James Wilson, from Commonwealth Bank’s venture-scaler entity x15ventures (x15), has been appointed as CBA’s latest Distinguished Engineer, as part of the bank’s bid to build its engineering capability and deliver against its strategy of becoming a global leader in technology. 

A self-taught engineer, Mr Wilson joins CBA’s existing cohort of distinguished engineers who represent the pinnacle of the engineering profession and will work to solve complex customer problems as well as embed an engineering and architecture-led approach into CBA’s work culture. 

With a rather unorthodox introduction to the world of software engineering - skipping university to go straight into the workforce – Mr Wilson brings two decades worth of knowledge and expertise to his current role. Having worked for Cisco Systems, running his own independent startup for ten years, and holding senior engineering positions at both Apple and Amazon Web Services in Silicon Valley, Mr Wilson is no stranger to creating exceptional experiences for customers.

After eight years in the United States, Mr Wilson returned to Australia in 2019 looking to apply his experience towards building products that customers love and establishing an incredible engineering practice in Sydney.

“The chance to come and work at x15 fit this perfectly,” Mr Wilson said.

“In this role I’m front-and-centre of product and venture building and scaling, and I have the privilege of working alongside an amazing team of engineers and entrepreneurs who realise our role is much greater than just building and scaling ventures.” 

As Distinguished Engineer, Mr Wilson is looking to shape the ways of working and culture within x15 and the broader CBA Group to foster an environment that better connects the engineer to the customer - ultimately creating a meaningful and seamless customer experience. Empowering engineers to take ownership of what they’re delivering is the key to achieving this, says Mr Wilson.

“Engineering teams that don’t own what they’re delivering – that don’t have the agency and autonomy that fosters an emotional connection to their work – those teams can’t deliver an incredible experience for our customers, regardless of how talented they may be,” he said.

“Uplifting the Group’s engineering capability, getting them better connected to the customer, being at the table to understand the complex problems we’re seeking to solve, and giving them the trust, accountability and an environment in which they can own the delivery of that solution, is critical in providing our customers a world best-in-class digital experience.”    

For some, the startup-like culture of x15 may seem at odds with the highly regulated environment financial institutions like CBA operate in. But for Mr Wilson and the rest of the team at x15, they see this as an opportunity to leverage the venture-scaling entity’s pace and innovative style to transform the Bank’s operations and better equip the CBA Group in efficiently complying with regulations.

“I hope to build a team that is able to collaboratively demonstrate how you deliver great outcomes not by working around our risk and regulatory obligations, but rather by leaning in to how we solve for those obligations with technology. To the extent that we’re even better at demonstrating compliance and building in safety and security to foster trust in our customers, whilst driving up velocity and innovation and competing with disruptive startups.”

In fostering this integration and compatibility between x15 and CBA, it is vital for x15 to lead by example and “walk the walk we talk,” Mr Wilson said.

“That will come through building out ventures that demonstrate our capabilities and prove our methodologies. Working alongside the other Distinguished Engineers, I hope that our work at x15 provides a counter-point to a more enterprise-focused mindset, and is also a fertile experimentation ground where more avant-garde ideas can be tested.”

With the launch of the Group’s bold recruitment plan in June this year - which will see it appoint over 600 engineers across a variety of disciplines in the coming months – Mr Wilson said he’s looking for talent with the ability to self-govern.

“I look for people who have a degree of confidence in their own ability, the communication skills to make themselves valuable in a team setting, enough self-awareness to know their strengths and weaknesses – and above all, an insatiable desire to improve themselves on those three dimensions.”

Building a strong engineering ability and talent base excites Mr Wilson given the potential it creates for the CBA Group and the tech industry.

“If the most trusted banking brand can become powered by the most revered and desired engineering culture, brand and reputation, then we’ve achieved something incredible. Beyond just the future of CBA, this shows that not only is Australia a great place for tech to flourish, but that we’ve got the discipline, determination and combined capability to affect change not just through startups and disruption, but by transforming large corporates that stand the test of time.”

Learn more about James Wilson and x15 here.