Working in Shelter's Digital Team

Do you want to work in digital? Are you passionate about social issues? If your answer to either of these questions was ‘yes’, read on. Shelter’s Digital team is expanding, and the housing and homelessness charity is searching for talented individuals to fill several exciting roles in London, Bristol and Sheffield.

We spent time with Shelter Bristol’s senior web developer Neil Dakeyne, to find out what it’s like to work in the charity’s digital team.

Describe your typical working day

Over a strong coffee I spend the first 30 minutes replying to email and Slack messages and fixing any urgent bugs or issues that may have been reported. After this I take a look through yesterday's project work, the tasks in the current backlog, then catch up with my team in our daily meeting to plan the day ahead. The rest of the morning is filled with meetings, bug fixes or small isolated tasks. I like to get these out of the way early so I can spend the rest of the day working uninterrupted.

There is an excellent range of food to be had within a 10-minute of our Bristol office, so lunch time is a great way to take a break from the screen and visit the park.

In the afternoon, I usually turn off the messaging apps and email and get my head down into the project in hand. Towards the end of the day I reply to any urgent emails or messages that have come in, do one final commit and push, then it’s home time!

What key skills do you need to do your job?

As well as being able to write code (obviously) you need to be able to communicate effectively. We work with a very diverse range of people and teams in Shelter and work on some complex, cross divisional projects. Being able to communicate technical problems (and solutions) is a vital skill that every member of the digital team needs to have.

It sounds cliché, but problem solving and lateral thinking is key in this development game, whichever sector you are in. It’s very easy to simply write code and architect technical solutions to solve the immediate problem. However, if this is done without foresight and planning you are likely to increase technical debt, introduce bugs or frustrate your users. It is these kinds of skills that make the difference between a good developer and a great developer.

What made you decide to go for this job role?

This is actually my second time in a Senior Developer role at Shelter. In 2015 I left Shelter and London, travelled for a few months then moved to Bristol. I soon found myself working in a small digital marketing agency building ecommerce websites and competition microsites. These were technically interesting projects to work on and build, but I didn’t really feel that invested in them, nor did they sit right with my conscious.

An old colleague informed me that there was a developer role going in the newly formed Services Product team and I could work in the Shelter Bristol advice centre. Projects that directly helped Shelter’s users was always the most interesting and rewarding part of my old job, so it was too much of an opportunity to miss. I’ve now been in this role for a year and I’m really happy that I made the switch back to the Third Sector.

Best part of your job?

Working on projects that have a direct and positive impact on people’s lives is the best and the most rewarding part of the job for me. I get to work with some really intelligent people and use some great modern tech; what more could a developer want?

Worst part of your job?

Shelter is a large organisation so it can sometimes take longer than expected to get innovative projects off the ground and moving. However, the digital transformation the organisation has gone through over the past few years is really starting to make a difference. Things are improving every day as teams realise how important modern agile practices and the ever-changing digital landscape are to Shelter's services, campaigns and fundraising.

Most memorable moment at work?

Over the years I have worked on a few projects that have helped change housing law – benefitting millions of renters around the country. That’s a pretty special thing to be able to say! It’s really rewarding to see the organisation that you work for talked on the 10 o’clock news, on front pages of newspapers, and MP's discussing Shelter's work in Parliament.

How does working for a charity differ from public or private sector roles?

Obviously working in the charity sector doesn’t give you all the flashy and expensive perks that the private sector sometimes does, we are paid for by people's generous donations, after all! Shelter does however offer a great benefits package and holiday allowance, which I think a lot of small and medium-sized private sector companies would struggle to match. There is also a great emphasis on work life balance and no one is pressured to stay late into the night or work over the weekend. I know this is really valued by everyone in the digital team!

Have you always wanted to work for a charity?

No. Straight out of university I started my web development career at an ecommerce company selling music technology, which I stayed at for a few years. After volunteering in India for a year I realised how unfair and unjust the world can be and decided that I would use my development skills and knowledge to try and make a difference in my own little way. After recently having a taste of the private sector again, I like to think I will live out the rest of my development days in the charity sector.

What makes for a good work buddy?

Someone who is willing to spare a few minutes to help you work though work through a particularly tricky problem you have encountered. Maybe it is a weird JavaScript bug or a particularly strange CSS browser quirk, but just being able to get their input and thoughts quickly can be really beneficial.

Give us a tip on how to steal your job.

I think there is so much more to being a good developer than simply writing code and learning the latest framework or library. In your day-to-day work it really helps to have an understanding of the UX side of things and are able to actively contribute to the design process of the projects that you work on, especially in a service delivery team. This will give you a much deeper understanding of the difficulties your users are facing. Armed with this knowledge and your user goals in mind you will in a better, more informed position, to choose what your tech stack will be for the project and the final product will be a better one as a result.

No matter what role you have at Shelter, you make a difference to people’s lives. Find the right role for you.

Shelter helps millions of people every year struggling with bad housing or homelessness

through our advice, support and legal services. And we campaign to make sure that, one day, no one will have to turn to us for help. We’re here so no one has to fight bad housing or homelessness on their own.