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Building a Career as a Software Engineer

Picture of Cathal King. Cathal King presents as a White male. He has dark hair that it cut close. He holds his daughter Isla. Both are looking at the screen with big smiles.
Cathal King, software engineer for Apex Fintech Solutions UK, with daughter Isla.

The primary goal of a software engineer is to develop a workable solution to a real-world problem through technology. Engineering

principles and programming languages are essential for a software engineer (also known as a coder or software developer) to create software products, design and build computer games, and manage network control systems. In 2021, the US Department of Labor estimated that more than 1.4 million software engineers were working in the U.S.

Software careers are broad, and the technical skillsets of developers have a wide range — from infrastructure development and network security to front-end web design and user experience. We talked with Cathal King, principal software engineer at Apex Fintech Solutions UK, to see his path to becoming a coding ninja.

An International Journey 

Most colleges and universities offer degree programs in computing, coding, software engineering, or software development. This accessibility makes it easy to get the proper training anywhere for those who can afford a traditional career path. For King, he wanted to break out of Northern Ireland and experience the big city, so he chose Manchester Metropolitan University in England (Manchester Met). 

“I wanted to go somewhere new. I went from a small town to the big city — Manchester,” explains King. “Through Manchester Met, I also had the opportunity to intern in Annecy, France, at an IT company, which helped me in the roles I took after graduation — which landed in me in London.” 

Picture of young software engineers collaborating on a project.King hopes others seek out and take advantage of opportunities like he had. King earned his Bachelor of Science in Computing from Manchester Met, but he is still curious to learn new things, like earning a degree in the Irish language. “I wish I had known how precious the time at school was. Students should make the most of their college years from an educational point of view. You’ll find yourself in the rat race once you’re employed. School gives you access to excellent facilities and instructors. I think that’s why people go back for second degrees, to continue that learning experience.”

Coming to Apex Fintech Solution UK

In March 2020, PEAK6 opened a new branch in Belfast, right when the pandemic shutdowns began. PEAK6 is the parent company of Apex Fintech Solutions UK, which officially changed its name to the AFS UK moniker in 2022. Lisa Stevenson, site lead and VP of engineering, had worked with King previously and reached out to see if he would be interested in discussing opportunities. “Lisa gave it a really good sell,” says King. “I’d been working in massive organizations for years, so the smaller vibe on the Belfast team seemed a good fit. I think I was her fourth hire at the Belfast office.”

“​​The people are a great family bunch,” continues King. “Plus, there’s a high caliber of engineering still going on in middle management and higher levels. That’s refreshing. It’s nice to have a blend of skillsets up layers of management.”

No Typical Day

Concentrated young Indian software engineer drawing block diagram on whiteboard before starting work on programming code.While work can sometimes feel routine, there isn’t any sort of typical day as a software engineer or coder. Especially as you move up the leadership chain, says King, “Each day, the team gets together for a standup meeting where we talk about our progress from the day before, spot opportunities to help others get unstuck, and gauge where the rest of the day will go. Then the rest of the day hopefully has some uninterrupted hours. Those hours are great for helping the more junior engineers.”

Of course, then there are the meetings. “Lots of meetings; planning meetings. The best days are light on the meetings, but they are necessary to plan strategy and clear obstacles so that the work of coding can get done and get done right,” he says. “The meetings I love are when we can get in a room to whiteboard a problem.” 

Busy days are when having trusted work tools can speed things up. For King, that’s Workflowy. “It’s an outliner, a notetaker. It helps get the ideas out of my head and into bullet points. It’s my second brain. I can reorganize my thoughts.” When organization is the biggest obstacle to progress, tools like these are indispensable to a software engineer.

Advice for New Software Engineers

Be patient with your progress. There can seem an insurmountable amount to learn but give it time. King explains that early in his career, he didn’t always see that, “I was surrounded by these geniuses. I wasn’t patient enough with myself to sit back and learn.”

Further, keep an eye on your progress and satisfaction as your career grows. “Your mojo will ebb and flow,” says King. “There’ll be periods where you’re fired up for the job and pushing forward in your career and other times when you just won’t. Keep an eye on it and spot when it’s been a while since you’ve felt fired up. Change something small for the better, and see how it goes.”

When it comes to becoming a more effective software engineer, King says, “Learn to be deliberate about your growth. Keep chipping away at knowledge gaps. Don’t dwell on the feeling of being overwhelmed that you’ll never get to where other people already seem to be — be proud of your achievements and make goals and plans to get to where you want to be.”

Does the thought of being a software engineer excite you? PEAK6 companies have opportunities from internships and boot camps to many experienced engineering, coding, and development roles. Explore our career opportunities today.

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