Cogent Crew: Meet Craig S



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Welcome to the latest edition of the Cogent Crew series, where every month we’re inviting you to get to know a little more about the people at Cogent. 

This month Corrie spoke to Craig about the things that keep him happy: hint, they involve coding, being able to ask ‘big’ questions and restoring motorbikes. 

Name: Craig Sullivan

Job: Lead Developer

Time at Cogent: 1 year

How are you? Are you doing okay working from home?

I’m loving it. I know that sounds silly, but I had an hour-and-a-half commute each way beforehand. When I wake up at seven o’clock in the morning I can still have another two hours of sleep if I want it!

I’m glad you’re enjoying it. So, how long have you been at Cogent?

I’ve been at Cogent for about 11 months now, so getting towards my year anniversary.

What’s your role at Cogent?

Developer. I’m a bit more senior and do many other things, but I still think of myself as just a developer.

Run me through what a typical day would look like for you, both as a developer and it sounds like there’s other stuff that you would work on as well.

Like most other people in the tech industry, I start in the morning, have a team catch up, see what everyone’s doing for the day, what they want to work on, and if they need any assistance with anything. Probably follow that up with more meetings about trying to do something architectural or solve some big problem the project’s facing. There may be other meetings later on with the senior leadership and exec team but I always try and squeeze in a little bit of time during the day to do a bit of coding if I can. It’s still a hobby, even if it’s a job.

Sounds like that balance between architectural problem-solving, meetings with the leadership team and coding is a big emphasis for you. Can you tell us why that’s important?

Absolutely. I think you have to fight really hard to try and keep the balance right. It’s very easy to be pulled in one direction where everyone wants you to do one job or another, but I think you’ve got to have the balance to maintain your edge as well. You’ve still got to tutor the junior developers as they’re still learning, bring them up to speed. You need to understand what their life is like in order for you to make decisions on things that might affect them. I strive hard to try and keep that balance.

That makes sense. How did you get into being a developer? Have you always wanted to do it?

I would actually say that I’ve never not been a developer! I didn’t get into it, I just haven’t left. My first computers were TRS-80s and the first IBM PCs when I was a little kid. Before the internet was really a thing. I just haven’t left. It’s been a hobby and I’ve just kept going. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my parents for buying computers, and I thank them all the time.

Fantastic. So, it’s just naturally how your brain has always worked and what you’ve been interested in?

Yeah, it is. I come from a family of mechanics, and pulling things apart and seeing how they work was something that was taught to us early. So when computers came along, I did the exact same thing. I pulled them apart, put them together to see how they worked, and that led to software. Like all country kids, you go from high school then to university in the city, and I haven’t actually moved far from there. 

Craig’s daughter Chloe teaching him the intricacies of “insta styled” selfies.

That’s great. It sounds like you really love it.

I do. I know it’s embarrassing, but I do love my job!

That’s fantastic! That’s what everyone strives for, right? So, what kind of projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on a project for the City of Melbourne, helping them build their events website, “What’s On Melbourne”. It’s been great because I use that site all the time, now I actually get to work on it!  I’ve just come off working at MYOB for about 9–10 months.

So, you’ve been on two projects at Cogent so far? Which is your favourite?

Well, see, that’s unfair because I would say City of Melbourne, that’s because it’s new and fresh and you’re like the new puppy on the team, but I have very fond memories of MYOB. That was actually quite a challenging and fun job.

What made the MYOB project challenging and fun? Those are two quite different feelings.

Oh, no, they’re the same: if it’s challenging, it can be quite a lot of fun. I think fun is what you make of it. When you’re trying to do really ambitious things, it can be quite challenging. When you’re trying to deal with a very large number of people, that’s a very difficult environment to work into. Also, the business pressures for software to be delivered also makes it a challenge. But the fun part is when you can actually build up a team, have a bit of fun with the people there, and at the end of it the team is left in a nice, stable position and everyone continues to enjoy turning up to work.

What’s your favorite thing about working at Cogent?

There’s two parts to it. The first thing that struck me straight away was the level of transparency on everything. This really suited me because normally I have to ask questions that are uncomfortable and in my experience, people are usually reluctant to share those answers openly. But Cogent was the complete opposite: all my questions were answered before I even got to ask them, so I didn’t have to feel embarrassed about asking all the “hard stuff”. That was great, but then you realize that Cogent hires really well and as a group of people it’s second to none. So I really do enjoy working with everyone, even just jumping onto this new project. First week and it’s just been a breath of fresh air, everyone helping out, showing me the ropes. That’s normally the thing I have to try and work out, so it’s great.

How’s it been joining a new project team when they’re all settled in and everybody’s now remote? Is that making it more difficult?

Not really for me. I’ve been doing remote work for decades, most of my jobs have been out of Sydney while I’ve been based in Melbourne, working with people from New Zealand and India. It’s actually one of the benefits of being in the tech industry. We were pioneers of remote work, and to be able to share different cultural experiences while you’re working makes it entertaining. Often, I’d be talking to people and they’ll just stop and go, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Craig”. It is either just my accent or I’m using sayings that I just never knew were Australian until no one else understood what I was saying!

From farm yard to working condition. Craig is restoring his first Kawasaki GPX 250.

