A new chapter

Reading time: 9 mins

I’m so excited to announce that I’m soon going to be starting the next chapter in my professional life. I’m going back to employment, and joining Monzo on their mission to “build a bank with everyone, for everyone”.

My role will be in Engineering Management, and I’ll be supporting the growth, progression, performance, and wellbeing of everyone I’ll be managing, even as they move onto different features or projects. 🔜👩🏻‍💻

It’s almost exactly 6 years since I left my role as Head of Technology at Lightmaker in pursuit of new experiences (and less of a hellish drive to Kent), and accidentally fell into working for myself. I didn’t enter self-employment with any of the recommended safety nets — my plan was to have a nice long break and then start speaking to companies, freelancing until I found the ’right’ thing — but I instantly loved it and never looked back. Somehow, despite my lack of planning, it all managed to work out ok.

Initially starting to work with people like Precedent, Ostmodern, and Accenture, I then decided that I wanted to try my hand at building up my own client relationships and formed my little company. Over the years I’ve managed to work on some amazing projects with even more amazing people; doing work I’m proud to have been a part of, and having experiences I’d never have had if I’d gone down a different path. I’ve helped people embrace ever-evolving technology, create things in better ways, change their businesses (even trying to help change a whole sector…), and to learn about technical concepts without being made to feel stupid.

It’s also no coincidence that my personal interests and passions have aligned really closely with people I’ve worked with - organisations like the Manor Racing F1 team, RNLI, Open Data Institute and OpenActive, right through to my current project where I’m working to transform volunteering in the NHS with Helpforce.

Working for myself has also given me the freedom to do something else I love — travel — and I’ve been lucky enough to be in the position where I’ve been able to visit places including Japan, Denmark, USA, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Netherlands, and more.

It’s all so great, why stop 🛑?

When I was at school, I had a fantastic IT teacher (hi, Mrs Black, if you’re somehow reading this!). I was gutted when she left us to go back to working in industry but understood the reasons — she wanted to keep her skills relevant and stay learning, so that she could then come back to be a better teacher. It’s something that’s always stuck with me.

When you’re working for yourself, you’re the sole master of your destiny. I’ve always kept learning, most often by making stupid things, but also by taking on different projects involving different situations and tech stacks. However, there are some things that you can’t truly learn, or some work that you can’t do when you’re an outsider. As much as I’ve got some great long-standing relationships, I keep disappearing, and was missing being able to build for the longer term and learn more about internal aspects of company improvement. I’m also ambitious, and I’ve felt a bit like I’ve been on a merry-go-round at a certain level, when my aspirations go much higher. I’m really keen to throw myself into the exciting things happening at Monzo so that I can be even better for the future, and make the world of finances a bit better too.

In addition, when you’re working for yourself, even when you team up with others for certain projects, you’re still really alone. I never wanted to hire permanent staff and build an agency. I’ve got a great support network and other peers. But I found I was missing working towards a bigger goal with other people; being part of a team with a real mission that’s not all about me.

When you’re working for yourself it’s easy to become swayed by trends and market forces. I’d fallen into the digital transformation world as it was a great way to merge my enjoyment of blending tech, process, strategy, and people, but lots of my recent work has needed more focus on the business side than bits I’m most passionate about — things like the web, new capabilities, and supporting people.

And finally, when you’re working for yourself, it’s hard when you get sick. It’s not something that I’ve spoken about much in public, but for a while now I’ve struggled with severe fatigue and some other related issues. This year it hit hard, and I’ve taken on a lot less work. Everything I’ve done, I’m proud that I’ve done well, but it’s been harder. It’s also been harder to do all of the things necessary to run a business alongside doing work itself — getting new leads, writing proposals, chasing overdue invoices, juggling schedules. After watching my blood test results slowly decline to the point of official decrepitude, I was finally put on medication for hypothyroidism a couple of months ago - something which I’ll now be on for life. It’s gradually making a difference, but we also need to see whether it fixes everything or whether there are other factors like CFS at play.

