Sam Harman is Yell’s Head of App Engineering. An experienced iOS developer, he has previously built apps for Vodafone and T-Mobile among others. Since joining Yell in 2016, Sam has been working with our team of iOS and Android app developers to build some of our most exciting new products.
In our Staff Spotlight, Sam talks Yell Blog through the average, or not so average, day in the life of an app developer, his unusual path into app development and how he juggles team management with day to day development work.
Read on to find out more about app development at Yell and how you could join Sam’s app team.
How did you get in to app development?
Probably the first thing to confess here, is that my route into this industry was fairly indirect. Although I’ve been dabbling with code for as long as I remember, my first ‘real’ programming experience began at university where I was studying Audio Science & Technology.
Here I began developing virtual instruments in C++, played around with microprocessors and created an app to capture the acoustics of an environment, and then digitally replicate that sound on audio tracks.
After university, I decided to turn my hand to more practical applications and moved into the telco industry and developed apps for the likes of Vodafone, Comcast, T-Mobile, Telus and Shaw Canada among others.
What attracted you to working at Yell?
For me it’s the brand. Almost everyone in the UK can tell you what the Yellow Pages is. Yell is increasingly driven to become a digital first, modern technology company and it felt like this transition presented a unique opportunity for app development.
One issue with start-up tech companies is brand recognition, and gaining the trust of your users. The opportunity at Yell to build on a recognised brand, and help bring it right to the forefront of technology, is incredibly exciting. The potential is obvious to me, and I’m really happy to be helping to shape the future of Yell.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I usually start early, dealing with the normal triage of emails and meeting requests. Once that’s done, my day really begins in earnest with the stand-up meetings. For me they are a chance to be updated on progress, unblock any issues, and generally get a bit of time with the other developers.
Beyond that, no two days are the same. Sometimes I’m working on great R&D projects, sometimes I’m planning new features or apps with the product team or I might be helping my team work towards a deliverable.
I like to make sure I keep hands on and writing code myself, so I normally take two days a week to work with code. This lets me really focus on development without all the interruptions of a management role. It’s a delicate balance.
I also manage recruitment for the app team. In fact, we’re looking for iOS and Android developers right now, if you’re interested, you can apply here.
Which Yell project are you most proud of?
Probably all the ones I can’t tell you about yet! We’re working with some really powerful technologies at the moment like machine learning and natural language recognition and understanding and the products that could be powered by this are really exciting to me!
We’ve also recently launched the Yell for Business app, and it’s a great way for our customers to manage their accounts on the go. Our team have got big plans for that app, as well as our Yell Search app. Stay tuned for exciting news on all of the above soon!
What’s the app engineering process like at Yell?
OK, so we try to be as agile as possible, which is better than ‘doing Agile’, I think. The native app development has one scrum team of iOS, Android, Backend, and QA engineers, with UX support when required. It allows us to get a lot done, and tackle some tricky problems in a way which makes sense to us. We automate as much as we possibly can, so that we can focus on the real problems.
What do you enjoy most about your role at Yell?
There is a real, and increasing, sense that everyone is responsible for contributing to the product direction and engineering roadmap. Ideas don’t have to just come from the top down or from the product team.
As engineers, we’re able to suggest new ways of thinking, or new product features, or even entirely new platforms. Providing we can prove the concepts and it aligns with our business values, it is given fair consideration alongside other proposals for future development.
As an App engineer, this is great because it means we can work on the latest technologies, for example, on iOS we updated to Swift almost as soon as it was released and we’ve kept up with the iterations since. Our Android developers are also experimenting with Kotlin, and everything that offers!
What do you do when you’re not working?
I’m always playing around with new technology – right now, I’m playing with voice assistants and smart home tech. I’ve heard you’re supposed to go outside sometimes too, so I’m trying to do more of that. I also play the drums and normally disappear for most of the winter to ski, which is probably what I’d be doing full time if I wasn’t doing this!
Want to join Yell’s app development team? We’re currently seeking an iOS Developer and an Android Developer.