Algolia software engineer: Lockdown, code commits & dynamic synonyms

With only a proportion of developers classified as key workers (where their responsibilities perhaps included the operations-side of keeping mission-critical and life-critical systems up and online), the majority of programmers will have been forced to work remotely, often in solitude.

So how have the fallout effects of this played out?

The Computer Weekly Developer Network blog talks to a number of key software engineering professionals about their experiences working under lockdown and the need to keep the (computing) logic vibrant and productive despite the restrictions we have all faced throughout 2020 and into the current year.

This post features Kevin Østerkilde in his role as software engineer at search and discovery API platform company Algolia. Danish-born Østerkilde now lives and works in Paris, France… so what kinds of experiences have he and his team gone through in recent times?

Computer Weekly: Tell us first, what aspects of the Algolia platform do you work on?

Kevin Østerkilde: Sure, I am working on some of our new AI features, specifically our Dynamic Synonym Suggestions. Prior to that I was working on our Analytics. On top of this I am also a core contributor to our internal product design system which is used by our entire organisation for building products.

Computer Weekly: How big is your team and, in general, how disruptive was the whole experience of everybody having to work from home for extended periods?

Kevin Østerkilde: Our AI team is about 30+ people right now… and the Synonyms squad is 4, myself included. It hasn’t been too disruptive in the current team although this is mostly because the team was formed during the lockdown. Generally speaking however it has been quite a change.

Computer Weekly: People joke about programmers not being very ‘social animals’ and quite enjoying time alone, but in reality it’s much better to create Algolia technologies as part of a live unit in the office, right?

Algolia’s Østerkilde: Keep the code commits coming, but keep the weekends as weekends.

Kevin Østerkilde: While I do actually quite enjoy working from home, there are parts of my job which is easier in person for sure.

Computer Weekly: A lot of programmers and other workers have engaged in team Zoom calls, some of it for work, some of it for team-building and social reasons… have you guys had a virtual beer and pizza together at any stage?

Kevin Østerkilde: We have, yes. Daily we ‘meet up for coffee’ together, virtually as a way of socialising together and feeling less alone. On top of that, we also have occasional happy hours where we get together for drinks and various activities we can do remotely together. In between lockdowns we even met up twice for lunch together in person which was a nice change while it was possible.

Computer Weekly: Some developers we have spoken to think that they’ve been able to execute a greater number of code commits and actually get more down during the pandemic, has that been a positive experience for you and the people you work with in any way at all?

Kevin Østerkilde: From what I have seen, yeah that is accurate but it isn’t necessarily a good thing. For example, I’ve observed that some people are committing code late into the evening or during weekends which isn’t great but on the other hand there are others who really thrive in working from home. As for myself, it’s a bit of a mix really – I like being able to work from home and would love to do so permanently but because of the lockdown there’s the human aspect missing because we can’t easily meet up together even outside of work. That being said, yes generally I’ve seen this being a very positive experience for the majority of people.

For more on this company, read ‘The Elasticsearch sideshow and why Algolia is the better bet‘ on TechTarget.

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