Monzo Staff Weekly Q&A - Robin Murphy (Engineering Manager) 🛠✅


Note : All Monzo Q&As to date can be found here :grinning:


Forum Familia! Things are still moving along like a bullet train here at Monzo.
February monthly update landed since our last Q&A, so make sure you check it out to get the inside scoop.

It’s almost time to get into this week’s Staff Q&A!

But first…

Catch up with all previous Q&As here!

This week in the Hot Coral Hot Seat™️ we have… Robin Murphy, Engineering Manager!

As you might have guessed, the work of an Engineering Manager involves… managing engineers!

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But what does that look like in practice? That’s what Robin’s here to tell ya.

Let’s learn a bit about Robin.

Robin joined us in March 2017 (coming up to that two year workiversary!) and he describes his current job role as:

“Helping engineers at Monzo do the best work of their careers”

An interesting fact about Robin?

“At uni I spent a year in Switzerland :switzerland:and worked on one of the LHC experiments at CERN :atom_symbol:

And finally, his favorite thing about working for Monzo?

“Our ambition. Both for the product and the company that we’re trying to build.”

So there you have it folks! Get your questions in, and Robin will be here to answer them later this week :grinning:

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Hello!

My query is:

Which feature, tool or system took way longer then expected to build and why?

Conversely

Which one sailed through much faster?

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Is managing a collection of young (for the most part) engineers in an ambitious business easier or harder than for a more old school engineering company?

How did you get into the role of managing? Was it something you’d done at a previous place of work?

Second question if I may

Is a burgeoning fintech industry making it harder to find and keep engineers (as demand is higher) or easier in a way (as it has attracted more people into the industry)?

If you could choose one feature to add to monzo what would it be (this cant be in the current pipeline already)

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What development methodology do you use, and why?

Good questions so far, keep them coming folks :grinning:

What have you learned now that you wish you knew on your first day at monzo? :blush:

If you could be a mixture of two animals? What would you choose and why?

On a more serious note:

What is the toughest aspect of managing at Monzo?

What project is your team currently working on?

What traits does a good manager need?

How do you enable your team to be honest with you when you’re wrong?

It’s not really an individual feature, but it’s taken us longer than I originally expected to build deeper integrations with other services. We’ve been talking about connecting to things like ISAs, savings accounts and investment providers since the beginning but it’s only been in the last 6 months that we’ve been able to really make progress on this. I’m very excited about the integrations we’re working on at the moment!

A couple of projects spring to mind… The team did an amazing job getting our Flux integration launched in a really short space of time. Watching the progress on business banking is also really exciting at the moment :rocket:

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There are things that make managing engineers (of any level of experience!) harder at Monzo than elsewhere. The company is moving really fast and growing at an incredible rate. I often describe this as managing a group of engineers who are constantly experiencing the most challenging week of their careers.

I’m more convinced that in order to succeed in that environment, you need to be able to adopt a growth mindset. The thing that makes it easier to manager engineers at Monzo is that people tend to adopt this mindset by default. I’m managing engineers who’ve just left school or uni and others who have worked at tech giants like Amazon or Microsoft. In both cases, if they’re ready to learn new things and can reflect on their “failures” as opportunities to grow, my job is a whole lot easier :smiley:

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I first managed a team of engineers in my last job. I definitely hadn’t planned to get into managing people though! I was working in a really great team, but one day my manager announced that he was leaving. He pulled me aside and said “You’ve probably figured this out, but I’d like you to lead the team now”. I definitely hadn’t figured that out :sweat_smile:, but I thought it would be a good opportunity so I gave it a go.

I started managing the 4 people who had previously been my peers (which has its own challenges :grimacing:) and spent a lot of time figuring out how to be a good manager for them. I made a bunch of mistakes and got some really good feedback from my team, but after a while I realised that I really enjoyed the people management side of things.

