A behind-the-scenes look at the people who make us great.
Welcome to the latest edition of the Cogent Crew series, where we invite you to get to know the people who make Cogent what it is.
This month Alex spoke to Dean about how studying graphic design led him to become a developer, the importance of transparency at work, and how reading a book a month for a year helped change his perspective.
Name: Dean Francis
Job: Senior Consultant
Time at Cogent: 5 years & 6 months
Thanks again for joining me, Dean! Let’s jump straight into it, how did you get into engineering?
I discovered that I enjoyed programming. I’d never done it before, so it was a surprise that I enjoyed it, and it was a surprise to learn that programming is also a creative endeavour and it can be very expressive. By the time I joined Cogent I was experienced with front end development. Cogent really helped me to become a full-stack developer, picking up a lot of agile methodologies and broader skills around software development.
So now, what I’m really interested in, is how teams work together and how systems can integrate at a higher level to help digital businesses be more efficient. This all came through an entry point of studying graphic design and being open to new things that I could be learning. I started in a completely different area and have evolved to where I am right now, and I could never have predicted that.
What does your day-to-day at Cogent look like?
I’m coming into the city twice a week now, so am mostly remote (like the majority of the team at Cogent). Most days I wake up when my two boys decide it’s time to get up! I get them ready for school and once they’ve headed off and the house is empty, my workday starts. Most Cogent teams have their own rituals in the morning, and usually, they revolve around a (virtual) standup wall. We look at the backlog of work and have a chat about what our priorities are for the day. Then we might have a few hours of pairing and meetings. Lunch break is at home so I usually do a few things around the house or run some errands. Then it’s back to more coding. That’s a pretty typical remote working day but with a lot of connection with other team members.
If you could be doing something else professionally, what would you do?
I mentioned that I wanted to get into 3D modelling and animation when I was younger, and that’s still an area I’d like to explore. But, I’d probably prefer working in architecture to 3D modelling. Architecture has similar roots to software development in terms of engineering, design and planning, with some creative expression mixed in.
What kind of Cogent projects are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just started working on a project for Realtor.com and that is a United Stated based real estate company. The Cogent team are helping them build some new products, and it’s a new type of project for us as we’ve traditionally worked with teams based in Melbourne, or Australia. This global engagement is really exciting, and of course, comes with its own set of challenges that we’re solving working from across the Pacific. I’m already finding it highly rewarding to have the chance to learn ways that companies work over there. We’re learning a lot from each other.
What’s been your favourite project at Cogent so far?
Working on Catch was a favourite project of mine because culturally, they are a very genuine and passionate group of people. They all really believe in what they’re doing and they love what they do. They started as a small startup and have exponentially grown in size. We were sharing some knowledge about scaling and they were very enthusiastic about our help, so that project gave me and the team a lot of opportunities to stretch our legs and really help out in a lot of areas, not just software development.
One of the things I really enjoy about Cogent projects is that you’re there to learn everything about how a client’s business works and how their people work. You’re also there to learn new skills, new ways of thinking, new technologies and new practices. And through that learning experience, across multiple clients, you can grow in a whole multitude of ways. Consulting exposes you to all sides of the story and all kinds of industries and people.
The reason that I joined Cogent was their alignment to values that are very important to me. It’s one thing to say that you have values and it’s another to outwardly demonstrate that and be able to prove your alignment to them. Everyone at Cogent is aligned to those values and we make sure of that in our recruitment process. It becomes a frictionless and beneficial experience to be around all these very intelligent, like-minded people.
Cogent is very values-driven, can you talk us through the ones that resonate the most with you?
I would say that all of our five values have a strong resonance with me. Transparency is really important because I have a hard time working with non-transparent people and I have a hard time not being transparent myself, it takes a lot of emotional energy out of me. The focus on personal wellbeing was one of the big reasons I joined. To be able to focus on my family and get back hours back in my day to spend with them is important to me.
Would it be fair to say that values alignment keeps you at Cogent?
