The Commodore

Jonathan Counihan talks about being “one above admiral”(maybe), and the type of hands-on leadership he thinks is important to provide to his team.
What does the Avatar, The Commodore mean to you?

Well, as far as I understand it it’s a navy or military term that means one above Admiral. But I don’t think I’m one above Admiral. I’d put Shashi (our CEO) as one above Admiral! From a leadership point of view, I’m probably more of an Officer: I have to lead the team, take charge, lead from the front, and set an example. I have to remain diplomatic and create constructive solutions at all times.

"Yes, we’re the guys leading the team. But we’re down on the deck of the ship, in the thick of it."

What does a typical day look like for you?

I work on the SAGEBEE123 account. As the development team, we play quite a strong operational role. Our day follows the classic structure - check for errors, stand-ups, and then Dev’ work, with client meetings in between that. But, unlike the senior Dev’s in the team who may spend all day doing that, I jump around everything going on with the team.

On top of that I am involved with the Entelect company meetings relating to performance of the team, performance of the company, reviews, one-on-ones, and additional leadership training. So, my typical day is quite varied. When we’re pushing for client deadlines, its more dev focussed. When we’re not pushing for client deadlines, its ‘everything else’ focused!

What was your career route to TEAM LEAD?

I’ve been in software for nearly a decade. Five of those years has been with Entelect. There wasn’t much room for growth at the first company I was with because it more of a product house, rather than a development house, or consulting service like Entelect.

When I started here, I started as a Senior. I worked for about a year on projects across various clients, then I got a ‘tap on the shoulder’ to lead a team at Liberty.

The Liberty team was quite a challenging environment because the members of my team were fragmented, which made it hard (but not impossible) to manage. Then, I rotated out of there to SAGE, which has been a really nice shift. Where Liberty was quite fragmented, SAGEBEE has been a ‘single product, single focus’ from the get-go.

Plus, my arrival at Sage coincided with the clients refocus and reinvestment in the product. So, despite starting with no dev process, no build servers, no testing, no continuous integration, over time I’ve been able to introduce all of this. It has been great because it also speaks to a personal passion of mine – DevOps.

Now, we have one click to production.

Along your career path, what was one of your proudest moments?

Sage has been one of my proudest moments. When we were able to do automatic deploys to production.

To give you an idea, it was probably a combination of 18 months of work. In the beginning, we were spending about 95% time on the product in order to develop trust with the client. Then we moved to roughly an 80/20 split on innovation such as deployments and automating.

Moving right up to a max of 40% on innovation. But now we’ve got it all automated, we’ve been able to go back to roughly 90% on product because our DevOps system is working seamlessly.

What do you love most about your team?

The best thing about my team now is the size and the closeness. As a team of seven, there are enough dynamics that you can have a relationship with each person, but each person can work on a different part of the project without stepping on each other’s toes."

Having said that no one person is a complete silo. We work together and have really strong relationships, and there is no fragmentation. We all go for coffee together. We work really closely with the client dev’s and the Cloud team that deploys our software, which allows for great work.

What does a great day look like for you?

There have been a number of milestones, but it’s basically its whenever we have achieved something DevOps-wise. Dev Ops is close to my heart because it’s about making things work better every time. So, the first time we did automatic database deployments; the first time we did one click deployments to production; the first time we did automatic production database back-up and restore.

But I also enjoy whenever we’ve added value to the client. We build our own customer change log viewer. So that our product manager can see each version and each batch of fixes and testing.

At the end of last year, we had a massive release with over 1700 commits going into production. To give you an idea, the previous biggest deployment had been about 550 commits. But the whole team pulled in and it went off without a hitch.

So, is it fair to say Automation gives you goosebumps?

Haha, yes!! In fact, because of this we’ve totally shifted from ‘has it been done’, to ‘how does this work and is the behaviour correct?’ This is a massive shift in the DevOps environment which adds incredible value to the projects for clients.

Is the Team Lead (Commodore) role you perform at Entelect different from the one you’d be doing at another company?

The Team Lead role is varied just within Entelect. Often the misconception is that a Team Lead is a ‘better dev’. But within Entelect we work to ensure the Team Lead is an ‘everything man’. We can consult on the solutions with clients, manage the team on a technical level, guide requirements gathering and specification development, as well as overarching leadership and team cohesion.

What is something that has happened at Entelect that can only happen here?

The ability to set up a one-on-one with the CEO almost at a drop of a hat. You can very easily talk to Shashi about something and either it’s, ‘my Team Lead’s an arse’, or ‘I have this great new idea about something’. He’s always got the time for you.

As part of that nature, and because he’s so approachable, the grads also get chance to talk to him, even when they don’t always have something to talk to him about… One funny anecdote was a grad that, struggling for something to say, used his moment with the big boss to say, “…nice shoes Shashi”. So that’s definitely something that could only happen here!

The CEO is on the shop floor with the teams and that is definitely something unique to Entelect.

What other activities do you get involved with at Entelect?

I’ve presented JQuery at the Grad Bootcamp for the last three to four years, and over that time it’s become a much more formalised programme. Also, internal forums, as well as DOJO’s and Beer & Tech. But I get particular reward from teaching or mentoring roles where people get ‘ah-ha’ moments.

What is the funniest thing you’ve seen at Entelect (...given the fact that grads comment on Shashi’s shoes)?

Its usually at year end. One particular thing was Matt Jordaan being labelled as the strongest dev and squatting one of the GMs at the year-end function.

But on a daily basis, generally within the teams there are a lot of inside ‘jokes’ and good banter.