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Career pathways into tech #4: scrum master

Tam Mageean

Opencast scrum master Tam Mageean came to work in tech after starting out in aircraft engineering. He says transferrable skills can be a big help when transitioning between careers. 

What is a scrum master?

Scrum masters are often placed on to a delivery team or a development team to facilitate and make things easier. That can be done in different ways: helping a team visualise a complex problem to make it simpler, coaching team members or sometimes just doing the chores that others on the team don’t want to do so they can focus on more difficult problems.”

How did you start in tech?

“I started as an aircraft engineer. I completed a BTEC in aerospace engineering at Newcastle College and then went to Newcastle Aviation Academy. I started work at British Airways as a mechanic while furthering my studies its Aviation Academy.

“I worked my way through from being an apprentice mechanic technician to an engineer, then a foreman – supervising the maintenance at Heathrow Terminal 5.

“Those roles had digital techniques and software involved and I became more interested in software. I was travelling from London to Newcastle to help a friend develop software for the sector. I ended up sticking around to work for him full time.”

Why the career change?

“I liked the flexibility of working with software and in the tech sector. As an engineer I could only work where there was a big airport. Working in software, you can work anywhere – and I was keen to return to Newcastle.”

What skills transferred?

“Stuff I thought was basic was brand new to software. Coming from a background where we’d already done that stuff and practised it a lot was very useful, as was coming into a place that was experimenting with concepts new to them, like lean.

“Being a foreman, a big part of my role was to look after a team of engineers – now it’s a team of software engineers. But it’s similar in that you’re trying to make sure they’re all looking after themselves.”

What about upskilling – where were the gaps?

“In some ways my role was about keeping people safe – an airfield is a very hostile environment. When I first came over and was dealing with the same kind of tech challenges, it felt like a weight had been lifted – no one was going to get hurt if you made a mistake.

“There’s a lot of software been created to help support people during the pandemic – as well as supporting people through the EU exit. If you make a mistake, you can financially or even physically impact someone – so it’s just as important.”

How can we make it easier to transition between industries?

“For many looking for work, the important factors are either it’s a job role or a particular place where they want to work.

“Tech is a young industry and there are gaps around it, so don’t worry about thinking ‘I haven’t got the experience for that.’ You will find a place where you can make yourself valuable, make yourself useful and bring experience from other industries.

“Good scrum masters I’ve met have come from other sectors, including teachers and soldiers. Don’t be put off by the wording of a job description.”

A day in the life

“I’m working with HMRC right now, and would usually be in their office, but because of the pandemic we’re all working from home. I like to be up and ready for my team, so I tend to start at about 8.30am. 

“I’ll assess the live services to see what’s happened overnight, talk to whoever’s been on duty in preparation for a 9.15 team meeting. There we’ll go through any issues, discuss work that needs doing that day and touch on what we’ll be doing next.

“There’s then a half-hour window before our 10am stand-up meeting. What I do after that varies day to day. I’ll pick up any issues identified in the two meetings and take things away from the team – it’s my role to ensure a smooth workflow.

“Where mornings are about workflow afternoons are about what’s coming up next. 

“Our work is built around two-week sprints, so we have daily rhythms and weekly rhythms. Every other day we’ll have a ‘three-amigos’ meeting – where three different professions or disciplines get together to discuss what work we’ll be picking up next. 

“On alternating days we’ll also have a mini version of a backlog refinement meeting, where we’ll review the backlog of work and remove things we’ve finished.

“Every fortnight we’ll have sprint review meetings where we’ll share what we’ve been up to with the stakeholders and gather feedback. We also have weekly meetings of Opencast’s product delivery community.

“At the end of the day we’ll have a stand-down meeting where we’ll go through what we’ve achieved during the day, issues arising and lessons learned. We finish between 5pm and 5.30pm.

“Outside of work, I’m a pro gamer, playing under the name WireMan. I specialise in Street Fighter 5. My  next scheduled tournament isn’t til 2022, so I’ve been focusing on tutorials to help others.

“There’s been a lot of DIY during the pandemic. I’m hoping to have the place done before everyone’s vaccinated so they can come around when it’s safe to do so. It’s been a helpful motivator and source of exercise among all this.”

Scrum master links

Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson
The Barcelona Way by Damian Hughes
How to be Miserable by Randy J Paterson

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