Name: Marta Jasinska
Current position: Chief Technology Officer at MOO
I started my career back in 2006 as a J2ME engineer developing mobile games. I moved to the UK in 2008 to work on browser based action games in Brighton but quickly switched to a role in the much more stable world of e-commerce where I focused on back end web services development. After a couple of years of coding APIs and working through large scale data migration and analytics projects I started my first engineering management gig in 2011.
For the last 9 years I have been in various technology management and leadership roles. Most recently in 2018 I stepped into my first C-level role as the CTO at MOO leading our Technology, Product and Design team of 120 people and working on transforming our digital offering to match new type of customer and product that MOO is focusing on!
I am a gamer, comic book nerd and an amateur illustrator. I always enjoyed working in organisations that allowed me to play into my creative side, whether it’s partnering with the creative teams at NCSoft or working with the designers in print and physical product manufacturing companies like MOO and Photobox.
Tell us about your life before leadership – what kind of roles and projects did you work on?
Just before moving into management I was a pretty successful BE engineer. I was developing REST APIs and web applications mostly in Java and C# .Net. I was very passionate about engineering and testing principles. It was during the early days for CI and CD and TDD and I was very excited to be introducing these with our teams. I was seriously considering moving into an architecture role before I realised I really enjoy leading teams. As a manager I found that I had to push myself to seek projects with technology solutions that I am less familiar with – making sure I won’t get too tempted to get “hands on”. Moving between different projects as a manager finally led to a step up into a “proper” Leadership role when I became a Web Development Director at Photobox.
How did your first leadership position come about, and was it intentional on your part?
When I joined Photobox my line manager was the Web Development Director. We worked together for over a year and had a great relationship. As he decided to move on he talked very openly with me about the role, scope of responsibility and size of the challenge. He was convinced I was the right candidate to take the job over and his support, mentorship and advocacy really helped to build up my confidence and gave me a good sense of what to expect. My instinct is always to seek the next challenge so tripling the size of my team and taking responsibility for large and diverse technology stack during a time of transformation seemed quite exciting.
How did you manage the transition? What came easily / what was difficult?
Initial transition was quite smooth – I already had established relationships with most of the impacted people and I understood the technical problems we were facing pretty well. The following months, however, were no walk in the park. I quickly learned that hiring and managing managers requires a very different set of skills. I struggled with recruitment for my own backfill and while I was going through that process one of the key members of the team decided it’s time to move on. I then took over the AWS migration project he was leading, which meant I was suddenly learning a lot about DevOps and platform management in the process. It was also the first time I was fully responsible for managing a relationship with 3rd party software development agencies – one based in Ireland and one in Ukraine, both quite strained at that point in time. As all these problems played out I had a brand new role to embrace and learn about – as a Director I became a member of various leadership forums which really pushed me to get more comfortable presenting to larger groups of senior stakeholders and brought my understanding of the business to the next level. There was a lot going on!
What was your biggest failure in that first leadership role?
I took on many new challenges in a very short period of time. As a result I really struggled to find time for anything other than tactical issues of day to day delivery or team management. It meant I spent my first months in the role unable to plan ahead and to participate in more strategic conversations about the organisation and our platform and technology strategies.
What made you keep doing it?
I am very stubborn! That, and my teams. I quickly realised that as a leader I can help create diverse and engaged teams that are keen to deliver value, do not compromise on quality and respect their craft. When such a team shares a goal, sense of purpose and set of values, there is little that can stop them from solving even gnarliest problems. And solving hard problems with people I respect and can learn from is what gets me out of bed every morning!
Tell us a fun fact that (nearly) nobody knows about you
I love musicals, especially the old classics like Singing in the Rain or Gigi. The older and cheesier the better!
What are the three key skills you think every lead needs?
In no particular order:
- Ability to clearly articulate their vision in an inspiring and engaging but genuine and meaningful way. The more tangible and exciting that vision is the easier it will be for the teams across the entire organisation to make everyday decisions that move them towards that goal.
- Curiosity and learning mindset. With every leadership role I took on I discovered so many things I didn’t understand or simply didn’t know about. Starting every day with an open mind and approaching every problem and interaction with genuine curiosity allows us to keep learning and growing as leaders and as human beings.
- Sense of humor or perspective. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I deal with serious, intense and stressful matters at work. I am often very aware of the fact that my decisions can have massive consequences for the people on our teams, for our customers and stakeholders. I take this responsibility very seriously, but I never take myself very seriously. Being able to diffuse tensions and to calm things down by bringing the bigger picture perspective into heated conversation as well as ability to take a joke when the joke is on you is helps leaders stay sane even if the world around them is on fire.
What have you learned about acquiring and retaining talent?
One of the biggest learnings for me in recent years was accepting the fact that sometimes it’s ok to let people move on. As people managers we tend to obsess over attrition in our teams and we often try to pull all the levers available to make sure our “key players” stay on board. What I realised over the years is that we owe it to our teams to consider people’s personal lives, their career development and the forces outside of our control that have impact on their decisions. Know what’s best for people on your teams and when what’s best for them is not what’s best for you and for the business. Then work on fixing that.
How do you motivate your team and manage their stress levels?
As MOO’s CTO I have a privilege to work with a very capable, highly skilled and driven team of leaders who are putting a lot of energy into driving the success of our organisation. A big part of my job is to ensure that that energy is always directed towards the most sensible outcomes and to make sure that the work they do for MOO never has any impact on their personal life or health. Understanding our business strategy and the role digital product and technology plays in it reduced a huge amount of tension between my team and our stakeholders. Dedicated time for coaching, leadership training, team building and self care helps us all manage our work-life balance.
How do you manage your own stress levels and productivity?
For me personally it’s important to maintain a certain level of distance, allowing myself to step away and gain perspective. I have a number of activities that help me take off my “CTO” hat, even if it’s for an hour or so – gym is one of them, gaming is another, time with friends and family or managing my cat’s instagram (give us a follow).
How do you stay in sync with other parts of the business?
At MOO we strongly feel that there are no “other parts” of the business – we are all one team MOO and we all want to work together on common goals. That kind of approach has led MOO’s thinking about ways of working, communication and organisation design. We have many cross-functional teams at all levels of organisation, each with clear objective and well defined outcomes that can be connected to our company objectives and ultimately to our mid-to-longer term strategies. I credit my peers at the MOO’s Executive team – leaders or other functions in the business – for embracing this approach driving it’s implementation and adoption in their teams.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
To be honest, I’m really bad at predicting my future career moves – even 2 years ago I didn’t think I would take on a C-level role or that I will be leading Technology and Product functions! That being said, it’s likely that I will continue to seek new challenges, opportunities to learn and grow. Whether it’s type of the business, size of the team, technical challenge or location, I am sure I at least one if not all of these factors will change for me over the next 5 years.
What product do you wish you’d invented?
Teleportation device. I don’t actually mind if someone else gets to invent one first – just really wish it existed!
Thanks very much, Marta!