First Two Weeks at a FinTech Startup

John Keto
John Keto
Nov 7, 2018 · 7 min read

Hi, I’m John, but everybody calls me Keto.

So, I recently started a new position at a fintech startup in Sydney CBD and surprise surprise, it’s Spaceship.

To give you the back story: I am a junior/mid-level software engineer and I graduated about two years ago. Spaceship is my second full time position as a Software Engineer.

Previously I worked at an online marketplace also based in Sydney both in the frontend and the backend. This gave me experience with an array of languages and technologies (see what I did there?). For the curious ones, these were primarily Angular, Python (FLASK), and PHP.

Yes, I was actually doing work

Now that formalities are out of the way, let’s get into it.

This blog post is aimed to provide perspective on my first impressions at a fintech startup. To achieve this, I sourced questions from my new colleagues and friends. I’ve never worked in fintech or a startup, let alone a fintech startup so I’m definitely coming into it with a fresh set of eyes. Esketit!

Question 1: What surprised you most about the types of people in the office?

Everyone has a super power, some multiple. As you might imagine, being in a startup involves being able to move fast, Spaceship is no different. Because of such demands, at some point everyone finds themselves responsible for important parts of the business. Be it in compliance, engineering, or customer support, they sometimes single-handedly have to deliver the best work.

Over time such individuals develop immense ability and they make it look easy. From the outside it appears seamless. Spaceship is full of these people and this is one of the things I noticed first. Each of my colleagues are hardworking, smart, and dedicated. A combination not to be reckoned with. I call it, a super power.

Question 2: What are some standout problems you are solving now that you would not have at other companies?

Super meets cloud. Supercloud? Alright, that’s too corny. Superannuation has been around for a while now. Australia is one of the nations with a solid, if not the most solid, retirement plan. The system works so well because it has safeguards at every corner which prevent it from falling apart.

The biggest and most interesting challenges we face come from breaking down this system into bits and pieces. Each piece does its own little part very well. Think microservices; each performing one action, but as a whole maintaining a state that is consistent across the board. It reminds me a bit of SRE, instead around here it would be called Superannuation Reliability Engineering ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Question 3: Which coffee is the best?

Ahh, the coffee ritual. I’ve only visited two cafes around here deemed the best by the team. I presume they wouldn’t go somewhere mediocre. These are Single O and Gumption.

Single O CBD

Though we visit Single O more often, Gumption’s my winner.


Their spot is less cool but the coffee does me good. And no, they aren’t paying me for any of these shoutouts, unfortunately ☹️. I see it this way, if it’s good, it’ll speak for itself.

Question 4: Did you have much experience in the financial space before starting?

Absolutely not. My previous experience with the finance world was when I took Macroeconomics in my college days (I know, they’re actually different). I kid you not, I got the compliance team to mail me a copy of what is essentially Superannuation 101 and I’m slowly making my way through it. I am naturally curious so I enjoy learning about all this stuff, albeit it’s challenging to find time in the day to do so

Question 5: Being an engineer, do you still learn much of how the business operates, or is that abstracted away?

Funny this question has come up. I personally take the extra step to know what the business does. This was true at my previous company because I believe it can only help make my job easier. At Spaceship this state is heightened because of the nature of what we do.

Question 6: What were you doing before Spaceship?

I was a software engineer at - a large and established online marketplace headquartered here in Sydney. The company has offices around the globe which meant working with remote teams and the whole shebang. I started off primarily working with Python (FLASK) and UnderscoreJS + BackboneJS on an experimental product of sorts. Then moved into a product team touching both the frontend (Angular) and the backend (mostly PHP). After a short tenure there and experimentation with Product Management, I then moved to the API team where I primarily worked with Python (FLASK). I also got an opportunity to write the occasional Puppet and Terraform since the team was responsible for its own infrastructure.

“Question 7”: Picture of your table

Gotta protect those corporate secrets — System hibernate!

And for those wondering, eeerrrmmm yeah, I did tidy it up a bit before taking this shot :)

Question 8: Why did you choose your tech stack?

Our stack is pretty straightforward and by that I mean it’s not a Frankenstein. Oh the beauty of working at a startup. In the frontend, for our web app and mobile app we have React and React Native respectively. The apps then speak to our backend through a RESTful API written in Go. We have the powerful Postgres for our databases and TeamCity to handle our deployment process (tell no one of this, watch out for the upcoming blog post on how we are migrating from this). Oh and lest I forget, we use Github enterprise and the whole pull request process to handle our version control. Keep an eye out for one of our next posts on how we handled our Infrastructure Migration laying the foundation for our perfect stack. The main engineers in Spaceship’s early days chose this stack because it was easy to transition. They had worked with both Go and React and figured keeping it familiar was the best way forward. Truth be told, it seems like a solid decision from where I’m sitting.

Question 9: What do you like about your tech stack?

Go takes it home for me. Having barely had two years work experience, getting the opportunity to work with Go at the production level gives me the chills. Occasionally I’d catch myself thinking I’m back in the good ole Computer Architecture class thinking i’m writing C++ with the pointers and whatnot. However, an occasional goroutine here and there and the unique Go syntax bring me back to reality whispering, “Hey, you’re in a better place now”.

Question 10: What don't you like about your tech stack?

ES6. Well, I’ll come clean, not that I don’t like ES6, it’s just that I believe we can do better. In my spare time (don’t ask where I got it), I had a chance to look at Angular 6 and the typescript beauties there and that’s where I believe we should be. Sure enough, our frontend team has already started to integrate Typescript thanks to MobX. So soon enough I’ll have to look for something else to complain about.

Question 11: What advice do you have for people looking to get into the fintech world?

Here’s the thing, Software Engineering is full of potential, you can work on anything and everything throughout your career and that serves as an attraction for many into the field. If you’ve been curious about fintech, the best way to get started is to jump right in. Go to those meetups, apply for that job, invite that potential mentor for a coffee.

In our profession, the ability to learn new things fast and effectively is so coupled to what we do and the fintech world is no different. Jumping right in gives you all the immersion you need to propel you there. It’s just another problem to be learned, understood, broken down, and solved, albeit strategically. So really, remember your Big O notation and dynamic programming then you’re golden. Wink wink!

Cheers for taking the time to have a read, and checkout our one minute read on why we are doing this whole Spaceship blogging thing in the first place.

Feel free to comment and share your own experiences. I’m happy to talk about this post or something completely different that you think I should’ve touched on.

Thank you!

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