Building TransferWise or the road to a product engineer

Soon it is my 5 years anniversary at TransferWise. I looked back. I wrote down what has come to my mind.

I was hired as an engineer. I thought I was hired to write the code and that is what I started doing. Simple duty. Take a task from a ticketing system, implement it and move on to the next one. Easy. One of my first tickets was following: "add a checkbox to the page with a certain functionality". Easy. I did that and then Kristo asks for a call and asks me a very simple question: "Why have you done it?". I've tried to reply something but other questions followed... You know how I felt? I felt miserable, confused and disoriented. I remember I said clearly "I feel very stupid.". Kristo replied "It is fine." Then we have had a long chat and I spent next couple weeks on that task. I talked to people trying to understand why that checkbox is needed and what does that mean after all. I designed new layout for the page. I implemented the solution. Since then I kept coding. I still believed that it was my duty and this is what I was hired for. But you guess what? Kristo kept asking questions. Slowly but steady it came to my mind that it is not the coding that I am suppose to be doing. I found my self doing a variety of activities. Talking to customers and analysing their behavior. Supporting new joiners and building the team. Designing pages. Building a vision. Many other things and of course writing the code.

At some point I understood. This stopped being easy. It has become very hard and challenging. All variety of questions were floating through my head including following. "Why at all I am hired?". "What I should be doing?". "Am I valuable?". "What is my value?". "What was my impact lately?" An example from my own life helped me to clear this out. I have a piece of land and I went to build a house. I researched the topic. I earned necessary money to fund it. I chose an architecture plan. I found workers. I organised building materials delivery. If I am to be asked about it I will clearly say: "I am building a house". I also realised. What if the workers whom I've found will be asked as well? Their reply will be exactly the same: "I am building a house". This fact amazed me. Our activities are quite different but all together we are building that house.

This analogy helped me massively. I got to a simple conclusion. I am here to build and grow TransferWise. Building TransferWise is what expected from me. Building TransferWise means variety of different activities. It may be putting bricks together to create a wall. It may be designing interior and exterior. It may be organising materials delivery. It may be talking to others who have build houses and are living in those. It may be finding and hiring builders. It might be visiting builders in a hospital when they get sick.

It also helped me to understand why am I doing it after all. With my own house it is easy because it is me who will be living there :) Apparently all the other houses in the world are constructed for someone to live there. I can’t imagine builders going for: “Let’s start building walls and then we will figure out how many floors we can get to and see if anyone will happen to live in that construction.” It will always start from consideration of people, their needs and their wishes. In case of TransferWise from thinking of customers who will be using it.

That said. I was foolish when I was evaluating myself by an engineering tasks I've finished. I was foolish to think that what I'm used to be doing is what I should be doing. Nowadays my aim is to make things happen. My aim is to figure out what needs to be done and do it. My measurement of myself is not the lines of code or a number of meetings I've had. It is not about the number of bricks I’ve placed. My goal is to have people living in the houses I’ve build. My goal is to see them living a happy life there. My goal is to see a happy TransferWise customers.

Eventually my title changed from an engineer to a product engineer and then to a product manager. I am not skilled to do my job and constantly do mistakes. But I try and keep trying. My life has become easy again. I found a better way to be an engineer.