Parenting at Zego: a quick Q&A with Senior Engineering Manager, Ryan Crawford

Written by Ryan Crawford

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How important is diversity in the workplace to you, and what value does it bring?

Diversity is EVERYTHING, in the workplace and beyond. I always say to my peers and potential candidates in interviews that diversity of background, upbringing, experience - it’s all essential. It all combines into a diversity of thought that we need to push further, break boundaries and really drive change. If you surround yourself with people who are exactly the same as you - you’ll never notice the opportunities to do things differently.

As a parent, do you think Zego cultivates a culture that values your specific needs?

For me the most important part of being a parent is flexibility - and Zego fully supports that. There are few expectations or assumptions about my availability and that empowers me to build a working schedule and achieve balance. I’ve worked places before where I was constantly questioned and pressured to fit in and had to chop up everything in my life around work. That kind of guilt or stress never happens here and it’s a huge relief.

What are the transferable skills you use from parenting, in the workplace?

This is going to make me sound like a dictator of a parent but delegation! Kids are really smart but they need direction, trust and a degree of independence to bring out the best in them. You love your kids so much that sometimes you want to relieve all their burdens and carry it all for them. But actually, I find that if you work with them rather than for them - it helps them dig deep and realise their own potential.

And very often it’s the same with work colleagues! Do I treat my line reports like my babies? Maybe. But it’s all love.

What’s the biggest challenge of being a working parent?

It’s the context switching for sure. Going from wiping your kid’s butt straight into an external client meeting or interview is a little jarring. But it’s also part of the fun.

What piece of advice would you give any parent pursuing a career?

Bring it all with you. Don’t shy away from talking about your life as a parent. Your failures and successes. The stresses and the learnings. There doesn’t need to be a huge divide between your home self and work self. They compliment each other and a great workplace will understand and support that. And as a parent, you shouldn’t settle for something that is going to stifle one or the other.

Be proud of your parental life - even if it’s chaos. It’s probably chaos, isn’t it? Yep, thought so.

What’s your role at Zego and where do you sit within the organisation?

I’m a Senior Engineering Manager working in the Tech Department. More specifically I work with the B2B and Data Engineering teams, as well as generally teaming up with other EMs to support and drive our Engineers.

What did you do before you worked at Zego, and where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

I started off my career in QA, games testing at SEGA before going on to work at startups including Shazam, Onefinestay, Hubble and more. I honestly don’t know where I’ll be in 5 years, but given I’ve been a bit of a nomad I’d love to think that at least most of the next few years were spent successfully helping Zego to grow worldwide.

What do you love about your job?

Variety is the best thing about being an EM. When I wake up, I have absolutely no idea how each day is going to go. There will be fires to put out, decisions to be made, and conversations to be had. It means I’m always busy but never bored. On top of that, it’s been great to join Zego at this stage of growth as I’ve been able to get in on the ground floor and influence the culture of Engineering.

Who have you learnt the most from at Zego so far? What have you learnt from them?

I wouldn't say any one individual but I've learnt the most from my peers at Zego - the EM team. We're all from different backgrounds and experiences so working together has taught me to put myself outside my comfort zone and embrace new perspectives.

What advice would you give to a Zegon on their first day?

Look, anyone who starts a new job is in a hurry to be useful. We’ve all been there. You want to get things done and prove your worth. But for me, it’s actually okay to be… useless. For a while. The most important thing is to take your time to feel comfortable, prepared and get to grips with a new environment, new people and new ways of working. Meet people. Meet teams. Ask questions. Ask the same questions twice if you need to. Just be a sponge and soak up as much as you can. It’ll serve you well in the long run. Don’t be afraid to be useless!

How would your 10-year-old self react to what you do now?

My 10-year-old self had watched a lot of Indiana Jones movies and wanted to be an archaeologist. So he would probably be like, “Really? You just… sit in front of a computer? All-day?”

But I would be like, “Hey, obnoxious 10 year old me, I’ve climbed a lot of ladders to get here and being a people manager has helped me conquer the social anxiety issues that YOU gave me.”

That would shut him up.

Tell us about your typical working day…

So I wake up. Put on my running gear. Don’t actually go running because it’s too early for all that. Take my daughter to school, by which point I’m already outside and might as well run. Then get back and go straight into the daily ceremonies.

Whether it’s a B2B or EM standup, most mornings are calibrating with the team and making sure we’re all setup to make progress that day. After that, it’s a whirlwind of encounters. From planning future work, to devising initiatives that will improve the quality of life for our Engineers, or simply putting myself in a position to help others problem-solve.

Then come the 121s. One of the best things about Engineering at Zego is how much time we take to focus on people. And that means having high quality conversations about careers, aspirations, roadblocks, life, and anything else that helps. It’s about remembering to manage the person, not the employee. My role is to support them in reaching their goals and good conversations are the building blocks of how we work together.

After that, it’s interview central. Screening interviews, technical interviews, values interviews. So many interviews! We’re growing fast.

What’s an interesting hobby you have that people may not know about?

Secret hobby: I’m actually a board game designer. I’ve contributed to a bunch of projects over the years, but last year I launched my first game on Kickstarter and managed to crowdfund £12K. It was a football game called NextGoalWins. We shipped out about 500 copies during the campaign and we’re moving the game to retail in May this year.

I lean on some friends and family for help, but the gameplay mechanics and rules are all painstakingly designed by me over many many hours, weeks and months.

When and why did you start this hobby?

I’ve always had creative hobbies. I love what I do, but I don’t always get to express my creativity in my role at work. So working on projects that require a lot of design and creative thinking helps me feel well-rounded at the end of the day.

I’ve been doing this for the past 6-7 years or so on and off, but it’s only in the past 3 years that I’ve been starting to take it more seriously. It took 2 years to get NextGoalWins off the ground. 6 months of design and 18 months of testing. It’s not a hobby for anyone in a hurry!

And there are a few more games on the way so watch this space.

People often ask where I find the time given I’ve got 2 kids. But let’s face it, relaxing is a bit of a myth for parents even when your kids are occupied. So I tend to fill those quiet moments with extra challenges and push myself.

What was the last thing you read?

The last book I read was actually a Percy Jackson book. Hear me out before you start laughing! My second hobby is writing - I told you I like to fill the gaps!

I usually write children's picture books. But my agent wants me to take a crack at the middle-grade and YA market and is pushing me to read through every teenage protagonist book ever written. It’s painful and tedious, but NYT Best-Sellers list - here I come.

If you had to choose a song to personify you, what would it be?