Nubank’s Engineering Principles: questions from a CTO to a CEO

Nubank's Chief of Technology Officer Matt Swann invited Nubank's CEO David Vélez for a conversation to share some thoughts about the importance of tech professionals roles.

Nubank's Engineering Principles. Nubank's Chief of Technology Officer Matt Swann invited Nubank's CEO David Vélez for a conversation to share some thoughts about the importance of tech professionals roles.

We believe engineering at Nubank should use Canonical Approaches, consistently Applied. We know that our Data is a Strategic Asset and Customer Trust is Hard to Earn and Easy to Lose. We want to Leverage through Platforms, feel Ownership & Technical Resiliency, and we trust that Multiple perspectives build better software. 

These are the principles that guide the software engineering team and have been applied since the very beginning of Nubank.

David Vélez, Nubank’s founder and CEO, is one of the responsibles for shaping these guidelines that drive our teams to challenge the status quo by building cutting-edge solutions. Matt Swann joined Nubank in 2021 and leads our engineering teams, as well as oversees the development and execution of our global technology strategy and roadmap. 

In this interview, the leaders talk about the engineering role at Nubank and how the tech teams should act over the product development process.

Engineers as Nubankers

Mat Swann: Of all Nubank’s Engineering Principles, what are the ones that resonate more with you?

David Vélez: All the principles resonate with me, but I would highlight the ownership principle. From the very beginning, it has been a company principle: we are owners, not renters. This principle exists because one of the things that upset me is seeing a division between owners and renters, the bosses and the employees. 

It is almost felt they oppose each other, creating distrust and conflicts. Ultimately, if you were in a boat, people would be rowing in different directions. Ownership means that everybody is rowing in the same direction. 

This is the attitude across Nubank, but in engineering it is especially important because we don’t want the traditional IT group that sits in a different building and receives a list from the business areas of what they want to do. 

We want engineers to be actively involved in the same team providing inputs and their point of view around the product, going beyond the code to be builders and owners of that product. 

And it has been something we defined in the culture of Nubank from the beginning: expecting more from you. And it is fundamental in engineering, which is the core building block for a product. We expect engineers to be problem solvers across all dimensions of the company.

Matt Swan: How should engineering balance the business’ demands to deliver quick wins versus the long-term highly scalable solutions that take time to build? 

David Vélez: It is a tough question, and I don’t think there is a one-size answer that fits all the cases. Usually, it is a micro decision that everybody in a team should make based on the available information and the urgency of a task. 

I would say that some people might feel that, in big companies, there are different perceptions of the business and of engineering. But I believe that at Nubank, everybody understands the concept of trading the short term for the long run. We all optimize for the long run, and we are willing to miss short-term goals because we want to achieve these long-term goals. 

In summary, I would say that the way to find the solution is: getting in the same boat, having a conversation, and understanding the urgency level.

Mat Swann: When you think about the coming years, what is the most critical attitude for engineers at Nubank?

David Vélez: There is technical excellence; we need to keep being excellent technically, and that is almost a given. We have to be great architects and be thoughtful about how the organization is being built, and platformization is a big aspect. But about behaviors, I’ll go back to the ownership mentality, which means pushing back when there is bureaucracy. 

Often we see things that don’t make sense, and most of the time it is because there was a lack of perspective that an engineer or anyone else on the team could have offered. What I ask as we grow is: speak up and give your point of view.

Fighting complexity in the future

Mat Swann: One of the things we have been talking about is platformization, and how we think about this as a principle. What does that mean to you when you think about the company’s future?

David Vélez: We optimize Nubank for speed from the beginning. We started with a bold idea of building the next generation of financial services in Brazil, and everybody said we were crazy. We had something to prove at the time, so we needed to launch as fast as possible in Brazil. 

And then suddenly, what if we launched Nubank’s Bank Account? Then, personal loans, and Mexico, Colombia? Ultimately, we got to a point where we said: the opportunities we have for Nubank’s future are ample, so why limit ourselves? 

The problems that we are trying to solve in Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia happen to be present in many emerging markets. So platformization can allow different testing at the same time while we keep the other business running. It is a massive enabler for growth and critical to take advantage of opportunities.

Mat Swann: We have big ambitions and have grown a lot in the past few years. Have you thought about ways to fight complexity within our app?

David Vélez: Growth brings complexity, and if you are aware of this fact, you can work and be thoughtful about how to minimize it. Our app has an exciting design challenge and is ultimately very much aligned with creating a personal banker, which means having a Nubank fit for every single customer. 

It means to have a machine learning model that, based on the customer’s need, will show a different app offering precisely what they need at the right time.

Mat Swann: What do you think could be better at Nubank?
David Vélez: One of the things that make me really proud of Nubank is that we have one of the best engineering teams in the world. Some of the things our team is building are really cutting edge. But what I would like is to hear more from engineering in different forms and different levels. As we always say, we need to have the customer at the table; I would say that in every single decision, we should have engineering at the table.

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