‘Public speaking is not for me’ – we often hear this from our colleagues. A fraction of them say ‘maybe one day’, however this day usually never comes.
Having just delivered my first keynote speech at a cross-government conference for product managers, I decided to review the cost and benefit (aka return on investment – ROI) of public speaking. It’s worth noting that both the cost and benefit change over time, so the very first time you go on stage will differ from the next.
The first public speech
This is the one everyone is dreading most and not even thinking past. Just imagining a 100+ strangers staring at you on the stage is scary! In my case, looking at an empty room full of chairs definitely felt frightening some time ago.
So, what’s the investment*?
Finding the right conference: 1 day
Putting slides together: 3 days
Practicing the talk: 10+ times
Travelling to the place: up to ½ day (and then back)
Sleepless nights: 3+
Shaking hands / heart palpitation / sweating score, before entering the stage: 10/10
Risk of slides not looking or behaving like anticipated: High
Likelihood of getting out of breath because of talking too fast: 9/10
Number of ‘uuummmss’ during the talk: 2 per minute
Risk of forgetting what to say: High
*All the ‘numbers’ come from my own experience.
Anna addressing a crowd
Yep, that’s not cool and it’s a lot of effort to give a speech at a conference. Why do people do it then?
Onto the benefits. The short-term ones:
Cost of the conference ticket: £0 (hurray!)
VIP treatment from event organisers: Included
Awareness of your company during the talk: 95% of the audience
Level of endorphins in your brain when you leave the stage: overflow
Number of people wanting to discuss things with you immediately: 5+
Number of Twitter/LinkedIn notifications after the talk: 20+
Number of ‘Nice speech’ comments for the rest of the day: 10+
Ego size at the end of the day: XXL
But this is just the beginning, there are also long-term benefits of public speaking.
Practice makes perfect, as they say. That’s true – the more you do public speaking the lower the cost and the higher the benefits are. Let’s compare the initial investment to the very recent speech I gave. This is after a year full of public speaking events – at the busiest time, there were 3 big events in 1 month. The biggest audience so far: 700 people (well done me!).
Finding the right conference: 0 days (the conference organisers find you)
Putting slides together: 0-3 days (you can re-use your slides from previous events)
Practising the talk: 10+ times (no change)
Travelling to the place: up to ½ day (no change)
Sleepless nights: ½ (simply because you don’t want to oversleep)
Shaking hands / heart palpitation / sweating score before entering the stage: 2/10 (healthy stress)
Risk of slides not looking or behaving like anticipated: Low (over time you learn that ‘less is more’ and simplify the slides)
Likelihood of getting out of breath because of talking too fast: 1/10 (you are now taking your time while your audience digests what you just said)
Number of ‘uuummmss’ during the talk: minimum (slightly higher than in a normal conversation)
Risk of forgetting what to say: Low (and even when you do forget – you improvise confidently)
The short-term benefits don’t change as such, but there is already a difference in ROI, as the investment is getting lower over time. There will be always some cost involved and it will always increase slightly when you prepare a brand new talk, but the tendency of the investment is decreasing (see the chart below).
The benefit curve has the opposite tendency, but the reasoning is different. It’s the cumulating long-term benefits that make it grow in time.
First of all, public speaking is a great personal achievement, which stretches your comfort zone massively. And if you manage to do it in a non-native language – that’s a bonus point! Your ability to communicate and improvise grows with every speech. That’s a very useful skill for a product manager.
At every event you get a fresh perspective from professionals who are trying to solve similar problems to yours; this includes other speakers who are more approachable if you are a speaker too. Their questions often trigger interesting ideas, which you can then try back at work. Some of them will work, some not, and this is, in itself, a good idea for a conference speech.
Preparing a new talk forces you to think retrospectively – what have you learnt so far, what’s worth sharing, what do you wish someone told you before you started this piece of work? Getting feedback from others might help you correct the course of your strategy or reassure you that you are doing things right. Both are very useful.
Some of your new contacts might invite you to their workplace for a knowledge exchange session. Always say ‘yes’ to that – it means meeting even more interesting people. Growing your professional network is always a good thing, you never know which side the inspiration will come from!
Also, you put a face on your company’s name. It’s not a dry job advert any more, you give away some insider views and help people imagine working for your company. Some of them will then research your workplace and apply for a job. You might never discover this unless the successful applicant comes to you directly. This is what happened in my case. Meet Krzysztof Sowa, who met me at my very first speaking event.
“In November 2015 I had an opportunity to take part in the Product Development Days conference. There were three parallel agendas: business, management, and UX. The last one was the most interesting for me. I remember one story from that afternoon in particular, about how one product owner met the users.
