patkua@work

The intersection of technology and leadership

Moving on from N26

More than a couple of years ago, I started on the journey as a “shake-up” CTO at N26. I often describe the role at the time as, “Shaking the snow globe.” The patterns of an early stage start up would no longer scale, and the company needed someone to help guide the transition. I was very honoured to guide the tech team through hypergrowth, and helping us transition from “start up” to the “scale up” stage of a company. Flash forward to today, and I’m happy to say we achieved that (and more).

I’m happy to say that the tech team is significantly more robust, and I leave knowing it’s in a much healthier state than what it was.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”

Semisonic

There are, of course, always many areas to continue to improve on. I’m happy that we have grown and hired many strong technical leaders who will continue to improve and iterate on this.

What I’m proud we accomplished

Although there are many elements I’m proud we accomplished, here are some of the ones that were definitely highlights.

An organisation with too many ideas will remain just that.

A better balance of tech to non-tech

When I first started, each C-level introduced new team members to the rest of the company. In the first few months, I was introducing one, maybe two, new people per month when the business team was introducing maybe 10-15. If, like me, you have worked in a place where you have more people with projects than capacity to work on them, you know what that would result in.

I worked closely with the people and especially recruiting team. We reworked everything from compensation and benefits, employer brand, recruitment processes and onboarding. Although we ultimately improved how we recruited and retained people in tech, I believe many improvements also benefited other departments as well.

Diversity doesn’t matter if you don’t have inclusion

We’re not just diverse, but also more inclusive than before

Like London, Berlin attracts all types of international people. In the last report I read, we had more than 60 nationalities in the tech department. I also wanted us to have diverse educational backgrounds and gender diversity, but I know focusing on diversity alone is not enough. We also needed to make sure we focused on inclusion.

Early on in my time, I sponsored the very first company wide International Women’s Day event. You can read more about it t. We set up a diversity channel on slack, added a bot that provided alternatives to gendered language like “guys”. (Sidenote: It’s amazing how many times we had to reinstall that bot!) I believe these actions let more people bring their full selves to work and resulted in support for CSD, many other Employee Resource Groups to support better work-life balance.

We avoided growing chaotically, instead doing so deliberately with a Target Operating Model

As the tech team grew, I knew that we would need to change our organisational structure to maximise both autonomy and alignment. As the team grew, we restructured deliberately to address issues team members faced as bottlenecks moved to different parts of the organisation. We introduced new roles and capabilities to focus on issues, giving people new growth paths and new areas to work in.

Growing people is like growing plants. A healthy environment combined with enough time and care.

I was able to personally support many people in their own growth

Growing companies offer people new opportunities for growth. However knowing that many roles like management or technical leadership are not a promotion but a role change, I’m happy to have supported many technical leaders in their own growth. I personally ran the Tech Lead Development Program approximately 5 times throughout my time. I mentored and coached people through many tough situations and I’m happy to have seen so many people grow and evolve. I even received some feedback that my support not only helped them professionally, but also in their personal life and relationships!

What’s next?

I very much appreciated my time shepherding the tech organisation, influencing the leadership team and direction of N26 and valued the experiences and tough situations I faced. I’m grateful for the experiences of working so closely with founders and other wonderful executive team members.

Many leaders ask themselves if they are having the best impact they can have. Are they able to bring their strengths to play in their role? I know where my strengths lie, and given my personal goals, it’s time for me to apply these strengths in a new context.

I will announce what exactly I’ll be working on in the new year, so watch out for a future post.

8 Comments

  1. It’s seems you had an awesome journey at N26, Pat! Good luck with the next adventure!

  2. Great post and good luck in your future projects!

    I have a few questions:
    In the Inclusion section, you mention a slack bot that suggests a better language, was that built in N26 or was it something available for everyone? if so, could you provide a link?
    You me mention both Management and Tech Lead not being a promotion but a role change. Is there something written in depth about how did you manage that? Same about Tech Lead Development Program.

    Thanks!

  3. Nice post, but like Martin above, I’d greatly appreciate it if you could elaborate on the things you accomplished so we could try to emulate some of them.

    You say you did X & Y, but it’s more interesting to hear _how_ you did X & Y.

  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. I learn a lot from what I read from you (especially in your newsletter). I am curious to know how was the organization at the “start up” stage and how is the organization now in the “scale up” stage?

  5. Hi Martin,

    Thanks for your comment! To quickly answer you:

    • Bot – We didn’t build one ourselves. We just used the in-built slack bot to provide suggestions based on keywords such as “guys”
    • About management and tech lead please take a look at my article, The Trident Model of Career Development
    • For the Tech Lead Development program, please take a look here.

    All the best.

    Patrick

  6. Thank you Artem! Wishing you all the best for 2020!

  7. Hi Uzziah. Firstly, thanks for your comment. Please note this post wasn’t intended to be a post doing into the detail, how. That’s what experience is about. I’ve published a bit over the year about some of these. All the best. Patrick

  8. Hi Céline! Many thanks for your comment. There has been a lot of published work to do with the different phases of a company. If you’d like to read more about the organisation at a “scale up” stage, I’d look for articles that talk about “Scaling X” (e.g. recruiting, teams, processes, etc). A very underrated book where you read more about this is this O’Reilly book, “Scaling Teams“. All the best!

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