Inspirational Woman: Stacy-Ann Sinclair | Co-Founder & CTO, CodeREG

Stacy-Ann Sinclair

Stacy-Ann Sinclair is the Co-Founder and CTO of CodeREG, a regtech startup codifying financial regulation into machine executable rules.

Stacy-Ann is a Computer Scientist who has spent the last 10 years building trading systems and globally scalable data platforms for UBS, Barclays Investment Bank and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. She is interested in building complex systems and intelligently extracting meaning and insights from data.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I was born in Kingston, Jamaica and moved to the UK when I was 16. I studied Computer Science at City University London and spent the next 10 years working in investment banking. I always knew computer science is what I wanted to do from a very early age; so the technical challenges posed by the investment banks were exciting. I found my passion in algorithmic and high frequency trading, soon transitioned into building large scale data pipelines, deriving and enabling data driven strategic decisions and predictions.

I join Entrepreneur First in March 2018, to start my own company.  I was accepted onto the Entrepreneur First(EF) programme, EF is a founders first company builder, investing in exceptional founders with deep technical ideas.   I found my cofounder at EF and together we created CodeREG.

At CodeREG I drive both commercial and technical decisions, This involves customers, product, fundraising and technical solution designs. As a founder you need a wide range of skills and be willing to take on a lot of responsibility to get an idea and business off the ground.  Luckily,  I enjoy a varied role and straddling multiple roles is where I am most happy.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never really sat down and planned it, however I am aware of what makes me happy and I always seek out interesting challenges. The moment the challenge curve wore off or if I am no longer excited by my role, I know it is time for a change.

I love problem solving and technology, and usually that was enough to keep me happy.  It’s very important that I love whatever it is that I am doing.  The moment that is no longer true, I know it time to reassess the situation.  This is the compass I live by.

I need to be solving an interesting problem, it needs to be technically challenging and I need to be happy doing it, if these aren’t aligned then that’s my trigger.  Money was never really a motivator for me, it was more of a nice to have 🙂

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Interestingly a lot of the challenges I faced were only realised retrospectively.  Working in a male dominated industry has its own challenges.  I fought with fair pay for women compared to our male counterparts and bonus transparency – these were both outrageously disproportionate in the investment banking industry, I believe this is changing now, but you had to fight harder to be heard and taken seriously.

Unfortunately the default was that you had to prove why you were good, instead of it being a given, whilst my male colleagues wouldn’t go through the same thing. Their default starting position was the opposite.  I could back up the things I say and could demonstrate why I was good at my job, so I never really noticed what was happening at the time.  I also quite enjoy proving people wrong, so I didn’t notice the negativity behind it all, it shouldn’t be that way.  It discourages women from really growing in that industry.  The barrier to entry shouldn’t be harder just because of your sex.

Most male engineers I come across are actually very cool, helpful and thoughtful in a progressive way – the biases most of them showed were unconscious and wasn’t intended to deliberately cause harm.  Majority of the negativity would stem from non-technical people interacting with the tech community funnily enough and wasn’t just limited to men.

Not having enough female leaders in tech was always a struggle, and it probably affects how you learnt and improve. I had great male colleagues and friends who have helped me along the way, but there are some unconscious biases for sure, I don’t think it was something they did knowingly, it just exists from being a history long male dominated industry. Encouraging more women into tech will undoubtedly change the subtleties.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s Mentee?

I like the idea of mentoring, I’ve had mentors help me along my career and in return I ensured I passed it on, as I’ve seen firsthand its benefits.  I am also a mentor myself, it’s important to give back.

I’ve had some great mentors in the past, both men and women – at different points of my career I had different requirements, so I’ve had mentors who were successful women working in technology at senior levels, I’ve had mentors whose managerial style I really like and I wanted to embody more of their values.  I had mentors from particular industries or areas I was keen to find out about.  I had mentors who were technically brilliant.  I had mentors as an intern, learning from the experience of other recent interns.  The requirement for a mentor may change many times throughout your life/career, this is very normal.

