A day in the life: Ryan Cooke (Head of Technology, US, N26)

We recently had a chat with Ryan Cooke, Head of Technology, US, N26 to find out about his journey in tech, his move into technology leadership, and what life is like working at the fintech startup, N26.

What has been your journey in tech so far?

Ryan Cooke: I got my start as a software developer, I started programming at a young age and studied Computer Science at Stanford. My first roles were working in small, collaborative teams at young startups.

As I've professionally grown up surrounded by high-output engineers and seen the impact a single individual can have on a company, my interests have expanded to leadership and creating very engineer-friendly cultures.

What's the biggest challenge you've faced moving into your current role?

RC: This is by far the largest company I've worked for, and driving consensus decisions was a change from the self-direction I'd been accustomed to. It doesn't help that I'm naturally not the most effusive communicator. I've put an emphasis on dedicating time to discovering communication channels and always asking "is there someone else in the organization who knows the answer to my problem?".

Briefly describe your stack and workflow

RC: We are a modern technology company that believes by using practices like CI/CD and cloud-native architecture, we can deliver a better product to our customers.

Our deployment pipelines are pushing updates to live environments dozens of times a day. Much of our stack is built on JVM technologies like Kotlin, but we also depend heavily on automation tools and container orchestration.

What does your typical day look like?

RC: I tend to have a lot of meetings at the start of my day, there are few hours that overlap with everyone's working times across our many offices. My time is split between leading technical efforts for the U.S. project, recruiting engineers, and contributing to compliance efforts. 

With a myriad of requirements and tasks to track, it's essential to stay focused and organized. We use tools like Atlassian and Google Apps, but my source of truth ends up being my calendar most days and I invest time keeping it groomed.

We follow some scrum rituals as part of our software development practices and this keeps me plugged into ongoing development tasks and allows me to give feedback on architecture decisions.

As our team grows inside a scale-up organization, we continuously reevaluate how we are spending time and ways we can increase our output. This applies to our practices as well as our tools.

It's also important to continuously emphasize elements of our culture that make N26 special. Especially important to me is continuous learning and personal development, participating in the NYC technology community, and sharing our best practices back to the distributed teams at N26.

What's the best and worst part of your job?

RC: I love working in technology and getting exposed to new tools and techniques. Being in an environment with a lot of new feature development and evolving technology stack keeps me abreast of the state of the art for many systems.

I still get the occasional opportunity to write code which is super fun. Of course, there are times of frustration being in a distributed team dislocated by time, but working on a new market launch means, at the end of the day, we all have a common goal.

What is the best piece of advice you've received?

RC: "Choose your battles". Highly effective people are naturally opinionated and this leads to a lot of confrontation. I try to be mindful to keep it constructive and remind myself that I don't know everything and am often wrong. This can transform confrontation into a learning opportunity.

What is your most useful resource (e.g. book, blog, newsletter)?

RC: I like to read management books and one of the most impactful has been Black Box Thinking. It sets the tone for how I think about innovation-driven engineering culture - open to failure and dismissive of blame.

What's one thing you'd like to learn, develop or work on in 2019?

RC: I always have a few side projects I'm working on, usually productivity tools, but I've been toying lately with the idea of writing my own programming language.