From Zero to CTO – Emily Rigby

Name: Emily Rigby

Current position: Head of Engineering


Emily Rigby is a Head of Engineering at OVO looking after the company’s international business and creating small startup energy companies in France and Spain. She came through a fairly traditional route to programming, doing a degree in Computer Science followed by a software engineering job at Bloomberg before exploring a career in management. While her background is in backend systems using C++ and Python, she now builds tools to help her teams in a wide array of languages.

Throughout her career, Emily has been in the minority of women among her peers and is dedicated to working to change that for the future of tech both through mentoring and making sure her voice heard.

Hi Emily! Tell us about your life before leadership – what kind of roles and projects did you work on?

During my Computer Science degree at Southampton, I did internships during the summer to get some experience of what coding would be like as a full-time job. My first position was at Ericsson Television, building testing tools for their set-top boxes. Following that, I secured a placement at Bloomberg in London, working on internal tools for learning and development. That second internship gave me a taste for living in London and working for a big company, so when offered a graduate software engineering role there, I happily accepted.

The first team I joined at Bloomberg was corporate products for pricing derivatives, so a pretty steep learning curve! I was on that team for three years before being promoted, developing a greenfield product in C++, Python, C# and Javascript. 

How did your first leadership position come about, and was it intentional on your part?

Yes! In my second week in the team, I had a conversation with my skip-level manager about my career aspirations and moving into people leadership. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy coding – I still do – I just knew it wasn’t the best use of my skills and I had more to offer. I took on the role of Scrum Master pretty early on and really focused on ensuring the roadmap of the team was well defined, stakeholders were bought in and team members were able to operate efficiently.

Bloomberg had an intensive training program for managers and I was put forward to start the course by my manager who was supportive of my development from the beginning. When he was ready to take on a new team and transitioned to another part of the department, he asked me to step up as Team Lead.

How did you manage the transition? What came easily / what was difficult?

The details of people management came fairly easy to me; I was happy having career development conversations with my engineers, providing opportunities to work on new things, and ensuring feedback was as constructive as possible. What I found difficult was knowing exactly what I should be doing to help my team succeed. My previous manager had been a huge role model for me and I was left feeling second-best when I tried to completely take on his old position.

What was your biggest failure in that first leadership role?

Trying to do too much! This has always been an Achilles heel for me. If I can see things that need fixing, I put a lot of pressure on myself to do something about it, and it can quickly lead to feeling overwhelmed.

What made you keep doing it?

The thing I enjoy most about leadership is seeing someone in your team make meaningful progress on their goals and knowing that you helped them get there. I got that feeling from day one and it’s still what motivates me now.

Tell us a fun fact that nobody knows about you

I’m a bit of an open book and tend to share a lot of details all the time! I was once given the advice that I needed to remain distant from my team in order to maintain the space to deliver difficult messages and gain respect. I tried to follow this advice for a while, but it goes against who I am as a person and I was much happier and more effective when I stopped trying to hide and just stayed my silly, fun-loving self. In the spirit of the question, a fun fact: I am very logical most of the time but I cry very easily at films, tv and even adverts. I have been known to cry at a Coca Cola ad… 

What are the three key skills you think every lead needs?

Empathy, communication and to be a multi-tasker!

What have you learned about acquiring and retaining talent?

It is hugely important who you hire for your team. Technical skill is not going to help in the long-run if they are not team players. I also think retaining talent is a controversial goal, I want people to stay in my team as long as it is helping them grow. If they are no longer being challenged and enjoying their work, it’s time for something new. If that is inside the company then brilliant, but it’s ok for it to be outside too and they shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to leave. What matters to me is that they are heard and motivated in the team environment I have built.

How do you motivate your team and manage their stress levels?

I think a lot of motivation comes from context; while it matters what the team is trying to achieve overall, it matters more that each individual feels like they can impact that outcome. It is also important to involve people in problem-solving beyond technical problems, trust them and give them responsibility. The other thing that makes a difference is passion. If you work with people who really care about solving the issue the team is there to solve, then it almost doesn’t matter what the problem is.

Stress is a tricky one because it’s very personal; each person feels stressed for different reasons and at different times. I want to show that I care about my team’s wellbeing, so I ask leading questions to see if team members are stressed and then try to break down the problem to uncover the root cause of the challenge. I hope that my team feels they can talk to me when being enjoyably busy turns into stress.

How do you manage your own stress levels and productivity?

The short answer is not well. As I admitted before, I am very guilty of trying to do everything. It tends to be that I enjoy a high level of busyness which is borders the point where I’m stressed, so I’m my own worst enemy. Most of the time I have a good work/life balance and am very productive, but then occasionally the scale tips and I am pushed into being stressed and overworked. Then it’s just about talking to people and asking for help until I can rebalance my plate again.

How do you stay in sync with other parts of the business?

I enjoy talking to people across the business, having in-jokes or topics in common really help stay in touch with different people and know what is going on in their world. It’s not for everyone, but I am a fairly social person so this comes naturally to me.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

I used to have a really clear five-year plan, but I achieved it and never got round to making a new one. I’d like to be as happy and satisfied with my life as I am now and I don’t really want any more than that. But I am also someone who will never turn down a challenge, so I imagine I will keep taking bigger and bigger challenges on.

What product do you wish you’d invented?

I’m not really one for jealousy of others’ ideas. I will happily use well-designed products without feeling sad that I wasn’t a part of their making. I would love a planet-friendly product that meant I didn’t have to weed the garden, if someone could get on that!

Thanks very much, Emily!