Paul: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. This is the show where we get exciting CEOs and founders on the show and we learn from them. We have all types of founders that we can learn from, and we have a great founder today. It's the founder of the London App Brewery, Angela Yu. She's actually going to talk to us about going from - get this - a doctor to a programmer. So instead of saving lives, you're helping enrich lives through programming, and there's a lot of other stuff we can learn about as well. So Angela, welcome to The App Guy Podcast.
Angela: Hi, hi!
Paul: Let's go straight into it. So you went from obviously a lot of time training to be a doctor and all the qualifications, and then you jumped ship and became a programmer. Tell us about the back-story of that.
Angela: Yes, it's pretty crazy. So I trained as a doctor at UCL in London for six years, and then went on to work in the National Health Service for another two years. When I was young I was quite into programming, and while I was in medical school I started picking up iOS development, because I really wanted to make medical apps that could make our lives slightly easier. Then as I got more and more into it, I sort of felt "Hey, wait a minute. I enjoy this a lot more than my day job, so what am I doing here?" [laughter] And also, the NHS, for those of you who don't know, is complete wasteland for tech, basically. I mean, we're still faxing in this day and age. And not just faxing, but you fax somebody, and then you call them to make sure that they got the fax, and then you e-mail them a hard copy. And I'm thinking most of the jobs that I'm doing could probably be replaced with a few lines of code, and that was really frustrating. So yes, it's a big jump, but a very good one.
Paul: I often get asked how to know when to make that jump. There's many people who listen to this who have different occupations, different types of jobs, and they ask me, "Paul, when do you know...? Because it is a big risk." So how did you prepare? I think we can learn from you on that.
Angela: A friend of mine who's a founder as well once quoted somebody, I don't know if it was Elon Musk or somebody else - starting a company is like staring into the abyss and eating glass, and it's very true. Making that jump was really, really scary. But once you do make that jump you realize, "Oh, I'm not actually freefalling." So for me I think getting traction in our company, starting to see an uptick, that was the point where I said, "Okay, I think this is a good enough result for me to decide to change career." I have a lot of friends who maybe did it too early or maybe too late, and maybe regretted that, but yes... Seeing traction.
Paul: This is great advice. So specifically what is it - a certain amount of earnings from your company whilst you're working on it part time? Or is it some other traction, such as trajectory?
Angela: So I started the London App Brewery with a co-founder who came from finance to Android app development, and basically we started out by teaching friends who wanted to learn how to code. We then saw that more and more friends wanted to learn from us, and we were having this little weekend boot camps, and then we thought, "Hey, let's launch this out into a website, see if anybody will actually sign up for it." And that uptick that I was mentioning was people paying for the course, people talking about our course after having been on it to their friends, without us ever asking them to. We were seeing Facebook, Twitter shares, and people raving about it without any push from us, and I think that was the real sign that there was some sort of a product market fit, and it was a good point to jump into it.
Paul: Yes, let's talk about the London App Brewery then. You are teaching coding...
Angela: Yes, we are. My co-founder and I, we're both self-taught programmers. We don't really have background in tech other than maybe messing about with stuff on the weekends. So we thought about trying to create a course for people who are from a non-technical background. Because very often you get very technical, very good programmers explaining things to people in a way that not everybody can understand. There's a lot of tutorials which say, "You follow step 1-2-3, which is super simple. Then step 3, you just simply set up your cloud database", and then people are like, "What?" [laughter] It was a bit of a jump there, right?
So we tried to make something that has really clear explanation, uses a lot of animations, and sort of explains things in ways that normal people can understand. That's basically in a nutshell what we're trying to do at the London App Brewery.
Paul: Right. Now, I know that you've been working on something that you're extremely excited about. You mentioned about the NHS and how prehistoric it is with tech, and we always on this show look at these opportunities. So you're doing something that helps save 800 million pounds a year, or something? Tell us about that.
