Starling is a creative place, where technology meets art and design to create a beautiful user interface. This week, in the latest of our series about Starling’s diverse team of developers, we hear from coders with backgrounds in music and art history.

Dan Osborne

“When I left university I was a reasonable pianist, an impatient piano teacher and an unoriginal composer with a head packed full of music history and analysis techniques. I took a year to consider my career direction,” says Dan, 38, who is now a Senior Software Developer at Starling.

Dan, who grew up in Croydon, first started coding at 21. “I’d used the internet to send an email once or twice and some friends had built websites. I wondered how.” He decided to teach himself and bought a copy of HTML for Dummies, the ‘how to’ book by Ed Tittle and Stephen N James. “Cue lots of center-aligned, blinking, scrolling text and an ‘under construction’ banner hosted on Geocities,” says Dan, who went on to teach himself JavaScript and ended up doing a Masters in Computer Science at University College London.

We asked him about the connections between music and coding: “Analysing problems, solutions and existing programmes is very similar to analysing music. Composing programmes is very similar to composing music. Ultimately you’re coming up with an idea and figuring out how best to express it.”

For Dan, the creativity of coding is one of the best things about it. “You get to build whole new worlds from scratch, very quickly. Then throw them away and reinvent them if they don’t work,” he says.

He is totally absorbed by the detail of coding. “Sometimes you know the world you are building is definitely going to work how you want it to work because you test every bit of it every step of the way. You design a world at 10,000 feet waving your hands around and then get to implement it working right down at the coal face with a toothbrush or in the lab with a microscope,” he says.

He joined Starling in January 2016, when there were only 17 other people in the team. Since then, Dan has gone on to build software for onboarding of new customers, issuing debit cards, digital wallets such as Apple Pay, the Current Account Switching Service, Direct Debits, overdrafts, the Starling website and “many, many, many, many integrations.” His largest project was building the front end of our ‘Management Portal,’ which is the back office application that all our customer service and operations staff use day to day to run the bank.

Dan’s career advice is to:

  1. “Fail fast, fail often. It’s the best way to learn.”
  2. “Step outside your comfort zone. Often.”
  3. “Learn (substantially) different programming languages (e.g. one statically/strongly typed, compiled, class-based, ‘object-oriented’ and another dynamically-typed, interpreted and functional). You’ll see problems and appraise their solutions differently while wearing different hats.”

Teresa Ng

Teresa came to coding in her mid-twenties while looking into ways to become more efficient and effective at her day job at Christie’s Auction House. The organisation moved their systems from an antiquated system to a more modern one (something that came with plenty of teething problems) and she wanted to find a solution.

Having studied History of Art at the University of York, she began working for Christie’s in the customer service team, moving into a cashier role and then into the accounts department. As one of the few Mandarin speakers in the company, Teresa, who grew up in Singapore, was also involved in liaising with Chinese clients, including telephone bidding.

After several discussions with the IT team at Christie’s, she began to pick up enough keywords to be able to describe her problems with the accounting system so that it could be improved. On the back of this, she began to teach herself how to code in her free time. She began learning through Udacity, the educational organisation offering online courses, and was later awarded a scholarship from Google to complete the course. Whenever she had questions, she turned to Stack Overflow, the online community for developers, where she also came across an advert for Careers at Starling. She put in an application and was invited for an interview at our offices (then a stone’s throw from the Christie’s London office.)

Teresa joined Team Starling as an Android Developer the same day that we launched our app in May 2017. “Everyone was so excited and said that I could open one of the first Android accounts, but we then discovered that my phone was so old that the app wasn’t supported!” she says.

Since then she has worked with the team on Spending Insights, Saving Goals, business accounts and most recently joint accounts.

Her advice for other is simple and effective: “don’t be afraid to try new things.”

Sam Rose

Ricardo Avalos, Sam Everington, Sam Rose and Megan Caywood celebrating Starling being named Hottest FinTech Startup at the Europas Awards, July 2018

Growing up in North Wales, Sam spent lots of his time playing his guitar and playing video games. When it came to choosing his A-Levels, he opted for music even though he had not studied it for GCSE. After 4 weeks, he was asked to stop studying music because he did not have the music theory knowledge and “asked too many questions” in class.

He didn’t have the right grades in the right subjects at A-level for many of the university courses and music colleges that interested him. So he went for his second love, computing. He was accepted on to the Computer System Security course at the University of Glamorgan, and was able to switch to Computer Science in his second year, a course previously unavailable due to UCAS point requirements. “I learned a whole bunch of things at uni and met great people, but mainly taught myself to code,” he says.

What does he most like about being a developer? That’s simple: “I like not having that fear of technology. It must be terrifying for people who self-identify as technophobes living in 2018.”

Sam, 27, went on to tell us that as a result of the work he now does his mum has become more immersed in technology. “People say it’s never too late to learn and that’s so true for technology,” he says. “Everything today is tech.”

In one of his previous roles, he had worked with Ben Chisell, one of our Product Directors. Ben went on to Amazon and Sam to Google but after a few years, Sam began looking for new opportunities and ended up sending a Facebook message to Ben which read: “I am extremely poachable right now, sell Starling to me.”

Sam joined Starling in May 2018 as a Software Engineer. He is currently working on Starling’s public API which allows third party companies to integrate with us including partners of our Marketplace.

He has done lots of mentoring in schools and volunteering over the years. “We all have a responsibility to help others succeed,” he says.

He is also part of a large online community of developers. Sam was recently asked what he thought the most important trait in a developer was. His response? “Humility. No matter how good you get, always listen to what others say.”

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