Parag Chauhan is a senior engineer on DWPs Carers Allowance Computer System
I’ve worked on the Carers Allowance Computer System (CACS) for more than 8 years now, the system makes the allowance payments for carers, people who are taking care of either disabled or elderly people. During this time, I was the development lead managing a large team that included developers, testers, and business analysts. I worked closely with the product owner and other senior stakeholders, both internal and external, to keep them updated on progress and sometimes to have those difficult and challenging conversations. As part of my role, I was responsible for prototyping new technologies associated with Java development stack to be used on the project. So, Java is our bread and butter basically.
What is it like being a Java Engineer for DWP Digital?
Well, it’s a very demanding yet incredibly fulfilling role. I'm challenged and encouraged every day and knowing that I write the code that helps millions of people and get them the support they really need, does make this the most rewarding role.
Most people will experience the work we do at some point in their life, as DWP Digital are responsible for the IT systems that paid out £217 billion in pensions and benefits in 2021-22. I help to build and maintain the services that the entire department relies on – so you could say my role is important!
This level of impact and responsibility excites me, enabling me to feel valued and fulfilled in my career. The position offers a great sense of achievement and feeling of belonging. I always knew I wanted a role that made a positive difference to society, so it feels great to work for DWP Digital.
Modern technology and techniques
The main project I currently work on is CACS where my team’s role has been to replicate the old legacy system on to a new digital platform. The most challenging bit was that the system was written in 1983 on COBOL. Most of the features had to stay the same because the users wanted the functionality to stay the same with strict zero user training time. However, a new system was required as the VME platform that the legacy system worked on, was being decommissioned. It was also important to make the claims process simpler and quicker for the carers who were claiming Carers Allowance benefit. The old way to claim was via a paper form, DWP we’re processing hundreds of claims each day and doing it manually was a significantly slower process. This resulted in quite a backlog of claims and there was a lot of negative press about it at that time. So, one of the things we did was to get to AI and robotics involved to automate that particular process for the user registration.
However, there were a lot of challenges throughout the lifecycle of the project. At the start of the project, we were using Bluage, a tool that provided the functionality to modernise legacy applications from Mainframe Cobol to Java with automated conversion. It was claimed that the generated Java code by this tool was supposed to be 80% accurate but in practice it was only around 12%-15%. As a result, the time scales and the complexity of the whole project increased exponentially. But while the work was extremely challenging with very ambitious delivery timeframes, it was something that had to be done. So, although it took longer than what was initially anticipated and planned for, we still had to crack on and get it done to the agreed high standards.
What are the great things about working at DWP Digital?
We are passionate about the flexibility of agile working, using latest, cutting-edge development techniques including TDD/BDD methodologies. This is where we test before fully developing the actual code, getting feedback early in the process. This also enables us to test applications from our customer and claimant perspectives, allowing us to really see the impact of what we do. This pushes us to look at how we can make our services better.
I enjoy using these techniques as it allows me to be creative and try out innovative ideas. This always has been a big focus since I began my role and meant I was able to get stuck-in straight away with learning on the job.
I work with some amazing technology stack, tooling, and modern methods. We use a range of development software and tools, such as IntelliJ for integrated development environments, Grafana for our dashboards, Maven as a build tool and dependency management. GITLAB for storing our code/application artifacts, Pipelines for automated build/compile/deployment, Splunk for data management while coding using sleek yet powerful MacBooks.
At DWP Digital, we are constantly being exposed to the latest technologies and always encouraged to challenge conventional thinking and adopt an out-of-the-box approach to achieve results.
My role is cloud-focused, mainly developing using AWS and Azure. We use a range of SQL and NoSQL database applications such as Postgres, MySQL, and MongoDB. We use RESTful services to create backend API’s, allowing multiple applications to interact and exchange information securely.
Microservice architecture allows us to work in a collection of independent services. This is easily scalable allowing us to manage the demand on our services, which is necessary as there are almost 6 million users for Universal Credit alone.
Collaborating with colleagues
I love how much I can collaborate and network with my colleagues. We use Slack/Microsoft Teams to communicate, creating projects, topics and teams providing easy access to information and great for when I have a quick question. This makes it easy to learn from each other and makes code reviews and pair programming an absolute breeze!
We work in multidisciplinary squads based across 7 Digital Hubs, our newest hub is located in Birmingham at the new Arena Central development and we’re currently recruiting java engineers, as well as other technical roles, to work in the new squads that will be based there.
We have a strong and active engineering community here where we have a lot of conversation. The teamwork aspect helps with exploring ideas as we challenge each other, ask questions, and encourage constructive feedback. My team are not only helpful and supportive, but highly skilled and great to work with.
We also work across disciplines, grades, and job titles, creating multi-functional agile delivery teams, including Business Analysts, Product Managers and Test Engineers. I enjoy being able to see how my work fits into the wider department and I am grateful to work with like-minded people who are also passionate about creating value to society. This common goal enables an easy and productive partnership.
A great place to work
What really motivates me about my role is the problem-solving. I love being challenged by a complex situation where I’m being encouraged to be curious and creative to find a technology-based solution. I have the autonomy to research alternative innovative ways to progress, adding value in my role, with my decisions and ideas actively being listened to and implemented.
I would say there is definitely a culture of continuous improvement, not only in the work that I do but also the investment in my personal development. With lots of support and opportunities for coaching, mentoring, formal learning, qualifications, and certifications.
Another great thing about working for DWP Digital is the work life balance, with flexible and hybrid working, it puts a stop to the idea that working in tech means long hours.
Being a Java engineer for DWP Digital really is an amazing role. I feel challenged and rewarded every day - there is never a day I am not proud of what I do and the difference I make.
To find out more about an engineering role at DWP Digital visit our Careers Site.