Friends, thank you for putting up with my poor microphone handling skills and laughing at my daft jokes. You were a lovely welcoming audience today at QCon SÃ£o Paulo. Slides and links to books and tools mentioned are here.
One of the best bits of career advice I ever received was from one of my first Directors, who said she actively decided each year whether to recommit to the role and the company. I’ve done the same ever since — evaluating whether it’s the right job and organisation each year and either actively signing up for another year, or choosing to make a change. As a way of ensuring your own engagement in what you’re doing, it’s an effective tactic. Working at GDS has been a very exciting journey and a team that I adore, but I came to the conclusion back in November that staying was not the right career move for me and so gave early notice that I’d be leaving.
Though looking after the Delivery team (70 civil servants and an additional 70 contractors at times) was very rewarding (they are a group of vibrant & brilliant people), I missed being directly involved in products & programmes & strategy work a bit too much. I love managing people and improving processes to make workplaces a better place to be (and I think doing those things right is an incredibly important thing for any organisation), but found that doing PURELY that felt like the wrong balance – I’m a leader of technology organisations, not an HR specialist after all. I’m eagerly anticipating getting my teeth back into projects & programmes, operations & strategy again, in addition to growing a world class team.
Those who know me won’t be surprised to hear that I also found the opacity & pace of the Civil Service something of a culture shock, coming from a very efficiency- and delivery-focused corporate background. Frankly, I know many of my old colleagues at P&G are amazed I lasted this long 😉 I will say that I think things are changing and getting better, but the starting point is so fundamentally different that I admire the progress that has been made all the more.
So what next?
I’m in the lucky position of having rather a lot of holiday saved up, so I’m taking a six month sabbatical – both to travel and to write another book (didn’t know about the first one? Here it is: The Principles of Project Management, also on Kindle and available from Amazon). I’ll be visiting Austin, San Francisco, Amsterdam, various cities in the UK (home in Newcastle for a bit, London and likely Brighton) and then spending a month in Portugal, after which I’ll be going home to South Africa for a while too as my cousin is getting married.
If you’re in one of those cities, we should hang out! Drop me an email / DM and I’ll let you know when I’ll be in town (or the details are on Dopplr if we’re connected there). During this sabbatical time I also have some limited availability for short engagement work – so if you’d like to work with me, let me know.
I’ll announce what comes after that in due time. I have to say I’ve been impressed at how flexible the organisations I’m talking with have been willing to be – it’s been a very pleasant surprise to see companies ranging in size willing to accommodate time off to travel before starting a new role.
A couple of weeks back I attended the final Women in Technology event (founder & MD Maggie Berry has decided to move on to an exciting new challenge; it continues as a LinkedIn group so keep an eye on that for future events).
The event was interesting, but I found a lot of the quite corporate and masculine language off-putting. That reaction was evident in some of the other attendees too; it doesn’t (generally) sit well with women to be given advice that they hear as “use others to get ahead”. Now, I don’t REALLY think that’s what the speakers were trying to get across, but sometimes style can injure substance in unintended ways.
The Q&A at the end was excellent, the panel including Aimie Chapple (MD Accenture UKI) and Jacky Wright (VP at Microsoft) who along with the speakers had amusingly diverse answers to the questions posed by the audience.
Most Interesting Insights
Having a career sponsor corresponds with career & trajectory satisfaction
Currently, men in senior leadership are 50% more likely to have a sponsor than women at the same level
Sponsors pick you: work hard, don’t limit who you talk to and don’t reject it when someone helps or advocates for you (See also Performance, Image & Exposure*)
A sponsor isn’t the same as a mentor, role model, boss — they’re someone who can be of help to your career in a specific way (opportunities, advocacy, championing, defending)
Ideally you want a portfolio of sponsors — not everybody does which is why you sometimes see a senior leader leave a place and a bunch of folks follow like trailing ducklings…
All the women on the panel had at some point not even realised that someone was sponsoring them!
Sometimes if you don’t tell your own story, others will jump in — but they may tell it in a way you’re not comfortable with
The single most useful thing I heard? A sponsor probably won’t be a role model. This is where most women struggle, IMHO. We assume our sponsors will be women and more specifically women we will look up to. Once you accept that you can be sponsored by anyone who thinks you’re talented, then the probability of it happening increases significantly. And realistically, while there are still so few women in senior leadership positions, finding a female role model who can also sponsor you is fairly unlikely!
* Which can basically be summarised as: people are going to have opinions about you and expecting everyone else to come look at the detail of your actual work before forming an opinion ignores the reality of human nature … and is a kinda arrogant, no? 😉
I’m delighted to share that I’ll imminently be joining the Government Digital Service as the manager for their most excellent Delivery Team. I’m hugely excited about working with this astonishingly talented group of people, some of whom I already know and others I am keen to meet, as they work on transforming the UK government’s digital presence & offerings. After Martha Lane Fox called for “revolution not evolution” in government’s digital services, this new department has been growing quickly and delivering in spades, with an approach more akin to a start-up than the traditional image of government IT.
I started at P&G whilst I was still at university and worked up through a variety of roles, from Systems Analyst to Product Manager, then Project & Programme Manager and more recently Engineering Manager type roles in various business domains. I also had the privilege to get involved in a number of organisational development activities, founding the company’s LGBT employee network in the UK which was recognised as a Star Performer Network Group by Stonewall in recent years, leading recruitment in the South West and redesigning our internal management “colleges” to be exciting experiences rather than “death by PowerPoint”.
For a long time I managed to maintain both my corporate and geek/web interests and activities in parallel, participating in BarCamps, Refreshes & SxSWi when I could and even writing a book on geek project management for SitePoint. In recent years my travel schedule at P&G has meant this became harder & harder and frankly I missed the digital side of things.
The prospect of being able to marry both worlds together in the same job really is geek manager heaven. I can’t wait to start!
To be honest I am much prouder that my team at P&G, the Application Management group, were finalists for IT Department of the Year only a year into our existence as a team!
I didn’t get to attend the awards dinner as I was gallivanting around New Zealand on sabbatical, but my awesome team were there and accepted the award on my behalf. The judge’s comments were reported over a crackling mobile phone connection to the North Island of NZ as “An outstanding individual who has made major contributions within her company and to the wider IT community. The judges were blown away by her submission!”