From design to development, anthropology to maths, our team at Starling have all sorts of backgrounds. This week, in the latest of our series about our team of developers, we share their career advice and what they like best about coding.
Fernanda, who grew up in Mexico, started learning how to code when she was 14. After high school, she went on to study engineering for a year before going on to do a course in Design at the University Uam in Mexico City. “It involved a little bit of web plus industrial and graphic design,” she says.
When it came to her final year, she specialised in web design, a choice that led to a career spanning both web design and development. “I think coding comes naturally to me,” she says, “but that doesn’t mean that you ever become comfortable with it – there are always different challenges and problems to solve, that’s the fun part.”
Fernanda, 27, moved to London in October 2016 and started working as a web developer in a consultancy. Her husband was working for PwC, the consultancy, at the time and told her about Starling. “I struggled to find a bank that would let me open an account but Starling did and ended up being my main account,” she says. “I then saw that there were some openings for developer positions and I applied.”
Since joining Starling in September 2017, she has worked on increasing the speed and efficiency of the website. “It’s been a very interesting learning curve,” she says. “I’ve worked on lots of things I didn’t have prior experience of and so I’ve had the challenge of solving these new issues. I also have the freedom to pick what to work on and improve,” she says.
Her career advice to others? “Work on projects that you find fun. As long as you enjoy it and keep practicing, you will get better.” She adds that “there will always be people who are better than you, but over time you will see how you improve.”
While he was a maths teacher at an all-girls secondary school, Paul began to write education apps for his students. “I had coded most of my life – I used to write games when I was 11 – but never professionally,” says Paul, 41, who grew up near Colchester. “I realised that I was enjoying the coding more than the teaching,” he says. When he saw an advert for Careers at Starling online, his ten years of teaching came to an end and he made a career leap into the bank as a software engineer.
Since joining us in July 2016, he has worked on the financial side of the app including the interest customers earn, and Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) which will enable us to launch Euro accounts and move into Ireland in the near future.
Some of the best times at Starling for Paul have been those Eureka moments when the team have discovered how to fix a particular problem. With a PhD in algebra, he likens the buzz of figuring out problems in code to the satisfaction of solving complex equations in maths.
Paul’s tip was a practical one: “Stop using your mouse and use keyboard shortcuts instead – it will save you so much time.”
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.”