on these, when I had to make a career  choice computing seemed like a safe bet. Growing up in the North in the  80’s, I also remember someone saying that you’ll always have a job if  you know how to use a computer. 

I enjoyed creating programs and there used to be magazines that contained code listings that you could type in to the computer and then play the games. I guess that’s where my skills in debugging programs started, as I’m sure the magazine publishers would put mistakes in on purpose so that you’d have to buy the next month’s magazine with the corrections.
 
From an academic point of view, I remember one Teacher at Park Lane College in Leeds who, when doing my BTEC, encouraged and inspired me not to give up when the program just wouldn’t work as expected. 


In your most recent positions your roles have been working as a Scrum Master. We often see lots of debate online about what the role of a Scrum Master is. How would you define / describe the role?
On a day to day basis, it is to ensure that the Scrum ceremonies are adhered to by the team and to ensure that distractions are kept away from the team. So my role almost like a Team Bouncer and a Fixer, i.e. making problems go away!

At its heart, the role is to ensure that team has every chance of hitting the commitment it made at the start of the sprint.

A Scrum Master isn’t a team leader, or Project Manager, as they’re there to help coach the team to always try to do the best thing for the situation. By having that person supporting the team and not dictating the solution the Scrum Master should have a good view of the situation and be able to advise accordingly. 


What aspects of your role do you enjoy most?
Helping the team to become better and learn how to do things better. Talking to people and trying to understand what their issues are and by working together, how the team can deliver what they need. Being able to coach and motivate a team to look at the situations and see how to improve.  

What are the day to day challenges you face in your role?
People assuming that you’re a Team Leader. Although this is something that I can do, my role as Scrum Master is to support the team - not to dictate to them. The goals we should be working towards are self - organised and self-motivated teams. Without that you can put in as much framework as you want but ultimately the team will fail as they won’t be exhibiting agile qualities. They’ll just be going through the motions.  

Other People Misunderstanding & Interpretation of Agile frameworks. Scrum is a framework and what works for one company may not necessarily work for another. The secret is to work out what works for that company.

People often think that using Agile methodologies means you can cut corners and I’m often quoted “You’re agile, you can do this” just to get things done. The use of Agile is being quoted against you just because you’re trying to do the right thing.  


Agile has now been around 15+ years. Do you think it’s reached its maturity, or will we see it continue to grow and develop?
I say that the Agile process is like evolution. We may see less innovation but it will continue to grow and develop. We’ll see teams attempt new practices and the ones that are successful will continue to exist and force more changes as others try to catch up. 

Hopefully in the future, there won’t be an “Agile” way. It will be the only way. After all we’re just making sure that people and teams talk to each other on a regular basis. That’s the beauty of working in an Agile framework – you can’t hide anymore. Long gone are they days of a 6 month project where nobody knew what they were getting until the very end of the project. We talk regularly and often. 

There is still the need and projects where traditional methodologies work better than agile. Its just that agile is now seen as an equal approach to use – not just in small teams in “digital” projects.  


What are the developing areas of Agile?  What’s next for Agile?
I was going to say more mainstream acceptance. However that’s already happening. Large governmental institutions have adopted using agile. The next thing for Agile is its adoption into other areas of business.

With the rise of DevOps adoption we’re seeing new approaches being pushed into the full product lifecycle. Success in these areas, as we become quicker to deliver what people want, will force the areas that they touch - marketing, sales etc. to adopt techniques used within IT. For once, the bottleneck will be other departments and not anymore the IT department.


Let’s rewind a little bit, tell us about your early technical career as a Developer.  What tech did you start out using?
From a professional point of view I started out using Delphi and Powerbuilder at Barclays and Nestle. At Nestle I moved into the Microsoft world when learning Classic ASP (i.e. pre .Net). Prior to that though, I’d previously seen Visual Basic 4 (VB4) whilst on placement at Proctor & Gamble in my degree course. It was like a different world to what I’d seen before. 

Being able to use the IDE to create buttons on forms was major thing for me. I remember seeing VB4 for the first time and being blown away with the ease that things could be done. I was basing my knowledge at the time on things I’d seen done in Pascal and Cobol and wondered “What witchcraft was I seeing – how long does it take a developer to create each button? They must work out the coordinates for each of the corners and somehow plot them on the screen.” But no, it was drag and drop buttons in VB.


You’ve predominantly worked with Microsoft technology – what are your thoughts on the latest Microsoft technology (e.g.  Azure, C#8)
Azure is an amazing offering from Microsoft. As a developer I always worry what kit will I get and will it cope with the load when deploying into an environment.  Azure has taken that worry away from me, as it’s the same standard infrastructure and if something becomes more popular than first thought – no worries, just add in a new server and remove it when you don’t need it.

It’s has opened new doors for me. Technologies that I’d be wary of utilising or are cumbersome to setup are readily available. 

-“Want to stick a new caching layer in to your app?  No problem, implement Redis and it is there”.

-“Want to see how easy MongoDB is to use – fire one up from the Azure Marketplace and have a play with it”. 

-“How does a CDN change your applications responsiveness? – No worries, just wire in one and see what happens.” 


It has brought a new world to my fingertips where I can compete with large companies by having the ability to call on the scale of Microsoft. Obviously you have to pay for the privilege but compare with going out and buying the physical equipment and software – it doesn’t compare!


What are your thoughts on Microsoft’s decision to go Open Source – the right move or not?

Yes, definitely. It opens up more possibilities and greater collaboration for the products that they’re creating. 

The community was looking for alternatives. Feeling empowered by this and being able to build the tools that they needed to deliver the products that they wanted, Microsoft had to do something just to keep up. They were in danger of become, in the future, a niche player in the development world. 

The community has embraced the move and so you’re seeing people like Mat Mcloughlin and the work he is doing with others on OmiSharp creating new and exciting possibilities. 


The rise of technology continues to make undeniable differences to our lives. How has technology changed the way you do your job now in comparison to when you first started out? 
Being able to work from home, when needed. The work life balance is important to us all. If we’re going to keep motivated individuals in the industry, having the ability to connect to all the areas I would be able to if I was in the office is vital. Happy colleagues make for motivated colleagues. 

The ease of seeing and talk to colleagues in other countries, via Skype and other applications is great. At one time I was doing stand-ups with colleagues in Amsterdam, people working at home in the UK and with people in the office. We felt like a united team but were in 3 different places.

There is a word of caution here, that too much technology in our lives can be detrimental. Always being contactable isn’t necessarily a good thing. We should limit ourselves to its use especially at weekends and holidays. If we don’t limit its access we may need to learn new behaviours and habits - otherwise we’ll always be working and never resting. 

What advancements in the technology sector excite you the most at the moment?
Slightly out of my area, however what Tesla are doing is amazing.  Building on the success of their more expense model which is really only available to the super rich, Tesla are enabling people to buy electric cars for £25K. It’s still more than I would want to spend on a car, but it makes the technology more affordable and hopefully sees the adoption of electric cars into the mainstream. 

2016 is already set to bring some new and interesting digital trends and gadgets. Which trend/ gadget are you most looking forward to hearing more about/ trying out this year and why?
For someone who works in technology, I’m actually not that interested in gadgets. I keep a watchful eye on things but tend wait until things have become more mainstream. I still buy my music on CDs!

Connect with Steve here.

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