Why Remitly’s Director of Engineering Loves To Ask, ‘Why?’

“In engineering, the practice of asking ‘why’ consistently is fundamental,” said Łukasz Nalepa. Learn more about the skill sets that help his team — and professionals worldwide — “think like an engineer.”

Written by Taylor Rose
Published on May. 13, 2024
Why Remitly’s Director of Engineering Loves To Ask, ‘Why?’
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In 2014, the UK faced a big problem — not enough people wanted to become engineers. 

There simply were not enough engineers to meet the rising demand of infrastructure and industry. At the time, a nonprofit that promoted engineering calculated that if the UK couldn’t rise to meet this need it would lose 27 billion pounds in revenue. 

The Royal Academy of Engineering also saw the problem on the horizon and came up with a plan to help address it. Researchers at the University of Winchester believed that if they could find the key attributes that make up a good engineer, the UK could integrate more of those skills into the education system. They identified six ways that the country could help students “think like engineers” and distilled those down to specific skill sets: systems thinking, adapting, problem finding, creative problem solving, visualizing and improving. 

The results of the education intervention spoke for themselves: Employment in engineering jobs grew by 8.5 percent in the UK between 2010 and 2021. 

The six skill sets identified and developed in students are not exclusive to the UK, either. Throughout the world, these skills help engineers find success in their roles. 

At Seattle-based Remitly, Director of Engineering Łukasz Nalepa described a commonality that underlies all six skill sets: Approaching ideas with a curiosity to see how they connect. 

Built In spoke with Nalepa to learn more about Remitly’s approach to “thinking like an engineer.”  

 

Łukasz Nalepa, Director of Engineering

Łukasz Nalepa
Director of Engineering • Remitly

Remitly is a digital financial services provider for immigrants and their families in over 170 countries around the world. Its digitally native, cross-border remittance app helps immigrants send money home in a safe, reliable and transparent manner. 

 

Describe one of the philosophies that differentiates your unique approach to engineering.

One of the most essential thought patterns I’ve developed over the years is trying to understand things and people deeply. However silly that statement may sound and theoretically obvious, it is this notion that as we grow up, we are trained to lose that curiosity and honest interest in the true nature of things. We start to assume things, and with time, we stop asking this most crucial question: Why?

 

“As we grow up, we are trained to lose curiosity and honest interest in the true nature of things. We start to assume things, and we stop asking this most crucial question: Why?”

 

Fortunately, after more or less 10 years into my engineering career, I stumbled upon Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why. After reading the book, I realized I was still on my first Dunning–Kruger peak and how high it had grown throughout the years. Upon that realization, I started tearing down my assumptions and using this seemingly childish question notoriously — both to myself and in my interactions with others. 

It has indeed turned out to be a magical question that redefines problems, forces people to think about the actual expected outcome and, when used skillfully and consistently, paints clearly the nature of things.

 

What differences did you notice after you started asking “why” in this context?

Asking “why” to myself — with truthful and honest intention — allows me to introspect my motivations and self-reflect on my work and life, and it’s a great companion to solve every problem I face.

When I ask “why” to others, it usually unveils deeper, hidden context and has the potential to clear up numerous misunderstandings. I love the proverbial “kicking the table” effect when digging deeper with a barrage of “why”s. It reveals an entirely different set of potential paths and approaches to a problem at hand.

 

How does this apply to engineering?

In engineering, the practice of asking “why” consistently is even more fundamental, as the answer to it connects every single engineer’s work to the expected business outcome. It is the ultimate question to ask to help understand what the client expects from the user story I’m prioritizing in the planning, and to understand the true nature of the entire program that is rolling right now over multiple teams. Asking “why” helps to understand the vision and mission of the company I work for, and whether I still want to wake up in the morning and contribute to that vision.

Asking “why” is a small, almost effortless habit I wish I could have learned and applied sooner. There is a trick to it, though, because for one to get the benefits of it, one needs to really listen deeply to the answers from others and be honest with oneself.

 

READ MOREThe Leadership Approach of Remitly’s CTO: ‘Explore, Evolve and Enjoy’

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Shutterstock and listed companies.

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