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Alex KeySmith headshot
Alex KeySmith headshot

Alex KeySmith

Principal Software Engineering Lead, Integrations Platform Team, IT

How long have you been at A&O and what were you doing prior to joining us?

I have been at A&O for over 2 1/2 years; before that, I was a part of an accelerator team championing Azure & Big Data at the TalkTalk Group and a web developer in Blinkbox a high-scale movie streaming service.

What initially attracted you to A&O and what did you feel set us apart?

A&O is going through a technology revolution; its pedigree in the legal sector only furthers its technology ambitions.

How do you feel A&O has changed since you joined (the impact of this one will likely depend on when you joined us!)

A&O (like many large organisations) went through a transformation with IR35 tax rules. This meant software engineering teams predominantly made of contractors are now durable product-focused teams, alongside a fully-fledged architecture team, much like a software engineering company sitting inside a law firm.

What was your first ever job? Was working in the legal sector always your ultimate goal?

My first weekend job was at my local garden centre, and from there, as a teenager, I set up my micro-full-service-consultancy supporting local shops getting into e-commerce and the rest is history! A&O is my first foray into the legal sector. Technology is important to every sector; the legal industry, with its high demands on security and working on a global scale, is compelling.

We are proud at A&O to offer an environment where people can be themselves … What gives you a sense of "belonging" at A&O?

Diversity feels like it's at the core of the firm and has to be for a global firm to succeed in this day and age. My team is made up of various backgrounds, and our daily video calls occasionally involve attendees from Northern Ireland, England, Lithuania, Poland and India! And on occasion, I have presented to a global audience of 100+, which is sometimes nerve-wracking but a compelling reminder of the scale of legal teams we support.

What's the best thing about the team you work in?

We work as a DevOps team; this follows the principle of "you build it, you run it"- the team is fully accountable and takes ownership of the software we build and the approach we take. The team supports the platform like it's ours to nurture – including all the ups and downs - and all with a bit of wit and light-hearted banter to help keep things jolly!

What three things have enabled you to excel during your time at A&O?

  • My line manager always encourages us to push the boundaries and support our career development in a way which suits us; I was given a chance to enter the world of management by testing the waters on a secondment leading a team. I have flourished in the new challenges and am now a senior manager in the firm.
  • The dedication to learning and development: I have been on a number of professionally run training courses, both in-house and external, which have led me to become a better line manager.
  • Innovation - systems are constantly changing and evolving, always keeping us on our toes.

Which networks, extra-curricular activities, and/or pro bono and community investment initiatives have you become involved with since joining A&O (such as DE&I/sports teams/music etc.)? What have you valued most about these opportunities?

I had the opportunity to mentor a young person entering the world of work, giving them a flavour of my career path and how the choice of a university course with an industrial placement helped to positively shape my career. It was a very fulfilling experience helping support a young person's development. We now have an apprentice, and shortly a junior will join the team, which I am looking forward to.

If you could spend some time in any of A&O's international offices, where would you most like to go and why?

I spent some time in Singapore on holiday a few years back and would love the chance to visit again. Our User Admin team, who we work with regularly, are based in Singapore; it would be a great opportunity to brainstorm ideas whilst absorbing the sights once again!

If you could switch roles with anyone else at A&O, whose job would you want and why?

Perhaps some of the innovation teams. Whilst our work is internal, the legal tech side of the business focuses on the cutting edge challenges faced by our clients directly.  Their aim is to solve challenges in novel ways with machine learning … fascinating!!

What advice would you give to anyone considering joining A&O?

A&O is, in my opinion, the perfect size for a technologist at a firm. We tackle high-scale problems with a high degree of rigour whilst all being able to get stuck into the work we love without being confined to a particular role.