When I left to join Monzo, I decided that I wanted to go back to being an engineer for a while as I was missing the challenge of working on new technical problems. I did that for a while, but after a year in the job was starting to miss the people management side of the role. I was lucky enough that Monzo was looking for people to become managers, so I started managing a few people and decided to becoming a full-time Engineering Manager last Summer.

I’m a strong believer in the engineer/manager pendulum. I expect to make a few more swings back and forth between manager and engineer in my career. It means I get the chance to manage people (which I really enjoy), but also keep my tech skills fresh.

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I would love to use a budgeting tool that let’s me understand the impact of my borrowing. I have a habit of sticking big purchases on a credit card and then forgetting to factor in the repayments into my budget. This usually means I have to dip into savings every now and again to fix the gap. I would love it if Monzo could help me see the impact of my decisions today on how much money I’ll have in the future. Some thing like “If you stick this on credit today, you’ll blow your budget in a couple of months’ time”. I really like the idea that Monzo isn’t here to control my spending, but to give me information that puts me in control of it.

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This isn’t one development methodology that we use across the board, but most teams are using some form of agile development that probably looks most similar to a Kaban approach.

There are a few practices that I see teams doing at Monzo that work well for us but aren’t features of one particularly methodology:

  • Setting ambitious weekly goals and focusing on achieving those, rather than a defined list of tasks that you commit to
  • Giving engineers problems to solve, rather than solutions to implement. You might start the week with a problem like “People want to be able to save towards a specific goal” and spend your time figuring out what the solution should look like before diving into the code
  • Whenever we start a big piece of work we tend to have a “kick-off” meeting with mobile engineers, backend engineers, design, data and product. These sessions happen whenever they’re necessary (there’s no fixed schedule) but they’re great for getting everyone aligned and flushing out any unknowns that we should address upfront.
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I really love this question :hot_coral_heart: I’m going to start asking it to engineers in 1:1s :smiley:

My answer would be: “we don’t have all the answers”. When you join Monzo it can be tempting to think “they’re doing great, they must be doing everything right”. That can lead you to accept processes and ways of working rather than challenging them. I was very reluctant to make suggestions when I first joined because everybody seemed so smart. But I soon realised that because there is so much to do, most of the decisions we made in the past were taken quickly and there’s almost certainly a better way to do things.

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Dog and dog :dog: (I really like dogs)

This might not be Monzo specific, but for me it’s delivering difficult performance feedback. We are really trying to build the best team possible and that means both supporting people in doing the best work of their career, but also being honest with them when things aren’t going well. I’m getting a lot more confident with this, but it’s one of the hardest parts of being a manager. I’ve learnt a lot from Radical Candor about how delivering tough feedback in the right way is often the most helpful thing you can do for someone’s development.

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I’m currently managing engineers working across a few different teams (Lending, Savings and Growth).

In Lending we’re working on the underlying systems that help us make credit decisions (how much should we lend and to who?) as well as building features in the app that we think will make borrowing better for everyone.

In Savings we’re iterating on Savings Pots in response to your feedback, as well as working on new partnerships to help make your money work even harder.

The engineers in the Growth team are working on our referral mechanisms and looking at how we can help people discover more of the useful features in Monzo sooner.

I’m going to steal this from out job ad :wink:

We’re looking for empathetic managers with a technical background to support and coach our engineers and help drive technical initiatives that improve our engineering practices.

I personally value managers with a high degree of empathy, a strong self-awareness and an ability to challenge the people they manage without pushing them too far and too fast.

I try to build relationships with the people I manage where they feel comfortable giving me feedback directly. We also have ways for them to provide feedback anonymously when they don’t feel comfortable with that. More concretely I also try to admit when I’m wrong or something’s not working. Definitely something I’m working on though!

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I definitely think the latter. A lot of the engineers we interview are coming from a totally different sectors and are interested in Fintech. The mission and culture in each of the big Fintech companies in London is also quite different, which means there’s a lot of different routes in for engineers who are interested.

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