Jonathan White: A career in technology

  • Photo: Jonathan White, Senior Director of Engineering, Liberty IT

    Sync NI spoke with Jonathan White, Senior Director of Engineering, Liberty IT, to discuss his career journey in the technology sector.

    After graduating in Computer Science from Ulster University you embarked on a fascinating career working with some of the largest global tech companies. Can you tell us a bit about your journey so far?

    Yes, it’s been quite a journey and difficult to believe it has been 25+ years. After studying Computer Science, I graduated in the mid '90s and moved to Dublin to work for Lotus Development. The Celtic Tiger was in full swing in Ireland at that point and Dublin was thriving with new tech start-ups. I was a huge fan of the Netscape Browser, and they were recruiting in Dublin for SW Engineers, so I applied. Fortunately, I was successful and shortly after joining spent time in Mountain View, California training up on their server products. The Leadership of Netscape created an incredible culture that was way ahead of its time. It was centred around employees bringing their whole selves to work, so they could be at their most creative.

    After an incredible experience in the US, I returned to Dublin to help with building out the teams who would be working on the Netscape server products. Still in start-up mode it was an amazing opportunity to try many different roles and gain broad experience and exposure. I quickly learned to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone continually challenging myself, learning and gaining experience.

    Netscape was then acquired by AOL in 1998 and this was also a pivotal moment in that it created the opportunity for me to transition from Software Engineering to Technical Management. After 10 years working for Netscape/AOL in Dublin I moved back to Belfast to take up a Technical Management role at Citi. At the time Fintech was gathering momentum in Belfast and having worked on the AOL Personal Finance Channel I was excited to be stepping into Equites Technology and the Electronic Trading space. With the MiFID (markets in financial instruments directive) regulations changing the trading landscape, it was a very exciting time to be getting involved in FinTech and one that I relished. After holding several senior positions at Citi, I was appointed the Equites Technology Site Lead in Belfast.

    After an incredible 10 years at Citi growing the Equities Technology footprint in Belfast to over 200 people, I was ready for my next challenge and accepted the Senior Director of Engineering role at Liberty IT in 2018. I had always admired the engineering culture at Liberty IT and its commitment to a first-class employee experience, so it has been a career ambition fulfilled to work for the company.

    Working across so many different industries, what do you describe as some of your most memorable projects?

    I must start by saying that some of my most memorable projects have not always been a roaring success, but they are memorable because I learned a lot from the experience and that has been invaluable throughout my career. At the start of my career getting to work for Netscape on their server products and helping grow the Dublin operation was a highlight. At Citi growing the Equities Technology footprint in Belfast and navigating teams through the financial crisis and the MiFID 1 and 2 regulations also stands out. At Liberty IT continuing to evolve our rich engineering heritage and ensuring we remain a great place to work is a great source of pride and something I take very seriously.

    In your current role as a senior director of engineering, what or who was it that attracted you to join Liberty IT?

    Liberty IT has an incredibly strong reputation as one of the pioneers of the Tech sector in NI, and it has always been a career ambition to work for the company. Liberty IT has a 25-year engineering heritage that is second to none and a commitment to employee experience that I believe is unrivalled in the industry. As a mutual company our strategic direction is entirely vested in our customers and the core values of the company align closely with my own.

    What would you consider to be the most rewarding aspects of your role?

    First and foremost, it would have to be the incredibly talented people I get to work with at Liberty IT - I feel very fortunate to be able to learn from them every day. Engineering is part of our DNA and I feel extremely proud to be part of that 25-year heritage.

    At Liberty IT we get the opportunity to use the latest technologies to solve complex business problems for a global Fortune 100 company – Liberty Mutual. It’s incredibly motivating when you know that the work that we do is having a direct impact on the business and adding tremendous value for our customers. I am also incredibly proud to be part of a company that is committed to being a workplace that is inclusive and diverse. The tremendous work of our Employee Resource Groups is a great example of this commitment, and as the Executive Sponsor for LIT Giving, I love that we can support local charities through the incredible generosity of our employees.

    The insurance technology sector is continually evolving. What new developments do you think will have the greatest positive impact on our lives in the future?

    There has never been more disruption in the Insurance industry, and whether it is more frequent extreme weather events, cyber-attacks or the pandemic our customers are experiencing more risk which in turn affects their insurance premiums. Consumer expectations have never been higher in terms of digital services, particularly in the finance and insurance industries. Customers demand digital-first, and for their experiences to be intuitive and frictionless. With challenge comes opportunity and while the risk and expectations are increasing, the capabilities of the technologies that allow us to meet those needs are also increasing. Whether it’s Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, predictive analytics, or telematics we need to be embracing these technologies to maintain a competitive edge for our business.

    Is there anyone you can think of who has been instrumental in the development of your career?

    I have been extremely fortunate to work with some incredible leaders during the last 25 years who have helped me shape my career. As I transitioned from software engineering into leadership in the early 2000’s I had a manager called Aengus McClean who was just a fantastic role model and someone I learned a lot from. Throughout my career I have always sought out coaches and mentors who I know I could learn from and help me gain the confidence to challenge myself to take the next step in my career.

    If you could spend a day shadowing one person in the global tech sector who might that be and why?

    I think it would have to be Marc Andressen who is an American entrepreneur, investor and co-founder of Netscape. Marc is a true pioneer in the industry and has invested in many successful companies including, Facebook, GitHub, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Twitter. It would be truly fascinating to get his insights for a day!

    What advice would you give to anyone considering a career with Liberty IT?

    If you want to be part of a high-performing engineering team, where we solve problems and add business value for a global Fortune 100 company, then you’re looking in the right place. At Liberty IT we are looking for people who are passionate about problem-solving, curious about their domain and willing to challenge themselves. You need to be a team player with a growth mindset who is committed to continuous learning and improvement. In line with our commitment to being an inclusive and diverse workplace, we welcome people from all backgrounds, industries, and experiences. Being able to leverage this diversity of thought and background drives our creativity and we believe gives us a competitive edge.

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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