How Ali Salaman became CYB’s tech whiz and helped transform digital in government
So Ali, what’s your story?
As a proud Welshman I guess I must start there. I’m originally from a seaside town called Porthcawl in South Wales. Professionally I started off as a software developer at a fund administrator in London and remained there for many years working on a cash wire processing system. Originally when the firm was in its startup years, payments were processed manually on banking portals and tracked in spreadsheets. I was able to build a system to manage the payment lifecycle with full connectivity to the SWIFT payment network and a portal similar to online banking for clients to authorise their payments. By the time I left the system was processing $1.4 trillion a year in cash wires.
What drew you out from the fund administration sector?
Although I was involved in many varied projects during my time there, being in the payments sector for so long, I wanted to experience different industries/sectors. Knowing there's a lot of government work at CYB appealed to me, although I’d never considered this particular sector before. It seemed like a good opportunity to get involved in different technologies, languages and a totally different domain. After some initial discussions with our founders Ben and Max, I was sold and felt the way that CYB works and the culture they’ve managed to foster was a lot different to the way I’d worked previously. That appealed to me a lot.
I really liked the approach CYB had in regards to its employees, as well as how it chose its projects. The type of work CYB seeks out is ultimately benefiting society and the wider population. It’s not just words either - you really do see it in practice. So the impact we have is really wide.
It's been a great experience ever since I joined. Everyone at CYB is highly skilled in their area of expertise and it's a real joy working with lovely people who are at the top of their game. We’re able to learn from each other and work together to find thoughtful solutions for our clients that will make people’s lives easier.
How would you define what you do at CYB?
I would say it covers a lot of things. It’s very hands-on - I make sure that we’re delivering the right thing, that it’s solving the right problem/need and that we’re delivering it to the highest possible standard.
But beyond project-focused work, I’m also involved in nurturing our engineering staff. I make sure they have everything they need to succeed and grow and that CYB can support our clients in the best way possible from an engineering perspective. We have weekly engineering roundtables where engineers are encouraged to share new solutions they’ve built or knowledge they’ve gained and discuss problems they’ve encountered. It’s a really useful forum to talk about tech. To encourage active learning, we have an engineering afternoon about every 8 weeks or so where we pick a topic or technology that we want to explore and hack away together. They’re real fun and give us an opportunity to flex our explorative minds into things we wouldn’t necessarily get to do otherwise or that we could benefit from on future projects.
What is it like doing digital transformation in government with old code?
You really have to learn on the job to understand the systems and technology they use and get to know the people you need to collaborate with, be they client stakeholders or outsourced suppliers of the client. Putting all that together can be challenging, but it’s also fun. We get to build and improve systems that the public are using on a day-to-day basis, like automating the process to capture, manage and search provider lists for people abroad who need a lawyer or translator; or helping those who've had their passport stolen and need to apply for an emergency travel document to get home. We’re also improving the lives of the civil servants that are using the systems to process such applications. We’re making efficiency improvements to make their lives easier so that they’ve got capacity during peak times and can focus on their most important tasks. But every day you come to work knowing: “I'm going to be improving someone’s life with the things that I'm doing right now”. It makes it all worth it when you know everything you’re doing matters.
What do you enjoy about working at CYB?
I would say it’s the people and the opportunities you get here. Beyond their skills, everyone at CYB is really friendly and will always give you the time of day. So that is a really big driver for me - knowing that I get to work with talented and lovely people.
But you’re also trusted to get on with the job. You’re not micromanaged and you don’t have someone looking over your shoulder every two minutes. You have the space to do a good job in the way you feel is right, and there’s always someone available if you need to bounce ideas off to get a different perspective. Having that amount of freedom to work and grow in the way you see fit is a big bonus for me.
What excites you about a future at CYB?
I'd say the future for CYB is looking really positive. There's a lot of things in motion and areas where we can grow. The Give A Little charity donation platform is really taking off and we’ve just reached a real milestone - Give A Little has now taken over £10 million in donations. With more markets to explore, this is a real opportunity for growth.
On the technology side, we’re in a privileged position where we’ve been able to build new services from scratch using a modern tech stack utilising Kubernetes, Docker and AWS, with a nice CI/CD pipeline to provide automated testing, health checks and deployments. It’s a joy to work on - it’s not often you get to use well structured software. It’s a real bonus for anyone joining us on the tech side. But we’re not as visible as we’d like to be in the wider world, so I see an opportunity for promoting CYB, the work we do and the way we work so that we can continue to attract amazing people into our engineering team.
Also, there are great initiatives being set up by Ben, our founder. He’s currently working on a sustainability strategy that will be owned by CYB employees - the goal is to reduce our emissions to NET ZERO carbon by 2024. There's a lot of work that needs to be done, but our sustainability committee will be responsible for pushing that initiative through and publishing a yearly strategy (this could include coming up with new initiatives and things that we could do to improve/reduce CYB’s carbon emissions).
So it's not just the work with our clients that’s exciting - the company's focus on having a positive impact on social good and taking climate change very seriously is alive and kicking. Ultimately, that’s what gets us all out of bed in the morning. So from that perspective it's very exciting and I'm very much looking forward to riding the wave.
Looking to make a difference? CYB is actively looking for passionate individuals seeking to use digital for good to join our team. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.