16 January 2018

“Out of this world” opportunities in digital development

Life at Absa |

Hearing the name “aliens” in the context of banking is both unusual and unexpected. But while the word might conjure up clichéd images of little green men from outer space, the truth is far more interesting. Aliens is the informal team name for one of Absa’s development wings, a unique “off-the-grid” digital development office in Cape Town.

We spoke to Operations Manager, Gadija Abrahams, to find out more about this team and how they are doing things differently. And if the story behind their name is anything to go by, they are a very unusual “breed” indeed:

When it came to choosing a name, we picked a DVD off a shelf in our new building, which was previously occupied by a major broadcaster. We agreed that whichever movie title it was, would become our team name. Lo and behold, Cowboys and Aliens it was – a Steven Spielberg SciFi Western. “Cowboys” seemed rogue-ish, but “Aliens”? Awesome! 

Who are these “Aliens”?

“We are a digital team specialising in mobile development, focused on using leading technology to build the same for the bank,” says Abrahams. The division has been running for a little over two years with a mandate to keep Absa at the forefront of digital technology trends while answering the needs of the customers to make banking as simple as possible.

The “Aliens” include software developers, UX/UI designers, quality engineers, graduates, interns and scrum masters who manage the process. They form cross-functional teams that take the products from the research phase through to delivery. However, everyone needs to have one special skill in abundance – curiosity. But as Abrahams says, “It’s not just skills we look for.  We want people in our team who are innovative and passionate about code. People who can shift the whole digital space with their innovations.”

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The Mega U App

One of the more recent developments to emerge from this team is the bank’s Mega U mobile app. Linked to the Mega U account for under-19s, the app offers parents an engaging way to teach their children the value of money and the power of saving, with ways for them to earn money for chores. There are also extras such as free data, movie tickets and fast food vouchers for added encouragement.

Mentorship

Abrahams stresses the importance of mentorship within the Aliens team and its structured opportunities for improving team members’ skillsets. As the person who manages the day-to-day running of the office and operations, Abrahams’ mentor was tasked with teaching her to code in six months so she could go on to build a website.

Each person joining the team is allocated a mentor to help them learn a new skill, as well as help them navigate their new career. This applies to everyone who works there – including the barista (who, between making hot cups of inspiration for the team, has learnt to code and is now an intern), as well as a member of the office cleaning staff, who is learning to do UX testing. 

What does the average day look like?

Apparently, there are no average days – Abrahams calls them “snowflakes, no two days are ever the same”. Other than lunch, which is provided, there are no constants and every day is a new exploration of how technology can change people’s lives. It’s a highly collaborative space where everyone’s voice is heard.

How do you join the team?

True to its name, Aliens can be an “out of this world” gateway to an exciting career in software development and design for the next generation of talented young innovators, even for those who don’t have the means or opportunity to follow the traditional route of tertiary studies.

According to Abrahams, there are four main ways to apply to join

the team:

  • By accessing Absa’s career portal.
  • By being referred by someone already in the team.
  • By inviting the Aliens team to a showcase of your institution’s talent.
  • Prospective interns can also join the Oracle Academy, a free six-month course that enables them to become part of a national intern database, which is accessed by the corporate sector (including digital development teams like Aliens).

Disclaimer: The advice contained on this blog is for general purposes only and does not take into account individual circumstances, objectives or financial needs. Accordingly, readers are advised to seek appropriate advice from licensed professionals prior to making any investment, or taking up a financial product or service.

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