Monzo Staff Weekly Q&A - Meri Williams (CTO) 💻


(🦡🦡🦡🦡🍄🍄) #21

If your app is suddenly plagued by mysterious technical issues then you only have yourself to blame :see_no_evil:


(Meri Williams) #22

I built (as part of a team) a small experiment – a circuitboard mirrored internally & externally on the satellite to measure the effects of vacuum and radiation when directly exposed versus shielded. And then the software for processing the readings received. It came about because I was at school in Stellenbosch, and the local university was building the satellite as a cooperative project and got some schools involved. I was the youngest in the team so when the satellite launch got delayed I ended up being the last one left to actually do the data analysis etc. Net, as with most things, combo of weird luck and having relevant skills/interest (I’d been building computers and fixing them for years by this point).

Years later I met someone at the European Space Agency who actually built a very similar experiment for measuring effect of space exposure on multiple different materials, so on a much larger scale but very similar, which was cool :slight_smile:


(Meri Williams) #23

A mix of people, mission and stage. I love the existing team, and am frankly quite in awe of what they have built already (quite holistically – it’s a brilliant product, brilliant brand, brilliant company). Within engineering, particularly the (very smart) early investment in things like the distributed systems platform & tooling, and the investment in making data really first class and readily available for high quality decision-making, is all very impressive.

I particularly liked the recent re-focus on “Making money work for everyone” as I’ve had that as a hobby in a small way for a number of years. In my friendship groups, I’m always the (arguably boring) one who knows about how mortgages and pensions and taxes and whatnot work, and I’ve helped many friends to navigate these things. Helping on a grander scale with something close to my heart felt like a great opportunity to me :wink:

From a stage / inflection point, this is the point where I am “uniquely placed to be useful” as Jonas might put it: I have scaled up a number of teams before, and this is the stage that Monzo is in now. So in terms of what made me decide “right, now’s the time” it was mostly about Monzo hitting the stage where I was convinced I could be useful, in helping us navigate scaling quickly.


(Meri Williams) #24

It’s impressed me that we still manage to enable teams to be autonomous – this is the easiest thing to lose and one of the hardest to maintain as you scale (especially when scaling rapidly). I love the intent of keeping decision-making as close as possible to the deep understanding of an issue / problem / opportunity. A lot of my thinking at the moment is about how to ensure we keep this – i.e. that we don’t just give teams solutions to deliver rather than problems to solve / opportunities to explore.


(Meri Williams) #25

I think because I have a decent track record of rapidly scaling engineering organisations without breaking them too horribly? Desperately hoping my luck doesn’t run out!


(Meri Williams) #26

I’m not sure I have a favourite joke :thinking:. One thing I have become more attuned to since moving to the UK is pun-based humour (and my very British wife is a huge fan of this type of humour), so a recent example of that that I really enjoyed was this:


(Meri Williams) #27

First, worth saying that I was in a particularly modern bit of government, the inception of the Government Digital Service which built GOV.UK and migrated all the government departments over to it.

A lot of my role there was traversing & translating the traditional approaches of the greater Civil Service incl security and emergency response type concerns and the modern agile engineering & product & design & content approaches of GDS. I got good at understanding WHY things had been done certain ways, and finding routes to achieving the same end without reverting to waterfall development practices.

So at Monzo, I imagine this will be most useful when considering our regulatory and governance processes: we want to find ways to translate the intent of the regulatory/governance policies & procedures, and find the ways to achieve the same impact with modern engineering practices and ways of working. So partnering with auditors, regulators, etc on one side and engineers/product managers/designers on the other, and ensuring we can translate between our different “dialects” for want of a better term :wink:


(Meri Williams) #28

I think folks at Monzo are still hungry and still thinking very much about how to get the most done as quickly as feasible. I think it’s less about things being more comfortable, and more about the complexity that comes with having more and more teams all trying to get things done and needing things from each others. Most times when you see slowdowns as organisations scale, it’s not so much about people feeling too comfortable or losing the fire, more about it getting harder to get stuff done quickly when you have a lot more people involved.

In terms of productivity, we’re learning some lessons right now about how to onboard more engineers effectively without slowing teams down (we effectively doubled in 2 months earlier this year, and it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses, predictably). We have an Engineering Effectiveness squad who are working on tooling to help engineers be more productive, and they are figuring out right now the best measures for productivity in this way.

Broadly though, things that help maintain productivity include: common tooling, investing in making onboarding slick as anything, decent documentation (so people can get independently productive fast), and staying aware of how long it takes to go from idea --> feature in customers’ hands (which ultimately is your most important speed indicator), measuring the proportion of time spent “keeping the lights on” (the latter helps you spot when teams are getting bogged down in keeping the machine running rather than keeping ahead of the new demands of the machine).


