An Interview With CTO Craft Conference Speaker Nicole Ruszkowski

Nicole Ruszkowski
Nicole Ruszkowski

I recently caught up with CTO Craft conference speaker, Nicole Ruszkowski. Nicole is a Senior Delivery Manager with Checkout.com. She is an agile delivery professional who is passionate about building and scaling high-performing teams.

I wanted to bring her story forward to aspiring CTOs. Early in her career, she was often told that she could not go far because of her lack of a technical degree. Yet she became a key member of the team that brought the world Amazon Prime Video. Nicole is now leveraging this experience in the FinTech industry in her role as a Senior Delivery Manager. She is a prime example of not listening to what others tell you, you can’t do.

Here is my bite size interview with Nicole:

Nicole, what was your route to your current role?

I went from Customer Service into Content/Merchandise, followed by QA. From here I stepped into Program Management and then Agile Coaching and finally Senior Delivery.

Can you talk about how you stepped into this role?

After joining a startup early in my career, I became part of one of the most exciting takeovers, integration and product creation projects globally, with Amazon Prime Video. Creating and launching a unique service with new consumer technology exposed me to all sides of a successful business. I worked with engineers, product/project owners, third party clients and designers regardless of my “position”, which enabled me to to learn new skills. Almost daily on the job.

Filling gaps, understanding what must be done to move forward, and being immensely proud of the success we had, created endless curiosity and hunger for more within me. I started reading up on areas I wanted to do better, like project management and managing others. I sought advice from insanely talented people around me. And I remember being told there are things I will never be able to do as I do not have the degree or technical skills required.

This gave me the determination to prove them wrong, and I started a secondment accompanied by outside training. This led to my full transition into the world of Tech as a QA and later my promotion to Program Management.

The ability to adapt to and influence a variety of different people, different functions and personalities is something people always called out as one of my strengths. Therefore, it was no wonder that once introduced to the wonders of agile, I was totally hooked and took a deep dive. What I love the most in my role is working with talented people to support them bringing the best out of themselves. Being a good leader is not being able to tell someone what and how to do something; it’s being able to help them on their own journey towards success within their own craft.

When the opportunity came up via a network connection and previous mentor to do exactly that and build a delivery function from the ground up in yet another scale-up, it was a no brainer.

What was the first thing that you remember hitting you when you became a senior manager?

The first thing I had to learn and accept was to let go of things and step out to be able to see the bigger picture. I always felt responsible for solving all the problems. Putting plasters on broken processes is not always the best thing to do. I learned that the hard way. Admitting that I don’t and can’t know everything was a vital first step.

Being comfortable with the unknown again and collaborating with my peers and direct reports on solutions we can trial has become the essential way of working. It has led me further down the path of transitioning to be the coach and enabler rather than the doer.

What advice would you give an aspiring leader that was in a senior developer role now and hoping to step into a CTO or leadership role in coming years?

A position in Leadership/CTO is a career and mindset change which starts with yourself. Anyone aspiring to step into that needs to be aware that your main responsibility will be to develop and enable others. It is no longer about “writing code” and fixing problems yourself. The role is about enabling others by creating an environment where people feel safe to make decisions, follow through and are allowed to fail. Ask yourself if that is what you really enjoy the most and if you are willing to dedicate years to come towards that.

Can you share any top tips for junior or first time leaders that want to learn more about the role?

As a junior it is vital to stay curious and get exposure to as much information, techniques and shared experiences out there as possible. Meetups, networking groups and the internet have given access to almost anything for free these days. This helps to develop your own mindset, style, and approach. I recommend to regularly look back at situations just like you do in retrospectives with your team. See what went well and where you could have done better. Seek feedback and advice from seniors you look up to, maybe even try finding a mentor. It’s a great way to reflect and gain different perspectives.bc@recworks.co.uk

But most important is to proactively set yourself goals and confidently go for after them. It is your development, your career. You are the only person who can make it happen.

Are you thinking about your career path? Hoping to become a CTO or perhaps in your first leadership role? Wherever you are in your career, networking, seeking advice and learning from senior professionals and mentors is a vital step.

At RecWorks we believe in the power of community and shared experience. That’s why we set up initiatives like the London Java Community, Aspiring Speakers and Meet a Mentor. To help tech professionals meet and develop with their peers.

If you’d like to learn more about RecWorks and our many initiatives, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Founder of RecWorks (Tech Recruitment), Tech Career Hacker, Java User Group Founder (LJC), London CTOs Organiser, Mentor Match-Maker