Stripe's UK Head of Engineering talks 'women in fintech'

Stripe's UK Head of Engineering, Emma Gunby-Burrows leads Stripe’s Fintech Development Office in London describes her journey into fintech

Emma Gunby-Burrows is Stripe's UK Head of Engineering. She leads Stripe’s Fintech Development Office in London and heads up engineering teams that are developing local payment method products, and building out Stripe’s financial infrastructure.

Prior to joining Stripe, she led the product, engineering and design teams at Charlotte Tilbury, and spent eight years at Google in various roles including product manager, technical lead and engineering manager. A keen runner, she juggles this role alongside looking after her two-year-old son. We caught up with her to find out more. 

Tell us about your journey into fintech. Is there a story there? 

It’s funny, I didn’t have a natural affinity for fintech before joining Stripe. I started out in engineering roles at Google and the beauty brand Charlotte Tilbury, and Stripe was the first fintech company I worked at. I was initially attracted to the great company culture, the chance to build products for customers who are themselves developers, and the fact that engineering and tech are at the heart of Stripe. But London is such a brilliant fintech hub, so I was excited about the opportunity to work in this industry and knew I would stay for a long time. 

Describe your role - what are your responsibilities? 

Day-to-day, I manage about 100 engineers across London, Seattle, Dublin, and San Francisco who are working on making non-card payment methods available for businesses - from iDEAL and Cartes Bancaires, to Klarna and Paypal. 

People have very different payment preferences across the world, and 86% will abandon their basket if their preferred payment method isn’t available. By making these available, we’re helping the businesses that run on Stripe to be locally relevant and make more money overseas, which is even more important in these tougher times. 

As well as managing those teams, I am also CTO for Stripe UK, which involves making sure we have a regional strategy, reviewing our financial position, ensuring we have appropriate governance, and strengthening Stripe’s relationships in London and the UK.

What challenges have been memorable in terms of your role at Stripe?

Stripe has grown from about 1,000 to 7,000 people since I joined, so we’ve had to find ways to preserve our culture and operate engineering teams consistently across the world. When I joined, I was the first engineer in London. As we’ve grown out the team, we’ve built our own identity, both in London and in the Dublin engineering hub. And the backdrop to all this has been Brexit, which threw up some interesting engineering challenges, followed by a global pandemic and now a downturn. There hasn’t really been a quiet moment!

As a woman working in fintech what’s your experience been like so far?

Really rewarding–although I do think your experience is shaped more by the company you work for, than the industry you’re in. The main factor is the company culture that the founders create. At Stripe, people are incredibly thoughtful and considered, which is one of the things I love about working here. We’re encouraged to be humble, to prioritise thinking rigorously, and to operate with energy and warmth. All of this helps to create a welcoming environment for everyone, including women. We still have a long way to go to improve female representation in technical roles in the fintech industry, but it’s significant to me that I don’t notice being in all male senior level meetings anymore.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

There is a lot of power in optimism. One of Stripe's operating principles is about being macro-optimistic while also maintaining a high level of rigour. I'm a natural pessimist, and wouldn't say I have aced this one yet, but combining thinking critically with an innate level of belief (in yourself, your team, your company) is really powerful. It can also lead to more of a philosophy of not taking things so seriously–I feel like I spent a lot of time when I was younger worrying about things that work themselves out over time, and I talk to a lot of young women who seem to be doing the same. You can't sweat it too much!

What actions can companies take to attract more young women into the financial/tech space?

Companies have improved their recruitment and interview processes, but there is still some way to go. There are lots of different routes that might lead someone to a career in tech, and I’d like to see companies being more open minded about differences in experience. A typical computer science algorithm interview question doesn’t always help you understand whether someone would be a good software developer. 

Fintech companies could also get much better at talking about benefits they offer for women, like maternity leave. Before I moved to Stripe, I found it very difficult to get information about maternity policies from companies I was considering moving to, but those could have been a differentiator.

Finally, lots of companies in our industry have compelling missions, which they could get all candidates–including women–excited about. Stripe’s mission is to increase the GDP of the internet, and in doing so, open up economic opportunity for everyone, which is something that really resonated with me. 

Describe yourself in three words

Pragmatic. Feisty. Nerdy.  

What inspires you in fintech today? 

For a fintech nerd like me, regulation. People don’t often think that’s inspiring, but it changes market dynamics and creates lots of new opportunities. Something like Open Banking has the potential to change everything about the payments industry, and creates many new business models. 

Emma Gunby-Burrows

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