How it began
Picture the scene in the mid 2000’s where Nickelback and the Black Eyed Peas ruled the music charts and a fresh faced graduate in Marine Biology decided to switch from student life to that of a professional banker, leaving behind the beach, rock pools and seaweed counting of the past. I headed to London to join the at the time largest bank for business on a graduate scheme to become a specialist in small business. Arriving and taking up my desk in October 2007 it felt like a true Dick Whittington tale, the boy from the countryside had made it all the way to London and found the streets, while not paved with gold, did offer a whole new set of challenges and career paths, far removed from the days at the beach.
Having been in role for just over a month the great CDO pass the parcel game ended up with the government bailout of multiple UK banks and a lot of people losing an awful lot. In short — Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
It was at this time I rapidly learnt what it was like to have to empathise, and strategise with people who literally overnight had gone from successful business to nothing as they felt the effects of the subprime mortgage crisis.
They were dark days indeed, but much like orphan Annie, the sun came out and the bank I worked with didn’t crumble and we started to rebuild. This time with a more programatic approach, gone were general buckets of customers based on address alone, now it was focussed around what they did and your portfolio of clients was broader, yet more focussed. As resident ‘techie’ in my office, it seemed natural that I would end up with the Technology and Media portfolios, a mix of Tech, Telecom and Marketing clients.
Becoming Tech Banker
With the switch to domain expertise, came with the opportunity to see the other side of the tech industry, not just as end-users but as financial advisors and strategic partners, working with recognisable brands and products we saw and used on a regular basis, I got to help young start-up tech companies smooth their banking integration allowing them to access their funding round monies, and budget and plan for the future.
While helping these clients it also provided an insight into tech topics I liked and areas of technology that I could see had the potential to be the next big thing — the belief if you prefer. I could now see that banking and sitting in an office wasn’t the be-all end-all of a career, I just needed a helping hand to focus it.
As part of being a domain expert, it meant spending a lot of time in conference auditoriums listening to people talk about your domain, sometimes they provided insight, sometimes warning lights, either way growth.
It was at one such conference to Technology based clients of the bank that a session was put on by Pepper the AI robot, who while still gimmicky and a little too cheerful, did demonstrate the direction my bank was heading — the use of AI and modern technology to faciliate better customer interactions, customers who were presently being looked after by the 1960’s era IBM Swift Messaging system — talk of blockchains, NFT’s, smart devices were all mentioned.
These were to be exciting times, and I wanted a part of it, to work with tools like Pepper to make things better for a brand I believed in.
I became a digital advocate, specialised in the new tech offerings the bank were working on, in fact they had gone so far as creating a tech-finance incubator for fledgling tech companies that had similar goals to the bank and provided them with support. I jumped in to the waters of tech and loved it, it resonated far more with me than a simple 9–5 banking role ever could.
I took the chance and signed up for the Microsoft Office Champions scheme and got to work with Microsoft to roll out upgraded products and tools to my peers, I learnt more about what customer insights and assistance were heading our way. I learnt to work Agile. I learnt Disney. This was where I wanted to be. It was now how to get there.
Taking the jump
Like a lot of people who have made it through the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 working remotely gave me a lot of extra time to think about where you wanted to be in the short, medium or longer term.
Be it due to saving time on commutes, not having to look busy for the sake of keeping up appearances, and actually being busy with real things. I found I had more time in my day, and fewer opportunities with my current skillset to work in the areas I had found my passion.
Five months into the UK Lockdown, Animal Crossing on the back-burner, I decided to make the change. Notice handed in, Imperial Business Analytics, From Data for Decisions course signed up for. I had done it. A full pivot. In equal parts scary and exciting.
Fast forward a couple more months and I had a passion for learning and coding I didn’t know existed, and a desire to create. Python and data analysis while incredibly insightful didn’t feel like the end goal, I had more to create. At this time my wife rolled off her data science course, and mentioned how Flatiron School also did pure software engineering, which looked a lot of fun. I looked at it, indeed it looked fun, I was sold.
So here I am, learning to code, far away from the rockpools and seaweed of my degree, but feeling positive and looking to keep learning. Thank you Pepper for opening my eyes to the wider world of tech.