Yes, for sure. I think our meaning value creates selfless teams and groups of people who all believe in each other and what they do. That creates the best working environment because if there’s no meaning, people are there for self-serving reasons. Evolution is important to me – I began as someone who never thought they would code and I’ve just been evolving in my career the whole time I’ve worked at Cogent.
What are your favourite things to do on the weekend? What’s a party trick?
I can do a lot of good sound effects! I obviously spend most of my time with family and doing activities with the kids. We do try and use our weekends to find new places in and around the area to explore. I also like to find new spots to fly my drone around and do some drone photography. I still enjoy being creative, so I spend time learning about music production, doing a little bit of writing and also a lot of reading.
You said you look for places to explore? Tell us more about that.
I like looking for new spots for me and the kids, good places for family day trips where we can go exploring and walking especially around Mount Dandenong and the hills.. We don’t camp just yet, they’re too young but hopefully, that’s in the future for us.
Where’s the best place you’ve ever been?
When I was a teenager, we went on a family trip to Whitsundays. From there, we booked a flight out to the Great Barrier Reef and did some snorkelling. This was back in 2001, and I wasn’t expecting to see what I saw. I thought I might see some colourful fish but it ended up being just an overwhelming, vibrant kaleidoscope of life. I saw very colourful and extravagant life forms all condensed together in this little universe. It was dizzying just to see that much diversity in life, I really don’t think I’ll ever see something like that again.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
This sounds pretty serious but I’m okay. I had a heart condition where there was an extra nerve crossing the chambers causing a lot of atrial fibrillation – that’s the medical term. In other words, it’s a short circuit in my cardiac circuitry system that would trigger every few months requiring a defibrillator.
I needed this intervention to stop the short circuit and the episodes were getting more frequent with age. I went to the heart surgeon and they put a camera in and up my leg and I was able to see my heart and all the cables that went into my heart on a screen! They used radio waves to melt the area over my heart that had the extra nerve, this procedure is called an ‘ablation’. I was awake watching it, feeling a burning in my chest, knowing that they were destroying tissue, and manually controlling my heart! That was really scary to go through.
That’s crazy! Glad you’re alright now!
Thanks! It’s a while ago now and there hasn’t been any regression, so it was a big success.
If you had a private chef for a night, what would you get them to make you?
It’s a hard question to answer because my wife is the chef, it’s almost like I have that already!
What’s the best advice anyone’s given you?
The best advice I can credit this to Scott Rogers from Cogent. Scott said that he was trying to read one book a month and at that time, I thought that I didn’t have to read because I listen to a lot of podcasts. And then I realized, maybe I could try this too. So, I started reading, one book at a time and last year, I read about 15 books.
I intentionally choose books from opposing philosophies and different viewpoints to each other and books on topics that I thought I was completely informed on. I’ve now gained so much more insight and perspective on a lot of topics and I’m motivated to keep going and never stop reading.
Find a book that’s going to challenge you and read it. Simple, but very effective.
If you could be anywhere for a year, where would it be?
Wherever it is, it has to be a central point for exploring or venturing out into any direction. Maybe Berlin, if I wanted to visit a lot of European countries that I haven’t seen before. Because Berlin seems like a city has a lot to offer and that suits me well. I could do a lot within Berlin, as well as, do a lot outside of Berlin by visiting other surrounding countries and cities. And the same could be said for a place like Bangkok. If I was living and working in Bangkok, I could visit so many amazing places around Bangkok. I know a lot of ex-colleagues who have moved to Bangkok for IT roles. It is tempting for me.
If you could have a good, long, in-depth conversation with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
I’ve read books that covered new findings in archaeology and anthropology that revealed a lot of knowledge and wisdom in old civilizations. That includes Native America, Polynesia, as well as Papua New Guinea but most importantly, indigenous Australia. It’s also made me realise just how much was torn down and not preserved about indigenous Australia. Hearing about the fragments of information that has survived, hints towards a much more vibrant past to the land and the area. I’d love to sit down with a person from that time and find out more about how they lived, and what they knew, and what they’ve seen because a lot of it has not been properly recorded and a lot of it has disappeared.
Like the idea of joining the Cogent team? Head over to the Cogent Careers page and say hello!