It was surprising that one Product Owner took their development team and spent days interviewing the users. Early ideas, which were based on assumptions, evolved into validated product.
This was the first time I heard about Ocado, and I thought I’d like to be part of the company. Six months later I applied, and a month after that I was discussing new solutions with Anna – a great product owner!”
I am really enjoying representing Ocado Technology ‘out there’ and would like to encourage you to give public speaking a go. If you don’t feel like you want to represent your workplace – maybe it’s time for a change?
You know when you get your internet shopping delivered and it doesn’t have a key product, and even worse, it has been substituted for an item that you will never use? Well that is what can happen when Supply Chain Systems go wrong. Do you know why Ocado has industry leading levels of order accuracy (99.3% of all orders in the last year we delivered as expected)? Our Supply Chain Systems don’t go wrong.
We have complex forecasting algorithms that accurately predict the demand of over 40,000 products across three warehouses for the next 28 days. The algorithms can predict seasonality, promotion uplift and can also predict how much a product will sell before we have even sold a single item. You might not know what you want for dinner next week, but we do.
Our Ordering Systems are placing just in time orders for products that cost over £2 million in total on any one day. We place almost 2,000 purchase orders a day to cover the demand of two retailers.
If we’re not predicting the future with our forecasting engines or solving complex assignment problems with our ordering logic, we are writing real time Availability logic to inform shoppers what is in and out of stock in milliseconds. This precision engineering is what we do every day and, if we get it wrong, lives* are literally on the line.
So how do we do it. The advantage Ocado has over store-based competitors is its data. We can draw on a significant amount of data to accurately predict what demand we will see over the next month. That data goes through several stages to clean up and remove outliers. Once the data is processed and determined to be valid, we can draw conclusions from this. We then use linear regression to project into the future and place our purchase orders based on this predicted demand.
I think the proudest achievement that I have been part of is being able to launch Morrisons.com in under 9 months. This involved the re-engineering of core parts of our systems, keeping Ocado.com growing and functional while adding a whole new business onto our processes and workflows.
The first thing I would say about my team is that we are all great software engineers, every single one of us. How we achieve greatness is varied and no two people get there the same way. Some are quiet, some are loud. Some are into gaming, some are into Disney theme songs (ok that last one is just me…). We are together but not the same, as the advert goes.
Looking around at them all now, I see two pairs of engineers solving problems together. Each is asking and answering questions posed by the other person (or even themselves). One engineer is ‘in the zone’: headphones in, look of concentration on his face, slight rocking of his head when he gets to a guitar solo… and I imagine is currently smashing out some awesome code that will inevitably get rewritten 15 minutes later. Two other engineers are engaged in a debate about the correct use of the word ‘literally’. This could go on for a while…
This is what is happening now. Give it an hour and we might all be in a room, debating the direction we should take on a product we are building, or listening to someone’s experience with a new technology. Give it two hours and half the team will be in the kitchen boosting their caffeine levels, the other half will be debating the correct use of the word ‘literally’. Come on guys, we literally just talked about this!
Does this sound like the type of team you want to work in? If so, apply through this role and hopefully we’ll see you soon:
Ocado Technology employs over 650 software engineers in the UK and Poland. We are intending to continue to grow that number significantly in both Poland and the UK in 2016. Our need for talented software developers is driven, in part, by our ambitious project to rewrite, from scratch, our end-to-end software platform to run in the cloud, to refresh all our technology stacks, and to wipe out our accumulated technical debt.
No mean feat! To enable us to achieve this, we’ve recently opened a new development centre, in Sofia, Bulgaria, complementing our development centres in the UK and Poland. These sites will develop the cutting edge software which Ocado and future retailers will depend upon to deliver high quality customer service.
Every time we open in a new country or city it brings new developers with different experiences into the company, which is a great way for Ocado Technology to be challenged internally and for us not to stagnate.
Ocado has never stood still; what many companies would consider R&D we see as business as usual innovation. So this international expansion is just one more way we continue to improve our service.
The Sofia office will grow into a significant development centre over the next few years, anyone who is part of this will benefit from the significant opportunities it creates, to grow and develop a wide range of both technical and non technical skills.
If you’re interested in joining us at the Sofia office then the current opportunities can be found on Questers
What would you say to a video from our employees about why they love their job? Something like, ‘well, they have to say that’ probably.
We wanted to show off why our employees are so special and what they love about their jobs – i.e why you should want to work with them – in a way that was open and honest.
