Brian McFerran is an Associate Software Engineer here at Liberty IT - he joined us in September 2019 after successfully applying to our graduate recruitment programme.
Brian had previously qualified and worked as a lawyer, before doing a Masters course to move into software development. One might assume that these are two very different careers, but Brian has explained to us that it is, in fact, the opposite. It turns out software development and law aren't as different as you might think!
What brought you to this career – how does it differ from what you did before?
I’ve come full circle! Computing was by far my favourite subject in school and I thought I would study computer science at University, but at that time a law degree looked like a safer option so I pursued that instead. I qualified as a lawyer and went on to practice in both Northern Ireland and in London. I was fortunate to have worked with some exceptional lawyers and be involved in some ground-breaking work that I remain very proud of, but this chapter began to come to a close when my wife and I decided we wanted to relocate back to Northern Ireland to raise our family.
Rekindling my interest in IT had been at the back of my mind for many years, and when I saw the sheer number of IT opportunities with fantastic companies in Belfast, I decided it was time to take the leap. My entry point into tech was completing a Masters in Professional Software Development at the Ulster University.
Naturally my day-to-day work is very different now, but I think, at their respective cores, software development and law are not so different. You are tasked with finding a solution to a problem that your client or customer can’t solve themselves and it is rewarding to eventually deliver the solution.
What have you enjoyed most about your time at Liberty IT so far?
I have really enjoyed adapting to a totally new way of working and am now a huge advocate for agile methodology. Having never worked in an agile team before, I didn’t really know what to expect and was surprised when I wasn’t handed a to-do list on day one. I am now seven months in and still haven’t been handed a list! My team has backlog of work broken down into stories to be completed every two weeks and I have autonomy regarding what stories I pick up each day.
As a team, we have buy-in and ownership of what we are delivering, and can challenge deadlines or request more support to make sure we deliver on time. Overall, it is a huge change from the fixed individual targets I was used to my previous career.
I’ve also enjoyed Liberty IT’s focus on self-development and getting the best out of people. Training is not an afterthought and we are given the resources and time that we can use to study towards certifications or experiment with new technologies. I am working towards an AWS certification at the minute.
How has your working from home experience been? How does it compare to previous experiences?
I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. I did a lot of home working in a previous job and I found that difficult mainly due to a lack of infrastructure for home workers, but my experience this time has been totally different. The setup means it’s easy to stay in touch with my team and jump on a video call with a few other developers to solve a problem. My team have two catch ups each day – one at 10am, which is more of an informal catch-up, and another at 2pm where we update each other on the work we are doing. All meetings and training are online now so nobody misses anything important. My unit also has regular quizzes and virtual social events which are good craic.
What would be your advice to someone thinking about changing career like you did and applying for a role at Liberty IT?
I applied for a graduate role at Liberty IT only six weeks into my Masters and had to do an online coding challenge which included concepts we hadn’t covered on the course yet. It also coincided with some exams, so I very nearly gave up, but I decided to submit what I had prepared and thankfully it was enough to see me through to the next stage! At the recruitment centre, we were put in small groups and had to do teamwork exercises which were great fun. I ended up in a fantastic group – some of us were offered jobs and ended up in the same group at Liberty IT’s Training Academy (which we all took part in after starting work).
Overall, changing career is a big challenge, but it's an achievable one. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife and a flexible boss at the time who let me reduce my hours so I could study for my Masters. I confess there was more than one sleepless night when I doubted it was the right move, or doubted my ability to do it, but I always felt better the next day getting stuck back into coding and reminding myself that I really did actually enjoy this stuff... And that’s the key really – if you enjoy it, it’ll be worth it.
Our graduate and intern roles open for new applications in the autumn - check back then if you're interested in applying, and follow us on social media to keep in touch.