Creative Lives — Uniform’s senior front end developer Oliver Smith on patience, problem-solving and life in Liverpool
Shortly after spotting a job opportunity on an ex-girlfriend's Twitter feed, Oliver Smith started work at Uniform in Liverpool, joining the design and innovation company as a senior front end developer. A computer science graduate from Liverpool John Moore's University, the skills Oliver relies on most at work aren't often technical ones. Instead, he regards patience, problem-solving and having a happy disposition as must-haves for navigating busy work life. Working in a fast-paced environment and with a rapidly evolving skill set, Oliver tells us how he has mastered a number of developing languages and shrug off imposter syndrome.
Michael Oliver Smith
Senior Front End Developer, Uniform (2014–present)
Freelance Web Developer (2006–present)
Head of Software Development, Impact Digital Solutions (2009–2012)
Junior SEO Developer, Click Consult (2009–2010)
BSc Computer Science, Liverpool John Moores University (2004–2008)
How would you describe your job?
I’m involved in meetings with clients from concept to delivery for websites. I oversee teams to ensure delivery is smooth and in accordance with the clients’ designs. Where possible I use my experience to innovate new development ideas into practice.
What does a typical working day look like?
I ride my bike to work every day, which takes between seven to ten minutes depending on the red lights. It’s definitely a bonus having Uniform located in the heart of Liverpool. I nab some free fruit from the kitchen before everyone gets here and then get cracking. I’ll start with writing a list of priorities, then get stuck in..
What do you like about working in Liverpool?
The cost of living! Plus the abundance of creativity and nice friendly people. The north-west also has lots of green spaces around with north Wales, the Peak District and the Lake District all an hour and a half’s drive away.
The Uniform office in Liverpool
How did you land your current job?
I found the advert on my ex-girlfriend’s Twitter actually...she was logged in on my computer and I opened it up and there it was. The more I started researching Uniform, the more I wanted to be here.
How collaborative is your role?
For a company of our size, we offer a lot of different services and my experience is often needed across every function.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The people are the best part. If I was just working in a digital agency, I wouldn’t have the chance to see first hand all the amazing things the studio produces through collaboration. The worst part? Deadlines and changing requirements. But I would say that’s the worst part of any developer’s job.
“The more I started researching Uniform, the more I wanted to be here.”
The Uniform website which Oliver worked on
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
The new Uniform website. I was involved in the conception meetings with an amazing team. We sat down and hammered out what is necessary to make the company stand out from the crowd. And then winning the Lovie Award for the shedkm website; that was pretty cool.
What skills are essential to your job?
Well, they’re not technical skills, but patience and problem-solving. If you have those skills, then you’re ready for life in a busy company like Uniform.
Do you run any self-initiated projects alongside your job?
I play music, a lot. Music has always been something I turn to as an outlet and an escape.
Website for architects shedkm
Website for architects shedkm
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to make computer games.
What influence has your background had on your work?
I generally approach tasks with a smile on my face. I’ve always enjoyed problem-solving and having a happy disposition that definitely helps in a fast-paced environment.
When and how did you first get into coding?
Through my wish to want create computer games in my teens.
“At first I wanted to know everything, but that can hamper your progress as a developer. Focus on a select few languages and modes of operation.”
What were your first jobs?
An access database developer at Microsoft. I was using Visual Basic and Microsoft Access, which felt like being in the stone ages. I didn’t last long there, as I wanted to use newer technology.
What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career?
My first web development module at university. I was top of the class, and it was the first time I thought about going into web development for a living.
Oliver with the Lovie Award won for designing the shedkm website
How quickly does the skill set shift in your industry and how have you adapted?
Ridiculously quickly. At first I wanted to know everything, but that can seriously hamper any progress you make as a developer. Over time I learned to start focusing on a select few languages and modes of operation.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
I spent a long time freelancing, but I think that’s helped me become a stronger and more well-rounded employee. It’s helped me understand the importance of maintaining client relationships.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
It’s taken a while to shrug off the imposter syndrome that I think all developers get. I had realistic expectations, but in the end it's more fast-paced than I thought it would be at the beginning.
What would you like to do next?
There are a few languages that I want to get better at – it’s just finding the right projects and the time for those.
Could you do this job forever?
I can’t see myself doing anything else.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
Moving into a more advisory role, and being less hands-on. It’s a natural move that comes with experience, and something that’s already starting to happen.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a developer?
There are lots of meet-up groups – have a look at meetup.com for groups of like-minded individuals you can learn from. That’s how you learn the most: from talking to people that are passionate about what they do.
A series of GIFs by Uniform that riff on De Stijl for the shedkm website