Adam Howard - Lead engineer

I build digital products for startups and large companies. I have a background in coding and software architecture and I’m familiar with the mindset that early stage startups need to succeed. I like working with smart people, bringing my experience to the table, and learning all I can from those around me. I’m the “let’s jump in a huddle” or the “let’s hash this out in a notion doc” guy. I’m comfortable with tricky tradeoffs, and I’m always building software with the next developer in mind.
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The three roles of product engineering

Typically I’m working in one of three roles in the product development lifecycle:
 

Conviction

When you know what you need, and you just need to execute on it
I specialise in TypeScript, React, and Node - and have released multiple iOS/Android apps

Iteration

Making the proposition more compelling than the competition
For me this means talking to customers, close collaboration, and willingness to change direction

Leadership

Being a force multiplier for the team, executing on a strategy
Pairing, reviewing, establishing good practices. Communication, planning, and banishing distractions

My current focus

After a period of solid work, I’m taking some time to slow down and recalibrate. On a personal level I’m catching up on personal projects in electronics and 3D printing, and I’m appreciating mountain days with our dog from our new home in France
Late 2023 feels like an inflection point for LLMs and AI. On this break from work, I’m reflecting on all the knowledge, intuition, and manual work in my career that could be different with these kinds of tools. It’s a trope to suggest that automation could replace the 5 day work week, but wouldn’t it be great if it actually happened this time 😅

5 years building Penfold

Penfold is a digital-first pension. When I started at Penfold, we had two founders, some mockup designs in a Word document, and an empty github repo. Our first customers were family and friends. 5 years later, we had:
  • 50,000+ customers
  • £300m+ assets under administration
  • 4.8 ⭐ App Store rating
  • 4 engineering teams
  • Notion and Figma instead of Word docs 😅

Roles

  • Evaluating, establishing, and deeply understanding a tech stack
  • Moving fast on key “table stakes” projects
  • Understanding requirements and communicating with non-technical colleagues
  • Managing risk and bringing a methodical approach to tech incidents
  • Establishing team principles and practices
  • Mentoring developers and building a blame-free learning culture
  • Reducing daily distractions through process changes

Key achievements

  • Went from git init to thousands of PRs, adapting to the needs of a changing team, and a greenfield project becoming legacy code
  • Built a short notice POC to wrestle a large web project into an iOS/Android experience, while maintaining a single codebase. From a technical perspective it was a real hack, but from a company perspective it became a huge win. It let us move quickly, build a competitive advantage, and hire devs of all levels without mobile experience. After 4 years, the temporary solution is still in use, and the iOS app has maintained a 4.8 star rating
  • I was consistently the most active PR reviewer, and was often the person that people reached out for when they needed to pair on a problem or understand something in depth

Quotes

Adam has taken on a wealth of responsibilities this year and excelled at being a Tech Lead for the Workplace Team. His strong technical skills along with his very clear communication style is a winning combination that makes Adam very adept to leading the team.
Throughout penfold I've always seen Adam provide such a methodical, logical approach to everything he does - no matter the chaotic environment, which has been outstanding and brought me new perspectives on engineering.
Just to say that I've especially enjoyed working with you out of all of the engineers at Penfold. You’re a brilliant engineer and I’ve learnt a lot from you in my time at Penfold, about design patterns, novel solutions, and also you have helped tune my attention to detail hugely. You’ve done a stellar job as tech lead in the Workplace squad and it isn’t going to be the same without you.
I don't think Adam quite realises the impact he’s had on me / my career, but I am incredibly grateful to him for not only immeasurable mentorship, guidance, and knowledge impartation, but also just excellent chats / vibes and friendship.
The best tech lead I’ve ever worked with
Consistently being a total badass at ferreting out incredibly difficult problems and unpicking logic like some kind of demi-god

Prior work

Casey

A recurring engagement with a pre-seed startup. The key priorities were a magazine-level website quality, efficient no-code processes to iterate on content, and extensive use of notion and WhatsApp to drive the business

The Beano

Brought in as an extra pair of hands for six weeks, I ended up being the consistent thread in the technical team for nearly a year. I led development on a large React codebase deployed across web and native iOS/Android platforms. We used Rails for an API and CMS built to the needs of a content team. The project had various UX and compliance challenges specific to the child audience, and was handed over to the safe hands of a full time team.

The car manufacturer

A three month innovation project exploring a problem space and future business model for the car industry. Hired to act like a founder, I was empowered to explore and de-risk the business as if it were my own. Problem space exploration, smoke tests, prototypes, customer interviews, iteratively designing and validating a proposition.

The bank

Working on a “shaking things up” product for a C-level executive at a major bank. A change of focus one week in, a 12 week project cut to 6, an organisational web to navigate, physical and organisational impediments, handover to a team in China... if you were trying to sabotage a project it might look like this. Yet we still delivered a working prototype and delighted very senior stakeholders such as the Global Head of Digital.

ITV general election

Using customer development techniques to decide how best to cover the UK general election while minimising expensive platform changes. Included collaboration with integration partners, time with journalists and editors, and a focus on retained functionality for future political coverage.

Skype in the Classroom

Led development in a phase focused on discovery and search, long before Zoom! I continued in this role as Skype partnered with Code.org, working with a subcontractor in fast, iterative sprints. The project helped teachers deliver lessons, boosted Skype’s brand, cleared serious technical debt, and won IXDA and Webby awards.

ITV publisher

ITV’s publishing system allows them to break news faster than other news organisations while supporting their 700k daily uniques. As the system grew, small race conditions had begun to appear. I used the advantages of their existing redis technology to implement a smarter representation of data; meaning we could remove the unreliable job queue performing future work that could fail. This feat ended up touching 71 files.

Ghost

Audited and refactored an early version of the (now quite successful!) Ghost blogging engine.

Tinie Tempah

I built an app with custom Shazam-like technology for Warner Music Group. When the app detected one of Tinie’s songs, it dropped you into a video of his lips rapping along in perfect time. Users would hold it to their mouth to “rap like Tinie”, and its viral success with fans and celebrities like Nick Grimshaw (Radio 1) drove new sales for the album.

NOW Running

A promotional app for the “Now That's What I Call Music!” brand. The app would scan your local music library to build a playlist of tracks that matched your desired pace. It would play through the app as you ran, and track typical running metrics like calorie burn.

Education

I doubt it’s relevant any more(!), but I was awarded a first class honours degree in computing from Bournemouth University. My final year project was a mobile-driven authentication system, an approach which has since become ubiquitous with the likes of WhatsApp Web and smart TV apps.

Sounds good?

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