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In case you missed it: A look back at some of our most popular posts from 2021

  • Building leadership around problem-solving, having a family and taking on many roles

    Puppet is an automation software firm with a (very cool) Belfast base and an NI team full of software engineers, directed by Sinead Heverin. She talks us through her career history and being not only a woman in tech, but a female leader.

    From a young age I enjoyed problem solving and STEM based subjects at school, and with an older brother following a path in Computer Science, I took his advice and decided to go the same route.

    I come from a farming family, so I was used to rolling up my sleeves and helping out where it was needed. There was no gender bias at home, you just had to get the work done. I think this influence contributed to me not feeling out of place as the only girl in school to study Computer Science GCSE and the only female on my degree course. I found something I loved in Computer Science, and I realized it was a world that would allow me to work in any industry - it was a world with little constraints. 

    After I completed my study in Information and Communication Technology at Queen’s, I accepted a Graduate Software Engineering role with Vision Consulting, which was an Irish owned company with offices in Dublin and Belfast. The company gave me lots of opportunities to work with big clients such as BNP Paribas and JP Morgan - I worked predominantly on Trading systems. 

    At this early stage, I also realised what a great passport an IT job was for getting opportunities to travel. I spent a significant amount of time working in London with these clients but also had the opportunity to work in their Tokyo and Paris offices and in future endeavours will travel to Boston, Singapore, San Francisco and Portland. 

    Assuming responsibilities and delivering innovation

    Gradually, I decided to take on more leadership roles, with the first one being with HBOS as a Technical Lead. I loved it because I could still be heavily involved in the design and development phase of our products and services but slowly I was able to take on managerial responsibilities like helping others with their career development and bigger picture planning. It was a brilliant team to be part of and a great platform to start to learn more about the importance of having good people and good leaders around you. We delivered some really innovative banking products which are still used today by Corporate and Retail customers in the UK. 

    After HBOS, I moved to Liberty IT working as part of the Personal Insurance team and eventually CyberSource (Visa) to support the delivery of new Payment and Settlement systems progressing to a Director of Engineering, before joining Puppet, where I am today. I am part of the Puppet Research and Development Team, which is responsible for evolving our core Puppet Enterprise product for Infrastructure Management, bringing new products in the Security and Compliance space to market, supporting the career development of the team and growing the site. I am now Director of Engineering and Site lead for the Belfast office.  

    During all of this time, I also got married and had two children. Work isn’t all of you and I think it’s important that as we build our careers -- especially for those of us that want to have a family -- we need to talk about this as well. Too often when a family comes along people have trouble balancing their career and their family; this is a really common refrain for women in technology. I’ve luckily had a supportive partner and the privilege of working for companies that allowed me to have the flexibility I needed as my life commitments have grown and continue to grow in my career. I think it’s imperative for companies to push for this to keep great talent and important for us as individuals to recognise, we can’t do everything all the time.

    Leadership means ensuring your employees know they are valued 

    A good leader in any organisation needs to have integrity, an enthusiasm and passion for what they do and show empathy towards their team - this is essential no matter what industry you are in. Having all of these components creates an environment where people feel valued, are excited by what they are doing and feel a strong sense of purpose. These are all critical attributes to hiring and retaining top talent. 

    Oftentimes, people in leadership feel they need to solve everything and if you are looking to grow your business, I always say “it takes a village”...not one person. To lead with a team and  growth-mindset, you need to show your vulnerability and at times say, “I don’t know.” This opens up the opportunity for the team to step in and say, “I can help.” This is key in driving successful delivery and helping to build a diverse, healthy, happy productive workforce.

    It's been an amazing industry to work in, full of challenge, creativity and great people. I have travelled to some amazing places because of my job and made some incredible friends along the way. Northern Ireland is well-positioned to be a global technology leader thanks to our resilience, talent, and collective vision for the future. It is a growing industry that is ultimately trying to make lives better, so my advice would be get curious and get involved in our local tech sector as soon as possible!

    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

    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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