Meet our CTO Marcin Ziółkowski
Marcin Ziółkowski, CTO at Northmill
When Marcin recently visited Stockholm we quickly seized the opportunity to ask him the stuff that only a CTO at a fast growing fintech-company can know. For example, will AI take over the world and what would be the most awesome banking feature?
From shy to outward
Growing up in Poland in the final years of the iron curtain, Marcin could never envision himself leading the IT-department at a Swedish company with the ultimate goal of redefining the everyday finance experience for millions of consumers all over the world.
With what used to be a withdrawn personality, he enjoyed staying inside by himself, playing computer games and doing everything to avoid physical training.
Today, it's a different story. Still in his early thirties, Marcin leads his own department of IT-developers. He has evolved into a people person and plays a crucial part in Northmill's effort to build Rebilla, a better financial hub for the 21st century. And yes, he occasionally enjoys jogging as well.
Hi Marcin, please introduce yourself and tell us about your current responsibilities at Northmill?
Personally, I have always considered myself something of a rebel. Professionally, I lead Northmill’s IT-department which is based in Katowice, Poland. It´s my job to make sure that our technical architecture is running like a Swiss watch and that we have everything in place when we launch our mobile financial hub.
Do you prefer people or machines?
Good question! I like machines because they are simple. People are more complex. Machines somehow appear natural to me whereas I had a hard time learning how to interact with people. I’d say I’m okay with both of them for the time being.
If you must name only one title, which is the best video game ever created?
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Managing a growing team
What is the most important attribute to have as a CTO at a fintech company?
From my experience, the single most important thing is to understand where ‘the wind blows’ in IT. Technology changes so often and so rapidly that if we miss the tech train, we quickly end up behind our competition and will suffer from technical debt.
One of my role models is the CTO of Amazon, Werner Vogels, who once said that they’re trying to build “evolvable systems’. That is what we are doing too – and it’s one of the reasons why our financial services are far ahead when it comes to IT.
Northmill’s IT department works from Poland, while the company’s HQ is located in Stockholm. How is that working out on a day-to-day basis?
In order to succeed with the challenge of working remotely, you need to have a united team. If you don’t have one team, but rather a collection of people with different agendas, it will not work, no matter how close or far people are located.
To cope with this, we dedicate lots of time to various team building activities. Once you have people working in the same direction – 1 000 kilometers between the offices doesn't matter that much.
Speaking of the IT-department, it’s growing fast. From two people to ten in just above a year. How do you cope with an expansion like that?
Managing a growing team certainly has its challenges. During the expansion period we needed to stretch ourselves a bit extra in order to have a successful onboard of so many new colleagues. I believe one of the key factors is to make everyone understand what your company’s culture is.
"The vast majority of banks were established in an era before internet reshaped the world. Nothing was designed from scratch to serve the needs of people living in the 21st century"
As part of the on-boarding, I always arrange a trip to our Stockholm HQ so the new guys have an opportunity to meet the management and other vital parts of our organization.
Today, our department is all set and everybody knows what to do. We’ll be entering the next phase of expansion soon and we’ll go through the re-organization again.
Marcin (in the middle) together with co-workers Hugo Palm (to the left) and Łukasz Bańcarz at the office in Katowice, Poland
Think for yourself and question authority
What advice would you give to people interested in joining your team?
Think for yourself. Question authority. I borrowed that phrase from Tool, an American rock band, because I can’t put it in any simpler way. As a programmer at Northmill, you also have to know the technology inside out. Then apply these skills to improve the business.
When it comes to the banking sector, what are you most excited about in the coming months?
I have to say PSD2. It’s going to revolutionize banking in Europe and I look forward to see all the big banks open up their API for any company who is interested in providing modern payment solutions to consumers.
Northmill’s vision is to launch the mobile financial hub of the future. Why does the world need another financial company?
The vast majority of banks were established in an era before internet reshaped the world. Nothing was designed from scratch to serve the needs of people living in the 21st century.
We are in the beginning of a technological revolution and the financial hub that we are building is not a slow reaction to new technology, instead technology is a part of our DNA and the reason we were founded in the first place.
That means we will always be in the forefront, meaning whenever there is technological progress, our customers will reap the benefits within weeks rather than years.
"PSD2 is going to revolutionize banking in Europe. I look forward to see the big banks open up their API for any company that is interested in creating modern payment solutions for consumers"
What would be the most awesome banking feature?
All transactions happening in real time. We have way too big of a human dependency in this area. As a consumer I honestly don't care at all who works at which times in a bank or why an international money transfer needs 48 hours for completion, whereas computer signal needs only 0.01 of a second to reach both countries.
What happens in the remaining 47 hours, 59 minutes, 59 seconds and 990 milliseconds? Beats me.
You visit Stockholm often. What is the first thing you do upon arriving in the Swedish capital?
I go straight to a restaurant called Mangal for a kebab. Once you have tried this kebab, you are dropping all other ones.
Finally, I have to ask. Is artificial intelligence going to take over the world, and if yes, when will it happen?
It is probable and might happen within the next 50 – 80 years.
Want to meet more of the fabulously talented people working at Northmill? Check them out here.