Part 1: Our team of techies

22nd June 2018

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Building a bank from scratch and keeping the cogs whirring takes an exceptional team of people. Our office is open, fast-paced and full of fascinating people who come from all walks of life.

This week, we asked a few of our coders to share their stories and career advice.

Kai Ma

Kai, Android Developer

Kai began learning about code when he was 12. “My brother had a Commodore 64 computer,” he says. “Back then, you could type in code for whole games copied from gaming magazines and then fiddle with it to change how things worked.” Growing up, Kai was also interested in martial arts. He has practiced kung fu, jujitsu and karate, which he now helps to teach at his daughter’s school.

Kai, 38, went on to study geology at University College London, followed by a Masters in Computer Science, which he did at the same time as Dan Osborne and Martin Dowe, who also now work for Starling. After eight years in San Francisco working for several tech companies, Kai returned to London and got back in touch with Dan who recommended applying to Starling.

In November 2017, Kai joined the team as an Android Developer. The feature he’s most looking forward to launching is Loans – the first project he will have been a part of from beginning to end. He has also worked with the team on International Payments and Sole Trader accounts.

What he enjoys about coding is solving problems; what he enjoys about Starling is the way the team solve problems together. “Everyone pulls together. There’ll be ten people all in one space working as fast as they can to resolve an issue” says Kai. “I’d never seen that before.”

We asked Kai about the career advice he would give to others. His reply is a familiar one at Starling. “Always work on something that makes you happy and check in to see if you’re in the right place.” In America Kai worked with advertising brands and before that in the games industry: “I was very happy in games, less happy in advertising (although I didn’t realise it at the time), and now that I’m at Starling, I can see how important being happy is,” he says. “I like the people and the projects here.”

Funmi Adewodu

Funmi, mobile app developer

Funmi only started learning how to code last year. Having graduated with a degree in Economics, she moved from Nigeria to London to study professional accounting. She started a job doing the accounts for a charity that helped other projects in the community apply for funding. In her free time, she started teaching herself how to code through Codecademy, the online platform that offers free classes.

When Starling announced our Hackathon in April 2017, Funmi, came across it on Twitter, but hesitated in signing up. “I didn’t think I knew enough, but I was then asked to join a team with a friend and two other girls,” she says. Over the 24-hour Hackathon, their team built a chatbot using the Starling API that was integrated into Facebook messenger and gave users easy access and visibility on the current state of their account.

Funmi was offered a job at Starling without even handing in her CV. Starling then sponsored the four month Makers Academy coding boot camp that she had signed up for. She joined the team in September 2017 and has since worked on International Payments, email verification and Merchant Reporting, the feature that allows users to suggest updates to logos or locations of merchants. She is now part of the team working on Loans.

Alongside her work at Starling, Funmi volunteers at Codebar and enjoys giving talks and running workshops. She was recently listed as one of Code First’s Top UK Women in Tech under 30.

The advice from our 22-year-old developer is to “do what makes you happy – it will pay off eventually.” What she loves about coding is that is “brings ideas to life. If you know what you want or have a dream, know that it is possible.”

Joe Steele

Joe Steele, Workplace Technology Manager

When Joe clicked on the Careers at Starling page in January 2018, he found his ideal job description: “It was exactly what I wanted to do, everything matched,” he says.

Joe, 30, joined Starling a week later as our Workplace Technology Manager. This means increasing efficiency and “making sure that our staff have access to the best tech they can in order to get their work done,” he says. Part of this has been the onboarding and offboarding process for staff which he has cut from 2 hours to 10 minutes. (The aim is to make this even quicker than signing up for a Starling personal account aka under 3 minutes.)

When he was 14, Joe did work experience at Ericsson, the telecommunications company that later merged with Sony. “I didn’t like any of the departments I worked in throughout the week, until the last day when I went into the IT department which had bits of computers everywhere,” he says. Taking a computer apart and putting it back together became second nature to him.

At 15, Joe was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition that meant he spent the next three years in a wheelchair. Before he became ill, he had been predicted straight As for his exams. “Even getting out of bed felt as tiring as doing a 20 hour shift,” he says. He still managed to get four GCSEs which he studied for at home. Getting better was a gradual process: “It wasn’t just physically exhausting, but mentally exhausting and I had retrain my mind to trust my body as I got better.”

Joe graduated from Guildford College with a distinction for the Higher National Diploma in Computing. He then found himself faced with three choices:

  1. Doing a degree in Computing (available as a one year course rather than three due to his high marks in the diploma)
  2. Going to the Music Academy of Contemporary Music (we’ve lost count of how many instruments Joe can play, the last time we checked it was 15)
  3. Starting work.

Joe went for option 3 and went on to work for Trams, an IT solutions company.

Last year, Joe opened a personal account with Starling and a few months later he became part of the team. At Starling we all get together on a Friday for a demo of the latest updates and projects and Joe’s best Starling moment to date was when demo ran without a single hitch or delay.

His career advice is to “know what you’re good at and play to your strengths.” He would also encourage people to “do something you enjoy. Chances are you’ll be better at something you enjoy than something you don’t.”


All that’s left to say is a huge thank you to everyone for sharing their story and a shout out to Hessie Coleman who has been head of everything people since July 2016 and recently received a WeAreTheCity Rising Star award for HR & Recruitment!

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