Episode 3: Tech in Colour
During the next two episodes we’ll be taking a step inside the Ocado Technology offices to find out more about the scope of opportunities available in technology today, taking a closer look at the ever evolving industry culture from both sides of the interview table. In such a fast paced, quick changing environment, technology is requiring an ever growing range of skills, and they’re not always what you would expect…
Guests in order of appearance:
Celine Boudier – Code for Life Team Lead
Alex Howard Whitaker – Cloud Services Engineer
AJ King – Organisational Scientist
Zara Belmar – Technical Recruiter
Ant Davis – Security Response Engineer (and podcaster, in his spare time)
Written and hosted by Holly Godwin
Produced by Green Barge Audio with original music by Nic Sims
Episode 3 – Tech in Colour
Hello and welcome to Pie & Mash – The show that takes a step inside the world of technology to shed light on the human stories behind the big ideas fueling this ever accelerating Information Age.
Given the fact that there are so many emerging technologies, that only a few years ago would have just been pie in the sky ideas, it’s easy to see why hiring in this industry can be such a challenge. How can you find someone perfect for a role that didn’t exist when they were choosing their career path? Not just that, but most of us were never exposed to a lot of the skills associated with technology when making that decision. But now coding has been included in the UK curriculum, that’s set to change! – if you haven’t already, go back and listen to our first episode for more on this topic – However we probably won’t witness the full impact this change will have for the next 17 years, when those who started school at the same time as the new curriculum was put into motion enter the workplace.
This isn’t just a consideration for technology companies, but also those interested in applying for their job openings. How can you know if you’re right for the job or not when it’s part of such a fast changing industry?
In this two part episode we will start with a glimpse of the wide variety of roles within tech, and the conventional and less conventional routes into the industry. In the second part we will consider why companies might want to broaden their scope and look for variety.
I went and spoke to three tech employees to find out how they had ended up where they are today, and get an insight into what life in technology is really like… once I’d got them to settle down…
[clip of interviewees laughing]
A lot of things can put you off when you start the daunting task of applying for a new job. It could be the endless set of skill requirements that make you feel like you couldn’t possibly be good enough, or a long and intimidating interview process or possibly getting hung up on a preconceived idea of what someone within that role should be like, and worrying over whether you will fit the mould.
Technology is often subject to these preconceived ideas and misconceptions, as Celine helpfully summed it up in our first episode:
Definitely – I think it’s this idea that, there are some cliches now that developers are just geeks that live in their mothers cave *laugh* that live in the basement and everything is dark and they don’t wash their hair and you know *laugh* I think that’s just a stereotype, but if you ask people that’s probably what they would say is the stereotype of a developer is.
But maybe the tech universe is just full of jovial men with beards…
If I’d gone into a bank, my beard growing ability would be severely constrained by…
Are we genuinely selling technology on ‘you can grow a beard and get paid’?
To be fair, the beards in the room at this point are impressive enough, I’m sure they’re coming across on this audio podcast.
That may be true for this particular interview, but in reality technology is generally a very accepting industry, whether you’re wildly eccentric or a reserved introvert, you’ll likely fit in from day one. There is still a way to go in terms of diversity, but things are definitely changing for the better.
One of the other things about technology is that culturally it’s a really cool place to work, I think that’s one of the reasons why you can come into it from so many places, because what we’re trying to build, no matter what area it’s in or helps support in, there’s a large amount of collaboration that goes into it. It’s all about supporting everyone around you and being a support for those people in the area where you have skills and then upskilling as a result of being around people who have a different mindset, come from a different background.
I met with Zara, who works in technology recruitment, to find out a little more about how you develop a diverse workforce.
When you get a CV your very much reviewing the CV against their requirements, not just what’s on the job specification, you need to actually home into ‘what else have they been doing?’. Have they got a bit of a colourful background? What was it that made them think that they really want to go for this role? So you pick up the phone and you find out more about them – a bit more of a human touch to understand what their motivations are, what their aspirations are. And then you get an idea whether that’s someone that either has a passion or a real attitude to work in technology. And if that’s the case and they’re maybe a little off the mark from what the hiring manager would expect, then I would go over and speak to them to let them know exactly what their motivations are and the conversation I had, and hopefully let them have a bit of an open mind about why they might want to speak to this person.
So what kind of applicants does a technology recruiter most commonly find themselves hiring?
I think we hire from your typical graduates, all the way through to your more experienced software engineers, through to product owners, through to UX designers as well as administrators and desktop support. So they can come from varied backgrounds, in terms of industry background – not necessarily within retail or technology itself. And like I said, as long as they can demonstrate the passion and attitude, those seem to be the main traits that we tend to attract.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the countless opportunities available within technology. So if this industry attracts such an eclectic group of people from various backgrounds, what is it they all have in common?
I think it’s wonderful. I think the culture in technology is really energizing, it’s individualistic. It’s for people who are very comfortable being themselves and have a passion to learn basically. So you’re constantly in an environment where there is a buzz of people who want to learn from each other and want to learn more. There is a hunger for learning, and I love that. So regardless of what background you come from, you know, how long you’ve been in the industry for or whether you’ve just started, or been here for 20 years – people all show the same passion for learning.
So, it seems pretty clear that as long as you have the drive to continue learning and applying yourself, you can go pretty far, and a one size fits all approach just doesn’t work in this industry. So now let’s return to our three technologists to find out how they ended up where they are today.
Shall I, Shall I, Shall I kick it off then?
Yeah, kick it off!