Angela: Yes, so that was one of my larger apps that I've built, before starting the London App Brewery. It's [unintelligible 00:06:21.04] The problem at the moment is that we have a shortage of medical nursing staff in the NHS, and the NHS as a whole spends about 1.7 billion pounds on temporary medical staffing - so part time work - per year. The crazy thing is about 20 to 30% of that goes towards private agencies as commission. What they do is incredibly low-tech. They are headhunters, so they call you up on Monday and say, "Hey, Dr. Angela, can you do a shift?" and I say, "No." They call you back on Tuesday, "Can you do a shift on another day?" I say, "No", and it goes again and again. Some days I have a call log of eight or nine calls from them. So I basically created an app with a designer and a backend developer which automates the entire process. It has notifications for jobs as they come up. You CV is sent straight to medical staffing in the hospitals, and you also have a track record of your performance on the job. So that's being pushed through the NHS... But obviously, the NHS being the NHS, it will take a while to spread from hospital to hospital.
Paul: Yes, I know. In fact, you've just inspired someone, I'm sure, who's working in their own industry. What I've learned from you is to simply keep your eyes open for problems that could be solved through tech.
Angela: Yes. I think this kind of "scratch your own itch" kind of app or product is the best, because you have real frustrations, and I was really upset about getting ten million calls from this medical staffing agency, and I'm sure everybody else has these kind of frustrations which they can address.
Paul: So why do you think that others... You are a doctor, you've learned and taught yourself to code - why is that important?
Angela: So in the future, I think not being able to communicate with technology or computers will become a hindrance. I think as we're moving towards this kind of tech-first society, not being able to talk to a computer is going to be a hindrance, if not a disability. So I think being able to have a degree of understanding of code is really essential. Even if you're not going to become a founder, even if you're not going to make a tech product, it's still important to understand how code words. But that's my opinion.
Paul: So what we're learning from you is that it is important to have that skill set even if you may not be the one who's developing the product. I would love to know... You were a doctor, it's incredibly long hours... How on earth did you find time to start your side projects, which ultimately lead you to this path?
Angela: [laughs] So the good thing about being a doctor is that you have a block of night shifts; sometimes it could be 14 days of night shifts in a row, where you work 12 hours per day. But after that block you get maybe 4 or 5 days to recuperate and get back into normal life, and during that time, being relatively young, it would only take me maybe 24 hours to bounce back into a good time cycle, so I would spend the four days coding, essentially. And also, being on night shifts, being in this sort of night mode, it's good for the coding as well, because it's quiet and dark. [laughter]
I had a lot of tricks that I would use... For example there's this app that I think some scientists made from Penn State University, which is called the Caffeine [unintelligible 00:10:28.25] where you can actually measure the half-life of coffee, and you figure out how much caffeine you've consumed, and it plots a decay curve of how much is coming out of your bloodstream. And once it hits a critical level, it prompts you, it gives you a notification to drink a bit more coffee, so that you always stay within the production zone.
Paul: I love that. We had an episode last year with the founder of Hidrate, and my wife and I, we just got our bottles now, after this year of waiting; that's for water. You've just discovered something similar for coffee.
Angela: Yes, exactly. And the other thing is, you know, after work... I think a lot of side projects happen after work. And while it's very tempting to just sit on the couch with ice-cream and watch Game Of Thrones, you're not gonna get much done, right? So I had this kind of mental trick that I would say to myself... As soon as I switch environment, so enter the door, that's my moment which I can capture to do good, or sit on the couch. So I kind of said to myself, "I'm only gonna code for 20 minutes. I'm just gonna code for 20 minutes, and then I'm gonna watch Game of Thrones, or whatever." But then once you get into it, that kind of momentum carries through, and it's actually quite hard to stop yourself from finishing a particular feature, or finishing something in the code. So using that momentum really helped me, and some days I coded up until like 2 AM. It's a good trick.
Paul: One of the successes I've had in the past is helping launch an app with my good friend Andreas, who's been on this show, and we launched Fit Men Cook. One of the apps to beat us - we got number two, and the number one app of that day happened to be Monument Valley. I can see that you've had some experience with the makers of Monument Valley. Tell us about that.
Angela: Yes, yes. So after launching App Brewery we sort of realized that becoming a good app developer is far more than being a good programmer. In this day and age you have to get good at app marketing, you have to get good at app design. We're not designers, we're not really growth hackers, so we try to bring in people who know about these kinds of topics. Through a VC friend of mine actually, I got in contact with [unintelligible 00:13:11.10], who's a UI/UX designer at Ustwo, the studio who made Monument Valley. We managed to get her to come and give our audience, our community a talk on how to design for mobile, which is her specialty. If any of your app makers are based in London, we've actually got a free talk coming up in two weeks at Twitter, where the Twitter team are going to teach our students about app analytics. So it's all about getting the experts to actually teach, rather than one person to teach it all.