(Meri Williams) #29

My favourite aspect is the people – and I mean that quite broadly, from the other folks working at the company, to the community, to our customers. I love how dedicated employees are, how excited community members are, I love having customers tell me their favourite things about Monzo (and also what they are most keenly waiting for). I think 5 years ago it was a ridiculous thought that someone would have a favourite feature from a bank, so the fact we have a plethora of people keen to tell us theirs is wonderful, no?

I’ve enjoyed settling in to the culture. I am still taken aback sometimes at how real the commitment to transparency is – but it’s a positive surprise every time I stumble across something and am like “oh, of course everyone has access to see that!”. I genuinely love it, just still adapting to it :slight_smile:


(Meri Williams) #30

Pots for Joint Accounts :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: Also more savings / investments options :slight_smile:


(Meri Williams) #31

Government Digital Service, M&S Digital and MOO are my most relevant scaling engineering teams experience.

I did a lot of scaling-as-a-manager-and-leader in the first ten years of my career which were spent at Procter & Gamble (biggest consumer goods company in the world).


(Meri Williams) #32

I was lucky enough to be around in the background when Jonas and the team were deciding how to structure things, so I got to hear about it as it happened, which always helps.

Yes, Monzo’s structure mirrors a lot of how Spotify did things at a similar scale, but also I think these days multi-disciplinary teams acting with autonomy, empowered to find & address problems & opportunities is really just modern way of delivering high quality products, so it’s fairly well accepted out in the world now.

I haven’t made any major changes, and frankly don’t really expect to – I’m here to continue the work Jonas started, not upend things. Since joining I’ve mainly been focusing on figuring out career paths & progression for engineering managers, how we hire at the more experienced end of engineering, supporting investments we are making in security, and continuing the work the Engineering Support team were already doing to make more processes that were adhoc and high effort “common and casual”.

Pretty much all engineers work in multi-disciplinary squads – so the unit of delivery is the squad, and the day-to-day and week-to-week priorities are decided within these squads. Every engineer also has a manager who looks after their personal & professional development, pastoral care and career planning with them.

At the moment we just have one role for this - Engineering Manager - and over time there are likely to be some more senior versions of that role, partnering with Product on a specific area / set of squads, or leading a specific engineering discipline (e.g. mobile), or leading a set of squads looking after some of our platforms. In the same way, we already have some more senior engineering IC (Individual Contributor) roles, where folks are more likely to work across a number of squads, or drop in to help solve the gnarliest problems.

There’s an important balance to strike between making sure there are the right people in the right roles (some roles which may not have existed prior to getting to a certain scale where they become needed) and not making things feel hierarchical which really sucks. I also personally firmly believe that management is more a career change than a progression, so it’s important that there are as many ways to progress as an individual contributor – pushing people with no interest in managing & developing people into roles that require they be excellent at it pretty much always backfires :-/


(Meri Williams) #33

At the moment we don’t have definitive plans. I’m actually most interested in making distributed working something we invest in a bunch, so that we can have access to global talent pool, rather than assuming every new market we’d offer services in would have to have its own engineering team – that doesn’t scale as quickly as we likely need to :wink:


(Meri Williams) #34

Mostly watching movies with friends, building Lego and playing PS4. For holidays, I like the sea (whether surfing, swimming or snorkelling) and am a foodie so enjoy finding new/interesting food wherever I travel. Sadly because of the disability (Ehlers Danlos) a fair portion of my time is also spent dealing with medical appointments / treatments / etc which is necessary but not particularly fun :-/


(Meri Williams) #35

Yes, a lot. I think like many people in tech I have a fairly serious case of imposter syndrome :see_no_evil: I’m still developing more coping strategies for dealing with the pressure, both of this kind of role, but also e.g. of The Lead Dev related expectations.


(Meri Williams) #36

I think people hugely value the Community, and will come here often to get ideas and understand what peoples’ experiences / needs / wants are. I know the Community events are also eagerly anticipated and never seem short of attendees from the employee side. It’s discussed within the company as one of our most profound assets/advantages, so though occasionally someone might be upset if people are ragging on a feature they put a lot of effort into or similar, it’s always within the context of genuinely valuing the input.


(Meri Williams) #37

There isn’t really one killer argument that suits everyone. I think it’s always about understanding what matters to someone and then trying to speak to that. Luckily Monzo is hugely attractive to a wide variety of motivations :wink:

So some people are excited by rapid scaling of the team, some by technical complexity, some are most motivated by the impact it’ll have on customers, some by the scale of the ambition to build something that’ll one day serve a billion customers.

I’m also a big fan of asking people what frustrates them and being really honest about whether they will also find those things here – I think that honesty really matters.


(Meri Williams) #38

Soz, couple of crossed wires about exact timing of when I should come & respond :see_no_evil:


(Simon B) #39

Many thanks to @Geek_Manager for another awesome Q&A :grinning: :tada:

If there’s anyone, or any team in particular you think we should get to do a Q&A feel free to slide into my DMs :stuck_out_tongue:


(Jack) #40

Thanks @Geek_Manager , it was great to read your responses :slight_smile: