Alison came to code through chemistry. As part of her PhD in Chemoinformatics (the use of computers and informational techniques to solve problems in chemistry), Alison, 29, had to teach herself to code, which she did through YouTube videos.
“I really loved science as a kid, I wanted to find out how the world worked,” she says. At 14, Alison taught herself English and moved on her own from Hong Kong to the UK. She went on to study Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, a perfect course for her as it involved a range of different scientific disciplines. She ended up focusing on Chemistry for her undergraduate degree, Biophysical chemistry and proteins for her Masters, and studied how humans absorb and metabolise drugs for her PhD in order to speed up the drug discovery process – something that can take over ten years. Alison feels that the best thing to come out of her PhD was picking up programming: “I fell in love with it. I had to learn how to handle lots of data and coding was the perfect way to do this.”
Just as the puzzles of science drew her to chemistry, the puzzles of technology drew her to coding. “I love figuring out what went wrong when things break,” she says. She also likes the way that she can “have an idea that someone has never built before and then go for it,” reflecting the freedom of working at Starling.
She also enjoys the balance at Starling of working together as well as having responsibility for projects and seeing them through from beginning to end. “At my previous job, I’d never seen my code being used or making a difference to a product,” she says. “The speed at which we deliver at Starling is quite astonishing.”
When Alison joined Starling in January 2018, she started working on our Marketplace, the connective platform that gives customers access to the most innovative financial products on the market. Integrating with PensionBee was the first example of end to end delivery for her and launching it is the highlight of her time at Starling so far. She has also worked on adding the discount app Tail, the online investment platforms Wealthify and Wealthsimple, the online mortgage broker Habito and the insurance distribution network Kasko. She is currently building a framework for reporting on data for the bank.
Alison has “always found it odd that there aren’t many women developers” in the industry. She told us how she’s often one of the only women at developer events and has been handed empty coffee cups by people thinking that she was a member of staff not an attendee. “There’s absolutely no reason why a woman can’t be as good as a man. If you don’t think you can do it at least give it a go – you might surprise yourself,” she says. She is currently looking into mentoring and teaching female engineers with organisations such as Code Your Future, the non-profit organisation supporting refugees who want to become developers.