Within the Trenches: My Three-Year Journey at Revolut
Last week a bunch of journalists piggy backed off one another and published articles which painted a terrible picture of Revolut’s culture. From the inside looking out, it was clear that their brushes were missing a few bristles (maybe a few Bob Ross specials might help ;)). While we have the spotlight, I’d like a chance to give a perspective from the inside.
Hello, bonjour, salam, vannakkam, my name is Abhi Thanendran and as you can see I like to pretend like I’m a global citizen. I am a Lead Data Scientist at Revolut and the Product Owner for Data; just fancy titles which mean I am in charge of building the Data Science function and platform. I was the first official employee in Data and collaboratively with my team have scaled the department to over 30 employees split between Data Scientists and Engineers. I joined Revolut upon graduation and my tenure is now nearly 2.5 years — and I’ve lasted.
According to the media, we are a sweatshop of tribal and submissive employees hunched over and chained to our desks, working tirelessly over the weekends at the direct orders of our founders. If you seriously believe this — I am not sure you should be on the internet. As a Canadian, I can proudly say (since we are arguably the softest people on Earth) there is absolutely no way I could have survived in the media’s version of our culture for over 2 years! So, there must be something else in the mist….right?
When I first joined Revolut in November 2016, the team was small, the office was small, team structures were nearly non-existent, communication was abysmal and the culture was…brewing! On the bright side, a lot of the core people on the team were brilliant, dedicated and exceptionally hard working. I found this inspiring and it helped me to quickly grasp our founders’ vision for the product and I realized where I fit in the equation. It provided me with a large sense of purpose and I grasped how much of my life I needed to dedicate to achieve this. It no longer was just their vision though, it became mine and I’m sure the same holds for my colleagues.
In order to hire the right people, we needed objective measures of candidate competencies, hence ye olde home task. They provide you an opportunity to showcase your skills without the interview pressure of us breathing down your neck for 30 minutes. We design them based on problems we have already solved in the past and the questions reflect skills we currently need.
Recently we have become more transparent in our interview process and give clear feedback to candidates. That being said, I want to emphasize that successful hires and strong candidates were always able to complete it within a few short hours of work because they had what we were looking for. I have been through HUNDREDS of interview processes in my life (due to my university’s co-op program, more about this another time) and it was easy to feel confident about myself until I received a home task. It was a hard pill to swallow, but whenever I couldn’t complete a task in a reasonable amount of time, it just meant I did not meet the standards the employers required.
This concept has been heavily misconstrued by the public over the years and I want to make it clear that in over 2 years at Revolut, while directly reporting to both of our founders, not once have I been directly approached by anyone and told to work long hours or on the weekends. Historically my work days have started at varying times between 8AM and 5PM, and I have worked remotely while in Paris, Toronto, LA, and New York all in between vacation days which I also had no issues or pushback when scheduling. This pattern holds true for all of our Data Scientists & Data Engineers who come from Uruguay, Macau, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Madagascar, Hungary, France, Russia, Canada, Greece, Estonia, Italy, Chile, Azerbaijan, Romania, Ukraine, England and Poland (I might’ve missed some).
I do want to disclose though that I come from very little privilege and have had to work extremely hard at every step of my life (high school, sports, university, internships, full-time career) and so am no stranger to an imbalanced life. I occasionally choose to work long hours because I set higher goals than the team KPIs and roadmaps. There are also several successful employees who are able to accomplish their objectives without working long hours. In fact, many of our employees consistently engage in many after work activities. Some of the ones I’ve seen are:
- Weekly football events
- Weekly indoor climbing
- Regular visits to gyms
In the past we struggled with implementing an appropriate objective view of an employee’s performance. I was around when we first introduced KPIs, they stirred up a storm because for many teams it was nearly impossible to provide a quantitative measure for delivery. By asking for employee feedback we have now been through several iterations of our employee evaluation system which now consists of KPIs, debt measures, roadmaps and 360 reviews to better capture performance and value.
I have been sufficiently rewarded for my work in the past (promotions + bonuses) and similar stories hold across many employees in the company. Moreover unlike many tech firms, we do not set promotions on tenure, we focus solely on the biannual evaluation so it is possible to receive a promotion in as little as six months!
Historically, out of all of our hires we have had 3 Data Scientists who are no longer with our team. One was an intern who returned to university while the other two were a mismatch in fit caused by a poorly constructed hiring process. I would also like to add that we had one Data Scientist who left us to join a lucrative financial firm…just to return to us a few months later. Through the grapevine we often hear of many former employees looking to return to Revolut. Why? Because we are constantly improving and most of the causes for resignations are solved within the following few months.
A lot of our failures were due to a lack of leadership and management structures. While we continue to believe in keeping the company as flat as possible, we have placed several systems in place to make teams lean and we are building several tools to streamline management processes. Leadership has become a recognized skill in the company and we are embracing the value it brings to our team morales and progression!
Some initiatives we’ve taken within Data to maintain morale and collaboration are:
- Biweekly Data Sessions in which Data Scientists & Engineers present their projects
- Monthly team gatherings for activities (in the past we’ve done escape rooms)
- Weekly Friday lunches with the team (we usually end up at Nando’s)
- Alexandria — an in-house Data Science platform to foster collaboration and peer review during research
- Data Scientists are involved with all parts of the hiring process (we even conduct the screen calls)
We’re nothing but a number?
Let me provide a little anecdote. I spent the first 2 years of my time at Revolut at our London office and unfortunately I was not very fond of the city (the gloominess took a toll on my mental health). One day I contacted Nik and asked to have a quick call — he responded immediately and we scheduled it within a few hours. After a brief discussion of my situation, I got an approval to relocate to New York (my favourite city in the world). I followed this with a brief discussion with Vlad who also was fully open to relocation. I approached the situation a little concerned since I would be the first person asking to do this — but there was no friction. It was one of the most defining moments of my life and I am now happily working to continue building the team in New York and SF!
Revolut is a product that could simplify and help the lives of millions of locals, immigrants, refugees, expats, nomads, and globe trotters all across the world to cost effectively and efficiently spend and transfer money. As an immigrant and constant traveller myself, I see an immense value in the product. Unfortunately — we cannot continue to progress towards this vision if there is a largely incorrect and negative perspective on our culture. Perhaps the negative biases make for better stories but they present an exceptional form of bullying which ruin not only the tireless efforts of our founders but also hundreds of employees who work hard to develop our product and culture. To all journalists or skeptics reading this, I invite you to come visit any of our offices across the world and form a better opinion of what the working culture is like.
Thanks for reading,