Who the hell is Matthew Hotchen?

A profile written by Matthew Hotchen.

Matthew isn’t someone who talks in the third person so let me get that out of the way.

I build software and talk to people. Sometimes I make money doing these things.

A fortunate start

I moved to London when I was 18 and after a year stacking shelves I got a job as a web/ActionScript developer for a tiny digital agency (as in I was the only employee). Their clients included Universal Records, The Times, charities and startups. I built flash banner ads, social networks, The Times’ Parent Power & Rich List apps and various CMS driven websites with innovative designs which kept their clients coming back for more.

A little bit of everything

After that I went to work for a made–to–measure tailoring company where users could design and order custom suits online. It turns out you can’t teach people to measure themselves easily but thankfully there were many studios with trained staff throughout the UK that were better for business. They also had a custom backend system for staff to manage customers, orders, measurements, etc.

The company had around 50 employees based all over the UK. The IT team was myself and a CTO. My role varied from building things like referral systems and appointment booking systems to office and studio networking, helpdesk, systems administration, copy writing and web design. I even found myself fitting out studios with Ikea furniture and helping choose the layout.

Towards the end of my time here I hired and trained four developers in Delhi, visiting to set up the office, buy their hardware and get them up to speed.

Fun story: someone once shipped me across London because his computer wouldn’t turn on. Diagnosis: he hadn’t plugged it in. But we had a laugh about it and developed a lasting friendship. We’ve gone on to try starting various projects together and I doubt we’ll ever stop until we come up with something that sticks.

Getting technical

After this I got a job at a 100 person FX brokerage, as employee number twelve in the IT team. Here I was a PHP developer mostly focused on the trading aspects of the business. I built out the libraries and APIs around that along with customer facing stuff such as a system for booking hundreds of trades at once by uploading a spreadsheet, the live rates and graphs, and also a feature that allowed users to book trades whilst the FX markets were closed. This required me to find out what sort of spreads were necessary to cover risks although that sounds fancier than it actually was.

I led the internationalisation effort which saw a massive boom in business as they entered China. This took the efforts of around 11 programmers and a couple of months. At that time th team lead had just left and no replacement was in place. Throughout this I worked around twelve hours a day including weekends without a single day off. But in the end the company grew massively and I was awarded second place in an employee of the year award. First place was awarded to the accountant doing all the accounting magic for this and she worked harder than I did so I have to compliment them on their choice. I also received a healthy bonus.

By the time I left the company it was nearly 400 employees strong, the IT team was 100 strong, I was the team lead for an API team which powered the mobile apps and third party integrations with companies that (for example) provided accounting software, and we’d moved from SVN with ad-hoc bash scripts for deployment to Atlassian with CI/CD, BDD, and Scrum (with a few missteps along the way). My team was also tasked with breaking down the monoliths in to services although I left before this properly came to fruition.

The software I wrote there has seen tens of billions of pounds transacted through it annually since around 2014 (with special thanks to my incredible team lead at the time who is by far the best programmer I’ve ever worked with).

Working to live

After this I spent a couple of years contracting so that I could travel. I spent many months in places like Nepal, Mongolia, China, all over Europe, SE Asia, etc. I’d never been abroad as a child (unless you count N. Ireland, where I was born) so I guess I was making up for lost time. The work I did in this period was easy but paid exceedingly well which felt contradictory.

I went back to the FX brokerage for a five month contract, initially to open a new development office in South Africa. After not finding the quantity of high quality candidates they wanted I instead upgraded dozens of projects and millions of lines of code from various versions of PHP running on various versions on Linux to a consistent PHP 7 and Ubuntu 16.04 base, also removing the most ancient parts of the system altogether (the parts not in version control, running in a different data centre; you know, those parts).

After some travelling I jumped in to a massive mattress making enterprise where I was interfacing with Microsoft AX using archaic XML files and I moved a custom reporting system to a simple OLDB connection in Excel which was something I’d been doing for fun when exploring my personal databases. I guess to some people I might have a strange concept of fun.

I then spent a few months rewriting an internal API for a finance company and to date I’m still not sure what this API—or the company—did. I wrote a bunch of integration tests before getting started and the rewrite passed the tests which apparently meant I’d completed the task. I also moved it to Docker and AWS ECS with continuous deployment to the staging environment using Bamboo. I did this as a bonus because I was struggling to fill the full three month period I’d been contracted for. I hope it was useful.

A venture in starting a startup

With one of the friends I’d made when working for the tailoring company we spent time building a product to allow tailors to manage their customers, customer/garment measurements, history of alterations, etc. because these were problems faced by my friend whilst running his own bespoke tailoring company, and faced by other tailors we knew.

Unfortunately the concept never took off as we struggled to find enough customers and apparently they’re important, but it was fun to build so no regrets.

A venture in joining a startup

Finally we’re on to the present. I work as the backend developer for a company that applies cognitive behavioural therapy to help people quit smoking via an app. They’re already profitable and they’ve been performing peer reviewed studies to verify the effectiveness of this technique (with promising results).

They’re highly data driven meaning much of my work so far has been around setting up a data warehouse and putting in the groundwork for performing studies on the effectiveness of individual features (or as we call them: bets).

They’re still in the seed stage and backed by some top VCs including YCombinator so who knows what the future holds.

Summary

I’ve been building software for a decade and I’m a pretty neat guy.

Further stalking

If this wall of text wasn’t enough for you then that’s a bit weird but here are some further resources to learn more about me: