LFP125 – Special Episode! A Deep-Dive into “Tech” – Past, Present & How To Make It Cool w/Charlie Barker CTO Blue Motor Finance

FinTech = Fin + Tech. But what is tech? No really what is it? We all see the word so many times but only a small minority of the population around the world have actual experience of what Tech is. In this episode we dive into software and software development from the earliest days up to the present. I am delighted to be joined by Charlie Barker CTO of Blue Motor Finance, Europe’s fasting growing company to discuss these issues.

It is a very weird aspect of the tech/digital revolution. Very few of us I imagine are plumbers but most of us imagine have a good idea of what plumbers do. Of course not in detail and not what makes a great plumber but we have a real feel for pipes, leaks, stop cocks etc. This visibility is a really interesting way in. With tech we only ever see the results – something we use. But we never see the insides, under the bonnet, inside the tech factory as it were, what are they doing? What tools? What approaches, what challenges?

As a kid I used to love Birmingham’s Science museum. Well back in the day Birmingham was one of the manufacturing centres of the world, adjacent to the so-called Black Country. This left it with a great science museum which was full of huge objects. When small I’d stand next to some giant steam engine and even if you couldn’t see the insides, a bit like the world of a plumber, all of the quotes tech was clear. Wheels, boilers, rack and pinions.

But human development has reached the very abstract stage. Whats the equivalent of the 19thC steam engines? Obviously the computer, the PC, the phone, the chip. But if you take your kids to a museum of modern tech they at most get to stare through a cabinet at a chip in which nothing whatsoever is visible.

Topics discussed include:

  • ultra-marathon running
  • Charlie’s introduction to computers/computing
  • a potted history of computing from WW2 to the 80s from me
  • hardware, software, machine code, assembler, development of high level languages in the late 50s/60s
  • the seminal impact of the BBC micro
  • the earliest ideas of re-using computer code to avoid always starting from scratch
  • the importance of operating systems
  • the earliest local area networks (which weren’t necessary with giant mainframes but became more important as the number of machines lying around increased)
  • Charlie picks up the story with the intersection of communications and computing leading to the internet, web, email – what are they as such?
  • search engines
  • the layers upon layers nature of modern computing/comms
  • what was expected decades ago, what was not expected
  • what makes computers valuable today
  • exponential improvement in hardware
  • the ability to do many human activities using the phone in your pocket
  • in BMF, a firm of 200 ppl, only 6 people are actually coding – although being B2B and given the country-wide physical nature of the business this is a lower than average percentage of developers
  • in other Fintechs the tech dept can be almost entirely the whole company
  • another 10 ppl surrounding the devs helping with requirements definition, product design, infrastructure, maintenance of code
  • “a lot of the work is really deciding how you are going to go about the process of writing software”
  • “most of what we do is about risk and mitigating risk – building the wrong thing, impact of making changes to a system, risk of not delivering in time. Most of the strategising is how to mitigate these risks.”
  • Cobol programmers are still in demand
  • C# is BMF’s primary tool
  • how and why this is different from 60s/70s languages
  • what a “runtime” is
  • Microsoft’s languages range
  • the average dev may use 2 or 3 languages over a year (which are far more similar than human languages)
  • “I don’t think the language choice, unless you choose something obscure, is going to hold you back, it’s more about finding good solid engineers to help you build the code.”
  • practical realities about stuff that should work but doesn’t
  • “I think it’s getting better over time but the challenges are getting bigger”
  • re-using code – libraries
  • “You get a lot out of the box these days”
  • the importance of NuGet for C# – a package manager and source of software libraries
  • Node for Java
  • Pros and cons of huge libraries
  • Stack Overflow as the crucial community for techies to help each other as a “horizontal”/trade – regardless of company they are working for
  • APIs – purpose and usage
  • Cloud – outsourcing your data centre
  • the problem with layers of technologies eg even for web pages – eg this page uses (at least) CSS, PHP, HTML, WordPress – how these can all fight and change over time creating challenges to even doing simple tasks
  • how to deliver good stuff in Fintech
    • tradeoffs
    • all engineering is constrained
    • managing expectations
    • lowering excess desires
    • “getting your house in order” – environment,, deployment, automated testing, maintenance structures
    • incremental changes in small doses
    • avoid huge systems – better to have repetition
    • measure TCO
  • rule of thumb 20% of a dev to maintain 1 devs work
  • problems of bleeding edged tech – Monzo case study
  • producing cool and sexy tech – how to..
  • case study of an electric car charging point button to save the effort being similar to taking out a mortgage!
  • tech as an artform
  • the future and aspirations of BMF
  • Jobs available at BMF

And much much more 🙂

Share and enjoy!