Published on Sunday, 28 Apr, 2019
Five months at Monzo
Since joining Monzo as an engineering manager at the start of December I've experienced a huge amount. In this post I wanted to capture some of what I've been up to, and what I'm looking forward to next.
I got an email from an old client recently, asking (amongst other things!) “Is Monzo working out?”. My reply was the same as it always is – I honestly couldn’t be happier with my work than I am at the moment. It needed something pretty special to take me away from self-employment, and if anything being at Monzo has completely exceeded my expectations, both in terms of the opportunities that I’ve already been given, and the company culture itself.
I wanted to write this post both for me to look back on in the future, and to give others a sense of what it’s like to work in this kind of a role, at this kind of a company.
I’ve been doing a lot!
As some context, engineering managers (we often call them EMs) at Monzo are hands-off from code, decoupled from delivery, and we’re all about the engineers that we look after. It’s our job to help them with their progression, performance, growth, and wellbeing, both inside work and out. We also get involved in some more strategic activities.
Managing 16 people has been a great challenge 😬
I started off part-time so that I could finish off some existing work, switching to full-time and starting to pick up reports in January. Managing 16 people is more than we like (it’s only until some of our new EMs join!), but it was also a challenge that I really welcomed - I haven’t been managing day to day for quite some time now, and so I wanted to prove to myself and the business that I was comfortable operating at scale.
Mine are a brilliant mix of people – three back-end, with the rest either full-stack or web engineers. I have a huge amount of respect for all of them, and I genuinely feel very humbled and lucky that I get to support such talented people.
I should probably write separately about my management philosophy, but in terms of practicalities I hold 1:1s with reports every two weeks (generally one in-person, then one on Hangout), and then otherwise make myself available for ad-hoc things as much as possible. I’m only in London typically twice a week (which is really important for my work-life balance), so my in-person time often involves lots of walks and cups of tea.
I get to do more strategic things too 🧐
Because of what I’d been doing before, I was very keen to get involved in some other, more strategic things to help the business keep evolving. Engineering Managers do this in different ways – as a senior EM I’m involved in a bit more stuff, and here are some examples:
Partner for COps Collective, and web as a discipline 👮🏻♀️🕸
Because of how much we’ve grown, we’ve recently had a shuffle of how we’re organised. As part of this we’ve started using the concept of Collectives (a bit like tribes in other orgs, but we didn’t like that as a name). I’ve been working as the engineering partner for COps Collective, which is the home of our amazing Monzo Chat support, for which we build our own web-based internal tools.
The majority of our web engineers are currently housed within this Collective, but I also manage some elsewhere in the business. I came in to Monzo very clear that I still wanted to focus on web as much as possible, and I’m currently looking after it as a discipline. With both the Collective as a vertical and discipline as a horizontal I’ve been helping with things like planning the org headcount, and a bit more…
Web Platform 👩🏻💻
I’ve helped to get a new team set up - Web Platform - which looks after the foundational standards, processes, and tools that power the web side of the business. This idea was already kicking around before I started, but along with a few of my colleagues I helped to clarify the vision and we wrote a proposal to get CTO approval for this to become a thing. Outside of helping individuals with their careers, this is an area that I’m ridiculously excited about, and I really can’t wait to see what we can do with it.
Interviewing, and starting web hiring 💼
I’m also just about to kick off being the hiring partner for web, which is also very exciting! We’re going to have some really great vacancies, and I’m looking forward to working with the hiring team to rejig our process a bit. If you’re thinking about a move sometime this year, stay tuned as I’ll be able to share more soon!
Outside of that I’ve been helping out with engineering manager hiring, doing a mix of CV review, initial calls, and on-site.
Getting back to speaking 🎤
I’ve been taking a break from most speaking for a few reasons, but couldn’t resist getting involved with a couple of things: I spoke at Monzo’s “People-first Engineering Management” event and couldn’t believe the amount of interest we had! I also took part in a panel at a Fintech Women event, speaking about the importance of culture.
Helping others to share 👐🏻⚡️
Speaking of speaking, one of the first things that I was tasked with was setting up a new ‘Product All Hands’ event, working alongside our Design Director. This was actually a bit of a bigger challenge than I realised at the time, and I’m still not convinced that event organisation is for me, but it was a great way to get over n00b nerves (nothing like posting in Slack to the whole company, or messaging the CEO for that!).
I also worked with another EM colleague to set up some regular Engineering Lightning Talks, which we’ve now handed over to a group of the engineers to run.
Planning and running some onboarding workshops 🛠
Another early action was to get involved with running some workshops to hear about the onboarding experiences of different engineers. I’ve run tons of workshops when I was consulting, but I still somehow found it incredibly nerve-wracking to run sessions with new colleagues! We did this across disciplines, we did a fully online session with people who do distributed working, and we also held some with people who wear the Tech Lead hat.