We also wanted to make you laugh.
And who better than someone’s parents to know what makes them tick… and maybe to embarrass them a little bit too?
So we asked the parents of employees from teams across Ocado Technology – from Management Systems to Simulation Algorithm Development – to talk about two things:
Video 1: We asked them to explain their son or daughter’s job. Mixed results…
Video 2: We asked them what it is they love about their job. Their answers were really touching.
Technology moves so fast – especially here where R&D is simply business as usual – that a lot of the parents, coming from outside the industry, found it very hard to describe the job or technical details.
They were clear, though, on how their sons and daughters were thriving; how they were driven to innovate and succeed; and how much they loved what they did.
My team researches, implements and analyses new automation mechanisms. We sit within the Simulation and Visualisation area and our focus is mainly on the company’s huge CFCs (Customer Fulfilment Centres – warehouses).
Essentially, we create simulations that we then use as sandboxes to test out different control algorithms.
This could be anything from really innovative new ways of automating, involving entirely new hardware that doesn’t even exist yet, to simple tweaks to existing systems. The impact this has on the business makes this really exciting.
In terms of scale, the KPIs produced by our simulations mean big money for the business.
They allow evidence based decisions to be made as to which algorithm to use, or even what to actually construct, based on how well we predict it will perform in production. We can make the company more profitable thanks to reduced hardware requirements, greater maximum throughput, higher reliability and resiliency etc.
The simulations that we create need to be highly true to life, to be confident that an algorithm that performs well in simulation will also perform well in the real world. This means modelling edge cases such as mechanical failures and time deviations, message loss and latency, and incorrect sensor reports.
When developing high level control systems, the simulations also need to be fairly far reaching. It’s not just the mechanics that must be simulated. Other systems – or even people – that interact with the system we’re developing also have to be modelled. Any event that might happen in the real world needs to be considered.
A lot of the problem spaces that we work in are extremely complex, which makes designing and implementing a highly optimal algorithm within that space similarly complex, and a lot of fun. Even if you can design an algorithm that can derive an optimal decision, can you make it run fast enough to keep up?
The research and development nature of our work means that our goals often change rapidly. A new hardware idea may come along that we then simulate, prototype the control of, analyse, and discard based on the results, moving on to the next challenge. Or the bottleneck of some system may be overcome, revealing the next bottleneck that can be optimised. I really enjoy this variety of work. There’s always a new puzzle to solve.
I work with a great team – they’re good fun, really smart, and we learn a lot from each other.
Some are experts in particular areas, but mostly we try to spread the knowledge and skills throughout the team so that everyone gets variety, new challenges, and the chance to work with different people.
If you’d like to join us, we’re currently recruiting for these roles and would love to hear from you:
New to tech? You’ve heard the experiences of our interns and apprentices before on this blog. Now for someone who hasn’t even started his career yet.
Secondary school student, Tiger, did his work experience here recently. In a Q&A with Tiger and one of his mentors, Diego, we found out what it was like and what he learnt.
Q Tiger, what did you expect before you came here?
T To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what to anticipate. I suppose I envisioned cubicles, unfamiliar faces, maybe a few water coolers, and multi-monitor set-ups for all the developers. I was only correct in the last regard – I was put at ease by the open-plan offices, warm reception from everyone, and the very relaxed atmosphere.
Q What projects did you work on?
T I spent five days here on a variety of projects, including a system for unloading pallets, research on industrial robots, and the analytics and management platform.
D On the day Tiger worked with me, the project I gave him was to create a data visualisation, given certain information about temperature sensors. I tried to focus the experience on building software following all the industrial-level processes normally used to guarantee a good final product (test-driven development, versioning and branches, Maven, build server, code reviews).
I wanted to give Tiger a taste of the difference between developing software for yourself as a side project, and working as a team to develop software that’s high quality and reliable.
Q Were there any important lessons you came away with?
T I would say I learnt two lessons. The first would be how to approach a new workplace, people and challenges, which will certainly help calm the inevitable nerves when I start employment in the future.
The second, and I would say more important, is that there is always more to learn. I was continuously shown new programming languages, terminology, concepts and, as was the case in Robotics, advanced mathematics.
D On his day with me he developed in Java, which is not a language he was familiar with but he picked it up rather quickly. He was able to adapt to the new process of building software pretty rapidly – I was impressed with his attitude.
T I’d also add the importance of testing code. My hands-on with Java programming tasks would have been harder and more prolonged without testing to verify the code’s accuracy.
Q You obviously learnt a lot, but what were the hardest challenges?
