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Toby Osbourn: from Computer Science to Director

Social media handle(s): blog & Mastodon

A few words about me:

I'm Toby and I'm a wearer of many hats, generally jumping between coding and strategy work.

I'm the Director of Tosbourn Ltd and run my own two-person agency alongside my wife, helping people with Ruby on Rails development and tech leadership issues.

I very much believe in working to live, and basically use tech as a way to pay for Disney holidays!

Are there any professional experiences you've had that are quite unexpected compared to what you do nowadays?

When I worked as a Supervisor in my local Co-op, I had to try and motivate people who didn't really want to be there to do things they'd really rather not do. In tech we joke that managing Developers is often like herding cats, it turns out there are quite a few parallels!

One recurring theme I've found with technical work is the actual tech side can be independently researched and learned. The people side is much more difficult. In my experience, folk with careers that put them in front of people are the best people to work with.

Is your background more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or non-STEM related?

Very much STEM - I studied Computer Science at Queen's University in Belfast, and since then every job I've had has been related to development.

Where did your professional journey start?

My first tech job was making a website for a Photographer friend of the family. I think I charged them £60 and probably put in over 100 hours of effort making it! I learned a lot and was thoroughly excited when I heard they had got work because of the website.

My first tech job that gave a salary was working for Team Solutionz. I was hired as a PHP Developer and got to work on local government, charity, and private company projects. It was an incredible experience which I didn't appreciate until much later on in my career. I maintain that David and Geoff were the best bosses I've ever worked under.

How did you get into tech and what motivated you?

There were two defining moments. The first was my dad bringing a computer into the house. A Commodore 64. I absolutely loved it. I loved figuring out how it worked and making silly little applications on it. Nearly 30 years on and I still enjoy figuring out how things work and making silly little applications!

The second was my first experience with the internet. It was on a school computer. I wasn't impressed. One of the first websites I saw (a news website, I can't remember which one) had a menu way down at the bottom. It was so silly that you had to scroll for so long and wait for the entire page to load before getting to where you wanted to go. I decided I wanted to fix the internet. I'm still trying!

Have you experienced any 'career in tech' challenges / stereotypes?

I'm a cis-gendered white man, so I face very few challenges, however, because I made a bee-line into development and knew enough to become quite senior quickly, the biggest challenge I've faced was being the youngest in the room and people not trusting what I had to say as a result.

"The tech industry likes to perpetuate that you need to be super-passionate and take part in The Grind™️ in order to progress. You don't. Please move at your own pace and treat it like any type of job. It should be in service of your life."

What you wish you knew before getting started in tech...

I wish I knew that Developers are treated with way too much respect and gravitas. This sounds like an odd answer, but knowing it earlier would have meant that I could have tried to break that down in companies I'd worked for and also been more mindful that what I said carried more weight than others in meetings.

What has been your biggest 'wow!' moment related to working in tech so far?

I won't name names, but when working with a charity client a load of us contractors had a meeting with a service user.

We all arrive with our shiny new Macbooks, iPads, etc. The person we meet with has to charge their work phone at home because they can't get IT to expense a new charger. The phone was so old I'm not even sure it took a standard charger.

There is a massive disconnect between the people who are considered change makers and the people who actually put in hard work day after day to make a difference to people.

I will never forget the feeling of disgust that the charity allocated so much to us and so little to others.

What do you like / not like about working in tech?

I really like being able to take an idea someone has had and make it a reality. Development has always felt like magic to me. I love being able to type something into a computer and have it positively impact someone potentially thousands of miles away.

I dislike solutioneering a lot, which is when people aren't interested in hearing problems, they have a solution and want to use it to solve everything. It leads to conversations that place the Developer and developer tooling at the front and centre, which in my experience is generally the last place we should be.

"In my experience, folk with careers that put them in front of people are the best people to work with."

What's been your favourite / most memorable / funniest 'career in tech' moment so far?

Something I regularly smile at is the fact I was approached to write a book because of my experience with a particular tech-thing. My "experience" was a blog post I had written a few months prior that basically said, "I'm really bad at using this. Because I'm not very good I managed to break things, this is what I did wrong, please don't do this".

More fool me though, by the time the book was released, the version of the thing I was writing about was out of date, so only a small amount of people bought it!!

And to wrap up, is there any advice you'd like to give to others interested in a career in tech?

Read the stories on this site! A lot of people think a career in tech means fulfilling a computery-developery type job, like designer, programmer, tester. There is a massive amount of skills needed in order for a technical project to be a success.

The tech industry likes to perpetuate that you need to be super-passionate and take part in The Grind™️ in order to progress. You don't. Please move at your own pace and treat it like any type of job. It should be in service of your life.

And if you'd like to learn more about my experience of sharing my story as part of this series you can check out this blog post.


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