Revisiting the progression framework 🖼
More recently I’ve been part of a group of EMs who’ve been looking at evolving our progression framework and the promotions process. Since we launched this it’s been really flattering to see it cited as a point of reference for people like the Financial Times. We’re not resting on our laurels though, and we’re intending to keep iterating… again, stay tuned!
There are so many great aspects to working here
Outside of the work itself I’ve found so many reasons to be genuinely grateful to work here. Here’s just a few examples of things that I’ve found particularly important to date.
The culture is real
We talk a lot of about concepts like transparency, but these values are evident every single day. Everyone genuinely cares about each other, the product, and our customers, and initiatives like being the first to implement gambling block and teaming up with the Big Issue aren’t just fluff; the people at Monzo honestly want to help others and take the responsibility of looking after people’s money very seriously.
There is so much kindness and patience 💙
From little things like people posting in the wrong Slack channels, to people helping others learn to code, it’s evident in so many places.
In over a year of working at @monzo I have never heard anyone— Kieran McHugh (@kieranmch) April 11, 2019
- say bad things about a colleague behind their back
- blame a failure on an individual
We say “be hard on problems, not people”. It’s easy to be an asshole. The real challenge is acting with kindness and compassion.
The respect and support for mental health is incredible 🧠
I’ve had some difficult personal issues lately, and I absolutely can’t fault the support I’ve had. Tara, our Head of People, wrote about mental health a while back, but on top of that I’d say that I’ve experienced such great support from the people around me, including getting flowers from the people that I manage 😭 I’ve been sure to speak openly about my experiences, and have been told that it was very welcomed by people I manage.
Everyone is trusted 🤝
You set your own work hours (coming in a bit later is so important for my wellbeing), can go out for 1:1s or take long lunches if needed, or can work from home as much as you want. As long as it doesn’t negatively impact on your work, or your team. The very fact that I was able to propose a new team whilst still on probation may not be the norm, but I hugely appreciated it.
Individuals are challenged and pushed, but in a very safe way 🤩
I loved that we had a talk at our first Lightning Talks from a very senior member of engineering about everything they’ve broken in Production! People are encouraged to take risks, but to be in control, ane this extends to how we look after individuals as well.
We have a great women and enby engineering community 💅🏾
I personally love that I can spend time with smart, inspiring people who unashamedly talk about their love of pastels and dresses with pockets as much as code, including in positions of seniority. We’ve committed to releasing our Diversity & Inclusion reports regularly and I loook forward to this increasing further!
Life outside of work is respected 🏡
Living in Suffolk, it’s so important to me to not be in London the whole time. I’ve already mentioned that I work from home the majority of the week, but I’ve really realised the difference it makes working somewhere where the default is not to expect people to be present physically. This requires a whole post, but distributed working becomes so much less othering when fully supported, and it allows me to focus on things that matter outside of my job.
I’d also add that one of the reasons that sold me on being employed was that Monzonauts can take unpaid leave to do anything they like. If life permits, I’m hoping to take full advantage of this to go back to language school later in the year, and it’s been great to see people actually doing this – taking months, or even whole quarters off.
And on a lighter note 🐕
What’s there to dislike about free lunches and cute office dogs?!
So what’s the catch? 🤔
In a lot of the interviews I’ve done I’ve been asked the old classic of “what do you find the most challenging about working here?” (which is a great question to ask, by the way). Everyone’s answer to this will be different, but for me it’s a combination of the pace, the ambiguity, and the self-doubt that comes when you’re surrounded by such smart people.
Days are full-on and we work hard (but within sensible working hours and without glorifying burnout!); there’s a definite sense of operating at pace. Because of the amount of people I manage and because I’m across a couple of areas of the business I spend a lot of time in meetings. Fridays are my only real ‘doing’ day.
Because you’re trusted and given a lot of autonomy, you can also find yourself in situations where it’s on you to work out what’s needed and how to get there; things are rarely spoon-fed.
And finally, there was a slide as part of our first day induction which has stuck with me. It talked about the imposter syndrome phase that everyone goes through once they realise how talented their colleagues are, and I’m still getting flashes of this on occasion!
But of course, these things were all points that brought me here in the first place. The chance to join a company like this was exciting, I came in with my eyes open, and I’ve already grown a lot because of it.
I’m looking forward to what comes next!
I haven’t been writing as much because life stuff is taking up a lot of head space at the moment, but I’m keeping a record of achievements I’m proud of, as well as some general weeknotes for myself to reflect on. I’ll be sure to check back in with another update of what I’ve been up to later in the year.