How Trainline’s CTO keeps innovation on track

Picture: Trainline.

When the pandemic and resulting lockdowns first hit in 2020, rail passenger numbers plummeted rapidly. As with many companies, the pandemic has forced the technical team of the digital ticketing company Trainline, one of the alternatives to SNCF Connect in France, to rethink its priorities and realign itself with the needs of travellers. that they slowly started to travel again.

Crowd alerts, for example, were hugely important to transport users at a time when it was in everyone’s interest to socially distance. Trainline therefore launched its Crowd Alerts feature in June 2020, designed to allow travelers to be informed in real time of which parts of the train are occupied or not.

Likewise, self-service refunds, while not as compelling from a technological standpoint, are just as important for people whose travel plans may be turned upside down at a moment’s notice. One of Trainline’s innovations is the Récup’ Delay option, which automatically informs travelers who are entitled to reimbursement in the event of delay and guides them to obtain their due.

400 employees make up the technical division

Dealing with such travel uncertainty also required flexibility in operations. “The team has shown great agility during the pandemic,” says Milena Nikolic, who joined Trainline as CTO in June 2021. users in very changing and hectic circumstances. »

Trainline’s 400-strong technical team includes around 50 engineers and data scientists, in addition to a team of software developers, infrastructure engineers and security and privacy specialists.

“Being at the forefront of innovation for the rail industry is quite an exciting position,” says Milena Nikolic. “I joined the company mainly because I was really excited about the mission: to connect people to places in a greener and more sustainable way. »

Milena Nikolic joins Trainline after serving nearly six years at Google, most recently as Director of Engineering for Google Play. “Making technology work at scale is something that was instilled in us at Google,” she tells ZDNet. “You just learn to operate this way: where whatever you build, you build for a global scale. »

Increasingly digital transactions

The recovery of the travel industry has been slow, but there are signs that public confidence in transport is returning. “It’s really good to see these levels recovering as the restrictions are lifted,” said Milena Nikolic. “Seeing this steady growth has been really encouraging. »

But the Covid-19 pandemic has also created consumer habits that should last beyond the pandemic. Contactless technology, for example, developed against a backdrop of health concerns and a desire to limit physical interactions with other people.

Milena Nikolic is also betting that consumers will continue to turn to digital transactions when they have the choice, especially when it comes to buying tickets, “rather than waiting in line at the station and having to click on a machine that we know so many people have used before”.

For its next stage of growth, Trainline is turning to the world of scale-ups. Milena Nikolic hopes that by building a cross-functional team of tech stack ‘custodians’, the company can aim for faster growth and innovation, while maintaining a polished user experience. “It allows you to pursue ambitious new business and strategic goals and move faster, like a start-up,” adds the CTO. “That’s where we’ve been headed for the past two months, and we’re very excited about it. »

The flex reflex

When it comes to being agile, Milena Nikolic explains that there is no magic answer. “It’s one of the things that keeps me up at night,” she jokes.

“I think a lot about that, and I think a lot about alignment: are we working on the right things for the business? Does it make sense for the company, for our product, for our customers’ strategy? Are my engineers happy, are they engaged? “, she says. “But I also think: are we really productive? Are we effective? Are we making the most of the people we have? Because getting the most out of people is effective, but also the most rewarding for people. »

A theme that seems central to Trainline’s philosophy is flexibility. Just as its products and services have adapted to changing consumer behaviors, its workforce has adapted to new work realities.

This includes a ‘flexi-first’ approach to work, with individual teams given space to determine the style of work that suits them best. The CTO points out that Trainline has always offered a degree of flexibility to its staff, and she acknowledges that physics collaboration still has many advantages: “I think it would have been very difficult to run a large technology organization without allowing some level of flexibility.


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