The next question might be a hard one, considering how much you love your job! If you could be any other thing professionally, what do you think it would be?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a pilot or a fighter pilot, but I actually just fell with computers and just stayed there. I’d love to do that, but I’m getting older. My eyes aren’t that good anymore, so I’ll stick with what I’m doing.

What’s your favorite thing to do on the weekend?

I’ve got two kids, so a lot of the weekends are obviously filled with chores, but I like making things as well. I like restoring motorbikes, I’ve still got my original motorbike that I’m trying to get back to life. Another project I have on the go is painting the house; I’m sure that’ll take me at least another year to do.

Tell us more about the motorbike you’re trying to restore.

I love the idea that we’re just custodians of things. We’ve got to keep things in good condition so that history can be preserved and passed on. My first motorbike was a 1989 Kawasaki, and my brother-in-law told me that he still kept it in the shed. It was a bit rusty, but it was still there, so we grabbed it and started shopping on Gumtree for spare parts. It kind of works now, so hopefully it’ll be back in working condition pretty soon.

Fantastic. I assume you have your motorbike license, so you’ll be the one taking it out for a spin?

I do, yeah. Just because you’ve got your license doesn’t mean you remember how to do it. Probably a few lessons might be an order.

Do you think this is your mechanic side coming out; all thanks to your family’s mechanic genes?

I originally thought that, but actually, as I’ve gone through it, it’s actually more about making things. It’s closer to doing art and crafts with my daughter than actually being a mechanic. You’re doing something creative, you’re learning something you know nothing about, and YouTube does get a hammering on how-to videos. I’ve worked out that’s more closely aligned with my daughter doing art and craft than my Dad with mechanics.

Wow. Do the kids ever help you with the motorbike?

They have, actually, yeah. It’s really good because they get to pick up skills as well, and it’s not the normal thing that 10 and 14 year-old kids do, so it’s nice.

If you could go somewhere very exciting on your motorbike, where do you think you would head off to?

My idea of exciting and everyone else’s might be different! I’d prefer to just ride around Australia. Just me, my bike, my laptop, and park somewhere in a town for a week, do some work, ride off to the next one and do that for a while. No real destination, basically just going in one really large circle around Australia.

Hawaiian shirt night with the family on New Zealand cruise.

Where’s the best place you’ve ever been, then?

I asked my wife that question recently and we both came up with something unremarkable. There’s a place in Rosebud that’s a holiday resort. We both love that area because when the kids were little, we could go there, you’d have your accommodation that’s enclosed and the kids could run free, swim, play basketball, and tennis. To me, that’s a nice spot. I’ve always had good memories there.

If you could live anywhere for a year, where do you think it would be?

I know it sounds corny but I’m actually quite happy where I’m at.  When we moved into this place, it was going to be temporary. That was about 20 years ago. We’ve watched the neighborhood grow up around us, all the trees, the parks, the animals. Actually, I kind of enjoy it here probably because it’s also close to a Westfield shopping centre as well, so I’ve got all the conveniences you could ask for.

If you could hire a private chef for the night, what would you get them to make you?

I wouldn’t get them to make me anything. I’d get them to actually cook anything they want with my son. My son’s actually really keen into cooking. I’m so lucky. I might do a Vegemite and cheese sandwich, and he’ll come back with wagyu steak and mushroom sauce. I’m lucky.

Does he cook for the family a lot?

Nearly every night. It’s also not uncommon that you’d come down in the morning and you’d think “what’s that smell?” and you realise he’s made waffles, bacon, and everything else just for breakfast.

Craig’s son is always cooking for the family.

Wow. The perfect child.

It’s fantastic. I take photos of his food like a food blogger, even though I’m totally opposed to food bloggers. I’m thinking, “Oh my God. This is what you made when you were 11! A burger and lettuce and brioche buns, and you made the brioche buns!

What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

Landing a plane. My very first flying lesson when I was younger. I wanted to be a pilot and I’d done all the lessons, all the theory at this one flying school. The flying officer who was in charge organized to receive a mobile phone call as I was landing. I thought I was on my own and had to land the plane without assistance. Little did I know it was just something he did to make sure that you knew what you were doing.

Geez, that was scary. Still the best landing I ever did. Every one after that was worse. It was scary.

So you’ve flown quite a lot, then?

Not a lot, no. I had to choose between either being a pilot or going to university down Melbourne and doing computers. That was a time when there were no jobs for pilots, and I thought, “You know what? I’ll go to Melbourne.” It’s more about growing up than just getting an education. You’ve got to leave home and fend for yourself.

Okay, last question: what’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

I’d say the most used advice I’ve received was when I was younger and I had my first team to look after. My manager at the time said to create an environment that was friendly to failure, and I try to do that all the time. A lot of times I go into projects that are broken and they want to get it right. They’ve got to do the right things and they analyze everything. If they actually just turned it around and embraced failure as a proper metric. Recognizing its importance. The whole team tends to turn around. The learning cycles increase, people get that experience faster and faster, so the more you fail, the faster you do it and you learn from that, the world gets so much better and less stressful too.

I’m grateful for that advice and I use it everyday. 

I think that’s a fantastic piece of advice. Advice that would surely appeal to people at Cogent who frequently join new client projects. Thanks for that and for the chat.

Like the idea of joining the Cogent team? Head over to the Cogent Careers page and say hello!


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