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A Week in My Life: Simon Stevens, Software Architect, AppLearn

Simon, AppLearn

Simon Stevens has worked at Manchester-based AppLearn since 2017.

Initally starting out as a Senior Developer at the fast-growing tech company, he was promoted to Software Architect more than two years ago.

AppLearn, which is a digital adoption company designed to support employees and businesses to navigate a myriad of applications, works with the likes of EY, hotel brand IHG and King’s College London.

He shared how a recent week in his life went…



Today I am working from home. My wife is an amazing gardener, and now that it’s the height of summer the flowers are in full bloom. I love to start my morning with a coffee in the garden, surrounded by colour and the buzzing of bees. Working from home gives me freedom to take my breaks in the garden throughout the day, and even the occasional meeting, and I cherish that. I’ll be at my desk by 8.30, where I’ll review this week’s tasks and map out my week. My first task of the week is more planning!

One of our engineering teams have been working on a new feature for a few weeks now. I join their planning meetings to help and provide context when features overlap with our longer-term roadmap for our platform. These meetings are always good fun and full of friendly debate. Their intensity can be exhausting, but I love the mental exercise and working with our talented engineers.

In the afternoon I have a quick catchup with a colleague who’s asked for some advice on personal objectives. We workshop some ideas that will give him the opportunity to develop his skills and help the wider engineering team. We both leave the meeting excited for what he comes up with. I love being able to help up and coming engineers, it’s so satisfying to watch them blossom. It’s great to see our team growing personally in parallel with the fast growth of the company.

The team at AppLearn.
The team at AppLearn.


Two new hires joined us last week, so this morning I’m holding the first of many architecture sessions to prepare them for their engineering teams in a week or so. We’ll meet back periodically for the first few months to ask questions and transfer as much domain knowledge as possible. They are both Manchester-based, so today was a good opportunity to be in the office and meet in person. Working over Teams is great, but face-to-face workshops give a little something extra. You really feel part of something exciting!

Analytics are a huge part of our product, whether it’s showing dashboards for execs to review the adoption of their latest tech rollout or being consumed as part of our automatic guide generation machine learning. This afternoon I’m meeting with our Wonderlytics crew of data engineers and scientists. They have an upcoming feature which will double our data ingest, so we are designing optimisations to our data pipeline to handle the load.

This evening will be spent in my garage workshop where I make big pieces of wood into smaller pieces of wood and then stick them back together to make big wood again – you guessed it, I love woodworking! I’m currently building a pair of hardwood obelisks for my wife to use with climbing plants in the garden.


I join our retrospective meetings every two weeks where we reflect on any challenges, and fine tune our processes to improve. These meetings can be a shock to new engineers, but they are highly constructive. It’s where you best see our amazing team work. Total honesty is needed and leaving your ego at the door is vital to us recognising weaknesses and improving.

We are having lunch today at Rudy’s in Ancoats. I love these opportunities to get to know the new members of the team and solidify existing relationships. Rudy’s is a firm favourite in the office, but with so many great restaurants in Manchester, deciding the venue can end in lively debate.

This afternoon I’m writing design documentation, the bread and butter of any Software Architect. Everything must be documented with good context so that engineers in the future know why we did something, and often more importantly why we didn’t do something.

As well as general woodworking, I’m also a walking stick maker. Next week I have an exhibition to attend, so my evenings this week will be spent making sure my stock of beautiful handmade walking sticks are in tip top shape.


This morning I have a catchup with our SVP of Technology & Architecture, we’ll discuss progress on ongoing projects across engineering and our longer-term roadmap. We’ll also discuss areas such as recruitment and product. I look forward to these sessions as they are perfect for airing any concerns and for getting advice on my personal development.

I’ve been asked to help with some issues a colleague is having with an AWS service. I have a lot of experience working with this service, so of course I’m happy to lend my expertise. Helping teammates is one of the highlights of my day, it’s great to pair up on a problem and get to the bottom of it.

We are heavily invested in AWS, the breadth of which can seem overwhelming, so I hold regular training sessions to up-skill engineers. This afternoon we’re diving deep into DynamoDb. This is an advanced session, so we’ll dig into topics like partition design, relational data modelling, fine grained access control, and streams. These sessions are a goldmine, the back-and-forth conversation and inevitable brainstorming of domain application, can lead to unexpected discoveries on both sides.

This evening, more walking sticks!


I’m reworking some architecture around our tenant configuration for features in our strategic roadmap. It’s exciting to be able to look at our existing design, that whilst well considered, was based on different requirements. I’ll strip it back to first principles and then reimagine it as a new design that we can build on for another 5 years. There’s no guarantee we’ll need to make this change, but it’s important to be prepared with some speculative designs, keeping our north star up to date.

I’m working with our Product Owner on an upcoming feature to make sure it’s ready for an engineering team to work on. We’ll explore different implementation options and discuss how they impact the product and the merits of each. High level estimates and identifying risk allow us to build the most important micro features first so that they can be validated by customers and inform the final feature.

I’m spending the afternoon collaborating with colleagues on pieces for our AppLearn Engineering blog. I find writing hard, the words don’t come easily, but it’s super satisfying to refine my thoughts sufficiently enough that I can effectively communicate them.

No walking sticks this evening, as soon as my wife is home from work, we’ll head out to our local for a drink and then maybe something to eat.

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