Mark Holt, Trainline CTO

Trainline, initiated by a joint venture in 1997 with Virgin, Stagecoach and National Express, has been owned by many hands. It is now owned by a New York investment firm and in June 2019 IPO’d to some success.

How did you get to CTO?

Mark Holt joined 2014 as CTO and hence looks after the product tech infrastructure data science design and security. He had an open interview at Le Wagon on 9th November.

Mark started writing games through school and then continued to do a Comp sci degree at Kings College London. He then worked in a trading company was where he created price prediction tools. There after he worked in intellectual property, finance, risk management, publishing @ financial times. Leading by example, he is a big believer in diversity of experience in personal growth and learning — which I really respect!

Next, Mark spoke about his duties as CTO.

He stated, a normal day is:

  • 60% about people. With a team of 500 people, he needs to understand what is important to his team and align them.
  • 10% is future strategy of the business.
  • 20% managing execs. or investor relations, give back, attending them.
  • 10% he is not sure.

When asked how the team runs, he answered:

25% is lights on (BAU)
25% mandatory change we need to sync with (apis, legislature)
25% improve conversion
25% new dev coming (this year and next year)

What is your process for improvement?

Mark seems to very much believe in team autonomy. He described a process where an OKR is set (say 3% improvement in some figure) and his team do the rest — incrementally. This reminds me of the dandelion model.

To help understand users, all user interaction is tracked within Trainline. A,B tests are constant — 50 to 60 different discrete tests at one time are run. Multi armed bandit tests are often used too.

What is coming?

Working with google assistant but doesn’t think voice will be a major factor due to its location bounds and reluctance to spend through voice, currently.

As such, chat bots that provide basic question answer flows are being optimised. They are experimenting with Googles Dialog Flow.

Any key victories?

Trainline now work in the cloud 100%. He managed that migration. He broke everything into microsevices, which is a huge achievement.

He also helped with transformation to a complete agile culture which is a cornerstone of many forward thinking businesses.

How do you look after teams?

Peoples appraisals are tricky no matter where you are. Within Trainline they work on a xy scale of skills and behaviour to define goals. He also champions culture to be super important. He says, culture is “Shaped by the worst behavior your leader will tolerate”. It is his job to align teams and lead.

Encouragement is another aspect; peoples career are their own responsibility. He very strongly supports people to go to meetups and giveback events as part of their career and personal development — to simply enjoy helping.

Last piece of advice?

Diversity of experience. Every 18 months to 2 years move on and move on to big, small, medium companies in every industry. This will give you a good understanding of cultures @ work, industries and practices within each.

This really resounded with me, speaking as a mechanical engineer who has worked in product design, then moved to IBM for tech consultancy, and now a product owner at a retail data science company.

Founder of EveryHour.xyz and Product Owner @ dunnhumby; just genuinely interested in a lot of things. Built racecars, built electronics, now building software

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