About Me

 A Bit About Me

I have already summarised my skills on the home page, so take a peek there if you are short on time. In this section I want to go into a bit more detail about where I am now and how I arrived at this position. This isn't a CV, though I will be happy to provide you with one on request.

Personal Life

I am married to Alex (short for Alexandra), and together we have a daughter called Francesca who is 11. Alex also has a 21-year-old son called Ben, who is studying to be a teacher. We have recently moved to Cyprus, having spent the last decade holidaying there each year. We have always been struck by the beauty of Cyprus and the friendliness of its people, and decided that we wanted to be part of it. Given Alex's roots in the bridal industry, it also made sound business sense to expand here.

I have always been interested in computing, and it has formed the basis of my entire career. It is also a hobby of mine, and creeps into other aspects of my life. Aside from IT, I love exploring the countryside with my family, and am a keen geocacher. When not outside I like to play the piano to a reasonable standard, and enjoy writing when time allows.

Business Life

I currently describe myself, if asked, as a full stack web developer. By that I mean I am happy doing the whole site, both client and server. If I had to choose an allegience I would opt for the back end; however, I prefer to be involved in the entire project. My development environment consists of an MSI laptop running Windows 10. On this I run Adobe CC, Office, and VMWare Workstation, which hosts an Ubuntu 14 Virtual Machine. 

When developing, my editor of choice is PHPStorm. These days I work with the popular PHP Framework Laravel. This has built in support for Gulp, which means that it is a cinch to use CSS preprocessors and the like. It also has very good built-in testing support. I am by no means an evangelist for TDD, however I do think it is important to establish a certain level of reliable testing.

On the client side, aside from the usual HTML, CSS and Javascript, I like to use jQuery. I have dabbled with single page apps and frameworks like Angular and Vue. However, given that most of the sites I develop are eCommerce sites relying heavily on SEO, single page apps aren't really well-suited; as they can kill your search position.

My favourite type of site to work on, is one that actually does something. By that I mean a site that manipulates data and performs a function. So a shop, as opposed to a blog site, or a searchable, mappable directory as opposed to a static information site. I won't turn my nose up at blog or information sites though, provided I get to create something.

The Glamourous Gowns Era

For the last ten years or so, I have been developing websites, of various shapes or forms. My most recent site is Cyprus Gowns. This is a fully-responsive eCommerce site. Technically, it is written using PHP7 and Laravel 5.1. It works with both Braintree and Stripe payment gateways. In addition to a standard store front and shopping cart, it also offers a range of services to customers.

Cyprus Gowns was built using a CMS I developed for the main site I have created; Glamourous Gowns. This is our family bridal business, of which Cyprus Gowns is an offshoot. This site has been around for over ten years, and has undergone several transformations into its current form. It was originally written in a mix of PHP3 and PHP4, and later upgraded to PHP5.

Migrating Glamourous Gowns

Up until two years ago Glamourous Gowns had had separate desktop and mobile versions. However, the sheer volume of mobile users we were getting told me that we now needed a fully responsive site. The mobile users needed the same functionality and usability as the desktop users. At some times 75% of customers were using a mobile, compared to 10% a year previously. Smart phone usage had exploded and we had to act.

I had written some responsive sites before, both in-house and for clients, however this was the first time I had taken an existing site and converted it. Not only that, the existing site was extremely popular with the customers, and highly regarded in the industry. In addition to making it responsive I also decided to use an external framework. Up to this point I had coded the site using a mix of procedural and object-orientated code. I had used Laravel for other projects, and now decided to take the plunge and use it for Glamourous Gowns.

The update went very well. Given that, in the background, it was a complete rewrite from the ground up, I was very pleased to see that its SEO position was unaffected. All the old links still worked, the content was still the same. It just had a fully responsive UI with a back end built to the latest programming standards.

There were two key reasons the update went so smoothly:

  1. Database design.
    I have been writing database systems since I started programming, many years ago. I understand relationships, SQL and all the other aspects of building a decent system. So the data I was migrating was already well structured.
  2. Change management.
    I was changing some fundamental aspects of the design, including table and field names. I was also removing some fields, and merging others. So I wrote a migration script which copied and transformed each table to the new structure. Prior to running this, I eliminated the junk data which every DBMS accumulates over time. The result was a fresh new database, with the original database still intact as a backup.

As well as programming for Glamourous Gowns, I also do graphic and video work, some of which is shown in the portfolio. I enjoy that aspect as well, though I consider myself a coder at heart.

Hydralectric

Before we set up the family bridal business, I worked as a hand-on I.T Manager for a company called Hydralectric. They are that rarest of beasts, a UK based manufacturing company. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, as I was able to drag their I.T usage into the 21st century while at the same time get their staff more enthusiastic about the use of I.T. I did this in a number of ways:

  • Improved networking.
    The existing network was a joke. The infrastructure was fine, but they had a mishmash of servers with individual accounts. I rolled out Active Directory, Exchange and Office 2003 so that everybody was on the same platform.
  • Staff Training
    The easiest way to stop people complaining about their software is to train them how to use it. I developed Word and Excel courses which I gave to pretty much every member of staff, in small groups. It didn’t make them all experts but it got them to the level where they were proficient and unafraid to delve deeper into the functionality themselves.
  • Improved Reporting
    The main office system was a bespoke Sage 100 Package with add-ons for manufacturing. I used MS Access to query the data to generate improved management reports which greatly assisted the Sales team.
  • Better Budgeting
    By implementing better procurement practices, I was able to reduce I.T costs by a third, while at the same time providing a greatly improved level of service.

Before Hydralectric

Prior to Hydralectric my career went through three phases.

  1. Phase one - finding my feet.
    This phase began at university. It was obvious to me that I didn’t much enjoy my chosen career path; Biochemistry, but that I loved programming computers. So I picked up several informal contracts in this time, which enabled me to go full time on completion of my degree. I initially wrote software for the Health Service, including a nurse rostering system. I then moved to a Construction Management Company which were helping to build Canary Wharf. I was in charge of their onsite computers, and wrote them many databases to assist their work. This position taught me more about project management than I have ever learnt since on any course. In construction, those GANTT charts really mean something.
  2. Phase Two – the Contracting Years.
    This included numerous database programming jobs, for a variety of firms, and I.T Support for HSBC’s main Dealing Exchange in London. After I had contracted for five years or so I decided I needed a break, so spent a year travelling South East Asia.
  3. Phase Three – Solidifying my Skills
    Once back from travelling I worked as a hands-on manager at ING Lease (UK) LTD for four years. Though a similar role to what I would later do at Hydralectric, here I was here more reliant on external companies for network support. When I left ING I decided to fill those gaps in my knowledge, so studied and attained various IT certs, including MCSE, CCNA and MCDBA. I think the CCNA cert alone gave me a much greater understanding of networking in general, and the confidence to make more informed buying decisions in my later roll at Hydralectric.

Conclusion.

In my career I have had a number of I.T roles, though programming has always been a feature. I have also worked in a number of industries, and in just about every department you could imagine outside of Human Resources. This has given me a well-rounded programming ability. I can write code for a specific function while appreciating that it has to fit into a greater whole. Above all though, I enjoy it.