Sync NI Spotlight - Allstate NI’s John Healy says ‘don’t wait’ for your tech career to begin

  • Sync NI had an in-depth conversation with Allstate Northern Ireland’s managing director, John Healy, about his career journey, his top tips and why NI’s tech sector is the place to be.

    When looking at today’s tech leaders, it can be hard to imagine how it all started for them and what exactly took them on the road to success.

    Back in the 1980s, John Healy went to his career’s teacher, who looked at him and said, “Healy, you're good at maths and physics, you'll be doing engineering.”

    And so that’s what John did at university - and he absolutely hated it. It wasn’t even close to what he wanted to do you, which was computing. He dabbled in programming throughout that decade and loved it. “I loved the fact that you could work with a machine and get a result,” the now-managing director at Allstate NI said.

    “On my graduation day, I promised myself I wasn't going to work a single day as an engineer. I went right back to do one of the very earliest conversion courses, an MSc in Computer Science, and I got myself onto the path that I probably should have chosen from the get go.”

    This lack of guidance or compass to help John get into his desired sector is a problem he says he still sees today, and thus the MD is now passionate about raising the IT industry’s awareness within schools and families.

    With two degrees under his belt, John applied for his first graduate job with a well-known telecoms company, but was shocked to not get it. 

    “I'd never failed at anything in my life, and I had to take a long hard look at myself and say ‘what am I going to do?’” the Derry native laughed. 

    “I was looking through the job section in the newspaper one Sunday, and there's an ad with all these really exciting words in it. It was for a job with an investment bank in London. I wanted to apply for the job but I didn't understand half the words that were in the ad, so I had to go and look up all these finance and banking terms.

    “I just knew that they were looking for computer programmers to come and solve business problems and that's what I'd always wanted to do.”

    A trip to London and one new suit later, and John had secured that job - with JP Morgan – in what would be the beginning of an illustrious career in technology, one in which John has never looked back.

    “The thing about technology is that it is so fast-changing and as you're coming through university and those early careers, you gain skills for what will become a lifetime of continuous learning,” he told Sync NI. 

    “That was true then and it is even more true now, in terms of the pace of change of technology and the range of problems that we can tackle today using it – things that were just in people's imaginations 20 years ago have become reality or formed the stepping stones to even larger transformations.” 

    In relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, John referenced the amazing advancements in tech being used to sequence the virus’ different variants, or drive contact-tracing apps or even rapidly accelerate the ecommerce industry to help businesses and individuals survive.  

    “I love technology because it is constantly changing and means that we have to be constantly learning and making sure that we are at least keeping pace - if not trying to stay ahead - of where technology can take us.”

    From a global perspective, he believes we are currently living in the most exciting time for tech. 

    “We’re solving problems that we have today and building towards the problems of tomorrow, tackling climate change with GreenTech and so on, and so it's an exciting time for somebody who wants to join a company like Allstate or is interested in maybe setting up a company of their own. 

    “My number one piece of advice is don't wait,” he urged. 

    “Don't wait to set up a new company, don't wait to join a company, don't wait to push yourself forward - to learn those new skills, to go for that next job, to build a portfolio of skills that are going to make you successful. 

    “You definitely want to get going and make sure that you are maximising the opportunity, but while doing that, I think you should always remember that you've got to keep doing your job really well. Be sure that you're doing it to the absolute best of your ability and make sure that you are maximising that contribution, either to the company you're working for or the company that you are in.

    “I think the biggest skills that any of us can have is the ability to work in teams. In so much of your early life, it's all about your own individual excellence in school or wherever it happens to be, but whenever you hit the world of work, it's totally about the team,” he continued.

    “It doesn't matter whether or not you're sitting in my seat, where people would say to me ‘oh my goodness, you have such a big organisation, how do you do it?’ Well actually, I've got a great team. And it's the team that makes it all work. 

    “Whenever we're recruiting people to come and join the business, qualifications, skills and attributes are great, but what we're really testing at an interview is, will you fit in? Can you work as part of a team? Can you be part of this great organisation and be able to function as part of what it is that we're trying to do?  

    “I'd say that ability to be able to work in a team and to be able to play your part is what makes businesses successful and technology businesses in particular, where it takes a lot of different people with different technology skills to come together to actually create the product.” 

    Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is coming into so many different aspects of Allstate’s modern practice, and the firm is presently working with local universities and colleges to develop an even stronger pipeline of tech and IT graduates than the region already has.   

    “We have a super further education infrastructure in Northern Ireland, and I see those institutions working in a partnership among themselves and with business in such a positive way,” said John. 

    Allstate has recently collaborated with Ulster University to drive innovation through AI, and has been looking more in-depth at emerging technologies such as 5G, through Queen’s University’s Institute of Electronics Communications & Information Technology (ECIT). 

    John concluded: “It's a really exciting time for us. There’s a lot of challenges out there. Challenges require technology solutions, and we've got the technologists to do it.”

    This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 edition of the Sync NI magazine. You can download your FREE copy and sign up to receive future digital editions here.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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