Martin first heard about Starling having drinks at the pub Ye Olde Watling, in central London. John Mountain, now our Chief Information Officer, kept talking about ‘this bank thing’ that he was working on. “It became pretty clear that ‘this bank thing’ must be pretty interesting,” says Martin, who taught himself how to code while working in advertising. “During an advertising project, I realised I wanted to be on the other side of the partnership and do the building rather than the selling,” he says.
For Martin, 42, the best thing about coding is “the creative element. It’s like being a carpenter making a beautiful table but also building the tools you use to make it,” he says. Growing up near Glasgow, his favourite subject was art. He finished his education in Frankfurt, Germany, doing the International Baccalaureate which involves studying six subjects across the arts, humanities and sciences. When it came to university, he started by studying physics but ended up graduating with a degree in anthropology. Coding seems to bring it all together: analysis, problem-solving and creativity.
When he left advertising, he did a masters in Computer Science at University College London which turned out to be the same course as Dan Osborne and Kai Ma, who also work at Starling and have shared their stories as part of this series. Dan was the one to introduce John and Martin at the pub. Fast forward a few months and all three were part of a team working on Starling’s core banking systems. Martin joined in March 2016, just after we had received our funding.
Just months later, in July, we gained our banking licence. “That was an amazing moment,” says Martin. “As part of the process, we had to demo the banking systems to the regulators with different stations set up in the office. We showed them how the money flowed through the bank and how it worked,” he says. After the news about the banking licence, the Starling team (then 25 employees) gathered round the screens as Anne Boden, our founder and CEO, made the first Starling purchase: a purple Osprey handbag.
Martin’s career advice is to keep learning: “It can be tempting to plod along doing what you’re already good at, but you’ll learn and grow by exposing yourself to tasks and situations which push you and maybe even make you uncomfortable.” He feels it’s important to “challenge yourself to identify and improve your weaknesses. As a programmer, nothing beats learning a new language to stretch your brain in new and surprising directions and it will often give you new perspectives from which to solve engineering problems.”