Welcome to the next feature in our Leaders in Tech editorial series. Speaking to leaders in the industry to capture their stories, career highs and lows, their trials and successes, their current company and their role, most recent projects, advice to others, and the individuals who they most look up to in the industry.
This week, we talked to Isaac Perez Moncho, Head Of Infrastructure at Lending Works, to find out more about why he joined the tech industry, what his role entails, what are the challenges he faces as a tech leader, and his advice to aspiring engineers and developers.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
In my last role, as DevOps Manager at Growth Street, I managed the DevOps, TestOps, Salesforce teams, and, during the last six months, I was also managing the software engineering team.
The role had two distinct facets, a technical and a people one.
On the people side, we fostered a safe and healthy environment for everyone to progress in their careers.
On the technical side, I was involved in the architecture-like work with the engineers, technology strategy and roadmaps, and some hands-on work with the DevOps team.
My next role is Head of Infrastructure at P2P Fintech company, and I will be starting in January.
What was your journey like?
I started working at university where I was studying Computer Engineering, and simultaneously at a PC shop. My initial months were very hands-on on the hardware side, building PCs and networks, and managing Windows 2000 domains. It was the first time I had to deal with the security of a domain, we investigated different ways to keep the servers secure and the users limited to what they could do. It served me quite well to start thinking about security and how users can try to go around it.
After that, I worked in a small consultancy in Spain, in which we had to wear many hats (Linux and Windows servers, security, networks, etc). It was the first time I managed someone, and it ended pretty badly. I brought a friend from university into the company and I was responsible for the department we were both working in, after a few months it was clear that he was not delivering to the level of quality we wanted and the customers told us so much. I had to tell my boss that I wanted him out of the company. It was a very intense situation that taught me a lot about management, communication, and what happens when you don’t have any of it.
When I moved to the UK in 2008, I worked as a Sysadmin in an IBM consultancy for a short period until I joined the consulting team. My main areas of expertise were monitoring and software deployment at scale. It was an awesome learning experience as there were some exceptionally talented and experienced consultants working at the company who were also very helpful.
The work as a consultant led me to an opportunity in the Datacenter Operations team at Thomson Reuters. It was the first time I had to work at scale, our team managed around 200k servers in total and some of our tools directly managed around 50k servers. When you do things at that scale even a software update for all the servers takes a lot of time.
After working in Thomson Reuters, I started as a DevOps engineer at Growth Street and, thanks to the support of my then manager, I started moving into management positions. It was refreshing to go back to a small company where you could make a big impact and everyone sat closeby.
I want to mention a few people who helped me during this journey. Manuel Mesas and Kiko Jover, who helped me get my first proper technology jobs. Giles McGarry hired me for my first role in the UK, despite my level of English at the time. Jeremy Taylor hired me in my first DevOps role, despite some internal opposition to have an in-house DevOps team. And last but not least, Nick Stevenson, who gave me increasing leadership responsibilities and helped me grow as a leader.
What drew you to the tech industry?
It was almost by accident. I had computers for a long time, starting with an Amstrad 464, and then the early PCs. But it was never an interest as a career until one day I thought that I should learn more about computers and enrolled in a Computer Engineering degree at a local university.
I realized the tech industry was a perfect place for me, as its rapid pace of change and vastness allows for almost infinite learning.
Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
I have been very fortunate to have had mentorship from my manager at Growth Street, Nick Stevenson, the CTO, and I learned a lot from him during the last three years.
I try to learn from many sources. I find inspiration in Seth Godin’s posts; Tim Ferris, How I Built This, and Masters of Scale podcasts; and countless books like Thinking in Systems, the Manager’s path, Accelerate, or Building Evolutionary Architectures.
As communities go, the Rands Leadership Slack is one of the best. There I connected with Tim Schindler who mentored me for a few months while I was searching for a new job.
How do you keep motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?
In general, I always try to see the positive side of any situation and the opportunity in every challenge.
If I start feeling that I’m facing a big obstacle, I try to lower the entry barrier to solve it: I split it in chunks and get started with the easiest one that helps me move forward.
I learn about how I can overcome it by reading about the topic and doing some research on my own, I will also reach out to people with relevant experience and find out if they can help me.
What are your current goals?
Consolidate my tech, and leadership skills are my focus now. I want to get more experience in leading people and move into a lead of leads position. On the technical side, I would like to know if my way of thinking about technology, especially cloud infrastructure, works in other companies. So I will be testing philosophy in my next position.
I’m also advising a couple of friends who are looking to start new companies, I help them with the technology side.
What are you the proudest of in your career so far?
One was helping create the environment for the high-performing teams we had at Growth Street. It was not only my work, but I am proud of what I added and the team cohesion and camaraderie we created together.
The second one was the creation of the principles around which our cloud infrastructure was based on. We had two infrastructure incidents in two years, and both were solved by killing an EC2 instance (we automated the process shortly after the second incident).
What is the favorite part of your job?
Working with the team to create solutions that solve real problems. I enjoy working with people to develop solutions and see those solutions being used by others.
Deployment pipelines are an excellent example of this; you work with the team to create a solution that solves a real problem and can have a massive impact.
What has been your greatest challenge so far?
I have to admit that I have not had any life-changing challenges that seem insurmountable at the time. My biggest challenge so far was leading a team of software engineers, which is not usually led by a DevOps manager. The team had various levels of experience and personalities, and I had to prove I could lead engineers without being able to help them with writing code.
I believe it worked quite well, and I have an excellent relationship with all the engineers I led at the time.
What’s the most important risk you took in your career, and why?
One could say that moving countries is a risk; however, I think I took a minimal risk when moving to London. The worst that could have happened was that I moved back to Spain and had to look for a job there.
Working in a startup can also be considered a risk because most startups fail. But, despite the company closing its doors, I learned a lot, and it helped my career.
I would say that the risks I have taken have all been calculated and I had mitigation strategies for all of them.
What have you learned from your experience so far?
Working together with people is the most important thing you can do; solo heroes don’t get too far.
Using design thinking techniques in all solutions you build, working together with others, and creating the right environment to get the result you want is very important to achieve your goals.
After learning about design thinking and its tools in a course at the Open University, I made sure that we made continuous use of user surveys, we asked users what they needed before doing any work, then we asked them how they were using our solutions after we released an initial version.
Many people think that design thinking techniques like user surveys or user journeys are only for external users. However, we used all of them with the teams we were serving and who used our tools.
Do you have a memorable story or an anecdote from your experience you’d like to tell?
One of the engineers I led came one day to work and was extremely excited about the new, pretty big, screen he bought for himself at home. He kept talking and talking about how much he liked it and how much better it was than having to screens.
I talked to my manager and made the case to buy the same one for the office, which we did.
One day, the engineer arrived at his desk and found the big screen waiting for him.
After that day, the team knew and told me that I listened to what they said.
Some people would see buying a new screen as a cost, but I think that was one of the best and cheapest investments we could have made as a company.
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring engineers who want to grow in the tech industry?
Three things that will help you grow in any industry, as explained in the book Rise, are: Doing good work, making it visible, and connect with others.
I cannot overstate how important it is to make your work visible. Until a couple of years ago, I thought that good work would speak for itself, and it does, just very slowly. I’m not saying you should endlessly self-promote yourself, but you should make sure people know about the work you have done and that you are collaborating with others.
On the subject of doing good work, I would like to add that being dependable, keeping your promises, and taking ownership of the solutions makes a big difference. Once your boss realizes they can rely on you, they will start giving you more responsibilities.
For the tech industry, in particular, keeping up to date with the recent trends and new technologies it’s as essential as difficult.