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10 questions with Maria Stylianou, Engineering Manager

August 13, 2021
5 min read
Natalie
Content Specialist

1. What team do you work on, and what is the team’s overall goal? 

I’m in the Pricing Team, right at the heart of the business! In Pricing We calculate the price for every single Marshmallow policy, making sure we can be competitive but also as inclusive as possible. 

All our teams are autonomous at Marshmallow. That means each team needs to have the right roles and talent in order to achieve its business goals. Up until the summer, Pricing didn’t have dedicated engineering support, and so I joined the team to help create its engineering function and turn it into an autonomous team.

2. What does a typical day look like for you at Marshmallow?

You’ll often find me having regular 1-1s with the people I manage! But, I also have lots of catch-ups with people in the team so I can keep updating my knowledge around pricing. There’s always more to learn in this area of insurance!

I also work closely with Sam, the Head of Pricing, and Paul, our Lead Data Scientist to align on the direction and create the roadmap for the team, as well as with Pricing engineers to set, and work towards, our deliverables. People take a lot of ownership of projects at Marshmallow. I’m not here to take that ownership away from them. Instead, I’m here to ensure that we’re on track to deliver when we say we will, manage expectations with stakeholders, and change delivery expectations when needed. 

Another big part of my role is interviewing! That involves much more than just chatting to candidates. I’m also focused on improving the interview experience. For example, how can we make interviews fairer and more inclusive? What questions can we ask to get below the surface level of a candidate’s experience? It’s a process that we never stop improving!

3. What tools do you use on a daily basis to empower your work?

This might sound strange coming from an engineer in a tech start-up... But, for me, traditional pen and paper is essential! If I write down my goal for the week, it helps me to ground myself and to prioritise my tasks so that I can reach my number one goal.

One of the most valuable tools I’ve used is The Morning Pages. It’s a method from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. As soon as you wake up, fill three pages with your thoughts. Write down anything that pops into your head, even if it doesn’t make sense!

The Morning Pages has been my greatest tool to develop myself, as it helps me to see the problems and questions I’m worrying about. Then I can start to tackle those questions, thinking about who I can talk to and where I can find the answers.

4. You recently co-organised and hosted  Dev Fest Greece & Cyprus 2021 (very impressive!) How does connecting with engineers outside of work help your self development? 

I'm really lucky to have a network of engineers, engineering managers and CTOs (outside of Marshmallow) that I’ve built up over the last few years. Whenever I’m stuck on something, I jump on a Zoom and chat it through with them! It helps me to reflect on the situation and get an outside perspective.

And I wouldn’t be where I am without my coach. A while ago, I was projecting my own fears and insecurities onto business challenges, and solving those challenges stopped being fun. My coach taught me how to remove myself from the problem so that I can just look at it as an exciting opportunity. I  kept that advice at heart, and now, I throw myself into new challenges!

5. What challenges at Marshmallow have you really enjoyed solving? 

Earlier this year, we didn’t have many people who could interview candidates for engineering roles. It was a blocker that meant we couldn’t hire great people fast enough. So I put together a training module with four different workshops to train engineers who wanted to be interviewers.

I was really proud of this project as it helped to create consistency across interviewing, and meant we could interview a lot of people while still providing a great interview experience!

Another challenge I loved solving was helping to restructure the Pricing team last summer. The team lacked dedicated engineers and had several technical challenges that made scaling difficult. It was a complex challenge that affected people across several teams. Being new to the Pricing space, I focused on involving the right people to take part in a series of discussions. And I set decision-making milestones to ensure we wouldn’t start going in circles. 

Once we had the right context and decision criteria on the table, the plan to move forward suddenly became clear to everyone! Seeing that work pay off was a great personal achievement, but it was also widely appreciated across the company - all good validation for trusting my instinct.

6. How do you see your career progressing?  

The future is wide open at Marshmallow! In the next few years, there are going to be new products to maintain, build and grow. And we’ll keep reorganising our teams as the company grows. So managers like me will need to adapt.

I don’t want to get stuck on job titles or what my work will look like! I’d prefer to stay more flexible and see how I can best support the company as it changes. The things that give me energy are putting structure in chaos, creating processes that support and accelerate growth, and supporting people to unlock their biggest strengths. The next stage of Marshmallow’s growth will definitely provide opportunity for all of that. 

Oh and hot news! I want to work with the marketing team more, helping to build an external engineering community, and running events!

7. What makes a great manager at Marshmallow? 

Their empathy coupled with drive to hit our business goals. When I was interviewing for this role at Marshmallow, it was very clear that the company prioritises having empathetic managers. This is clearly felt by everyone - the level of trust between Marshmallowers and their managers rated really highly on our recent engagement survey. 

8. Any tips for those of us working from home? 

I haven’t worked out the challenge of working from home yet, but there are a few things I can recommend to help with motivation!

  • Make sure to leave the house everyday to keep your mind healthy. I'm an extrovert, so I meet people every evening!
  • Set yourself a clear goal so that you can stay driven. The goal shouldn’t just be what you need to get done. The goal needs to be about the why. Why does this work matter? Why is this valuable for the business?
  • Organise "walking 1-1s" over the phone with your colleagues. That way you can get out of the house which often leads to a more productive chat.
  • Have breakfasts with colleagues over video call and chat about anything other than work! It helps you feel part of the office smalltalk, even though you’re not there. 


9. Favourite Slack channel?

#food-and-cooking 🤤 - for obvious reasons! 

#highfives 🙌 - that’s the channel where Marshmallowers publicly praise their colleagues. It’s a wonderful channel to scroll through at the end of my day!

10. Favourite emoji? 

A combination of 😂 😭

If, like Maria, finding solutions to engineering challenges leaves you feeling 🤩 , check out our current openings here. We’re always on the lookout for more ambitious and talented engineers to help us tackle the industry's biggest problems!

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