A new programming job, getting married and contemplating an ultra-running comeback would give most people sleepless nights. Not Drew Woodcock; meet Epitomy Solutions’ newly arrived ‘obsessive’ Senior Developer…
When you start programming before your teenage years, it’s pretty obvious that a career in IT beckons. Andrew ‘Drew’ Woodcock was an early adopter of the new-fangled home computers that invaded UK lives in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Intended in the main for non-technical operators, perhaps giving an introduction to the technology that was already driving multinational mainframes, some users quickly embraced the power of PCs and utilised their flexibility.
Drew was a natural, as he explained: “I was soon obsessed with games programming and became a bedroom coder. I found it all relatively straightforward, as though working with computers was my destiny. That will sound bizarre to some, but for me it was like picking up a pencil and scribbling on paper.
“Writing complex games came easy, and I realised how much the way computers worked matched the way my brain worked. It was problem solving. A logical flow of events. I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Long before Bet365!
A summer holiday with another family was a real game changer, and made a lasting impression on a friend. “It rained every day in Devon. Thankfully, my parents produced a ZX Spectrum they’d packed as back-up in case the weather was bad.
“I quickly created a horse racing game for everyone to play. We placed bets and enjoyed the fun. My friend told me years later that what I’d done bowled him over. He was amazed that I’d created something out of nothing.”
With such an early grounding, Drew should have taken programming further during and after high school. Girls and football provided an obvious distraction, but ‘O’ and ‘A’ level options also created barriers.
“When I was picking options, the computer studies course looked very straightforward. I was worried that I wouldn’t know any more coming out of it than when I went in, and that I’d get bored. And there was no computing qualification at sixth form level back then, so when I headed off to university I picked what I was best at – physics.
“I tried to switch midway through the course, but they wouldn’t let me change because of my other grades. To prove a point, I wrote a solution to an existing computing course problem. Unfortunately, that didn’t sway them. So I had to plod through a degree that I didn’t really enjoy.”
A programming life…
After university, it was no surprise that a job in programming presented itself. A lengthy stint followed, based with a company that provided local government software. It was a solid start, but subsequent experiences with different firms took the gloss off an otherwise promising coding career.
“I had a bad experience with one company in particular, and eventually decided that working for an organisation that didn’t look out for the best interests of its customers – or mine – was doing me no good.
“I was regularly stressed because of decisions made by senior management, and the travel to work was awkward.”
Sometimes, the right job is just around the corner – along with other life-changing events. First, an opportunity opened up at Epitomy Solutions in the heart of Sheffield.
“Sometimes you know when something is right. It was such a thorough interview, so much so I came away really surprised. There were technical tests as you’d expect, a presentation and then one-to-one chats. How the day was structured said a lot about the company. It suited me.
“What delighted me was that I found a company that believes in the quality of the software they offer clients. I’d preached it for years, about the importance of testing. So finding an organisation that believes in that, and puts it into practice, well, I’d found somewhere I could work in confidence.”
“It helped that I also made a connection with the MD, Andrew. He had his head screwed on – and the same vision as me. And everyone in the office was pulling together. The important things are done right, first time. Nothing is put on the back burner.
“I now have an opportunity to write code that I’m proud of.”
An obsessive personality
Programming has always been a passion in Drew’s life, but something else has come a close second for some time; Ultra-running!
“I was a smoker for years, since I was 15 years old. I couldn’t give up. I tried Acupuncture, hypnotism, and even red wine. Really!
“What struck me was that I had an addictive personality. It was all or nothing. I needed something to replace smoking.
“So I signed up for a race in 2010, the Sheffield 10km. As I trained, it was run, stop, splutter.
“I stuck at it, building up slowly. I never did more than 8km. I wanted my first 10km to be in the actual race.
“On the day I went past the city’s tram tracks, left to Arundel Gate and towards the uphill finish. I thought I’d vomit. But I had an epiphany. This was what I wanted to do.”
He wasn’t very fast, but he could keep going. The tortoise and the hare spring to mind, and describing life as a marathon not a sprint was never truer. So Drew signed up for a series of half marathons.
“I’d always start poorly, feeling rotten, tired, but as the race progressed I’d feel better. I realised that I suited distance running, so I made the switch to ‘ultra’ events.
“I did the Ultra Peaks, south of Matlock, and ended 40 miles later in Derby. I staggered over the line. But I loved it, pushing myself to near collapse. It gave me that clear brain feeling for the following week.”
The obsessive personality kicked in. The smoking stopped. Drew upped the ante. He completed ‘The Wall’, a 69-mile trek along the route of Hadrian’s Wall. Then came the 100-miler, a daunting event known as ‘The Thames Path’ that runs from Richmond to Oxford.
The first attempt, in 2015, didn’t go to plan. Runners need calories, but Drew couldn’t eat during the race. At the 65-mile point, in the middle of the night, he became faint, falling over several times. He was shaking and couldn’t keep his body temperature up. Race stewards wrapped him in a blanket and, despite his protests, they pulled him out.
Learning life’s lessons
Things didn’t get much better, but throwing in the towel was never an option. “I damaged my Achilles while I was training for another event. It followed a calf injury, but I kept running and training, mainly off-road using a cross-trainer.
“When it came to race again, the ‘Thames’ of course, my knee collapsed. I’d trained for five months, but the gym work didn’t test my muscles like long-distance running does. I hadn’t completed a yard on the road in the build-up. Having only run 46 miles, I felt like a failure. But I was addicted.
“I’ve had to stop recently because the injuries haven’t cleared up, but I will complete the 100 miles one day. It’s an albatross. It’s personal.
“It has taught me a few lessons, and there are parallels to other things in life. It’s not how far you have to go to complete something, it’s about setting smaller goals, breaking things down. That’s true in programming work.
“If I hadn’t discovered running things would have been different. I’m a terrible non-smoker, often telling friends they should stop. And yes, I have preached.”
Ding-dong, the online bells will chime…
As if securing a new job wasn’t enough, within a few weeks of arriving at Epitomy Solutions Drew and his partner tied the knot.
Appropriately, they met online. “It was a stroke of luck, really. My [now] wife was only online to delete her dating profile information. We started chatting and just clicked. The timing was right for both of us.
“We’d always intended to have a small wedding, but it grew – as these things do. The kids came, and then the parents, immediate family and so on. It was still intimate, and everyone brought food instead of gifts. So there was no need for catering. It was low key and affordable. Just the rings!”
Typically, nothing was straightforward. There was still a travel issue, and work was calling. So there was no time to honeymoon. “I’m still based in Bakewell for part of the month, because of my daughters. So for now I’m commuting, working in Sheffield, and seeing my wife when I can at the house in Hillsborough.
“It’s been hectic. I had a new job to think about, and my wife is a lecturer in Sheffield. It was the beginning of a busy new term for her.
“We’ll stay in Sheffield for the foreseeable future… then somewhere rural and remote. Maybe somewhere I can keep running and slowly getting back to full fitness…”
Now then, about that next 100 mile challenge!