Mike MJ Harris

Working at the RA


At the end of 2017 I moved on from MOO after just over two years to start a new job at the Royal Academy of Arts. Two months into that job I wanted to write a bit about some of the reasons for changing and how the new job has measured up so far. Working at an awesome building as shown in the picture is definitely a small part of it!

courtyard at the RA

Two years at MOO

The past two years at MOO were fantastic. For a start the environment and people was warm, friendly and supportive. Secondly I got to work on some super interesting projects, learnt a huge amount and improved way more than I thought I would. There was lots of change along the way with MOO growing rapidly and a huge shift in the architecture of its tech (most notably moving from self hosted servers to AWS). I was lucky to have good managers who pushed and challenged me and rewarded me with promotions and more money along the way.

Why change?

The opportunities in the tech world are huge - one of the reasons for changing careers to be a developer was so that I could work in sectors that were way beyond my skill set when I worked in finance. MOO was one of those and I learnt a huge amount about both physical and digital design as well as about how a startup grows. In addition I learnt way more about business cards than is normal. In joining the RA I get to learn about the arts world, meet a whole range of new people and expose myself to completely new experiences.

While the RA has a big pull the job also had to measure up. Tech jobs in the arts world don't come up that often and this one was almost a perfect fit - challenges in running a team, overseeing the full tech stack, getting to code as well as being part of bigger decisions and planning. Getting to architect solutions as well as helping grow and develop a team was just what I was looking for.

This seemed like a perfect next step in the career path. MOO helped me develop massively as a software engineer. This new role offered the ability to try on a number of different hats while still being able to code.

The first few months

The stars all aligned and the timing of my arrival at the end of November couldn't of been planned better. A year long procurement process for a replacement ticketing, membership and CRM solution was coming to a head - I quickly got up to speed and was able to contribute in the climax of that project. The team was delivering a project for digitising our online collection and I was around to witness the delivery of that project. There are plenty of social events around Christmas and I threw myself into them - bonding with the team and meeting people from across the organistion. The fancy dress on show for the RA Christmas party was a highlight of my first few weeks!

In January we all moved back to the Royal Academy buildings - most of the staff had spent the previous two years in temporary offices in Blackfriars and were excited to be back 'home'. Building work is still progressing and our team had a couple of weeks working in the General Assembly room (pictured) and are now housed in one of the galleries for a month or two until our offices are finished. While disruptive it's been an awesome opportunity to work right in the heart of the RA - coming to work in the mornings through the main courtyard is breath taking. You also get a real sense of the visitors - the first weeks of the year were quiet in between exhibitions but as of the past week the RA has been teeming with friends and press for the kick off of Charles I. The public will be in next week and I can't wait to see how the atmosphere changes again.

general assembly room at the RA

On the work side it's been a good mix of new and familiar with challenges in learning all about a new architecture structure. Lots of new ways of doing things to pick up and learn in the short term and work out how to iterate and improve upon in the long term. For a 250 year old organisation our team if run very much like a startup. The team have been very welcoming and I feel I have already helped improve and guide them on a number of areas - am sure there will be bumps and problems along the way but that's half the fun of life. Lots to do but so far it's been going well.