T The first thing that comes to mind – and I guess it ties into what I was saying about important lessons – is paired programming. Whether it was writing string manipulation and number sorting algorithms, or using processing-cum-Java to manipulate and graphically display data, I was having to think on the spot about things I hadn’t done before.
I’d never given proper thought to the algorithms behind the convenient libraries or done graphical work, so coding on the spot was a real challenge. It was much less difficult with ample guidance, though.
Q Diego, on the flip side, how was the experience as a mentor?
D I have a background in education, so it’s nice to get experience of what students know, how they’re taught etc nowadays.
Also, it’s helpful to understand what concepts are less familiar or harder to explain to a neophyte, as it helps you foster the effectiveness of your own communications with non-technical people – such as your users might be.
Q So what’s next? What are your plans for the future?
T Nothing’s certain yet, but I hope to go to university and study for a degree related to computer science and physics. My goal is to go into artificial intelligence, since the existence of a sentient machine bent on destroying humanity helping science is an enticing prospect!
D I’d advise Tiger to keep building software and making it public on Github (as he’s already doing). Aside from guaranteeing experience and a portfolio once he’s finished studying, it’s crucial for any developer to keep their skills sharp. This can only be done by following the ABC of coding: Always Be Coding.
Also, keep on experimenting with with new tech and in different contexts. Don’t get stuck in a niche – keep your mind open and receptive.
Q Can you finish with a few words of advice for others doing work experience?
As Diego said, enter with an open mind and be receptive to new knowledge and ideas.
Don’t be nervous or prepare too much – it’s not an interview after all.
Know the route and when to arrive, and set off early. This saved me the embarrassment of arriving an hour late.
Getting a head start in technology can be hard work if you haven’t followed the traditional uni route, but it’s far from impossible. We interviewed Ocado Technology apprentice Ryan Scales to see how and why he did things differently.
As winner of Apprentice of the Year, he should know a thing or two…
Q You originally planned to go to uni. What made you decide it wasn’t for you?
AI originally went to study Television Production, but I left because I didn’t like the fact there was no guaranteed job at the end of my studies.
Q Why did you choose to do an apprenticeship instead?
A I prefer to get hands-on experience; that’s how I learn best. Also, because hard work pays off – if you work hard as an apprentice you’re much more likely to be offered a full-time position. And finally, because you get a real insight to the world of work.
Q How did you hear about the Ocado Technology apprenticeship, and what made it attractive?
A I saw Ocado Technology when I was browsing for IT jobs online. The breadth of positions on offer really appealed to me as it I figured there’d be many paths and opportunities for employees.
Q What did you enjoy about the apprenticeship? What did you learn?
A I really enjoyed working with the people here – everyone is extremely friendly and willing to go the extra mile for me.
Apprenticeships can be daunting – you’re walking in with zero experience – but within the first week I felt comfortable and was already learning. Also, I loved the independence. You’re not being constantly watched as you work, but if you need help, people are happy to show you the ropes.
I learnt so much – not just technology skills but general, everyday life skills (time-management, communication, professionalism, responsibilities etc).
Q How long did it last?
A A year and two months. At the end of it, I was offered a job as Computer Analyst.
Q Are you pleased with the way things turned out?
A Yes, I’m very pleased with how things turned out – I’m working towards my Engineer level!
Q What was it like to win the apprentice of the year award?
A It was amazing, to be honest. I couldn’t believe I’d won.
That’s another benefit to apprenticeships – you really do get recognition for working hard, whether that be a full-time job offer, pay-rise or promotion, or even winning an award at the House of Lords.
Q What are your immediate plans in terms of gaining new qualifications and career moves?
A Next up I want to complete my level 4 apprenticeship, and work towards Engineer level within my team at Ocado Technology.
Q How do you see your career developing long-term?
A With the way things are going at the moment, I would like to see myself in a senior position within the department. I’ll also be furthering my education by completing courses.
A little bit of background about myself: I’m Ryan and I’m a graduate fresh from Imperial College London. This is the story of how I moved from intern to full-time at Ocado Technology. If you’re looking for placements or first jobs, I hope you’ll find it useful.
The preparation and interviews
I came across Ocado Technology when I was thinking about whether to apply to banks or technology companies for my placement. After researching, I found out that Ocado develops all their technology in-house. So I thought it would be somewhere interesting to learn and work for four months.
Having gone through an initial CV screening and an online coding test, I was invited for the assessment day which included a written test and two rounds of interviews. I was also shown round the warehouse, AKA the ‘CFC’ (Customer Fulfilment Centre). It was fascinating to see the huge automated system in action.
