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In October 2019, Starling launched its apprenticeship scheme with the aim of increasing diversity in technology and finance. “We recognise that there is more than one avenue into the workforce,” says Becci Freeman, people business partner for technology at Starling. “So we teamed up with talent accelerator WhiteHat to help find a group of people from a range of backgrounds, ages and levels of educational qualification.”

Starling has hired four software developer apprentices who will be with us for at least 18 months, maybe longer. The apprenticeship scheme is Level 4, which is Foundation Degree equivalent. At the end of the 18 months, they will receive the Level 4 Software Developer qualification, certified by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.

The apprentices have quickly become part of our core developer teams, working on projects such as the Management Portal, the tool that customer service and operation teams use to track, organise and enable processes across the bank.

“We didn’t want to create a predictable and rigid, must learn X to pass Y programme. We don’t want to put people into a box,” says Becci, who coordinates the scheme. “Learning from scratch is hard and everyone needs something different. WhiteHat understood that.”

To kick off the apprenticeship scheme, our recruits spent five weeks with WhiteHat as a general induction, followed by six weeks training at Starling from software engineers. After that, they were straight into the developer teams. Each apprentice is paired with a Starling software engineer, who themselves have become key to the scheme’s success. They check in, give advice and are on hand to help when needed. The apprentices also have a coach from WhiteHat for further support.

Agnieszka Boruta: Buying a one way ticket to London at 21

“I’ve got a job that I love,” says Agnieszka Boruta, who works as part of Starling’s Marketplace and public APIs team. The Marketplace, enabled by public APIs, is the space in the app where personal or business customers can sign up to third-party products. “I’m learning how to integrate various third-party services and different ways of authenticating. My team is also maintaining the developer portal where anyone can connect to their bank account via our public APIs.”

Agnieszka, who grew up in Białystok in Poland, moved to London when she was 21. “It was my first ever flight,” she says. She touched down in Heathrow on a rainy, dark September evening with no job to go to and a room she found on Gumtree. Fast forward three years, she was studying Geography and Business Management at Queen Mary University of London, while also working part-time to pay the bills and teaching herself how to code.

Agnieszka, 27, began by processing data for her course before moving on to making simple tools such as QR readers and image recognition tools. Later, she developed an interest in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. “One of my friends used to teach girls to code and he told me how many girls don’t believe in themselves, that they’re shy but they’re much better than they think,” she says.

“When I was fifteen, I thought about becoming a software engineer but I had another talent: art.” Her paintings, drawings and photographs won many awards. Today, she applies that creativity to coding. “There are so many approaches to doing something,” she explains. “It’s all about building things, and aesthetics as well. I’ve always wanted to work in a place where I can make a difference and create something meaningful.”

Dawid and Anieszka smile in winter coats
Dawid Budaszewski (left) and Agnieszka Boruta (right), apprentices at Starling, photo credit: Dashti Jahfar

Dawid Budaszewski: Working to make money management easier

Dawid Budaszewski came across the apprenticeship scheme while looking into FinTech. “The industry is really innovative and it’s built on a passion for bringing a difference to customers, not just revenue for the owner. I also knew that my work would be appreciated here and that there would be lots of people to ask questions to and help me grow.” He works as part of the core banking team on back-end development, making it easier for people without coding experience to find information.

He started pursuing a career in Finance when he was 16. Previously, he thought he’d either become a professional handball player or join the army. “I focused on my English skills during high school because I knew I wanted to go to university in an English-speaking country,” he says. “I wanted to do something exciting and explore the world.”

When he came to London from Konin in Poland, where he grew up, he didn’t know a single person. To earn a living, he worked full-time throughout his degree in Economics, Statistics and Maths at Queen Mary University of London. “It was a big burden to carry,” says Dawid, 22. “I wish I could have been a bit wiser about my savings and been able to plan better.” Since joining Starling, he’s started using the Goals feature to set money aside.

“I was always looking for meaning behind a company,” he says. When he came across Starling, our mission resonated with him: using technology to help people manage their money. He’d already been teaching himself how to code to process statistics as part of his course. “I probably should have been studying Computer Science,” he reflects. “But in the end, my interest in technology and finance got me to Starling and I’m really happy right now.”

Jess Dam: Learning through doing

Jess Dam, who grew up in Brighton, is the only one in her circle of friends to choose an apprenticeship over university. “I applied to do Computer Science at university but by the time I got my results back, I’d already made up my mind to go into work. With Computer Science, it’s really useful to have the experience.”

Jess, 19, started learning to code five years ago as part of her school IT lessons. She went on to study Computer Science for A-Level, along with Maths and Graphic Design. As a creative and visual person, she thought she’d prefer working on the customer facing elements of the Starling app, known as the front-end. But she’s also been enjoying working on the core processes that make up the bank, referred to as the back-end. Developers who work on both the front-end and back-end are known as full-stack developers.

The other part of working at Starling that she’s found surprising is how quickly the code is released. “I’m learning a lot about how code is collaborated on, tested and released. The way it’s deployed into production is really cool,” she says. At most banks, code is released once or twice a month at most. At Starling, we aim to do multiple releases every working day.

Jess is working on business accounts and making it easier for customer service to access key information. “I’ve been reinforcing my knowledge in Java, SQL and JavaScript, along with its Redux and React libraries. People are really keen on explaining why things work.”

Lorena and Jess smile outside in coats
Lorena Tacal (left) and Jess Dam (right), apprentices at Starling, photo credit: Dashti Jahfar

Lorena Tacal: From fitness to FinTech

Not many women spend their maternity leave teaching themselves how to code. But that’s what Lorena Tacal did. “It wasn’t necessarily easy - being pregnant, working full-time as a gym manager and developing small apps in my spare time at home. But every hard thing that comes in front of you is just going to make you stronger and develop you as the person you need to be.”

To get to where she is now, she’s had to overcome many disappointments. When she moved from Romania to London with her husband Tudor, her Sports Science qualifications weren’t recognised. The fact that she had set up and run her own gym was also overlooked. Determined to succeed, she enrolled in a three-month fitness instructor course while working full-time in a hotel. “Everything that you’re learning is beneficial for your career and there’s always a reason you have to do it: take it and embrace it,” she says. After qualifying, Lorena, 32, worked her way up from receptionist to personal trainer and then fitness manager for a gym in London.

The apprenticeship scheme at Starling was the first role she applied for in technology. She found out about it through WhiteHat, but ultimately applied through our website. By that time her daughter had just turned one. “I somehow knew that it was the company I wanted to work for. If the product is not appealing to you, you’re not going to be attracted to working there and Starling’s product is amazing. I didn’t want to apply for anything else.”

She’s now working as part of the engineering team that is focused on payments. “Working at Starling is great because it gives me the opportunity to work as a full-stack developer and learn Postgres, Java and React while delivering code in production on a daily basis. Each day comes with new challenges and a chance to learn,” she says. “The whole team offers support and guidance every day.”

Starling will be offering further apprenticeships in future. All available roles are listed on the Careers section of our website. If you believe in better banking and want to be part of our team, we want to hear from you.

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