FinTech Female Fridays: Najla Elmachtoub, Engineering Manager, Etsy
Throughout your career you pivoted between different industries like financial services, big tech. How did you go about finding your way into a different industry and what was the experience like?
I worked in the financial space for almost five years, and when I decided to leave, navigating all of the career options in front of me felt daunting. I didn’t have an idea of which industry I wanted to take on next. My approach was simple: apply to as many different jobs as possible and start interviewing. I had anticipated that this would be a big time commitment, but I felt it would be the best way to understand the different industries in tech along with their cultures. Throughout this process, I realized that I wanted to optimize for a mission-driven company that allowed me to pursue career growth and work-life balance. That helped narrow the scope of my search, and ultimately, led me to Etsy.
What motivated you to become an engineer? Why are you so interested in this particular field?
I got the opportunity to take computer science classes throughout high school, and I’ve been hooked ever since! I had some amazing teachers who commended my skills and motivated me to keep going, and I went on to study Computer Science at Cornell. Originally, I loved this field because it gave me agency to be a continuous problem solver and to understand the way things are built in our modern world. Now that I’ve been in tech for a while, I’m so appreciative that the industry is a leader in workplace diversity.
What were the most important skills you transferred as pivoted between different companies and roles? Were they skewed towards the soft skills or hard technical ones?
I found that I really lean on soft skills any time I start a new role, particularly personal organization, empathy, and managing up. While technical competence is incredibly important, there will always be a steep learning curve to understand the specific technologies a company uses and how they’re applied. Mastering soft skills allows us to know how to ask for help and keep track of personal progress, thus accelerating overall learning.
What does the normal day of an Engineering manager at Etsy look like? Can you tell us a little more about the specifics of your role?
I currently manage two teams at Etsy, where my responsibilities include managing reports, developing a technical roadmap, collaborating with partners, hiring, and project delivery. I meet with the team to understand the state of our various projects, with an eye towards learning if there is any way I can further set my partners or reports up for success. From there, each day is different; sometimes I’m laser focused on recruiting, while others might be focused on performance assessments or reading technical documentation.
What are some of the interesting ways and areas that an e-commerce company like Etsy employs cutting edge AI technology?
The most notable areas where AI is used at Etsy is in search, ads, and recommendations. I work on the Ads team, where we use machine learning techniques to dynamically price the ads, bring relevant listings to our buyers, and provide maximum return for our sellers.
In your previous role in Broadway technology you spent some time working as a Senior Product Manager and then some time working as a Senior Software Engineering Manager. Can you tell us about what you think the overlaps and the differences between the two roles you held were?
At many organizations, Product Managers (PM) and Engineering Managers (EM) usually partner together to lead a team in achieving its goals. PMs are on the hook for figuring out what the team should be working on, while EMs are responsible for figuring out how the team will deliver on that plan. They are both meant to leverage each other and the rest of the team to be successful in this, and there’s certainly overlap in ideation, leadership, and project management. However, my preference to grow people internally rather than work with customers and my desire to stay on a more technical track led me to engineering management.
What is the most important goal women’s organizations like ours should focus on achieving in the near term future?
Having female role models in the same field has been extremely important to me, and it took me a long time to find them. Organizations like this can do so much good by simply showcasing and normalizing women’s achievements, and it’s great to see profiles of women in various roles across finance and tech at different stages in their careers.
Reach out to Najla on LinkedIn.