TrueTalk with Ben Foster
Ben Foster joined TrueLayer as VP Engineering in January, from Checkout.com, where he led the engineering organisation during a phase of major global growth. He’s no stranger to startups having founded portfolio platform Fabrik, and will be working closely with our Chief Technology Officer here at TrueLayer, to develop and scale the engineering team.
How did you start out in tech?
I was one of these kids you’d find in the computer room at lunchtime hacking together terrible websites. I don’t think that geek status has left me.
I started my career on the IT helpdesk of a large agricultural company, doing everything from fixing hardware to helping the CEO with “system problems” (forgotten passwords)! After a few years working as a server admin, I switched directions and became a Systems Analyst. This is where I fell in love with solving real business problems through software; learning about incredibly manual processes performed by different teams and then going and automating them.
From there I got into web development and joined an open source ecommerce project, where I taught myself to code. It was at this point that I decided engineering was the path for me.
Can you give us a couple of career highlights?
Founding my own startup, Fabrik, a portfolio platform for creative professionals. There I learned the importance of delivering value — that your customers really don’t care about the specifics of how you build your product, as long as it works, it’s reliable and it solves their problems. I also had to quickly learn the realities of marketing. In our first launch, we took the classic approach of ‘build it and they’ll come’ — only we built it and no one came!
I left Fabrik as I wanted to experience engineering at scale, where I would be building high throughput, mission-critical systems using cloud technologies. Payments was a great place to get those sort of challenges.
Another highlight was Checkout.com. I joined as one of the first engineers in the London office and later moved into leadership. There I experienced rapid growth and learned a huge amount. It was a privilege to work with those big clients who, as demanding as they are, are really important to a company’s growth because they give you the sort of challenges you need to be successful.
Strangest job you’ve ever had?
In the early days of trying to get Fabrik off the ground I took a short break from tech and went to work on a lumber yard. A few weeks of super early starts and working outdoors in horrible weather was enough to rekindle my love for engineering. Turns out I’d much rather be hacking together websites than hacking trees!
What brings you to TrueLayer?
I love the scale-up phase of a company, building effective teams organised around complex customer problems, championing excellence and ensuring that everyone has the ability to progress in their careers.
Having worked with card payments for some time, I’ve been watching open banking from the sidelines with much interest. One of the biggest challenges in finance is standardising access to banks and it’s exciting to be at the centre of that.
What’s are you most excited about?
Working at a fintech like Checkout.com I realised how many things you have to build, that don’t directly translate to your core proposition. For example, in order for a company to process payments they will likely need a financial ledger of some kind, even though they’re not in the business of selling ledgers.
At TrueLayer, we take away a lot of that effort: we provide solutions and infrastructure that our customers can build on top of, giving them the power of fintech and enabling them to focus on their value-adds.
I’m most excited about helping our customers to solve even more complex problems and scaling our engineering organisation and culture.
What keeps you motivated?
I’m always going to be the person who will try and steal some time at the weekend to go and hack on something. That excitement of creating will always be there.
But, as I’ve gone through my career, I’ve realised I get just as much excitement and satisfaction in enabling others to grow and build amazing things.
When you’re not working, where might you be?
Most likely doing DIY. We’ve just moved out of London into Hertfordshire. My wife and I even have a Kanban board for managing our DIY projects — working in tech has its positive influences on our personal lives!
If you hadn’t been an engineer…
I might have been a chef. There are some parallels with software development — you’re taking different ingredients and figuring out new ways to put them together to delight your customers.
Any books, podcasts or films you’d recommend?
The Netflix, No rules Rules book was great — lots of insight on how Netflix has developed a culture of openness and transparency. Also The Alliance by Reid Hoffman — about how you can create meaningful relationships with your employees and create missions that are mutually beneficial. I found it interesting because in engineering it’s easy to get into that cycle of ‘build, build, build’, without taking the time to think: am I still growing as an individual?
Also if you want to get your Fintech geek on — check out the Fintech Insider podcast by 11:FS.