Interview by Rebecca Vogels & Thomas Peham
July 14, 2016
Photos by Number26
A glimpse into the world of mobile banking with Christian Rebernik.
As the CTO at Number26, Christian Rebernik is responsible for the technology behind one of the hottest European FinTech companies.
Before joining Number26, Christian worked as a CTO for various tech companies in Europe. His entrepreneurial skills even date back to his study time when he started his own web development company.
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Thanks so much for your time, Christian. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and about your current role at Number26?
My name is Christian Rebernik and I’m the CTO at Number26. Back in the days, I studied economics at the Economics University of Vienna. To be honest, I thought it was a bit boring. So, I decided to start my own company and to work on various web projects.
I already had a technology background, since my father was working for Philips, and always brought home new computers. I started a web development company with a friend of mine.
Only much later, I actually started to study computer science and communication systems.
While working for a lot of external clients I got quite exhausted, and wanted to work for a product company instead. That lead to me selling my company and joining a product company.
Ever since I am working for product companies. And as the CTO at Number26, I’m responsible for the product and the technology, defining how banking can work in the future.
How do you define your role as a CTO at Number26?
Being CTO means creating technological products which users can use. It’s less focused on IT, and I would feel a bit offended if you would call me a CIO.
As a CTO it’s about creating a software. Creating a product.
My role involves a broad mix of management responsibilities and organisational tasks. It’s really a lot about the business itself.
I’d like to give you an example: The way we transfer money is traditionally awkward. We’re using - what is called - an IBAN, which is basically an account number nobody remembers, and it’s a complicated process. At Number26 we can transfer money just with a few clicks in real-time.
Could you share some insights how your teams at Number26 are structured?
I like to work with people who like to get things done.
Therefore, I need people around me who work together in an efficient way. I don’t believe in functional teams, where you have an iOS team, an Android team, and so on. Those teams will always have different priorities, and it’s very hard to sync these priorities. We’re trying to set up projects where people can actually innovate and create meaningful products.
You mentioned before that you started your first company in web development. Where there any “aha” moments in your life which brought you to web development?
At school I was running a school magazine. I was fascinated, because it was a great platform where we leveraged technology. Back then, the way we publish was challenging, but it also showed us how technology made publishing easier. Today the publishing workflows are very different.
Using technologies to make an impact is really what drives me.
Would you recommend people interested in web development to study or to get practical experience first?
I think everybody’s different. I had trouble remembering things when I studied economics, because I couldn't relate to it.
I was always studying just for the exam, not for myself. I was learning things by heart. Then went to the exam, and afterwards I forgot everything. It wasn’t very meaningful.
Once I started doing business related things myself, it was amazing. Suddenly all those things made sense.
I think both experiences are relevant. Pursuing an academic path gives you some in-depth understanding. The university is a great place to learn, but it’s not required any longer.
I think you can also learn a lot in small companies. You gain insights about all those different dynamics, such as marketing, business development, technology and so on.
How do you think the role of a CTO has evolved over the past few years?
The role of a CTO is heavily defined by the organizational culture.
At Number26 for example we think that most decisions should be made on the same day. Having this fast approach is one of our key advantages, if you look at the whole industry.
Further on, I see highly committed people who want to change things, and are going the extra mile every day.
I started at Parship and at Immobilien.net (now Scout24) with just technological responsibilities. Interestingly, I took over product responsibilities after some time in both companies. For me this is a perfect fit, because they all provide technological products and I’ve seen many problems arising from separating these two departments.
Could you give us some insights on how you handle testing at Number26?
We are a mobile-first bank, so most things we do are mobile-orientated.
We have set up a continuous deployment, and we ship things really fast. This works well for the backend part of our systems. We have internal releases every week, which enable the whole company to test (obviously we all have a Number26 account).
We always ship the latest version every Friday. So our people can test it over the weekend and report all the bugs. For the tracking part, we’re using JIRA. This works very well, because you have a good overview of what’s going on.
Is there any advice you would give your 14-year-old-self?
Yes - just follow your passion.
I think working in different environments is very important. It helps you to gain experience and find your interests and passions.
Looking back, it makes a lot of sense, but I would have never imagined where I would end up.
Number26 is located in Berlin, Germany. What are the benefits of starting a company here in Berlin?
First of all, it’s the access to investors. There are so many opportunities here and most international investors travel to Berlin as well.
The second thing are the people. From the 50 people we have in our technology team, only one person is actually from Berlin. There are really great, international talents here in Berlin and it’s much easier to find and work with them than in many other cities.
I think having an international mindset is really important for us as a company. Every person brings their background into the game, and I think that's a lot of fun.