Cogent Crew: Meet Duncan

Sam Chalela

Sam Chalela

Technical Principal

A behind-the-scenes look at the people who make us great.

Welcome to the May edition of the Cogent Crew series, where we’re inviting you to get to know the people who make Cogent what it is.

This month our Product Principal, Amelia, interviewed Lead Developer, Duncan. Read about how Duncan first got into programming thanks to the Amstrad CPC 464 his dad brought home, why he plays the recorder and how he once broke a plane. Yep, don’t let him fly your plane.

Name: Duncan Bayne
Job: Lead Developer
Time at Cogent: 3 years

Amelia: So Duncan, how long have you been at Cogent now?

I’ve been here since 2015, so three years. Before that I was at GreenSync, who Cogent then later and unrelatedly started working with as a client. Armin, now General Manager at Cogent, and I had a startup back together back in the day and I was eventually able to convince him to come to Cogent as well.

Amelia: What does your day-to-day look like?

Most of what I do is build software, but recently it’s been a bit more varied. Cogent’s been diversifying into AWS due to a lot more work in the cloud space, so I’ve been doing some more work in DevOps and operations, trying to spread some of that love with our clients.

We like to work with clients in a collaborative, agile, iterative fashion, so an element of management consulting becomes part and parcel with that. Ultimately, we want to help clients improve their processes and the way they work, not just build stuff.

Part of my role is also coaching, people management, and starting to get more into the sales and business development side of things. So part of my day-to-day is less on the tools and more operational.

Duncan with some of the members of the Cogent Team
Duncan with some of the members of the Cogent Team

Amelia: Great! Have you always wanted to be a software developer?

Yeah, I’ve known what I wanted to do for a career since I was seven. What happened was, the company where my father worked in New Zealand computerised everything. He was sent out for training with their new integrated management system, which was the first time he’d ever been exposed to computers as a thing.

He realised that’s the way the world was going, so borrowed a ridiculous amount of money at the time to buy us kids a computer. He just came home with a computer one day and was like, “Right! Let’s have fun with this.” So I got into it at a very, very young age and I’ve been interested ever since.

Amelia: Wow! What was the computer?

I still have one sitting in my workshop! It was an Amstrad CPC 464. So, 8-bit, 64 kilobytes of RAM, cassette tape for the programming and actually, it was the computer that I taught Armin to program on when we were children. I actually have a photo of him sitting at that computer programming when he was 11.

Part of Duncan’s workshop where his trusty Amstrad CPC 464 lives.
Part of Duncan’s workshop where his trusty Amstrad CPC 464 lives.

Amelia: You have to share that with us!

Oh no, I’m under super strict orders not to share that.

Amelia: Oh, that’s no fun. So you never wanted to do anything else?

Probably the only other thing I would be is a pilot. The problem is that I’m not very good at it — I actually broke an aircraft once. I was landing it and you’re supposed to fly at the ground and then pull up at the last moment and flare into a main wheel landing and then you bring the nose wheel down.

I flared too early and bounced on the main wheels, which is fine, but I panicked and tried to put the nose down and in doing so, burst the nose wheel and buckled the fire wall where the wheel connects. It was bad.

The ‘push of shame’ after breaking the nose wheel.
The ‘push of shame’ after breaking the nose wheel.

My wife’s a pilot and she saw all of this go down. Then a few weeks later during a lesson, by sheer coincidence one of the main wheels punctured. It became a bit of a running joke. I love both motorcycling and flying for the same reason that they’re outside my area of expertise and environments that are unforgiving — and can even be fatal — if not performed correctly. So it was a fun exercise, but I’ll leave the flying to my wife.

Duncan photographing his wife in a glider instead.
Duncan photographing his wife in a glider instead.

Amelia: Wow, good thing you’re a lot better at programming! So you mentioned getting more into DevOps recently — what exactly do you mean by that?

The term DevOps is one that’s often confused by companies. Operations refers first to your ability to build, manage, scale and secure your infrastructure. It’s a traditional role in itself. DevOps refers to the practise of bringing those skills to your developers and giving them the tools to do it automatically as part of their day job.

