After several experiences as an Architect and Engineering Manager, mostly for retail, Stephan joined N26 as a Principal Engineer and became the Director of Engineering and Site Lead for the Barcelona Office.
N26 is The Mobile Bank, helping you manage your bank account on-the-go, track your expenses, and set aside money in real-time. The company employs more than 1.500 employees across 8 global office locations: Berlin, Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Vienna, New York, and São Paulo
‘I am a software engineer, and I worked as a software engineer in some form or another for almost all of my career. I have always been passionate about the big picture and the overall architecture of the systems to solve business and customer problems.‘STEPHAN LAGRAULET
From his home in Barcelona, Stephan speaks about life as a Director of Engineering. Thank you, Stephan!
1. First, can you tell us a bit about your job? What does your company do?
My company is N26, which is one of the biggest neo-bank in Europe, that got a banking license in 2016 and reached the “Unicorn” status in early 2019. We have currently one of the highest valuations for a startup in Germany.
I was hired as a Principal Engineer, switched to Head of Engineering a couple of months later, helped to grow the team from 20 to 100+ engineers, hiring 4 engineering managers in 2019 to support our engineers.
Then I switched to a more global role, becoming Director of Engineering for N26, overseeing our Global Platform Engineering and Internal IT team while being the Site Lead of the Barcelona Office.
2. What brought you to this area and what’s your background?
I am a software engineer, and I worked as a software engineer in some form or another for almost all of my career. I have always been passionate about the big picture and the overall architecture of the systems to solve business and customer problems.
I also realized along the years that Conway’s law was having a huge influence on the architecture of the systems. So I start looking towards some management positions to be able to have an influence on the structure of the teams, as well as leading the engineers with all the experience I accumulated, making many mistakes along the way and hopefully learning from them (and still learning by the way…).
Moving to Barcelona in 2017, I started taking bigger teams, both local and remote, progressively changing my leadership style as my responsibilities grew.
3. So what time does your day start, and what does your typical workday schedule look like?
I bring my son to school at around 9 am, and usually have a block free of meetings from 9.15 am to 10 am to prepare the day (and often the meetings of the day). I have an early lunch break (to Spanish standards…) from 1 pm to 2 pm, and I try to finish my meetings at 6 pm to get one hour to wrap up the day, read all important emails, and close for the day.
I have quite a packed schedule at the beginning of the week, with leadership meetings, of my teams and for the whole tech org. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I usually have my one on ones, and often on Fridays, we have our demos.
4. What kind of projects are you working on?
As you can understand in a bank we have a lot of regulatory obligations, and it’s a big part of my job to make our platforms not only scalable but also secure and compliant.
In Platform Engineering we transformed the team to be organized like the product teams, and we are moving to a multi-account strategy using Infrastructure as Code, for example, Terraform/Atlantis, moving to Kubernetes (from Nomad).
We are members of the CNCF end-user group and try to build a bank in the most automated way possible, with Cloud Native workloads in mind.
5. What do you consider the greatest achievements to date?
I’m quite proud of the growth we had in Barcelona, and the people I hired as EM there, that have brought a lot of ideas and are giving me a lot of ideas.
We also managed to hire a lot of smart people, one of the strongest I ever had, and for me it is an environment I like to give to the engineers I hire, where they can learn every day and develop themselves.
I’m also proud about the transformation we have in Platform Engineering and Internal IT, switching from a reactive mode to a product mindset is a big shift and requires a lot of commitment from the teams, as well as a lot of explanations from my side, inwards and outwards.
6. What is the one app you could not live without?
N26 of course!
I’m also using a lot of Google apps, and I listen to the radio very often, so this will come up as the most used app probably.
7. What’s the best thing about working at your company?
Like I said a bit earlier, learning every day is great. I encountered so many different situations, that it is hard to remember all of them.
This is the type of environment that I want to offer to all the engineers that I hire, where they can learn and grow within a safe and challenging environment.
Building a bank from scratch is certainly a challenge, and disrupting a heavily regulated business requires a lot of energy and forward-thinking.
You certainly need to be comfortable with uncertainty, and some composure in difficult situations.
8. Who is your professional role model?
Tough question… I joined the company mostly because of Pat Kua, whom I met a couple of years before joining N26 when he was still working for Thoughtworks. I would say that I like his approach to leadership and his focus on building a culture for a company. From a technology point of view, again the tech radar from Thoughtworks and the articles from Martin Fowler are important to read. It’s always a kind of achievement when you choose a technology or introduce a practice before it appears on the tech radar…
9. What makes Barcelona a good city for technology, startups and diversity?
The tech scene is amazing, there are a lot of startups and tech hubs of very innovative companies. There are also a lot of local talents here, and from an international hiring perspective, it is easy to sell the Barcelona way of life!
10. Which tech trends are you most excited about?
Obviously, all the ecosystem built around Kubernetes is very interesting, and a lot of the tools under the CNCF umbrella are solving enterprise problems at scale.
We are members of the CNCF end-user community and I wish I would have more time personally to spend learning all of these technologies.
11. What are the top 3 qualities you look for in an employer?
Ambition is important, the ability to think big. I also believe a lot in the autonomy given to the teams. Having a culture of constant learning, no blame when something goes wrong but learn from it.
I’m also looking for innovation on the product and technology side but also into our ways of working or ways of solving the problems in different ways than our competitors.
Last, I value transparency a lot, and I try to be as transparent as possible with my teams because it is a powerful way of earning trust from them.
12. Where is the after work hangout?
Well, right now it is a bit tough… But before we could go to Catacroquet which is very close by, or to one of the many bars on Rambla de Poble Nou.
Of course, the must is having a drink in a chiringuito on the beach, about 10 minutes from the office…
13. And finally, what is the one piece of advice you would give to a technologist starting out?