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p.s don't wear a suit

01 September 2014

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A photograph of Mark Wallsgrove

Mark Wallsgrove
Senior Engineer

Well, I guess I’d better start with an explanation. It’s been four months since I joined Talis… and just over four months since I asked the CTO what the dress code was in time for my first day.

Having come from a background in consultancy, “don’t wear a suit” was certainly not the response I was expecting. After three years of working on client sites, it soon became very clear that Talis had a very different way of working.

Gone were the days of hacking the product to make it limp onwards or the crazy sprints to fix the hacks later on; these have been replaced with casual clothing, “hack days” and micro service architectures. For Talis it is not about how we look or what we wear, it is all about the quality of our work.

Talis company photo

Of course, I had tried to do the usual pre-interview research on Talis, however that was easier said than done. I had struggled to find information relating to Talis’ engineering culture (it is much easier now with our shiny new website). What little I had managed to find was encouraging, but I still had no real idea what I should expect. For those of you who are wondering what it’s like, here’s the beginners guide to Talis’ culture.

Firstly, there’s the organisational structure. You can forget the business cards with never ending titles and layers of managers; Talis’ structure is flat. Everyone in the company receives weekly emails with reports on how the company is performing financially and the current / potential future roles, which is something I have never experienced before. It helps to bind the company together as everyone knows what they are working towards and the reasons behind it as we get to see the direct financial impact of our work. However, if that fails then there’s always the coffee machine.

Talis coffee machine

If there’s one thing we love at Talis, apart from good technology, it’s good coffee. Not only does the coffee machine help to feed our addictions, it also provides a place for us to talk about our current work and to pick the brains of others. New Talis employees regularly meet up with other members of the team for coffee meetings to provide introductions, guidance and cross pollination of ideas between teams. In fact, so important is our coffee to us, it became the focus of one of our Hack Day projects to ensure that we never run out of milk in the office.

The playful and creative side of Talis comes through within our work, but it is also heavily demonstrated within our hack days. I have been fortunate enough to have attended a two day hack event. All of the project ideas were documented and voted for beforehand to order them by popularity. Nad, our hack day organiser, then created mixed skilled teams of at least three individuals per group. All members of Talis, being techie or not, joined in with the event. The idea is to group with other members of Talis that one does not normally get the opportunity to work with. The projects that we worked on didn’t relate to our every day work, but they all added value to our inventive skills by challenging one another.

Talis Meeting Room

My desk is next to another developer’s, but that doesn’t mean that I actually have to use it. We’re free to come and go, as long as the work is done. Want to go and work in a coffee shop down the road? Not a problem. We all agree on the work that we’re going to do for that week and as long as it’s done, you can sit where you like.

All of our work is peer reviewed not only by our immediate peers, but by any engineer in the company who wishes to contribute. In my experience, this not only generates a style of code that is used by all, but produces high quality code and encouraging a collaborative way of working.

We also like to be involved with the local Birmingham coding community. Just a few events we have enjoyed in the past include Hydrahack, Silicon Canal, and Tech Wed. We also enjoy open sourcing our code, such as Tripod, on GitHub. A couple of presentations which we have presented include MEAN - Notes from the field and Node.js Development Workflow Automation With Grunt.Js.

Talis hack day

We use various external services such as Atlassian’s Bamboo, to run continuous integration environment that can be accessed globally. The benefits are felt by being able to deploy frequently and work from any location. The other benefit of being able to test code remotely is that each developer is free to move onto another job as their laptop isn’t tied into completing the task while the tests are executing. We believe that the cost of such services is more than offset by savings in developer time.

As you can see, Talis has managed to maintain a start up mentality, even though we’ve been around for some time. We work hard to produce a modern, performant, reliable system and we still know how to have fun!

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