People9th November 2023

ClearBank and Code First Girls: Aileen’s story

Code First Girls Blog
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What do shoes, colour theory and payments have in common?

You might think absolutely nothing.

But for Aileen Gana, it’s what connects her journey from playing around with code for her online business to discovering Code First Girls at university and, eventually, working as an Agile Delivery Manager at ClearBank.

In March of this year, we announced our collaboration with Code First Girls to actively recruit even more female coders to ClearBank. Code First Girls is the largest provider of free coding courses for women in the UK, and their impact doesn’t stop with education – they work with over 100 partners in the UK and globally to actively place women into tech roles.

We caught up with Aileen to talk about her journey from engineering student and entrepreneur to advocate for getting more females from non-technical backgrounds into coding.

You recently presented at a company stand up discussing your path to ClearBank and your passion for Code First Girls. Could you give us a little insight into that journey, because it’s probably not what people might expect?

Thank you, it was a lot of fun to share my story because, as you said, my journey isn’t a regular or normal one. And I love that, actually.

I grew up in a very typical Malaysian family, wanting all their children to be engineers, which is what my parents are successful in doing. I’m the middle child and all three of us studied engineering at university.

But I always sort of knew I didn’t want to be an engineer. The degree taught me a lot about teamwork, planning and collaboration and, I did graduate and go into engineering, but I knew I wasn’t passionate about it.

I was having a lot more fun doing things like coding and running my shoe store...

We’ll get to that because it got a lot of attention when you talked about it! You mentioned university being where you also discovered Code First Girls, how did you come across them, and why were they so appealing?

I was active in a lot of societies, and I was president of one focused on how female students could get into tech roles. Through that I was connected to this group called Code First Girls that I'd never heard of but thought ‘cool name’, so wanted to know more.

I was keen to learn coding, did a course with them, that I think was the first in-person one they did. I really enjoyed it so partnered with them through the university society that led to more members going onto their courses.

I'm very much the type of person who wants to try things out myself and be hands-on. I wouldn’t, for example, recommend something if I hadn’t tried it myself and found it valuable.

Returning to the shoes...how did you go from an engineer to setting up a webstore?

Like many people who run businesses, it started as a passion project and snowballed from there. Figuring out colours and choosing how things would look for visitors to the site. That was more where I felt I was having a lot more fun.

It was 2008/2009, and the online shopping business was really in its early days in Southeast Asia. Many of those stores were hosted on platforms that were mostly, you know, designed to be platforms for personal blogs.

Within a year or so, some people were getting creative and started selling through those sites. And, to be honest, I would spend ages finding these sites and spending all my money. It felt so new and exciting. You could browse, see what you liked, talk to the seller and purchase. It was all very personal.

But it also got to a point where I was thinking, ‘I’m buying all this stuff and don’t really have much of an income...I could just as easily be selling; I can do what they’re doing’.

That led me to create my own site. From there, I dug into the back end of Blogger and realised you could customise how the page looked, and then I really got into colour theory and design elements.

You could decide how it looked, how it should work, processes and add-ons. And that’s where the coding comes in because if you want to customise it and build it to what you need, you need to get your hands in there and start thinking about how it all fits together

It was a lot about branding and marketing as well as how you wanted your website to look amongst everybody else. And what made you different, what made you special.

So that's where the coding first came into play.

After that initial course with Code First Girls at university, how did it re-enter the picture?

Yeah, working on that site to make it my own really inspired me to find another way out of engineering, if that makes sense? I wondered how I could get back there and to a place where I could create thing, collaborate with a variety of people.

They welcomed me with open arms. I was able to find a hiring manager who was happy to take a chance on this engineer who also loves online shopping sites and who now wants to turn her hand to something else.

I'm very grateful to my previous managers for trusting me with that and that really just started my journey into fintech. With a few hops skips and jumps, I’m so happy to be at ClearBank as an Agile Delivery Manager.

And that’s really cool because I was working with Code First Girls, helping them deliver their content, figuring out how they can best deliver value. Now that I'm at ClearBank, I'm on the other side, so I have a greater appreciation of what we, as an organisation, also need from them.

So, seeing both sides it really helps ensure the relationship is a real win-win.

Financial services is a broad market with a lot of interesting firms working across everything from financial inclusion to investments and trading. A lot of people might not immediately think of a regulated bank. So, was there anything specific that drew you to ClearBank?

This is going to sound like such a terrible cliché, but it was about the team and the people. Everyone is focused on this mission to deliver a new type of bank, and at the same time, they’re all such great people. Friendly, brilliant at what they do, and open and willing to share their expertise so that I can learn and grow.

For me, it was so important to get along with the team. You spend so much time together, and when you don’t gel or get along it can be so difficult. What really stood out to me, speaking to people and finding out more about ClearBank was the passion but also how easy-going they were. I knew I could see myself here.

There was also an existing relationship with Code First Girls with multiple people in the engineering and product teams, which was reassuring. I felt like this wasn’t just something being done for the sake of it. These leaders, these teams see the power of a diverse team.

That’s great to hear. One last question that we might already know the answer to...how have you found working at ClearBank?

I’m really happy to be working here. The eight months have gone by so quickly and I’ve really enjoyed immersing myself in the business, getting to know all the people and learning new things along the way.

I knew servicing bank accounts could be complex, but there is so much that goes on behind the scenes that I've got a new appreciation that sometimes these ‘simple’ things, at least when you’re using them as a customer on the surface, aren’t all that simple.

Right now, we’re getting towards the end of building some exciting new products and features. Seeing that out in the market, seeing our clients use them and how it will benefit their customers will be pretty cool.

I've also been helping ClearBank with our relationship with Code First Girls, which has been really fun. We had our first group of Code First Girls associates join recently, so I’m really excited to see how they get on and help them settle in to ensure they have the best possible experience.

A follow up – and honestly this is the last question is there anything you’re particularly proud of or looking forward to with Code First Girls?

In terms of Code First Girls and, more generally, what they’re trying to achieve, I hope I’m an example to others that you can have this really weird path into coding. So, trying to find other ways to get more females who may not even realise they can have a career in this field.

I’m excited to see different cohorts joining and seeing them progress throughout their careers as well. Seeing how they build their own network and then act as mentors to others. That excites me that we can get this new generation of people who code who've come through that sort of program and then create a virtuous cycle.

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