But this isn’t a doom and gloom post! Despite the above, I wasn’t looking for a job. I’ve loved working for myself, and one day I hope to do so again. But for the moment I’m taking all of these current hurdles, and channelling them into my new opportunity at Monzo.

Why Monzo? 🚀

I’ve been a Monzo customer for a while. I came on board pretty much just to abuse the fee-less overseas ATM transactions in the pre-paid days (sorry Monzo gang, Japanese ATMs play the cutest jingles when you take out cash… 🙈) but stayed for the customer experience. Changing my name post-marriage was actually a delight, and I’ve tweeted about other things that made it a brand to notice.

I was fully on board with the company ethos, but that was as far as my professional aspirations went. However, that mindset changed a bit with their appointment of Meri Williams as CTO.

I met Meri whilst at a speaker dinner for a conference, and instantly thought she was great. On the personal side she was kind, obviously super-smart, liked Lego and food, and (like me) had grown up elsewhere in the world. Since then my respect has only grown, and I’ve seen her do great things professionally. She’s someone who genuinely cares about people and building diverse, inclusive environments that help them do great work. In short, basically the kind of CTO I’d love to work with.

I initially got in touch with Meri to see if Monzo needed a spare pair of hands in the short term. We coincidentally happened to be at the same conference shortly after, and got chatting. Her excitement and passion for the Monzo mission were infectious, and it was clear to me then that there was a great opportunity to do longer-term work that would tick all of the boxes I was after, in a way that didn’t restrict my ability to live life outside of work.

I’d always said that it’d take something special to tempt me back to employment, and this is it. Some things that really made the difference:

🔓Transparency and openness

The culture of transparency is very real, and I feel comfortable that I know exactly what I’m getting into.

📈 Rapid growth

It’s not often that you get the chance to come into a company and experience the good (and bad!) of being involved in this stage of growth. I see it as a great opportunity, and very much a case of right place and right time.

🤗 Supportive and inclusive environment

There are tons of little things that I’ve been so impressed by, including flexible hours, the mental health support offered to everyone, catered lunches a couple of times a week, how “guys” actively isn’t used as a collective noun, and how much the recruitment process has gone out of its way to work around me. I feel like I’ve been seen as an individual rather than just another potential unit of resource (a term that isn’t used for people).

One the scariest things for me has been the thought of commuting into London every day, and losing my ability to live life outside of a day job. Monzo aren’t about forcing that for the sake of it, and are on a mission to make remote work effective as an option for people. Although I’ll be in London part of every week, I’m going to be classified as a remote worker and supported as such.

Another really important factor for me was that Monzo give the ability to have up to a month of unpaid leave every year, to do whatever you want with. This means that I can continue to keep a very selective set of side interests (as long as there’s no conflict of interest this is welcomed), conference talks, support some of my existing clients so that I don’t disappear completely… or more likely use it to run off to language school in Japan again!

💸 Banking transformation and doing good

I really see this as a continuation of my transformation work, and it made total sense for me to step into an environment that am going to be learning so much, but also hopefully sharing back a lot of what I’ve learnt over the last 6 years.

My role

I’m interested in work that combines technology, people, and strategy, and the Engineering Manager role at Monzo - people with a technical background who help support and coach engineers - felt perfect for this. I’m going to be spending my time:

  • supporting, coaching, hiring, and developing high performing engineers from diverse backgrounds.
  • partnering with senior engineers to drive technical initiatives that improve engineering practices.
  • contributing to management best practices.
  • helping to build an engineering organisation that can make a success of rapid growth.

I’m also planning on sharing knowledge and encouraging good practice around other areas that I’m passionate about, as well as applying many of the things that I’ve learnt in the course of working for myself.

I start the first week in December, but initially I’m going to be working part time so that I can wrap up my existing client commitments nicely. Towards the end of January I’ll then switch over fully.

This will be a huge change, but it’s one that I’m incredibly excited about and can’t wait to get started. I’ll be looking to share lots of my learnings and challenges as I settle in, and I’m already consciously practicing upping my emoji game as you can see…

To anyone at Monzo who’s reading this, hi! Please come and say hello if you see me in the office or on Slack. I’m really looking forward to working with you all!

🈂️リー 👋