Okay, My name is Alex Howard-Whitaker, at the moment I am a Cloud Services Engineer at Ocado, which is a job which definitely didn’t exist when I was in University – actually didn’t even exist when I joined Ocado, because the cloud is a weird thing that hasn’t really existed for more than a decade anyway. Um, so my journey in is fairly unusual, so I studied…
The short version is that Alex studied a bachelors in mathematics at Birmingham before deciding that he wanted to pursue a career in technology. Part of the reason he was so convinced that tech was for him was that he really enjoyed the combination of logical reasoning and practical applications.
It’s the same sort of mental engagement as maths, but it actually does stuff. If you you write a program, even if you just print some words to the lines… lines to the screen, you know that did a thing, or a light blinked, whereas maths you just put it on the paper and it just is…
I’m sure the reasoning skills Alex picked up along the way helped him fit into his role in cloud services, but he didn’t fit the typical mould for a tech employee, as he barely had any programming experience. Saying that, he is probably the closest to typical out of the three.
So, going through as a psychologist, you learn developmental psych, social psych, abnormal psychology, all of the sorts of things you would expect, which is great, because you learn really cool stuff, and there are bits you do like, bits you don’t like. Then it comes to actually applying it in the real world and you’ve got a faint idea about why people do some stuff occasionally, but not necessarily much practically, which is why I went on to take a masters degree in something slightly more practical that doesn’t sound anywhere near as practical as you’d hope it would *laugh*
You might recognise AJ from our previous episode on learning to say no. He works within our catalyst team, trying to make sure everything runs smoothly across the business.
So, I’m an organisational scientist. So, I have a background in psychology and kind of in the whys of what people do and how they do them. So I spend a lot of time chatting with people around the business and trying to work out ways that they can work better as a team, more effectively across teams and all of that sort of organisational development space.
A technology company relies on many different interlocking pieces in order to keep ticking over. You may not have thought a place would exist for a psychologist in the tech industry, but, while it may not be the typical role, there is such a broad scope, you shouldn’t assume that tech isn’t for you.
So my background is probably a bit different to both of yours. I didn’t go to university. I left school with some good GCSEs and then dossed around at college for three years. Re-starting each year each time because I changed my mind on what subjects I wanted to do.
Not knowing what you want to do at 16 is normal. It often ends up as a toss up between taking the plunge and guessing at what you might enjoy, or hedging your bets and going down the path of trying everything.
So, I did various jobs. I actually went away and was a coat entertainer at a holiday park for a summer.
Can you give us a number? Give us a song?
Oh no no, no no *laugh*
Ant is now a Security Response Engineer for a 1000 strong tech division. So how did he go from being disillusioned with the education system to where he is today?
But that was great life experience. Met a lot of people, made a lot of friends who I never spoke to again when I left *laugh*. And then after that it was sales jobs, sales jobs, sales jobs. So sold cars, sold houses, sold advertising…
Ant claims to have sold everything, except insurance and windows, which is a pretty impressive feat. His journey from a technical blue coat with a knack for stilt walking and musical numbers, to a sales guru, through to an IT support technician, left him with a fairly broad range of skills, and it’s this life experience which probably gave him his edge when he was applying for his current role. Life experience and of course an ability to cope well under pressure…
We did a show: little shop of horrors
Yeah great, I love it
ANT And I was the plant *laugh*. I was in this foam rubber suit and basically the vocals were all pre-recorded and used to basically have to be there going ‘GRAGRAW’. So I needed help to get into this thing. It had fairy lights in it, it was foam rubber. I was wearing this green glittery dress as a stalk.
Which, if you’re listening, he’s currently wearing. It’s fabulous!
It doesn’t play well on radio, but it looks great.
It looks amazing!
For those of you unaware of the plot of this retelling of little shop of horrors *spoiler alert* the plant explodes in the final scene. A brave role for any budding actor to take on…
Big finale, the curtains open, everyone’s takes their bow, I bow. Literally, I hear this ‘donk’ and I can see the front of the nose starts glowing orange, and I can smell burnt rubber. So the music’s blaring, the big fanfare at the end is playing and I can just see from the side of the stage people running in front of the curtains, taking their bows and I’m like “I’M ON FIRE! HELLLPPP!’ *laugh*
Fiery antics aside, the skills you pick up in any job can be useful later down the line, even if, like Ant, your career path doesn’t follow a straight line. This also holds true for those following conventional routes into technology, like a computer science degree followed by a junior software engineer role and so on. If you are going through the recruitment process, and you and your fellow candidates have been chosen due to your skills in the desired field, then you may need to think about what will make you stand out. Could it be a part time university job that gave you good management and leadership skills and shows you’re okay with taking on responsibility? Do you have anything that illustrates you’re initiative? Or maybe you have an interesting hobby that might just make you stand out of the crowd. Part of the interview process is getting to know you as a person, after all, so demonstrating there’s more to you than a job title is always worthwhile. Whether you’re happy with your current role or not, you will undoubtedly have picked up some transferable skills that you can demonstrate when called to interview.
That’s it for now. Next time on Pi & mash, we’ll look at why companies might want a variety of skills within a team and explore the idea of the elusive unicorn candidate.
Thanks for tuning into this week’s Pi & Mash.You’ve been listening to me, Holly Godwin, and the team here at the buzzing hub of Ocado Technology. Produced and edited by Green Barge Audio with original music by Nic Sims. Subscribe to hear the rest of our series wherever you tend to find your podcasts.