We talk to Paul Payne, CTO, SaaScada, about life inside and outside of the office, as well as his predictions for areas of investment within finance.
Can you tell us about your current position?
I joined SaaScada as CTO in June 2021 with responsibility for engineering and operations. My experience spans a range of industries including legal/tax, hospitality and financial services but a common theme has been B2B software platforms. This typically involves configurable out-of-the-box functionality combined with an integration layer that hides complexity and accelerates speed to market. At SaaScada, we provide a cloud-native core banking platform that allows institutions to deliver financial products to their customers in an agile way.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
In the early days of SaaScada, I worked with Nelson Wootton – the Co-founder – to define the initial architecture and agreed to build a prototype in the evenings and weekends. Instead of using a traditional SQL database for the ledger, I used a technique known as ‘event sourcing’ which sees all account-related events (in this case credit/debit transactions) stored in a noSQL database. To authorise a new transaction on an account we replay each of those events in sequence to arrive at the current balance. If there are sufficient funds, we write that transaction to the event store and publish it for other services to consume.
Roll forward four years and as CTO I often find myself in situations where clients insist on paying our food or drinks bill. I like to think it’s because we’ve done a great job, but really, I know they are subjecting me to a production test to keep me on my toes!
What style of management philosophy do you employ in your current position?
When involved in the formative days of a software company, I will spend a large percentage of my time leading from the front, blending technical leadership with a hands-on contribution to my team’s objectives. If I need to ask people to work late to hit a deadline, I will be there alongside them. If there is a support issue that occurs over the weekend, I will coordinate internal and customer communication so that our engineers can focus on the situation.
This sets a precedent that there are no hierarchical boundaries when it comes to delivering to customers and establishes a culture based on ownership and collaboration. As we enter our next growth phase at SaaScada I know from previous experience that this will serve me well as I work to maintain this philosophy at scale.
If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?
Like many people, I don’t look back on my career and see a string of calculated decisions. Many are based on pure circumstance and although I’ve arguably made some wrong turns, I don’t look back on them with regret, because each represented a learning experience. What I would do differently is to explore business ideas when I was young and free of responsibilities, instead of jumping straight onto the career ladder.
The first half of my career led me down a path of working for increasingly large organisations and while working for a multinational corporation is compatible with any career stage, going all in on a business idea with a friend and living off ramen noodles isn’t as palatable in your forties.
How do you unwind outside of the office?
Leading from the front as CTO rarely means writing production code. In fact, I see it as my responsibility to our board and investors to remain focused on the bigger picture and ensure the engineering function is suitably resourced to meet our deliverables without putting myself in to bat. That said, software engineering is both my profession and my passion. To stay current and get that dopamine hit when my code brings something to life, I spend a bit of my free time learning new programming languages and building side projects with emerging technologies.
Aside from that, I have all the joys of a young family to keep things in perspective and as I live a few minutes’ walk from the beach, I find a blast of sea air first thing in the morning or after work a great stress reliever.
What’s your go-to productivity trick?
The forced work-from-home period of the pandemic meant that like many other leaders of office-based engineering teams, I started to think of ways I could make the best of a difficult situation and came across a ten-year-old article by Paul Graham, the Founder of Y Combinator. ‘Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule’ contrasts the way people organise their day and declares that for a maker.
Over time we had built up a pretty meeting-heavy culture and this article gave me the inspiration to completely re-organise the working day to focus on long, protected periods of productive time, free of all meetings. In practical terms, this means avoiding mid-morning or mid-afternoon meetings, impromptu meetings and scheduling meetings back-to-back. For a relatively simple concept, this has the potential to deliver a step change in team velocity at zero cost and therefore represents a productivity hack I would thoroughly recommend.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment within the finance space?
Most of the larger institutions I interact with are on a multi-year journey to move away from large monolithic systems in favour of technologies that support a more agile approach. Established players are typically sitting on vast amounts of data but accessing it and processing it in a meaningful way can be very difficult due to the amount of legacy technology involved.
To differentiate themselves in the market and compete with leaner FinTechs, established players are being forced to adapt and that means decoupling their technology assets. Moving to a best-of-breed approach in key areas such as CRM, digital services and risk/compliance provides an opportunity to ensure data held in each of these systems is fully accessible and contributes to a data lake. This foundation makes investment in data science teams worthwhile and unlocks the value held in their data.
What are your predictions about future technologies emerging within finance?
2022 was a pretty bad year for the crypto industry, but despite the scandals, I believe blockchain technology is destined to revolutionise many aspects of the financial industry. Ethereum is starting to emerge as the de facto settlement layer, with key players like Coinbase opting to build layer two chains on top of it rather than issuing their own alternative coins.
What the industry lacks, particularly in the United States, is a clear regulatory framework for established and crypto-native institutions to operate within. Once this is established, I expect to see massive disruption as the technology settles down into truly valuable use cases and moves from obscurity to mainstream. Combine this with the sudden leap forward we see in each release of ChatGPT and I see an unprecedented acceleration in the rate of financial services innovation over the next few years.Click below to share this article