A growing team, a government grant and a dream career: we talk to Anouska Streets about working at FINkit and how South Wales is set to become the hub for FinTech’s latest innovation
Hi Anouska, thank you for taking some time out to join us today.
Thanks for having me!
1. You’ve had quite an interesting career. Can you tell us a bit about how you got into engineering and software development?
It all started when my school got its first BBC Micro in 1984. The BBC Micro was part of the BBC’s initiative to improve computer literacy in the UK and get the next generation interested in programming by providing these computers to every school in the country – and in my case, it worked. I was so interested in it, in fact, that the following year my parents bought me a Commodore 64 for Christmas. I started coding and that carried on throughout school and then onto university where I studied Computer Science. I’ve now been doing it for 20 years so I think I have the BBC to thank for that!
2. We hear a lot nowadays about encouraging women in STEM. What would be your advice for someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
Honestly, if you’re interested in it, get involved! There are meet-ups all over the country where you can talk to like-minded people and universities in particular have some great social events for women in tech. There’s some really good meet-ups in Cardiff that I’ve been to like Equal Experts – who provide UK-wide networking events on a range of different subjects – and the South Wales Agile Group meetup – who have monthly meetings on Agile best practice. I would also recommend getting as much industry experience as possible, be that work experience, apprenticeships or placements. I spent my third year at university on an industry placement at British Steel and the practical experience you get is invaluable – at the end of the day, university can only teach you so much. That real life understanding around enterprise application development is something that employers look for too; it can really help you to stand out from the crowd.
3. You’ve been the Head of Engineering at FINkit for almost a year now; what things are you most excited about bringing to the market and where do you see the industry going in the future?
I think it’s a really exciting time to be in the financial industry – previously, it’s been quite a tricky sector to innovate in because of how heavily regulated it is but that’s changing as more SMEs and start-ups enter the mix. The competition is far more reactive and far more creative than anything we’ve seen before and that means that banking and financial institutions are having to act quickly too. This is where we see FINkit coming in. The platform allows financial organisations to think more deeply about what their customers want and to get their products out quickly and safely – meaning more innovation in shorter timescales and still without the risk. I think for me, I’m most excited about refining that platform so that it continues to evolve with our client’s needs – needs that are, in many ways, very difficult to predict at the pace we’re going!
4. Tell us a little bit about your career at FINkit. We understand that this isn’t your first time working for the company, having worked for Monitise back in 2011. What made you return?
When I left about two and a half years ago, it was a completely different business. We were using a legacy platform and weren’t really matching the pace of the market and that has completely changed. FINkit as a business went through a huge transformation process, building the business from the ground-up again to focus on bringing out products that are innovative and serve our clients in a way that no one else in the market can. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s actually my dream job, being that close to the cutting-edge and getting to be a driving force in it too, in the way that everyone at FINkit is.
5. How do you think FINkit stands out from the crowd? What makes you different to work for?
From a purely technical perspective, there isn’t really anyone like us out there. We’ve moved completely away from a legacy, monolithic service to a cloud native, microservices architecture. We embrace DevOps culture and ways of working with a fully automated continuous delivery pipeline. We release into production many times every day.
From a cultural perspective, we’re all very easy going and friendly people. I really enjoy coming to work every day because I genuinely get on with my team and I think for some people that can be quite an unusual thing. We work hard but we also have fun together; we regularly get together outside of work and I think that helps when you’re back in the office because it means that you know each other on a personal basis and can work together more effectively. When you’re working in the way that we do – multi-disciplinary and collaboratively – it’s a huge advantage being able to understand other people’s perspective. I believe that it’s because of how we work, the people that we are and how we work together, that we’re able to come up with some of the solutions that we do. If you’re the sort of person who likes to be kept on their toes and to be part of something bigger, we’re a great company to work for.
6. Which tech stack do you use, and why?
FINkit services are built using Spring Boot and Java running in the Cloud Foundry elastic runtime. We also develop extensive tooling to support our automated build pipeline and operate all of our infrastructure as code. As a result we are also heavy users of tools like Ansible and Bosh.
7. Tell us a bit about the team. How does the development team work? How do you think the team differs to others you’ve worked in previously?
I’m very lucky to work in the team that I do – they are genuinely some of the most switched-on, intelligent and talented people that I have worked with in the last twenty years – and I don’t say that lightly! We’re all very driven by learning and collaboration which I think makes for a really unique team dynamic. We’re constantly learning from and challenging each other, which often results in some really interesting developments and ideas.
Structurally, we’re made up of a team in Nantgarw in South Wales (near Cardiff) which we’re currently expanding and a team in Istanbul. We work cross-functionally to deliver workstreams and the teams work quite autonomously – they’re expected to get from A to B, but how they get there is entirely up to them. I think one of the best things about the team is how we all work together. Everyone is encouraged to contribute and everyone is expected to collaborate; it’s very much an open forum.
8. Cardiff is becoming a bit of a hub for talent in the digital and tech sector, with FINkit recently awarded a government grant to boost innovation and investment in South Wales. How are you looking to expand the team to support this drive?
Our priority this year is to expand the team in Nantgarw so that we can accelerate the development of the FINkit platform, get it running at optimum capability and get it into the hands of our customers. We’ve recently been acquired by Fiserv and one of their aims is for us to start delivering this one-of-a-kind toolkit, so we’ll be pouring a lot of investment into finding the people that can help us achieve this. We’ll be looking for a mix of disciplines to get that holistic view I mentioned earlier – so developers, architects, operations, Java specialists etc.
It’s true that the tech industry in Cardiff and South Wales is incredibly buoyant: there’s a very stable talent pool here and some excellent universities that are constantly adding to it, so we’re very confident that we’ll be able to find the talent we need to make the platform a success. Being awarded the government grant I think just goes to show how much store is placed in that talent pool, so yes – we’re very excited.
9. What’s the best tech joke you know?
Q: What’s got feathers and says ‘pieces of seven, pieces of seven’?
A: A parroty error
I think that’s my best one – I have a lot to choose from though (and some more appropriate than others!)
10. Well it sounds like there’s a lot of exciting things happening at FINkit at the moment! One last question: how can our readers keep up to date with opportunities and what’s going on in the industry?
There’s so much out there that sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming I think, so my tip would be to pin down the subjects that interest you the most and do some research on key voices online and offline. They are all pretty prolific on Twitter, so I would say that’s a good way to build your network, but you can also find articles, podcasts via Pivotal and Google Platform and blogs if that’s not your thing. Some of my favourites include Jez Humble and Chris Skinner who are quite entertaining as well as informed. Breaking Banks is also a great site to visit, with guest speakers and articles from some of the leading names in FinTech.
To keep up with what’s going on at FINkit you can follow us on Twitter @FINkit, but more importantly, you can follow the FINkit team: @GoNickWhite, @AnnaB_Tech, @LouisaFreestone and myself (@AnouskaStreets). For future job opportunities, follow our recruitment partner Lorien (details below). We’re expecting a very busy year, especially in Cardiff and South Wales, so I can guarantee there will be lots to catch up on!
Lorien is the official recruitment partner of FINkit. If you’d like to find out more about how the business is evolving and current and upcoming vacancies, please contact Alex Stokoe, recruitment business partner (firstname.lastname@example.org, 0207 654 1125).