Name Dropping is a Q&A series that aims to elevate the stories of women and nonbinary people leading in the tech space. The idea came from Angela DeFranco, a VP of Product at HubSpot, who said one way to be better allies is to name drop more women and nonbinary people in discussions of achievement, inspiration, and disruptors in tech, instead of referencing, time and again, the same set of (often male) leaders.
Nubank describes itself as a “neobank.” Can you give a quick description of what that means?
“Neobanks” refer to banks that are not the traditional, brick-and-mortar banks — that charge high fees, abusive interest rates, and fight with all their economic power to maintain the status quo. Neobanks are also mostly digitally-based versus having physical branches. You’ll also see the terms “digital bank” or “challenger bank” to mean the same thing. Nubank is currently the largest independent digital bank in the world!
How does Nubank’s mission of “challenging the status quo to create a new generation of financial services in Latin America” translate to your everyday work on the engineering team?
I love this mission in the way it applies to the goals of the business, to challenge the banking status quo, as well as to everyone’s daily work to challenge ourselves and each other and never be complacent with the way things are today.
In my day-to-day this usually means asking a lot of questions — trying to understand why a process or system’s limitation is the way it is, and if there’s a different way for us as a company to think about a situation. Just because the usual players create a product one way, does that mean we have to have all the same features to launch ours, or can we deliver something light and faster to market? If a feature takes a while to launch due to a historical dependency on another team, can we clip that dependency and empower the team? If we want to hire engineers faster, can we expand where we look, and make our process as inclusive and welcoming as possible along the way? Those are just a few examples.
You have an MBA as well as a degree in computer science. How has this particular combination served you in your career?
The computer science degree is self-explanatory — I developed software for about 12 years. During that time I got an MBA because it sounded interesting and I wanted to meet new people. Professionally, I found the most useful part was the two semesters of accounting. I learned a lot of terminology that helps in executive meetings, and accounting rules explain some of the motivations behind business decisions that sound strange or confusing otherwise.
As for the combination — being able to really understand technology and the minds of engineers, and also being able to understand how a business operates and how the financials work is definitely useful in senior technical leadership roles, which by nature straddle both worlds.
Who do you think has helped you become a great leader, either as an inspiration or a mentor?
My most valuable role models were many of my managers and peers over the years and I’ve tried to take pieces of inspiration from all of them.
When I started my career, my first manager was very transparent, kept his office door literally open all the time (this was before open floor plans!), and was a straight-forward communicator. There were times I was nervous to tell him something, and every time he reacted with openness and empathy. When he gave critical feedback, it was always calm and supportive without beating around the bush. And he was highly effective and influential in his own role, which allowed him to make space for the people on his team to grow. He helped me learn a lot and set the tone for how I like to manage to this day.
You have the chance to take any class to improve as an engineer. The catch? It can’t be engineering-related. What do you choose?
Probably something in the psychology department, like human behavior or social psychology. Or maybe something specific to neuroscience — risk assessment, reward behaviors — anything to understand more about why we do what we do as humans. All our products and systems would be better if we understood our users better. Also I find these subjects super fascinating.
You’re a mentor at the Big Sister Association. Can you tell readers about the mission behind the organization, and what they can do to support it?
Yes! The mission of the Boston chapter is “to ignite girls’ passion and power to succeed through positive mentoring relationships with women and enrichment programs that support girls’ healthy development.”
If you have the time to volunteer, please do! It’s an amazing experience and so rewarding for everyone involved. They always need more volunteers for events or long term matches, and I found it to be one of the most flexible volunteering options in the city in terms of being able to work regular hours and still contribute meaningfully. You can also donate, and organizations can partner with them to offer programming for matches.
What’s your greatest career achievement to date?
This is a big question! I’ll try not to overthink it …
Something I dreamed up and devoted a lot of energy to recently was developing and launching the Engineering Principles at Nubank. The engineering department collaborated to define the core principles of technology and development, documented the team’s context and expertise, and delivered an engaging and interactive virtual launch event. That was extremely rewarding for me. I learned a lot myself and gave opportunities for others on the team to have influence and visibility. The project also kicked off powerful discussions among our engineers. Taking these concrete steps to build Nubank’s culture within Engineering as well as between engineers and other functions is an achievement and level of impact I’m very proud of.
Who’s one woman or nonbinary person in technology you’d like to name drop and why?
Marnie Wilking — Wayfair’s CISO.
Information Security is an area I find really intimidating; that function has such a big responsibility to protect the company, employees, and customers. I was lucky to work with Marnie for a while and hopefully we get the chance to team up again in the future.
You have to give a talk at work — what song do you choose to pump yourself up beforehand?
I don’t normally listen to music before giving a talk, but if I did I might go with Kesha’s Raising Hell.
Know another woman or nonbinary person whose name we should drop? Tweet us at @HubSpotDev with ideas.
Interested in working with people who care about thoughtful leadership? Check out our open positions and apply.