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Paths to programming – meet Kate and Tom

Our people come from many different backgrounds. Here at Zopa we recognize diversity of experience and background as a positive for our teams, and for the strength of the business. It’s what the data says after all see this McKinsey report.

Developers Kate and Tom had a more unusual path into programming than most. Both worked in different areas – waiting tables and doing admin – before a chance experience triggered their passion for programming. They each ended up at coding bootcamp Makers Academy before getting hired by Zopa.

Here’s what they do at Zopa and how they got here.

What was the moment that got you interested in software development?

Kate: I studied film and TV at university, but when I came out I knew I didn’t want to go into it. I fell into the hospitality industry, and ended up staying in there for 8 years. The reason I stayed so long was because I just didn’t know what else I wanted to do. I looked at lots of jobs – chef, teacher – and went to careers advisors, but I just knew these other jobs weren’t for me.

In the end I had a flatmate who was a front-end web developer. I quizzed him about what he did and I really liked the sound of it. I’m creative, so I like to build things. And I’ve always been the girl who’d rather have the latest gadget than a pair of shoes, so it appealed to my techie side too.

Tom: It was really cringey. I stumbled across a YouTube video, and it was all about what schools don’t teach you. It was tech founders like Mark Zuckerberg – talking about tech and how they need to teach it more in schools. They didn’t even say much about coding. But it was about how you can build something out of nothing. And that really appealed to me.

How did you go about learning to become a developer? Was it straightforward?

Kate: I researched online and found a 2 week course in HTML and CSS and enjoyed it. Then I found TeamTreehouse (the online video tutorial site) and did a couple of courses on there. I was still really enjoying it, but I was only doing it for a few hours here and there – because all my other work and life was getting in the way.

I looked at uni courses but they seemed to be a big commitment, and also slightly out of date for web development, which moves very quickly. When I first found Makers Academy, at first I was put off because it was Ruby and I wanted to do Front-end. But I kept looking at it and reading the blogs from past students, I realized I didn’t just want to make websites look pretty, I wanted to build things too.

Tom: I was in Australia when I decided. I actually started by getting a job at a co-working space in Melbourne. I ended up doing admin for startups and in return some of the devs would show me some of the code they were working on.

I stumbled across Makers Academy on Twitter, I saw you could learn code for 12 weeks and get a job. I had to sit down and have a skype conversation with my dad about the course because I didn’t have the money. I was like “Instead of going to uni, can I do this?” He said yes, even though he didn’t actually know what it was. He still doesn’t know what I do…

Is working in software development the same as what you imagined it to be? How is it different?

Tom: I think it is like what I expected. Because it’s all about solving problems, there’s no right answer, which is something you always have to deal with as a developer. You have to be creative with your solutions. But in a way, it’s also not what I expected – you have to put in the time. You need to be an active reader, it’s not just a 9-5 job. You have to keep up to date with new tech and new trends.

Kate: It’s definitely different for me. There is the preconception of a coder as sitting at their computer not talking. But one of the key parts of the job is teamwork and communication. If you have a piece of work, it’s rare you can just do it without having to talk to a designer, another developer or a UX person. I am also surprised at the amount of work you have to do to keep up to date. You can be a good developer but if you don’t keep you skills up to date, you can quickly become obsolete.

What are you working on now at Zopa?

Tom: I’m working in the Pioneers/Auto team. It’s like a startup within Zopa. It’s rails applications, we’re all building full-stack, it’s a ruby back-end with multiple APIs and a front-end in HTML, CSS and Javascript.

Kate: I’m helping out back in the Lenders tribe for a short while, working on their functionality for ISAs. Before that I was on Pioneers/Auto on the same product, it’s interesting getting to build an application from scratch.

What’s the most interesting work you’ve done recently?

Tom: In my work at Zopa, I’ve learned a lot more about building an entire product from research to planning an application build, to actually building it and testing it. In the Pioneers team you have the opportunity to do more product innovation work.

Kate: My current favourite is personal project, PR Hero, an app built with Rails, it uses the Github API and produces graphs in the front end with Highcharts.js, as well as using webhooks in the backend to send events to the hipchat API. When someone opens or merges a PR it sends a notification to the room, and it will recommend a reviewer based on the person who has commented the least in a given time period.