After a few days of waiting, I was offered the internship.
Among a great number of technology teams, I was assigned to the CFC Simulation and Flow Analysis team. They’re responsible for developing discrete event simulation models of the CFCs.
The purpose of the simulation models are: capacity prediction; constraint identification; design appraisal; return on investment calculation; as a test-bed to develop algorithms; and to conduct ad hoc studies.
In addition, the team has written a three-dimensional visualisation tool with animated totes, allowing simulation runs to be visually reviewed (which I personally found it really cool).
There were three projects that I worked on during my placement:
The first was to use Python and Django to build a light-weight web app that constantly reports the status of the simulation models.
The second was to build a routing implementation for the simulation models. The aim of this project was to create a graph-based routing implementation to analyse how the totes inside the warehouse can be routed in the most efficient way.
The third was to use the power of the Google Compute Engine to run multiple simulation models on numbers of virtual machine instances simultaneously. This meant a set of optimal constants for the cost function in the previous project could be found more efficiently by comparing the simulation model results.
At the end of the placement, all interns had a chance to show off their work to engineers at the interns’ fair. It was a really good opportunity to listen to professional comments and share our views on the projects.
Here’s what I learnt
First of all I consolidated my programming skills from university in Java, and I learnt Python which I had never used before.
Alongside the technical skills, I was also able to learn how the real technology industry does software engineering, how the software actually gets delivered in production, and how the teams collaborate.
Working with a team of professionals was a valuable opportunity for a university student. It was great to receive feedback and comments from engineers specialised in different areas.
From intern to full-time
So, how can you ensure an offer after your internship? I don’t have a definite answer but, in my opinion, there are a few points that are important:
Firstly, you must ask questions – the more questions you ask, the more you understand the task. And people here are extremely helpful and friendly. So don’t be shy to ask anybody.
Secondly, you mustn’t think you are not good enough for the role, because interning is all about learning. People don’t expect you to know everything. So always be positive and enthusiastic about what you are working on.
Now, here I am, working as a software engineer at Ocado Technology. I’m currently in the Back End Web Development team, where we develop and maintain the applications that are used for ocado.com and internally.
To be a developer somewhere I interned is quite an advantage because I’m already familiar with the environment and culture, which has allowed me to get stuck in very easily.
I would definitely recommend Ocado Technology if you’re the kind of person who loves challenging yourself and would like to contribute to future web development. I believe you’d be fascinated if you knew what Ocado Technology is planning to do in the future…
Could 2015 be an important year for your career? We asked five Ocado Technology experts – from guys at the top to rising stars – for the careers advice they live by or would pass on.
Whether you’re choosing your first move or wondering where to turn next, here are some sage words to help you out.
Paul Clarke, Director of Technology
As you move into more senior management roles, look for ways to remain hands-on and stay technically in-touch – keep learning, inventing, designing and building stuff!
Look for ways to constantly surprise and challenge yourself. Make good friends with risk and uncertainty as they are keys to an exciting future.
View your career as a non-linear game of extreme Snakes and Ladders – sometimes you will find the most exciting opportunities where you least expect them and sometimes the best ladders lie at the bottom of a snake.
Issy Cave, Project Support Lead
The key to success is to risk thinking unconventional thoughts. Convention is the enemy of progress. If you go down just one corridor of thought you never get to see what’s in the rooms leading off it. I live by this.
Crystallise your goals. Make a plan for achieving them and set yourself a deadline. Then with supreme confidence, determination, and disregard for obstacles and other people’s criticisms, carry out your plan.
Steve Rodgers, Recruitment Manager
‘Why do you think you are suitable for this job?’ This classic question is one that often has candidates on the back foot. See if the employer has a values statement or competency framework and match your examples to that.
You can all but guarantee that teamwork, communication skills, organising and planning, problem-solving, decision-making and self-development are competencies that any employer would love a candidate to demonstrate!
Anne Marie Neatham, Chief Operating Officer
Don’t get too comfortable in an area. If you become very confident about what you are doing and there is very little uncertainty in your work, it is worth considering whether or not you are learning anything new. Risk and change are good, get comfortable with them, so that you are doing the ‘fun stuff’ at work and at play.
Stay up to date with trends. Sometimes it can seem impossible to stay up to date on everything, and it is. But if something looks like it adds genuine value, is interesting to you or is very different, then it is likely to be worth understanding in a little more detail.
Tim Moran, IT Team Leader
Always have a little side project. Publish it on GitHub. It’s a great excuse to experiment and tinker with new technologies whilst building something fun, and it looks great on your CV.