Blog post

Building an engineering team with respect, excellence and humility at the heart 

8 mins read

By Steve McGregor, Head of Engineering at Allica Bank

If we really want to understand our customers, we need a proactive feedback strategy
 
I was recently given the opportunity to do something that previously I would have only dreamed of. I was asked to set-up a new software engineering team, tasked with building an industry-leading,digitally-focused bank.
 
Now, Allica is already an operating bank. However, last year the decision was made to hire an internal engineering team to take the place of third-party suppliers who, up until now, handled all tech development.
 
As the first recruit into the new team, I’m on the hunt for fellow technologists also keen to leave their mark on the UK financial services sector. Allica was one of just two institutions to be granted a banking licence last year, giving us an almost unique chance to create a customer-focused bank, supercharged by an industry-leading digital experience.
 
But it’s not just a new bank we’re going to be building together. It’s the culture, technology stack and ways of working that an effective tech team will need to be able to develop industry-leading products, too.
 
There are, of course, hundreds of things that go into building an effective team. But, for me, there are three themes that I keep coming back to: respect, which starts with self; excellence, meaning being the very best you can be; and having the humility to never feel like you’re too special to do even the smallest of things. 
 
These attributes will sit front and centre to help us create a truly collaborative team. After all, if we want to get this right, working together and problem sharing needs to sit at the heart of all we do. Helping us to create a team that actively contributes to Allica’s values of integrity, collaboration and being straightforward.
 
With that in mind, I’ve outlined some of the core principles that will drive Allica’s new software engineering team forward in 2020, setting the precedent for the next decade and more.
 
Continuous improvement 
 
Building a bank isn’t like building a car. There’s no pre-existing blueprint for how best to get it done, and no structured assembly line in place to put it together. Instead, we’re constantly evolving and crafting what we’re doing to meet changing demands. We must maintain a commitment to improve, insist on the highest standards and always leave things better than we found them.
 
Continuous integration and deployment
 
Furthermore, I want to create an environment where developers are continuously rolling out work and getting ongoing validation. The focus should be on making small but regular changes, not setting a distant target and working for months to deliver it only to find out it’s not quite what the company was after in the first place.
 
This way of working cuts down on wasted effort and resource. It allows the product to grow intuitively and, most importantly, meet business demand. 
 
A true feedback culture
 
A core component of this type of iterative development is a regular stream of feedback. And not just from line managers. End users, external stakeholders and people from all across the business need to contribute. They are, after all, going to be using the products that we create, so they should have the opportunity to challenge, question and celebrate them along the way, too.
 
I will be encouraging all developers to take part in showcases to share their work, no matter how big or small, with anyone from the company that wants to come along. So, future Allica Bank engineers, don’t expect to be hidden away in a room somewhere. You’re going to have daily interaction with all parts of the business, from operations through to finance and customer support.
 
With this exposure, though, comes accountability. You should want to show off your work and take pride in it, but also crave any constructive feedback that comes your way.
 
Nurturing a DevOps environment
 
The above points ultimately feed into my ambition to cement a ‘DevOps’ culture in Allica. This means each individual taking a holistic view of the work the team is doing, shifting operational considerations into the realm of the developers, and vice versa.
 
Testing and security, for example, should never be an afterthought. Developers need to consider the impact every line of code has on everything from system performance to security and customer experience.
 
This is why collaboration and communication between the right people is going to be so important. Rather than working like a production line, all functions need to have input from day one.
 
Be a part of it
 
In 2020, I’m looking to hire a team of passionate people to help grow Allica Bank and shape the future of our in-house engineering function.
 
I want a team of true technologists. Multi-disciplined developers that have an appreciation for – and an appetite to grow, their repertoire of skills – rather than simply sticking to what they already know. Technology evolves quickly, and so should a company’s arsenal of potential solutions.
 
I’m also looking for the sharers and carers. People that attend peer group meetings, lead knowledge sharing sessions, do research and tell other people about what they found. Those developers that actively seek to support their co-workers and ask for feedback from people around them.
 
Again, this all comes back to collaboration. A proper DevOps culture is one where everyone wants to support one another. Every team member should be willing to help others in the team so that they can achieve their individual goals. Not only is this a healthy working environment, but it’s an opportunity to develop your own skill set in a professional setting.
 
By encouraging a culture of ongoing feedback and peer support within Allica’s engineering team, we’ll be able to produce better products, be more efficient and create an environment where people look forward to coming to work every day. Collaboration is the lifeblood of not just an effective engineering team, but a successful business.
 
Sound interesting? If so, why not be part of our growing team? Send me an email atcareers@allica.bank to let me know why you think you’d be a good fit.