I believe a mentor mentee relationship should be two sided and beneficial for all involved.  Learning from someone else’s experience is super valuable when there is direct and deliberate insight. Being open to new ideas, interesting perspectives, and discussing issues/problems from different angles can add another dimension you were not privy to before.  Always try to give as much as you receive, a mentor/mentee relation that’s one sided may not return the results you might expect.

What you bring to the table could be a variety of things, experience, your views, your approach, your background, your ambition(s), your skills.  Mentors and mentees at different stages of their careers can be massively valuable to each other.

These relationships also need to be fun for both, a mentor/mentee should be someone you get along with well, someone you can talk to in a very relaxed, stress free manner.  Its shouldn’t be rigid, with a well structured official mentor/mentee assignment.  Some of the best mentor/mentee relationships are the ones that are achieved organically.

What do you want to see happen within the next five years when it comes to diversity?

I want to see diversity and diverse skills celebrated and not seen as a tick boxing exercise, I want to see more girls being encouraged to write code at an early age, there is no real reason why there is this divide, it was just something that was always seen as something boys did.

If we teach them how to code and create from an early age with no bias, they may actually just love it.  My little sister at the age of 9 was designing and making games, just from a non biased exposure, it was just something she enjoyed doing.  This stigma of what is a ‘girl’ activity and what is a ‘boy’ activity which is so present in our society usually have lasting effects on the skills we tend to develop.

How would you encourage more women and young girls into a career in STEM?

I am a firm believer in getting them started early.  The pool is very small to begin with and we need to increase that pool of talent from the very early stages – as an example I was the only female to graduate computer science at my university, one from a graduating year isn’t a lot at all; but it just goes to show that the amount of women studying computer science is very small. So seeing technical women in the industry is even harder, at executive level it gets worse, because the pool is so tiny to start with.  The root of the problem needs to be addressed.

I am very involved in initiatives that encourages women into tech, especially younger girls.  Whilst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch I co-founded the Women Developer Group,  the aim was to encourage women interested in learning how to write code, learning from experienced female developers, and delivering solutions together – instead of the traditional male dominated environment.  This is not a setup that you would find easily within tech and we felt it brought a lot of advantages, that weren’t initially obvious.

I love and support the Code First Girls initiative, run by the amazing CEO Amali de Alwis – they aim to increase the number of women in tech, especially women who fancy a career in technology, but don’t yet have the required skills. I have been a keynote speaker at their last two annual conferences and just being able to talk to so many young female entrepreneurs and tech enthusiast is extremely rewarding, I have mentored quite a few of them looking to make a start or grow in the industry.  I try to play an active role in this community whenever possible, it’s really dear to my heart.

I have studied computer science and have always pursued a career in technology, however if you don’t fit that profile, don’t let that stop you entering the industry – writing code is a skill and it can be learnt.  Initiatives like Code First Girl tackle this problem, they teach women with no prior technical skills on how to get started.  ‘Technology’ is a big field and getting started somewhere is a great start.  No matter how long you’ve been doing it, there is always more to learn and more to do, so the best thing you can do is get started and keep going.

Stemettes is another great initiative I’ve had the pleasure of working with and they do target the age group I have the most passion for – they encourage girls from the age of five to pursue a career in STEM – this is a fabulous thing.  Tackling the problem at the root will yield amazing results.

Being a programmer is a creative job, it’s analytical, but it is very creative.  Building something from nothing is a very rewarding experience and I would love to share that feeling with more people.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement to date is probably CodeREG, being able to create a company that is now venture backed is just amazing. Being able to solve hard technical problems that underpin our intelligent regulation solution is highly rewarding.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My next challenge is to take CodeREG to global significance, changing the way finance operates and changing the face of compliance, making codeREG the defacto for systematic compliance.

Growing a team and driving a culture within the company that is fresh and spearheaded by how I beleive the workplace should be is something I want to make a reality.

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