The Engineering Leadership Podcast · Episode 174

Adaptability in engineering orgs: how management systems, executive priorities & career transitions evolve

with Cosmin Nicolaescu

Apr 09, 2024
In this episode, we are talking about adaptability in engineering orgs, building out impactful management systems, and navigating complex transitions as eng leaders with Cosmin Nicolaescu, CTO @ Brex. He shares how his experience moving from Romania to the United States taught him vital lessons in adaptability that he has applied throughout his eng leadership career. We also discuss how to define what success as a manager looks like, Cosmin’s approach to putting out fires (and deciding which ones to prioritize), why you should restructure your meetings to focus on output vs. review, and how to implement a succession plan.
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Cosmin (@getCos) leads engineering at Brex, building financial technology to accelerate entrepreneurs. Prior to Brex, he was at Stripe, leading financial infrastructure teams, building Stripe Terminal, and establishing engineering teams globally. His career started at Microsoft, launching Azure and Office365.

"How are you actually changing the trajectory of something. If the person wasn't there, would things have come out differently? If the person jumped in on something, did that meaningfully change the trajectory of that particular project? The answer should be yes and I think that is a good proxy for, as a manager, are you actually leading teams, people, projects, initiatives, and moving the company forward or are you just operating the machinery?”

- Cosmin Nicolaescu   

We now have 10 local communities of engineering leaders hosting in-person meetups all over the world!

Local communities are led by eng leaders just like you, who wanted to create a place to connect, share insights & tackle critical challenges in the job.

New York City, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, London, Amsterdam, and Toronto in-person events are happening now!

We’re launching local events all the time - get involved at!


  • How Cosmin's transition to the U.S. set the foundation for his approach to adaptability (2:40)
  • Learn to accept what you can & cannot control as an eng leader (5:00)
  • Frameworks for identifying / understanding what execs spend their time on (7:13)
  • Navigating the transition from Microsoft to Stripe (9:12)
  • Building out a successful & impactful management organization (12:08)
  • In-demand qualities of managers during the shift to flatters orgs (15:00)
  • Prioritizing which fires to focus on & willingness to delegate (16:39)
  • Cosmin’s approach to triaging fires @ Brex (18:31)
  • Restructure meetings for output rather than review (21:52)
  • Approaches for adapting to the current macroeconomic environment (25:36)
  • Roles that contributed to successful distributed hiring (29:09)
  • Necessary elements that need to exist for an unconventional transition (31:28)
  • Recommendations for developing & executing a succession plan (34:44)
  • Rapid fire questions (37:30)


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This episode wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our incredible production team:

Patrick Gallagher - Producer & Co-Host

Jerry Li - Co-Host

Noah Olberding - Associate Producer, Audio & Video Editor

Dan Overheim - Audio Engineer, Dan’s also an avid 3D printer -

Ellie Coggins Angus - Copywriter, Check out her other work at

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