Since Nubank’s early days, smart technological choices have empowered the business. Our world-class engineering team leads innovation, attracting the attention of tech companies around the globe. Now, one more expert is joining our group: Adrian Cockcroft, Nubank’s first Tech Advisor.
The senior engineer is considered one of the tech industry’s luminaries. He has a long professional history working at the leading edge of technology for 40 years.
Before retiring from Amazon and moving to a consultant role, he led sustainability marketing for AWS and invested in the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative, helping customers understand how to apply sustainability practices to their businesses.
Previously, he created the AWS open source community engagement team, led the process for joining the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, and was the initial board member. He has also been Netflix’s Cloud Architect, leading their open source program.
In this interview, he shares your perspective on tech and the challenges ahead.
What motivated you to join the Nu team?
Nubank is a very important reference customer for AWS. I joined AWS in 2016, and met with the team a few times, eventually becoming the AWS Executive Sponsor for the company.
I saw the powerful combination of a leading-edge technology platform and a focus on under-served customers growing extremely quickly over several years. When I retired from AWS, I was looking for opportunities to build a new career as a part-time advisor, and now I’m happy to join a tech company that made smart technical decisions from day one.
Nu is a global operator and I’m looking forward to helping the company reinvent what’s possible.
What are the main technical challenges that a tech company that scales at a fast pace like Nu should focus on?
I define speed as latency, how long it takes to get something done. As companies scale up, they tend to get slower. High latency increases work in progress, causes merge conflicts, increases waste, and makes the organization learn and innovate more slowly.
The focus for Nu should be to measure latency across the organization, then use the fastest teams as examples to help everyone learn the organizational practices and technologies that maintain speed at scale.
You are a strong voice in the open source community. From your perspective, what is the importance of open source for innovation, and how do you think Nu can leverage the efforts on this topic?
The highest rate of innovation occurs in strong open source communities, but it’s hard to build and maintain them, and it can be hard for end users to track and absorb those innovations.
I believe open source should be used as a component of a robust technology strategy. When I was at Netflix, we made a deliberate decision to create a technology brand around Netflix using open source. We also wanted to influence the industry to align around concepts and technologies that we had chosen or invented and to use the brand to attract the best talent in the industry.
I think Nu could enhance the usage of open source to leverage its Clojure-related assets but also could create new open standards that disrupt the financial industry.
Nu was born in the cloud and built its key technology from the ground. What kind of benefits and advantages bring these technical choices?
Cloud provides on-demand capacity around the world and increasingly higher levels of functionality to build upon. At Netflix, we used to say we were standing on the shoulders of the tallest giant we could find, and we gave a huge amount of input to AWS on the capabilities that we wanted them to build for us (and everyone else).
However, it can be hard to migrate from a platform capability that has been built in-house when the cloud provider adds its own version of that capability. Wardley Maps provide a way to figure out what capabilities should evolve from custom-built to purchased products to utility services over time. I think the Nu banking platform based on Clojure and Datomic provides a key advantage as immutability is a powerful technique to make distributed systems scale.
You have years of experience in leading-edge technology in different companies. What advice would you give to the new tech leaders?
I believe it’s important for leaders to be impatient and to focus on removing obstacles and simplifying the work their teams are performing. Teams have a tendency to add features, complexity, and polish to their work as they go along when it would be better to break the work into many smaller steps, and learn from them, which is likely to lead in a different direction.
You have been leading a discussion about ESG in the tech industry. How does this topic affect and should be considered in the strategy of tech companies?
I spent the last year or so of my time at Amazon as a VP in the central Sustainability organization. I was responsible for the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative (many petabytes of free weather, satellite, and climate model data), helped write, sponsor, and launch the Well Architected Pillar for Sustainability, and led Amazon’s relationship with os-climate.org, a non-profit financial climate risk consortium.
All companies around the world are faced with two challenges. First, they need to measure and report their carbon footprint (the EU is mandating this now, for instance, and other countries will soon). Second, they need to understand the physical and market transition risks to their business from climate change.
Measuring and optimizing carbon turns out to be a lot of work, but good progress is being made across the industry. Climate risk assessments are at a much earlier stage of development. I’m looking forward to getting to know the teams at Nu better, to see where I can be helpful with technology, open source, and sustainability advice.