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Career pathways into tech #9: senior IT consultant

Darren Horobets-Farley

Darren Horobets-Farley is a senior IT consultant at Opencast. Darren tells us about his career pathway into tech, his typical ‘day in the life’ – and how he came to work at Opencast via Ukraine.

What does a senior IT consultant do?

“It’s a very broad role so you can end up doing a bit of everything. You normally work externally with clients and also internally within the company you work for – which is what I do at Opencast. At the moment my primary role is leading a delivery team as a scrum master for a team at HMRC, but I’m also helping out at their training academy, including delivering lightning talks, so education is a big part of my job.

“Senior IT consultants usually have a wide range of skills and experience, including leadership and management skills, as well as more specific methodology and operation skills.

“I get most of my kicks out of helping and developing others – sharing the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years. I’m not coding or testing any longer, but I’m still involved in software delivery and that’s what I like.”

Describe your journey to Opencast

“I’m from Birmingham originally, and after completing my A-levels and leaving school I became a police officer. I’d always been interested in computers, writing code, writing games and breaking games, but I’d always wanted to join the police, so I did and was a police constable for West Midlands Police for six years.

“On leaving the force I wanted to do something completely different. At the time the government was providing free training courses to encourage people into computer programming, so I did that, and loved it.

“I started my career as a software programmer, then became a senior analyst programmer, before moving to another company where I led a software development team. I then spent two years as a tutor, teaching IT skills to adult learners and small business users.

“Next, I moved to Ukraine where I was a technical writer, creating documentation for a range of IT products as well as teaching and training in English language.

“I returned to the UK to become a technical author/lead tester for a company producing education software, and then moved into a testing role at another company.

“In 2012 I moved to Edinburgh to work as a QA manager and scrum master at Thomson Reuters, leading multiple agile teams in multiple global locations. After more than four and half years I moved to another Edinburgh-based company as a scrum master and agile coach. I then had a year-long career break which I spent travelling the world visiting family and friends.

“I returned to Scotland working in Dundee as a project manager and scrum master for the Care Inspectorate before joining Opencast in November 2020.”

That’s quite a career so far – what are your ambitions?

“I suppose my ambitions have changed over the years. I used to dream about owning and running my own company, but I’ve no regrets on that front and have thoroughly enjoyed my career. I just want to continue enjoying what I’m doing and helping others.”

How have you found Opencast to work for? 

“I’m really enjoying working at Opencast – more than anywhere else I’ve worked. They just let you get on with your job. They trust that I have the skills and experience to do the job and that means a lot.

“I’m still based in Edinburgh, so have only met a couple of other Opencast people who are also based in Edinburgh – but everyone has been so friendly and welcoming.

“The company is very well organised – the recruitment and onboarding process was very smooth and all my kit arrived very early. I had plenty of time to set it up before staring work.”

What are you working on at the moment?

“I’m working on a variety of things for HMRC, mainly around tax software and also some work on Covid projects. I also do some internal work at Opencast – for instance interviewing prospective new team members such a scrum masters or product owners.

“I lead a team of 12 at HMRC, which is mostly made up of Opencast people, but there are three user-centred design team members from another consultancy and a performance analyst from a specialist company.”

A day in the life

“My day tends to start at 8am – I prefer to start early and finish early. I’ll check the Jira boards to see what updates there are and see what progress there has been. I’ll then prepare for our morning stand up, which involves the whole team at 9am. At the meeting we’ll look at what we have been doing and what we are going to do and identify any issues that need sorting out. It’s a good way to start the day.

“There’s a variety of tasks and jobs to do next, depending on what we’ve got on. We have regular ‘refining’ meetings or we might have meetings with the HMRC communities, or catch-up meetings with stakeholders. That’s one of the joys of the job; no two days are the same.

“Once or twice a week we’ll also have internal Opencast community sessions or I might be interviewing for new members of the Opencast team.

“I break at noon and will move away from my computer. The government has this golden hour when it encourages people to get away from their machines and block an hour out so they don’t have meetings. I think this is very important for mental health and wellbeing.

“I’m back at my desk at 1pm and will work through until 4pm, looking for issues and problems on projects we’re working on. I call it plate spinning, constantly watching for problems and helping with solutions.

“Outside of work I’m a big gamer and have been since childhood when I used to play Asteroids and Space Invaders. That love of gaming has not diminished and I now play strategy games and first-person open world games. Fallout 4 and Football Manager are big favourites at the moment.

“I also write fiction – I’ve had some short stories published and I’m working on a sci-fi novel.”

Senior IT consultant reading

Intent-based leadership – the website of one of my favourite leaders, David Marquet. It’s a real inspiration for me and someone I continue to learn a lot from. 

Agile Alliance – a great place for resources, ideas, blogs and chat and links to loads of other sources of information.

Mountain Goat Software – Mike Cohn is someone I have followed for years online. The blogs, advice, hints, tips and resources here are brilliant and have been really useful to me in my agile career.

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