Name: Emanuele Blanco
Current position: Chief Technology Officer at Moneyfarm
I’m a technology leader with over 10 years’ experience helping various businesses in sectors such as government, finance, and e-commerce, to deliver value to their customers via modern technology practices. I joined Moneyfarm, a pan-European digital wealth manager, as Lead Software Engineer in 2017, before being appointed CTO in August 2019.
Hi Emanuele! Tell us about your life before leadership – what kind of roles and projects did you work on?
I started my career in Italy as a technology consultant in 2008, mostly as a Java developer. I’d been consulting at a big organisation at the time and I thought it strange how much time we spent talking about software rather than building it. I moved onto product engineering (and to London) in 2010, where I began dipping my toes into concepts such as Agile, Extreme Programming, Software Craftsmanship, and DevOps.
I’ve always been passionate about how we could work more effectively in technology and business; working towards the same goals and each department executing with their own expertise. This led me to become an independent contractor in 2013, helping businesses both to build software and improve their delivery processes.
How did your first leadership position come about, and was it intentional on your part?
I joined Moneyfarm as a contractor at the beginning of 2017. I immediately felt very aligned with the passion and the vision of the team, and I enjoyed helping the company to improve its technology practices. The feeling was mutual and they suggested I join permanently as the Team Lead of one of their engineering teams.
I was helping other developers reach their goals and enjoying it, which I understood to be the key driver behind moving into a leadership position. Plus, knowing the team and understanding the dynamics, meant some of the uncertainty that comes with taking a leadership role in a totally new environment, would be removed.
How did you manage the transition? What came easily / what was difficult?
As I’d been with the team for a while when I made the transition, it didn’t feel overly difficult – I think partly because I didn’t need to prove myself – at least on a technical standpoint – which in my view is always one of the trickiest points in taking a technical leadership role. I tried to prepare for the step up by reading extensively, but while books are extremely helpful (and I recommend doing this), you also have to adapt to the team environment as it presents itself. This is something you can only get right with practice and mistakes.
What was your biggest failure in that first leadership role?
Not fully understanding the unhappiness of one of my team members, which led him to leave the company. My manager at the time asked me if this person was doing ok, as he’d noticed a change in behaviour, but I wasn’t expecting him to resign so quickly.
I did get the chance to speak to the employee and he told me that actually he’d wanted to leave the company for a while but me taking over made him stay longer as he liked the direction in which I was taking the team. Still, it wasn’t enough for him to stay and it was a tough lesson to learn.
What made you keep doing it?
I think you’ll always experience setbacks in leadership positions, no matter how successful a leader you are. While of course I was disappointed to lose someone, the fulfilment of leading a team of professionals to improve both at an individual level and as a team remained and motivated me to keep doing it.
Tell us a fun fact that nobody knows about you
I’ve been playing the bass guitar since I was 14! I used to be in a few cover bands playing live music both in Italy and the UK, although I rarely play nowadays.
What are the three key skills you think every leader needs?
If I have to pick three, I would say being able to lead change, strong listening skills and being able to solicit feedback.
Leading change because I think leadership is a lot about delivering continuous improvement for your team, which can only be attained by a certain degree of change. Some people are very change-averse though so it’s not easy to get them on board. To get their buy-in, you have to actively listen to their concerns so you can have the right conversations about getting them on board.
Lastly, soliciting feedback is incredibly important because being the ‘boss’ means some people won’t come and tell you they disagree with some of your choices. But it’s vital to learn from your mistakes (you’ll always make some, like everybody else) and getting feedback from the people you work closely with is a great tool to ensure you have an outsider’s perspective on how you do your job.
What have you learned about acquiring and retaining talent?
I believe that hiring talent is a two-way relationship. There is a mutual benefit for both the company and the person. Job descriptions are very important, as that’s the first impression a candidate has of the company. It has to be clear not only why you would need this person, but also what the company is giving back to them in terms of culture, growth, responsibilities and so on.
Being honest and setting clear expectations is key to putting the relationship on the right path. Once you hire the right talent, it is important to make them feel valued within the company. I think you do that by giving people autonomy, mastery, and purpose (from Daniel H. Pink’s book, ‘Drive’), and using radical candor helps a lot in retaining talent.
How do you motivate your team and manage their stress levels?
I’m an open book and I tend to share as much as I can with my team. I trust them completely and know that by giving them the context and letting them make their own decisions, within their skill sets, they will feel empowered, Motivation, in my experience. is strongly correlated with how empowered you are to do your job.
I have regular 1:1s with my reports during which they can come and talk to me about everything and anything – it’s their time. I also run a monthly ‘CTO Office Hours’ day in which I take a day off from any other meetings and everybody in the organisation can book a 30 min slot with me. I care about my team’s wellbeing and people feel more motivated if they know that I’m there for them.
I noticed you can gauge stress levels from conversations, resulting in finding the most appropriate way to relieve the pressure. However, I don’t believe in completely shielding the team: the right level of pressure is important to grow and succeed, but you need to keep an eye on the gauge to avoid it causing stress and, even worse, burnout.
How do you manage your own stress levels and productivity?
My first two months as CTO were very stressful as I took over during the summer months, when most people take holidays. I had the feeling I wasn’t moving the needle quickly enough, and became very stressed quite quickly.
What I found really helpful was to start writing my objectives down, so I could keep track of my and my teams’ progress. This is helpful when you feel overwhelmed, as it reduces the cognitive overload of keeping everything in your mind, and also improves productivity.
Also, being mostly remote as I currently am, I try to be as strict as possible when it comes to separating work and non-work; I avoid doing long hours for a sustained period of time. Exercising every day also helps me maintain a healthy mind.
How do you stay in sync with other parts of the business?
We have a 30-minute standup first thing every day with the execs from the other parts of the business, plus a longer weekly meeting. That helps keep everybody aligned to the same goals and a short, but tight feedback loop, allowing more time for lengthier discussions.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
That’s a much longer time horizon than I’m used to thinking about! I would still love to be building great products powered by technology, which can have a meaningful impact on people’s lives.
And finally, what product do you wish you’d invented?
The Personal Computer. When I was a kid they weren’t common in Italy, and I felt very lucky to have had access to one early in my life. It changed my life and many others’ through the years.
Thank you, Emanuele!