Tim Mitra Blends Art and (Computer) Science at TD Bank
With an artist's eye and an engineer's attention to detail, Mitra leads an "iOS factory" that's reimagining the bank's mobile platform
Tim Mitra is a Toronto-based tech blogger, host of the popular "More Than Just Code" podcast and a successful visual artist to boot. Somehow he also finds the time to work full time for TD Bank, one of the largest financial institutions in Canada (and the U.S.), where he helps to lead development of the bank’s iOS applications.
“I have always had one foot in the arts and one foot in technology," Mitra says, describing his bifurcated career path. “I was working as an artist in the early 1980s, and we got a computer to help with design, so that was my introduction to computers. You'd be surprised how many developers start off in liberal arts as opposed to computer science and engineering."
By 2005, Mitra had embraced web development as a full-time job, and he started his own company, providing his services to hungry clients. Mobile was a natural extension. “I had a customer who fell in love with the iPad the day it was announced by Steve Jobs," Mitra says. “She wanted to be on the iPad, so I said we'd do it, and then I had to figure out how. That ultimately got me into iOS development full time."
Today, Mitra and his dev team innovate TD Bank's next-gen apps in an "iOS factory" ecosystem that relies heavily on real-time collaboration. Mitra spoke with The Modern Software Factory about the state of the dev industry—and the unusual way in which TD's factory artfully crafts its new products.
MSF Hub: What was the shift from independent development shop to working for a major enterprise like?
Tim Mitra: Coming to TD was an education. There are a lot more stakeholders; there's a lot more at stake as well. We're having daily stand-ups and sizing meetings and using tools to manage projects and break things down into bite-sized chunks. I do three or four stand-ups each morning, then more planning meetings, like an iOS forum we run once a week. We're also dealing with distributed teams —people who might be in another city or in another discipline—so my day-to-day job is to manage two factories.
MSF Hub: Walk us through the factory concept at TD and how that is changing things.
TM: In the factory, we're all sitting in the same space. We might have two Android developers sitting across from two iOS developers, plus the services guys and the QAs at the end of this big long table we work at. Our scrum master is there, and [also] two analysts—one on the business side and one on the technical side. Throughout the project, you're always in communication. Everybody knows what's going on.
When I first joined the factory, I equated it to trying to catch up with a moving train, because it was such an efficient team that moved the whole project forward. I've been developing since 1999, but this method is quite different.
MSF Hub: What's the big advantage of TD's development approach?
TM: A hockey team isn't just about one guy who goes and gets the goals, right? In order to get the goal, he needs to be supported by a whole team of people. The factory works very much like a hockey team, where everybody has a specific role.
The factory model is that efficient team of people who are all working towards that same goal by breaking it down into tasks and subtasks. Any job that comes to us, however big or small, we can break it down and run it through the same process. It allows you to focus in on where things are going wrong and escalate them to someone who can fix it. It's very similar to a manufacturing production line in that sense.
MSF Hub: What are the unique challenges of doing all this in a financial services environment?
TM: From the financial side, there's a lot of compliance stuff that we have to be aware of all the time—privacy, confidentiality. Security is a huge thing. We always have to be aware of safe coding and secure coding, and we have processes throughout the whole bank to review each other's code. It's harder, and things take longer, because we have to be really careful about what we're doing. To be honest, I never would have imagined I'd be working at a bank. But TD is my bank, and I'm happy to be working for a brand that I really feel strongly about.