Pennylane’s Engineering Principles

An Overview of Pennylane Engineering Culture

Romain Pchr
5 min readSep 21, 2021

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In 1,5 years, our engineering team grew from 0 to almost 40 people. We soon started noticing patterns in how decisions were taken and how the product was built from a technical perspective. We decided to translate those patterns into a few Engineering Principles. These principles guide our teams in their day-to-day work and decision-making process — and will be helpful to external folks who are wondering about our engineering culture.

Move fast 🏃🏼‍♀️

Like many startups, we want to move fast and iterate quickly. Let’s first mention why this is important for us:

  • We want to quickly gather feedback from our users. This reduces iteration time and helps us make better decisions.
  • We are competing with long-established products. We have to catch up with those products and grow faster than them.

How we are moving fast is related to a few key behaviors and decisions we made:

  • Our tech co-founders are strong engineers allocating 30% of their time to code. Their involvement has created high standards and expectations regarding code quality and velocity from day 1.
  • We hire strong Software Engineers with years of experience in our tech stack (Ruby & React JS).
  • We release early and often: our CI/CD pipeline allows us to release our code more than 10X a day.
  • We optimize for shortest-path solutions. When designing technical solutions, we always look for simple and efficient ones. We don’t make sure we cover all possible edge cases when implementing a new feature. Our short deployment time allows us to take risks and fix potential bugs quickly.
  • We automate a lot of things: a fair amount of software quality is managed by complex linters. This allows us to spend more time building features and outsource a lot of code quality to automated tools.

Dive deep 🧠

Accounting is a rich business domain. Many topics that originally looked simple end up being much more intricate than expected — which is why we often joke internally about “octopus issues”. 🐙

While we do hire engineers with no background in accounting, the underlying complexity of accounting requires diving deep into the subject. Business knowledge is paramount to being a successful Software Engineer at Pennylane.

Engineers who join Pennylane are given advanced training sessions on accounting during their onboarding weeks. Every one of them also receives a book to familiarize themself with its main principles.

What also helps are the 40+ accountants working at Pennylane, who use the platform every day to do actual accounting work for real clients. They not only give us plenty of insights into complex business problems but are also an incredibly close and quick source of feedback. Not every startup is lucky enough to count one of its personas amongst its teams.

To give a few examples, let’s see a few complex business problems we solved during the first 18 months of Pennylane:

  • Generating accounting records based on high-level data like transactions and invoices. This requires understanding the whole mental model of accounting. Folks not familiar with accounting are usually amazed to see how this works.
  • Managing accounting reconciliation use-cases: matching incoming transactions with invoices can be arbitrarily complex.
  • Generating VAT accounting entries: there are dozens of rules involved regarding VAT management.

Make remote pleasant 🏡

Our Engineering team has been working remotely from day one, even before the pandemic started. Since we are now hiring across Europe, 8 out of 30 engineers (as of September 2021) are spread all over Europe — as well as Lebanon and Egypt.

While other companies choose to go for a fully asynchronous way of working, we think face-to-face conversations are important. We stimulate them in a few ways:

  • Daily stand-up meetings: synchronous stand-up meetings may not be the ultimate way to share progress and ask for help. We still favor them because we believe they help the individuals better know each other.
  • Weekly chill-out: since we don’t have many water-cooler or lunch conversations, we encourage teams to reserve weekly slots to talk about anything but work. We make sure these slots are compatible with everyone’s personal constraints such as weekends, family, etc.
  • Regular 1:1 conversations: everyone has weekly a 1:1 conversation with their manager. We also encourage unscheduled 1:1 work conversations between teammates to discuss and brainstorm work-related themes.
  • Regular team meetups: every few months, we organize 2-day meetups where the whole tech team gathers at our Parisian office. We use this time to do regular work and special sessions — but the real goal is for folks to spend some time together.

Keep a good work-life balance ⚖ ️

We strongly believe that maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential to do great work. Since remote work can create blurry limitations between work and personal time, we are intentional about work-life balance:

  • We never celebrate long hours. Working late is not rewarded,
  • We encourage folks to disconnect outside of work hours,
  • In case we need to send messages outside regular hours, we usually use “Send Later” features available in Gmail and Slack,
  • We invite folks to uninstall Slack and their email when they go on holiday.

Grow as a contributor 🧑‍💻

Engineers join Pennylane to contribute to the product and change the lives of thousands of business owners and accountants. Many teammates left managing positions to join Pennylane; our co-founders are strong contributors themselves.

We’re currently hiring individuals who want to grow as Individual Contributors. We highly value this career path — still relatively unknown in France but very popular among big tech companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon…

In most companies, talented engineers only have one way to move up the ladder: becoming a manager. They start as Engineers, then become tech-lead, Engineering Manager, Head of Engineering… This traditional career has 2 disadvantages:

  • Being a good contributor does not make you a good manager
  • Senior positions are all about management, so engineers have little impact on big decisions

Inspired by large tech companies like Google, LinkedIn, AirBnB or Gitlab, Pennylane wants to fully embrace the individual contributor mindset, where engineers can grow to Senior Engineers, then Staff Engineers, then Principal Engineers — while keeping their number of direct reports to 0.

We do hire managers as well, but we’d like to make sure that management and contributing roles are considered equal from an organizational perspective. While accessing more senior roles, engineers take ownership of larger and larger projects or initiatives.

Do you recognize yourself in these principles? Do you want to change the day-to-day lives of thousands of business owners and accountants across Europe? Then, consider joining our Tech team! As of September 2021, we are looking for Software Engineers, Senior Software Engineers and Engineering Managers anywhere in the European timezone.

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Romain Pchr

Eng Manager at Pennylane. Ex Co-founder & CTO @ Yeeld and Eventmaker