A Day in the Life of Damon
What is your background and how long have you worked at Hopewiser?
Prior to coming to Hopewiser I worked in a non-IT industry. Following the collapse of the company I worked for, I decided to switch careers and was able to secure a government funded placement on a programming course specialising in COBOL development. After completing my course I approached Hopewiser, and was given my first IT role as a trainee programmer.
I’ve been here since 1999, taking on a number of roles along the way, covering both development and more recently managerial.
Describe a typical day in your job?
One of the pleasures of working for Hopewiser is the varied nature of the work we get to be involved in. I’ve had the opportunity to learn many new skills, not only from a technical viewpoint, but also a personal development one and Hopewiser has always been very supportive in this.
My role as a Development Team Manager has seen my work shift from hands-on development, to a supporting role for the team, with a focus more on managing than doing. With nearly 20 years experience at Hopewiser, day-to-day sees me providing guidance on development projects, helping to ensure we remain great at what we’ve being doing since 1982, but also moving forward with new and exciting projects.
What do you enjoy most in your role?
It’s not uncommon for development managers to be promoted from within the existing team structure, and it would be safe to say that not all developers relish this opportunity. Whilst there are times I miss the feeling of accomplishment you can get for completing a project or solving a problem, I really enjoy the human interaction that managing a team brings and being able to pass on my experience. Looking after a team of individuals can be frustrating, but equally the team can surprise and impress, which provides a great deal of joy.
Your team is involved in file building. What assets are used for a typical file build?
The key assets Hopewiser use are the knowledge and experience built up over 36+ years of similar development. This can’t be underestimated, given our history of handling address based databases, and there is little we haven’t encountered before in terms of data presentation. With our proprietary database structures we are excellently placed within the industry to incorporate new to market data quickly.
This knowledge base is supplemented by a development team with a wide skill set, from knowledge of many languages to experiences of most operating system platforms.
How has the file build process changed over the years?
The core principles that led file build design still hold true today, we are known for quality, accuracy and the precision of our solutions, and our mission to maintain these high standards still drives us forward. Data does change over time, but it is our unique understanding of address structures and content that enables us to embrace new sources of data, and improve upon data being released into the market.
Access to and interest in international datasets has increased in recent years. Few of these are of the same standard as those we’re accustomed with in the United Kingdom (for example the Royal Mail PAF and AddressBasePremium), often not offering full country coverage or not presented to the degree of accuracy (for example only at locality level). Those presented in ascii (the standard character set for the UK), can and have been catered for, whilst those presented in other character sets (for example unicode) have required a different approach and modifications to our addressing engine, Atlas.
Usage of data has changed as well, especially when obtaining addresses interactively. More user friendly methods of accessing the data have been developed, such as AutoComplete (or type ahead) which have required additional considerations for our database design to enable support for these lookup methods. Again these are developed in-house.
What are the challenges of file building?
With an ever changing world, data is captured from many sources with the resulting databases being of varying quality. Our challenge is to ensure that any data being provided to our client base is truly fit for purpose and matches the high degree of quality and consistency our clients have come to expect and trust. We strive as always to understand the data and the unique challenges presented by every data source, which isn’t easy when there can be tens of millions of records.
With data being captured from many regions of the world and being presented as ‘complete’ address datasets, few of these, upon closer inspection, offer full country coverage down to premise level. Whilst this per se is not a file building issue, as we can load what is available, managing client expectations is more challenging. However, given our history this is something we are uniquely placed to handle. Different character sets pose a more substantial challenge, however, in recent years we have successfully provided solutions for data presented in unicode for countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.
It should be remembered that simply providing a mechanism to load international data is only half of the solution, many character sets are used worldwide often with specific keyboard maps to cater for these. Retrieving and validating an address can now be performed from anywhere in the world, for example, via an online app. The software can support different character sets if a client is using a non-UK keyboard.
Where are the file builds located?
The file build systems are designed in-house here at Hopewiser. Each system undergoes a rigorous research and development phase before being extensively tested on a development file build server that mirrors the real live production environment. Once development is completed, the build systems are moved into the live production environment which consists of a number of servers.
Dedicated servers are used for specific builds, which is important as file builds can take numerous days to complete and consume half a terabyte of storage. However, each server (including the development server) is capable of running any file build, ensuring little down time should a hardware problem occur.