Ahmed, how did your tech story begin?
“I am originally from Cairo, Egypt. I have been programming since I was eleven years old. It is almost as if I was always interested in technology as far as I can remember. Back in Egypt I started as a software engineer, and I had been working in tech for five years before coming to Germany. A highlight of my time in Cairo was my last role in an e-commerce company. We were a small team of five engineers and yet we managed to become the second biggest competitor to Amazon in Egypt.”
Would you say the working styles differ between Egypt and Germany?
“Totally! I would describe the Egyptian startup style as absolute autonomy often leading to absolute chaos, too. In Cairo, I experienced a startup environment where we were working a lot, often 12-14 hours a day. It was hard-core, but we were also given full support and free rein to develop solutions to the problems at hand.
When I moved to Germany, there was a much bigger focus on work/life balance. I noticed that as a software engineer, compared to my working hours previously in Egypt, I had so much more free time. It is nice to have an actual weekend. That said, I believe that the intense experience I had in Egypt was really important for my development and I learned a lot. Later on, I realised how much knowledge I had gained in such a short amount of time.”
At what point, did Fintech and Germany become an option for you?
“To be honest neither going into Fintech, nor moving to Germany was ever part of the plan. However, when I saw the job advertisement at Zencap, a lending company for small business, it seemed to match my skill set and I ended up joining them in 2014 as a Software Engineer. Zencap, Funding Circle as of 2015, was the first venture of the Billie founders, and we learned a lot of lessons there that stood to us later on.
Whilst previously I did not know much about Fintech before moving to Berlin, I started to really enjoy it. I found the engineering work highly stimulating and very different to my previous experience in e-commerce. In e-commerce, you rarely had the opportunity to innovate and solve new problems. However, in Fintech, we were doing that every day as we had to deal with the complexity and ever-changing landscape of the European financial regulatory system.”
And before coming to Billie, how did your career develop after Funding Circle acquired Zencap in 2015?
“When Funding Circle acquired Zencap in 2015, I decided to stay onboard. However, my role changed completely. I became a Technical Project Manager for the next two and a half years. Besides managing the technical dependencies and technical delivery of projects on the European engineering teams, I also became an AGILE coach, which made me responsible for creating and improving working processes across the organisation.
I loved the role as it came with a steep learning curve, mostly because I had the opportunity to work within cross functional teams in several locations. This presented lots of different challenges but were also great learning experiences. As a former programmer who was used to working on something very tangible, the Project Manager role helped me develop crucial soft skills for managing big teams later on in my career.”
Later you left Funding Circle and followed the Zencap founders to Billie. What brought you to that decision?
“Well, I had decided to leave Funding Circle and I had always stayed in touch with Artem (Co-Founder and CTO at Billie). So when he heard I was looking for a new role, he reached out to me and we started chatting about the position of Engineering Manager at Billie. I knew that my knowledge of risk and payment systems would be a strong advantage, as similarities exist between lending and factoring. However, for me to take over the Flow Team to work on the factoring product, would still represent an exciting challenge. In the end, it seemed like it would be a great fit and I accepted.
When I started in September 2018, there were only thirty people in the company and of those thirty, I knew ten from my Zencap times. It was really great to work with those people again but simultaneously it was very different to the Zencap experience. At Billie, we were working with a new product and we were starting clean with smart solutions."
So now you have been with Billie for over two years. Looking back, what has been your favourite project working at Billie?
“I do have a favourite project that was rolling out non-recourse factoring. The whole purpose was to enable the financing of invoices with more peace of mind for our customers, especially when it comes to collections and dunning. The challenge was to deliver a completely new product in a very short time-frame. It was a really big change to our whole system, and it was scheduled to take up to twelve months.
Our team was pushing really hard to deliver and we were eventually able to release it in only six and a half months - which was our minimum time estimate. We were also able to improve our infrastructure greatly. We segregated domains of responsibilities into different micro-services, which has proven to be a crucial investment into Billie's future offerings.
Ultimately, I do not believe any of this would have been possible if not everyone on the team, and the entire company would have been pushing all together in one direction. It really felt like we were playing a key part in our company's mission. All of this makes this project really close to my heart.”
Wow that is impressive. What are you working on now and what are the current challenges?
“Right now, our focus is on building features that we can scale and that work for both products. Billie offers two products, Flow and Boost, and when building the infrastructure, we need to take both products into account. For a tech company, this is not a rare intention, but I think being able to actually execute this is less common.
In order to achieve this, I believe that you need engineering teams who buy into the vision. Sometimes it can be more difficult in a B2B company to get everyone to relate to the customer issues, as it may not be something the team has experienced before or can easily empathise with.
For us as engineers, we need to keep our processes simple, keep the customer top of mind and always ask ourselves: ‘Why are we doing this?’ It is really important that we understand how our projects help deliver for our customers.
Great insights. Coming to the end, I have one last question for you. What keeps your role at Billie fresh and enjoyable?
“Undoubtedly the people. I enjoyed working with these people when I first came to Germany and started working with them and I still enjoy it today. Since this first generation, we have added so many smart individuals to the team. We have a special work environment where you work with a very knowledgeable group of people, I really value this. Looking at other startups here in Berlin, where there is such high competition and the smartest people have found great companies – I do not believe they can gather more knowledge than we have at Billie.”
Do you feel Billie is the right working and growth environment for you, too? Check out our current job openings on our career page. We are looking forward to hearing from you.