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Engineering & Product

Ollie Shaw, Co-founder and Head of Engineering at Jasper

How dreams of being the next David Beckham evolved into hacking a favourite childhood computer game and eventually co-founding and running the engineering team at Jasper. Ollie shares some great insight into how showing active interest in side-projects can be a great bell weather for someones passion for their craft. Enjoy.

How would you explain to your Grandma what you do?

I write software that enables anybody with access to the internet to invest in commercial real estate. I look at expensive processes within traditional fund management businesses and design ways to automate those processes with software to reduce cost.

“Hell no, my idol was David Beckham and I wanted to be a professional footballer”

Was becoming a software engineer something you dreamed about doing as a kid? If not, what was it?

Hell no, my idol was David Beckham and I wanted to be a professional footballer. Although when my family bought a computer with Windows XP that had enough RAM to mess around with, I was pretty quickly fascinated with how it worked.

The fact that anybody could write code or configuration for the computer was a kind of entrepreneurial epiphany for me and led to “scripting” which is writing code that extends an existing application, like game plugins or bots for example. From there, I knew that I wanted some kind of career in software.

Tell us more about your career journey to becoming a developer.

When I was eleven, my friends wanted to clone a game called RuneScape. I was given the programmer role. In hindsight when you're trying to clone a massive online game with ten people you should probably have more than one programmer.

I picked up a book called "Beginning Programming with Java For Dummies" from Auckland City Library and got hacking. I got about 10% of the way to putting a character on the screen with that one, but over the years I started launching and shutting down lots of 2D multiplayer online role-playing games using open-source Visual Basic 6 engines, which people at school made fun of a little bit, but they were also really supportive and played my games.

I ended up moving into web development when I got inspired by Mark Zuckerberg building Facebook when I was about fifteen. I started doing freelance web development work building websites with user management functionality in php. My first gig I got paid the deposit, but got scammed for the balance of the work. Contract web development was my first real job.

Can you share some insight into the transition from agency into a tech company?

Building a business from the ground up is similar in some ways to the project-based nature of working in a digital agency, but obviously requires different approaches especially when planning team composition and product architecture. In an agency for example, we would design a prototype and work towards building the MVP without many changes to scope. At Jasper we are constantly revisiting our requirements and affecting sprint scope each week.

Where are you on the journey with building Jasper?

We're in the early stages of launching our fund management business. We’re in the process of getting our retail licence (MIS) from the FMA, which means we'll be able to offer really low minimums to investors, which also poses technological challenges, because it needs to be cost effective to service these investors. So my challenges right now are delivering efficiencies across onboarding, acquisitions, investor relations, offer subscription, and compliance. 

Your team is obviously growing. What kind of people attributes are you looking for when assessing new talent?

I'm continuously screening candidates for engineering roles at Jasper, and something that almost always carries a candidate to the next stage is having the drive to do something on the side that's coding related, like a side project or a blog.

I believe pretty strongly that active side projects are a good indicator of genuine passion for a craft. Most of our work at Jasper is challenging and requires novel thinking, and I reckon it will be hard for people that don’t go to bed thinking about challenging problems

What is it specifically that you like about working in tech relative to your past job?

I love coming to work every day to iterate and improve on Jasper’s core product. Something that I found personally difficult about working within an agency was pouring your heart and soul into a project, only to stop working on it when the project was wrapped up or the client moved on. 

What really helped was having a small shareholding in the business, as well as working with exceptional and influential creatives. I would strongly urge any agency owners to develop an Employee Share Ownership Plan (“ESOP scheme”) to give your team some skin in the game and keep them around much longer.

“There is no “typical developer”. I have seen people with strengths and weaknesses in many different areas succeed in software development.”

Do you have any advice for young people considering software development as a career path and how they might get there quicker? 

There's this widely held belief that software development is only for people that excel in mathematics-related subjects. This is probably true in some areas, but in general it's wrong. There is no “typical developer”. I have seen people with strengths and weaknesses in many different areas succeed in software development. 

To start a career in software development you don’t need to go to University or join a dev academy. It depends on your preferred learning style — you can get started by reading a book, watching YouTube videos, using a tutorial website, or reading “Getting started” documentation at golang.org.

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