From prisoner to software developer at a London bank

by Andy Mayer
Posted on 22 July 2019
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Josh has spent the last 10 months of his prison sentence doing daily work experience at Yoomee in Sheffield. Today we're delighted he's been released and will start a job at Metro Bank in London next week.

It's not been an easy journey, but Josh has shown hard work pays off, if you stick at something for the longterm. He's shown incredible perseverance, against all the odds, and has been an inspiration to us all. Now Josh can move on with his life. We're delighted to have been part of his journey and proud of all he's achieved. Well done Josh!

In his own words...

Today I'm so unbelievably chuffed to finally be able to announce that on 29 July, one week after being released from prison I'll be starting work at Metro Bank as a Junior Java Developer! It's been a long old journey and it still baffles me to think that I've managed to bag a FinTech job at a high street bank before even getting out of prison. Needless to say, I'm absolutely delighted and cannot wait to join the team at Metro and give back to an employer who has given me an immense opportunity to redeem my working life after more than two years in prison.

How it all began

In June 2017 I put my name forward in HMP Humber to express my interest in joining a new workshop within the prison; Code 4000. A few weeks later there was an introductory event in the prison's chaplaincy, where I met Michael Taylor who had set up this pilot coding workshop to teach prisoners how to code, develop software and ultimately create new career pathways for convicts.

Michael has a lot of experience working with Coder Dojos and was interested in teaching coding to marginalised groups. After hearing of the success of the Last Mile program in San Quentin prison in California, Michael took it upon himself to set up a similar program in the UK, the first of its kind in Europe.

The Code 4000 workshop

On 2 August I entered the pilot workshop. I'd already done some web development work in my teens using PHP, HTML and CSS. The core Code 4000 curriculum at that time consisted of tutorial and information videos and books on HTML, CSS and Javascript, as well as the basics of computer science and networking.

After a few weeks of covering the fundamentals of HTML and CSS I moved on to learning Javascript, which I knew from my previous experience would be much more up my street. I spent the next 6 months building things in Javascript and JQuery and thoroughly enjoyed it. During this time I helped Neil Barnby, the workshop manager develop the course's curriculum. I also led phase one of a project building a new browser-based software system for the prison's library.

Unfortunately at this time, due to the difficulties with replicating an online environment without the internet, we weren't able to use any server side frameworks (although it was always Michael's plan to introduce Ruby on Rails to the curriculum — which has since happened). Fortunately, Neil was able to bring an old server into the workshop and me and a couple of others also started to develop PHP code.

Work experience with Yoomee

I was able to reach out to a Sheffield agency, Yoomee whilst in HMP Humber. Director Andy Mayer came to visit me and agreed he would take me on as a volunteer if my new prison, Hatfield, would agree to give me a license to work outside of the prison. On 2 March I moved to HMP Hatfield, an open prison.

I started at Yoomee on 1 October to work on chatbot projects for charities. The process took a long time due to prison policies, many of which have since been revised for the better. When I started I knew I wanted to learn backend development. After talking to Andy he put me onto Ruby on Rails tutorials. Five weeks later I started on my first client project redeveloping charity Off Axis' website (as detailed in my previous blog post). I've been developing in Rails ever since, working on Yoomee and Code 4000 projects. I'm hoping the front ends are soon finished so I can add them to my portfolio.

Getting the bank job

In December, Tariq Hassan, the recently appointed CEO of Code 4000, came to meet with Andy to discuss the possibility of a formal relationship between Yoomee and Code 4000 (now all Code 4000 students who progress to open prison have the opportunity to work at the Yoomee office). I also met with Tariq and we discussed my intentions for release. Tariq asked if I was open to moving to London as he had some exciting developments within the city.

In January I met with Paul Riseborough, Chief Commercial Officer at Metro Bank. Tariq and Paul had been working for the past few weeks on the possibility that Metro Bank might look to form a partnership with Code 4000 to take on graduates into their IT team. Fortunately for me, the timelines coincided with my release perfectly.

In February I met with some key players within Metro's IT team. We had a great conversation about my plans and aspirations and I think they used the occasion to size me up in terms of technical abilities. After this I had a long wait, during which Metro looked into revising their recruitment policy, as it previously prohibited them from employing offenders.

During this time I kept my focus on potential employment with Metro Bank, hoping that things developed favourably and using the time to start learning Java, the ultimate FinTech programming language.

On 20 May (two days before the two year mark of my sentence) I was finally able to attend my final interview with Carly, Director of Recruitment and Haresh, Head of Digital Architecture. We had a really good conversation that reaffirmed to me that Metro was exactly where I needed to be. And thankfully the next day I received a call from Tariq saying that an email from Carly with a job offer was imminent.

Many thanks

Despite being very productive during my sentence, the three years since my arrest have been hard. The profound sense of relief at securing a job with genuine career prospects ahead of release is both immeasurable and surreal. Never mind the fact that it's coding for a bank, which would be my first choice of job every time!

At this point I want to thank, with extreme sincerity; Michael Taylor for starting the program; Andy and Nicola Mayer for having me at Yoomee; my mentor and go-to genius Ryan Brooks; and Tariq Hassan, Paul Riseborough and Carly Perry for seeing this over the line.

Finally and most importantly; all of my friends and family, in particular my amazing girlfriend Rachel King for keeping me sane and motivated for the past two years. It literally couldn't have happened without any of you and I look forward to making you all proud over the next few years.

Posted on 22 July 2019 - By Andy Mayer
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