So, if you’ve heard the classic term DevOps, that’s essentially when the operations skill set is embedded with the individual developers, team, squad or other structure. It’s like Agile; there’s a lot of confusion over the terms and principles to the point where it can be kind of hard to tell what people mean when they use it.

Amelia: Is it something more developers are getting into?

It’s a pretty common trajectory for a lot of developers, especially doing web development. You start getting into the traditional model of building a web app, where you only get so far with the technology, then kind of chuck it over the fence to some operations people to deploy and manage.

Amazon and a bunch of other cloud providers give you the tools to do that yourself so that organically you can start deploying and building your own stuff for development purposes; then, as you grow your skill you can take on more of the operational management, architectural design and so on.

Amelia: Are you working with clients on this now?

Yes, there’s one client I’m working with who want to build an in-house operations and DevOps capability. In a nutshell, they want to be able to manage their own infrastructure, roll out their own servers, be in charge of their own security and perform all their own deployment.

They’ve currently got an outsourced team doing that pretty well, but they want to build that capacity internally. So, I’m acting there as a technical lead, helping them recruit and develop people, and come up with plans for how they actually build that skill in-house.

As part of this I’m also doing some more high level organisational stuff like setting up a technical council to act as a place for discussion, sharing ideas, prioritising tasks and managing technical conflicts between tech leads from different teams.

Amelia: Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on at Cogent?

That’s actually a hard one, but I think this one I’m currently working on has been my favourite. I’m increasingly finding it more rewarding to help organisations perform better than by just doing development work myself. There’s only so far you can go in terms of helping an organisation by writing software, especially if you’re only working with them for a short time.

With this current project, there’s been a much bigger focus on people, processes and practices. I’ve really enjoyed that.

I’ve worked in a bunch of places where you can go quite a long way by improving your development practises and tooling. But, there comes a time where the sticking point is no longer technology; it’s poor communication between teams, or insufficient understanding of your customers’ needs, or a myriad of other things. So then that feels like a more productive space to work in.

Amelia: Definitely. Is that focus on people one of your favourite things about working at Cogent?

I have a whole list of reasons I work at Cogent, but I think my favourite thing is the honesty and transparency. I’ve never worked somewhere where I feel like I can just talk to people and have face-to-face, heart-to-heart conversations with people without having to filter or weigh politics; this is an apolitical workplace.

There are a lot of other reasons, but I think pretty much everything else stems from that.

Duncan (left) at one of our many team lunches.
Duncan (left) at one of our many team lunches.

Amelia: What else keeps you busy outside of Cogent?

I have a few things at the moment. I really enjoy introducing my kids to new things and helping them with stuff that they’re working on.

Ben’s four and is really into baking and cooking at the moment. Rory’s six and is into chemistry, so we got a chemistry kit and have been playing around with that, which has been fun. Our youngest Rosemary is 19 months old now and is just trying to keep up with her big brothers.

I also dabble with music and find it more of a relaxation practise than anything because I have to really focus on it mentally, so that I literally can’t hold anything else in my head at the time.

Duncan (left) on a track day in Pukekohe, New Zealand. When Duncan’s not helping his kids explore new activities and interests, you’ll find him on a motorbike.
Duncan (left) on a track day in Pukekohe, New Zealand. When Duncan’s not helping his kids explore new activities and interests, you’ll find him on a motorbike.

Amelia: What instrument do you play?

At the moment, recorders. Specifically alto, soprano and tenor. I used to play the oboe, but they’re super demanding technical instruments and very expensive. I wanted something kind of similar; a woodwind with similar fingering and breath control and so on, but just a lot easier to pick up and go when you’re in the middle of looking after children, cooking dinner and doing all those life things.

My wife also bought me a guitar for my birthday, so I’ve just started really super basic guitar as well.

Amelia: Ok so watch this space. Finally, is there any advice you’d give to your younger self?

I’d say to focus more on people. It took me a long time to learn that, and think it applies both personally and professionally.

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

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