A Working Day for Graeme Burgess

USE* Rich Portal Applications Developer

Graeme left school in 1989 aged 16 and started a youth training scheme in Information Technology. Having had various home computers since 1982 he had a keen interest in computers and excelled on the scheme, often helping the lecturers teach some of the more hard headed students.

In 1990 he got a work placement at GEC Transformers in Stafford, inititally helping to integrate their new AS400 system. He stayed with GEC until 1998, when he took a job at Norpak Food Services (a division of the Co-op) working as a programmer, and in IT support. His programming career took off from there, and after a couple of years he was the lead programmer, overseeing most of the software projects. Norpak was sold in 2003 to another part of the Co-op, who had their own nationwide IT infrastructure and had no need for the suite of software applications that had been developed at Norpak, so Graeme was given notice of redundancy.

This was at the end of 2003, but he didn’t get made redundant until late 2007! During that time, he trained himself in a range of different programming languages, and got involved with developing web-based side of applications. When he was (finally) made redundant in 2007, he work on a self-employed basis as a programmer and web developer, creating dozens of websites and applications.  Graeme joined USE*, in July 2009. He is 36 years old, and has been working with computers for just over 20 years.

I am a software developer, working primarily on developing a range of USE* Rich Portal Foundation applications, and I work from home.

My wife (Kate) leaves for work, so I switch on the computers in my office (located in the box room on the upstairs floor of my house, in the quiet town of Weeping Cross, in Staffordshire). I say computers as I use two – my laptop that I do most of my development on, and my desktop PC that I use for working with graphics. Until Kate gets back home, at about 5:15pm, it’s just me and my two ginger cats. And all they do is sleep all day.

I am about halfway through a huge task – recreating a screen mock-up I did using a graphics application, as a web application. I have already completed most of the core functionality of the particular part of the application that I am working on, and this step will give it the look and feel.

What that equates to is applying graphical styles to dozens of tables and cells, and trying to get everything to line up, 1 pixel at a time. I am doing this by using PHP and CSS (with a bit of HTML and Javascript thrown in for good measure). I see everything at source code level – there is no right clicking and setting a background colour like you would do in Excel.

I have been doing this since Monday (today is Wednesday), having completed the graphical screen layouts using a graphics application at the end of last week.

At the end of yesterday, I was about halfway down the screen, filling in cells with colours and graphics, and I had created a script that would generate the buttons used in the application. This means that all of the buttons will be created from the same piece of code – so if I want to change the buttons’ style, I only have to change it in one place and this will propagate to the other buttons. This is the essence of object oriented programming.

So when I call that function, I get back a nicely formatted button with a space after it (to separate it from the next button), all wrapped up in the necessary HTML for it to drop neatly into a row within a table.

I am interrupted as I hear one of my cats being sick on our bed in the room next door. Cats seem to be sick a lot. The offender (his name is Kat) scuttles off to sleep somewhere else, as I strip the bed and put it all in the washing machine. Yes one of my cats is named Kat (The other is Tigger).

As my concentration is broken, I decide to have breakfast. Cornflakes.

Re-immerse myself in PHP again. Although this is a long task, it is rewarding as I am finally seeing the application take shape, and get nearer to how the finished product would look. It's like baking a cake. You spend hours mixing and baking, but it's satisfying when you finally get to press the Smarties into the icing.

Jon (Quaife - Managing Director of USE*) calls me on Skype, asking about the limitations of 'light panels' in a web application. A light panel is a window that when called, sits on top of the current window - to display extra information. I inform him that there will be no limitations on what it can do. This decision will make my job harder in the long run, but will provide more flexibility for the end product. If this piece of software was a house that I am building, I have just agreed to add a conservatory to it. It's a bit of extra work, but will be worth it.

After the call I return to my trance-like state, trying to get things to line up on the screen.

Jon calls again, on Skype. This time we discuss a change to the 'product listing' section. This would mean a lot of changes. We agree that although it is possible, we will not implement it into the initial release of the software.

Anything is possible. The only real limitation is time.

I take a 10 minute break for dinner, and watch some YouTube videos. I watched a couple of Tamiya RC car commercials from the late 70s. YouTube is full of obscure clips.

Back to the coding. It's going well today, and I have made some good headway. Not only do I have to set the colours for the background of the application window, but as it is browser based, I have to set the background for the space around the window. This is a little more tricky. But it needs to be done, so I jump into the hole and try to dig my way out.

Jon calls again. He is working on the functional specifications for this software, as I am translating them into an application. He is many steps ahead of me though.

Jon, Paul O Connor (USE* Manager of Sales and Marketing), David Kitching (our customer), Marcus (Operations Manager for USE* IT, among other things) and myself have had hundreds of hours of meetings to get to where we are now with this project. There is still a lot to do, but I feel that we have broken the back of the planning.

I have got the background of the page finished - the background being the space around the main application window. And the main application window is almost finished. I just need to line up text, set some font sizes and set some font colours. This in itself is quite a big job, but not overly hard. One point to note is that this application is designed to be customised to the customer's corporate colours. So I will have to go back through and make alterations so that the colour values are flexible and not hard coded. At first this colour flexibility seemed very complex, but Jon and myself went through it all and found a simpler way of doing it.

I send Jon a screenshot of what I have done so far, over Skype. He downloads it, but doesn't reply. (I told him later I thought that was a good sign.)

Back to the coding.

I take an hour out to write 'my working day'. Which you are reading now.

That's me done for today. I genuinely enjoy my job, and working from home suits me perfectly. No rush hour traffic, no office politics, no having to iron a shirt in the morning and not many interruptions. Solitude is very beneficial for a programmer.

Meet Our Team

Graeme Burgess

Graeme Burgess

USE* Rich Portal Applications Developer
John Shaw

John Shaw

World Markets Specialist
Russell Davey

Russell Davey

SERP Engineer
Simon Eames

Simon Eames

Operations Manager, USE* Publications

Copyright © USE Aftermarket Consulting Limited 2010, Powered by Kentico CMS for ASP.NET