Life as a Software Engineer at EDF
We’ve completely reimagined the way we work, the tech we use and our team culture in software engineering at EDF. Discover how we’re shaking things up in the energy industry and why we’re obsessive about making our workplace as collaborative and inclusive as it can be.
Read time: 5 mins
“Historically, IT has been quite conservative and slow moving,” reflects Steve Bowerman, Principal Software Engineer at EDF, “but it’s now starting to be more of an environment that’s fun and exciting.”
Steve joined the company 20 years ago. “I fell into the energy industry, rather than explicitly walked into it,” he admits. “But what makes it an interesting place to work now is that the energy industry – particularly in the UK – is shifting from a very public sector kind of mindset to a much more commercially-focused position. This makes it really exciting.”
Building from scratch
Xavier Thomas is one of our Lead Engineers and joined Steve’s team during the Covid pandemic to help rethink the way EDF’s software engineering teams worked. “EDF had a few software engineers, but they were scattered within multiple different teams and different parts of the organisation,” he explains. “We wanted to bring that all together and have a common, centralised engineering team and a concrete strategy on our approach and how we want to build things.”
Xavier brought with him experience of building high-performance software teams, based on a DevOps way of working. “EDF was looking to do something that was very aspirational,” he recalls. “They wanted a complete rethink of everything they needed to do in the software engineering landscape. Right down to how teams are organised, how we work, who we recruit, and what kind of culture we establish.”
Introducing tribes and squads
One of the main changes the team implemented was the Spotify model, and the concept of working in ‘tribes’ and ‘squads’. Xavier explains how it works at EDF: “We have small focused teams called ‘squads’ and they work on one or more products. Several squads then work together in a ‘tribe’, which is aligned towards an area of the business.” Using this model, Xavier led the sales and marketing tribe for the first two years. “We had three to four squads at one point, and I was accountable for all the software products being delivered by those teams.”
In other organisations, Xavier might be called a Portfolio Engineer, as he looks after a ‘portfolio’ of products. But he’s quick to point out that EDF is ahead of the curve in the energy sector: “While some of these techniques have been in the market for four to five years at least, there’s been a slower uptake in the energy industry,” he says. “We’re definitely leading the market in thinking about the future and how we make ourselves more efficient and streamlined.”
Collaborative and inclusive culture
Now the team’s adopted the tribes and squads way of working, Steve’s eager that his team of software engineers don’t become siloed around different product strands. He says, “I’m passionate about preventing this. It’s why we run a very strong collaborative culture so folks can work within their product teams, but still feel part of the wider software engineering community.”
Adrian Causby is a graduate on the Data and Tech programme. He explains how this looks on a day-to-day basis: “We typically work collaboratively within a two-week agile sprint cycle. So we might have a 15-minute stand-up every morning and use pair programming to work together on a project during the day. On top of this, we have sprint reviews, demos and a retrospective at the end of the fortnight to analyse what went wrong and what went well, and how we can build on that.”
In addition, there are regular team days, meet-ups in the office (most people work remotely), partner days (with Amazon Web Services (AWS), for instance) software guilds for skills sharing, and plenty of opportunities for personal growth. It’s a very collaborative environment and one that the team has worked hard to foster.
“It sounds pithy to say that working here you can make a difference,” says Steve. “We obviously have a day job of building great software and making that whole process as efficient as possible. But, the bit that really attracts me, is how we go beyond this: to help other teams, enable best practice, and really evangelise over architectures and different ways of doing stuff. Ultimately, it’s about raising the bar across our teams, which makes us a far more effective organisation as a result.”
Working with a modern tech stack
One of the things that surprises a lot of new recruits joining EDF, like Adrian, is how forward thinking the business is, not only in terms of its modern ways of working (like the Spotify model); but also its adoption of new technologies.
“We use everything on the cloud,” he says. “I thought we might just be automating scripts with Excel, but instead we have this massive cloud architecture where we intake data, process it, put it all on AWS and then create applications based on that, such as applications for our traders to forecast costs. It’s great to work with such advanced features.”
What projects might you work on?
“There’s quite a few pieces of work we’ve done recently that I’m super proud of,” says Steve. “The work we did with our enterprise IT team to create this almost ‘cookie cutter’ approach to bootstrapping teams and getting them set up on our cloud providers is probably the most exciting thing we’ve done. Since it now takes less than a day to get a new person onboarded, and we’ve made the process super slick.”
“We also received an industry award for our MyDash solution, which was developed in partnership between my team and our partners,” he continues. “Together, we rebuilt our advisor-facing solution to build a more user efficient experience for our Customer Service Advisors and make it much quicker to train them up.”
While software development at EDF tends to fall under the two categories of 'front-end development' or 'back-end development', Steve is keen to move away from “pigeonholing people”. Instead, he prefers to use the broader term or ‘Software Engineer’ or even ‘Consultants Who Code’.
He explains why: “I don’t want the people who are writing software for us hidden away from our users. I want people to understand our business problems. In this day and age we’re all consumers (particularly energy consumers) and we know what good looks like. So I really encourage our engineering community to get to the heart of what our business problems are, what consumers are looking for, and codify that into practical applications.”
It links back to the collaborative culture the team has created and Steve’s focus on continuous improvement. Whether that’s the products the team create or their personal development: adding new skills, achieving certification, transitioning front end developers to become full stack developers, and so on.
Could we be a match?
While technical skills are important, both Steve and Xavier emphasise this is less important than a potential team member being a good fit with the team’s culture. Steve explains: “It comes back to our continuous improvement mindset. We’re looking for folks who want to help to make things better; who are really keen to collaborate, and who want to work on ways of improving what they do, be it writing better code, improving our processes, or identifying knowledge gaps in the team.”
Xavier adds: “We want someone who is open minded, a free thinker, and able to speak ‘truths to power’, which is a key phrase we throw around a lot. So we’ve interviewed and hired people who might not have ticked many boxes in our list of technical skills. But because of their personality and attitude, we’ve hired them. And they’ve grown within the organisation because they’re hungry to learn more.”
Where life and work fit together
At EDF, we’ve completely adapted to the post-pandemic way of working and offer flexibility around where people choose to work. It’s why most of the software development team work remotely much of the time; but there’s the option to come into the office if anyone wants to. As Xavier says, “For me, that flexibility gives me a lot of options, as I can structure my work life around my personal life. I might block out two hours to go for a walk or a cycle ride. What matters to us is whether you get the work done. That’s the type of culture we like and want to encourage.”
As a graduate, Adrian also has the flexibility of choosing how to develop his skillset. “A lot of the time I’ve been given autonomy to work on projects that help me develop new skills or get more certifications,” he explains.
It’s also a very inclusive environment where growth is encouraged. “When I was in another team they saw I like to collaborate and bring people together,” Adrian continues. “So I was put in charge of an automation forum and asked to go around the business identifying people using Excel and upskill them to automate their processes instead.”
How you could help Britain achieve Net Zero
As an energy company, EDF is a key player in helping Britain achieve Net Zero. And for many people who work here, this is a huge motivator in what they do. For Steve, the link between what he does on a day-to-day basis and the climate change agenda comes from helping customers understand their energy consumption and manage it better using products developed by the engineering team.
“Also the work we’re doing around electric vehicles (EVs) is another element,” he adds. “We’re not there yet with vehicle-to-grid, but certainly the work we’re doing with Pod Point to roll out EV charging points is a key one for me.”