Paul: Okay. Sadly, I think this is going to go live after that event, but certainly I'm sure you've got these types of things happening all the time. How can people track the events that you've got going on?
Angela: The best way is to go to Meetup.com/londonappbrewery, and that's where we list all of our free events and live events.
Paul: That's one of the most popular places to go, I've been told on this show, Meetup. So I'll make sure that there's links to the show notes. It's episode 474 of The App Guy Podcast. Let's talk also about Kickstarter, because also in the debrief that we had you mentioned Kickstarter.
Angela: So what we found is that while we can teach - I think we've taught over 4,000 students now in our central London classroom... But our time is limited and we're only based in London. We've had some great students, we've had employees from Google, LinkedIn, Goldman Sachs... Loads of people come onto our course and really love it, but we're not able to offer this course beyond London, so the idea was why don't we try and convert our coding teaching principles to an online course, and make the best online programming course possible. That's why we're setting up this Kickstarter, to launch this online app development course.
Paul: Right, and I'm guessing that you've got details on your website to find out about that Kickstarter.
Angela: Yes, absolutely. It will be on LondonAppBrewery.com.
Paul: LondonAppBrewery.com, okay. And finally, I can see that you've mentioned an eBook as well, 12 simple rules... Tell us about the eBook.
Angela: Yes, so I just thought that for the App Guy Podcast listeners it'd be a great thing if there's... I think there's a lot of programmers who listen to your talk, but if there's anybody who wants to get into coding and wants to learn how to code, we wrote a 40-page eBook for your readers, which you can download for free. Basically it just goes onto the 12 rules for how you should approach learning to code. A lot of people have ideas about learning how to code, such as you've gotta find the perfect coding language for a beginner - which doesn't exist, by the way - or that coding is really hard, or the other way, some people get told rather that coding is easy and then you feel like you're dumb because you don't understand it... We sort of tried to address a lot of the fallacies about learning how to code, and some of the rules and tips for how you can go about it.
Paul: That's great. I'll make sure that we have links to that, Angela. That will be on theappguy.co, episode 474, or if you just search for your name, Angela. I was just wondering, this final thing... You've had incredible success - 4,000 students; I wondered if you look to all those - I don't know whether you keep in touch with many of those students, but have any got on to do anything special that you could think of from your course?
Angela: Yes, so we had a student who created the Double app, we had a student who created a very simple app that wakes him up one minute earlier every morning, so that he could form good habits, so that he would eventually wake up at 6 AM, or whatever his target was. [laughter] Yeah, so we had a lot of very interesting and quirky product ideas. We had another guy who created an app - I can't remember the name of it... I think it's called Never Eat/Dine Alone, and it's like Tinder but for people who don't want to eat in a restaurant alone, so you match up with somebody close by that you can go and have dinner with.
Paul: I love the time we're living it, don't you? Such creativity everywhere, it's so cool. Alright Angela, I know that you listen to this show and I really appreciate you coming on as well and sharing your wisdom. Hopefully we've inspired some doctors... Actually we don't want to inspire too many doctors, because we need them.
Angela: So few doctors left, yeah... [laughter]
Paul: Yeah, but it's just inspirational to know that someone who's pursued one career, it's not too late to change course. I did exactly the same thing, I left a career in finance and I thought it was stupid at the time, but there is this wonderful world of tech, and I love what I do. It's inspiring to know that you don't have to continue on the path that you kind of decided on as someone going to uni, and that you can change.
Angela: Yes, absolutely. Also, it's also about [unintelligible 00:19:29.05] A doctor is a very valuable asset, being able to do medicine, but also being able to program is a valuable asset in itself. But having the combination of different skills - yours is finance, plus coding or tech, that's more rare. I think this is what should encourage people working in different fields; just because you're jumping into a new opportunity, it doesn't mean that you're starting from scratch. You're bringing in your other skills as well.
Paul: Yes, and actually learning from the Tempo app what I realized is that sometimes we get too obsessed with the tech itself, but you've actually tapped into the problem, because you understand the problem of having scratched your own itch, kind of thing.
Angela: Yes, absolutely.
Paul: That's so valuable. Well Angela, thanks for coming on this show and all the best with your career path. I guess you could always go back to... [end of tape]