As part of our 20th anniversary celebration year, we will be spotlighting a number of Symplectic employees to find out more about their background and the expertise they bring to the community.
Andrew Bennet joined Symplectic in 2012 as an intern straight out of university, and is still here over ten years later!
We sat down with him to see what’s kept him with the company for a decade, and what he thinks makes Symplectic (and Digital Science) a great place to work.
Hi Andy! Tell us a bit about your background
I grew up in London; at school I was keen on mathematics and science. During my A-Level years (aged 16-18), I had my first experience of programming: we were required to have a graphical calculator in maths, and it was discovered that they could be used to write and run computer programs. A classmate had a set of programs obtained from an older brother (they could be transferred, calculator-to-calculator, using a 3.5mm cable) including a re-creation of Space Invaders. The games themselves were written in a variant of BASIC, and I would poke around in the code and try to work out how they functioned. By reverse-engineering these programs, I learned how to write some simple programs and games – and got hooked on programming.
After my A-Levels, I went to University of Bristol to study Mathematics, but ended up missing all computing-related courses, leaving my programming experience very limited and niche.
How long have you worked at Symplectic and what brought you here?
I encountered Symplectic during my penultimate year of University in 2012. I was searching for an opportunity to get some professional experience in programming and software development. Scouring the list of companies advertising at careers fairs, I found Symplectic: a small friendly team, keen to make thoughtful software for a good purpose. I interviewed for an internship, and – remarkably for an interview process – I had a pleasant time. I was set an interesting and challenging problem, and I had a nice chat with the team. I got the internship, had a great time, and was happy to accept an offer of a full-time job once I’d finished my degree a year later. And I’m still here nearly 10 years later!
What advice would you give to new graduates looking for their first developer role?
Experiment. If you’re new to programming, try to follow an online course or tutorial – but don’t get disheartened, and don’t worry if you don’t understand everything!
Getting a graduate role is often about how well you think analytically, rather than what you currently know, so try to expose yourself to the concepts, and challenge yourself to think through problems rigorously and carefully.
How have you seen Symplectic evolve over the past 10 years, and how has your role evolved alongside it?
Over the last 10 years, both the Symplectic team and our products have grown in size. As a result, we now have some more formalised processes compared with a more ad-hoc approach sometimes used in the past. We also have an increased focus on security and privacy compared with 10 years ago.
The expectations for the user experience of a web application have definitely increased: users generally expect more dynamic and reactive websites compared with 10 years ago. To follow these trends, Symplectic has embraced more sophisticated technologies over time to be able to follow this trend and meet these demands.
My role has evolved to include more oversight of the technical direction of our software development: identifying risks relating to maintainability and efficiency, and helping to set out a technical direction of our codebase. This involves research and prototyping, and helping to ensure that we are able to keep moving in the right direction, using modern frameworks and patterns.
What’s the most rewarding and/or challenging project you’ve worked on during your time here?
From an academic perspective, the crosswalk engine used for Elements’ repository integrations. This is a framework that allows configuration of translation between two arbitrary metadata formats: some of the concepts involved felt evocative of my maths degree!
From a product perspective, the release of Elements v6.0 was very rewarding – it was a huge overhaul of the entire UI that required a lot of hard work and close coordination across the whole team. Being able to see the final result come together successfully was very satisfying.
What’s something you think people might be interested or surprised to learn about you?
The team all know this, but others might be surprised to learn that I’ve worked as a magician for many years (as a side-gig), and am a member of the Magic Circle.
What do you think makes Symplectic’s team culture unique?
You couldn’t ask for a nicer bunch of people than the Symplectic team! We’re a real mix of characters, but everyone is smart, passionate, and friendly, and we form a supportive and welcoming family. There’s a great sense of camaraderie when working together – and we often (voluntarily!) spend time together outside of work too, with many genuine close friendships amongst the team.
Meet more of the team: