Jim Kelly has been an IT infrastructure professional for over 30 years. He specialised in the “networking“ technology arena and worked across many business sectors, including technology, oil, and gas exploration, but focussed primarily in financial services. He is currently responsible for network operations and change programmes for a leading Swiss financial institution. Jim shares his experience of the tech industry, and where he sees the challenges for women in the industry.
“As you can imagine, I have seen many changes and giant leaps in technology capabilities throughout my career. Recently, we‘ve seen large, multi-national enterprises outpaced in innovation by technology-focussed companies that have managed to provide the choice and flexibility we all seek.
Think about how you buy goods like books, music, groceries or even take-aways―the choices and delivery options are virtually limitless. From the growth of the internet, the miniaturisation of components, silicon speed and capacity, to the current cloud and digital evolution that is happening now, only one thing has remained constant – technology will always evolve and create change.
But, so too will the opportunities for people to grow, adapt and be successful. For instance, the traditional role of an IT professional has been to build a product or piece of software, and fix it when it breaks. We see this changing rapidly. Sure, IT professionals will still require the traditional skillset, yet they must develop the intuition and tenacity to ask questions, problem solve and provide real business-enhancing solutions.
Let me give you a real-world example.
I like to consider myself a technology manager, but in reality, I am managing risk – technology risk, people risk, financial risk and reputational risk. When I look at the future and the types of skills that will make the greatest difference to my role, I ask myself “Where can I find cyber security analysts who can not only build a strong defence mechanism for the company, but can also work with data analytics and discuss what is happening in our environment, how it has changed recently and why, etc.?“
I‘m looking for people who can provide operational awareness of the health of the systems and platforms we are responsible for, but can also identify trends on failures, analyse unusual performance or response data. Importantly, they need to be able to work with business and IT partners to ensure any business activity does not compromise our existing production environment, while ensuring that what we do is provided at a fair cost and will not put the company‘s reputation at risk.
Today‘s talent pool crosses all geographic boundaries, languages and cultures, and is highly skilled and ready to learn. I personally have been involved in the recruitment of skilled individuals in India, Hungary and Poland, and it is clear that the next generation of smart and creative IT professionals is here. And, excitingly, we’re starting to see the needle move to a more diverse talent pool. But, this hasn’t always been the case.
In the past, the IT infrastructure space has been a male-dominated area.
Was this by design? In my opinion, absolutely not. But the industry evolved organically in a way that didn’t do a good job of promoting the opportunities to everyone.
For example, when I joined BT as an apprentice in 1981, the application process was open to everyone as long as you could pass the necessary external exams and the BT in-house test and interviews. In my cohort of 120 apprentices in London, there were only two women
It became clear to me that our gender and diversity problems in IT begin much earlier - as school-aged children, where decisions are made about what to pursue in future careers. And this is where we can make a big impact moving forward. Encouraging more young girls and diverse populations to learn about, and get involved in, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)-related subjects is key to fuelling the future pipeline. This coupled with the change of current and future skills required to succeed will help to extend opportunities to a far wider population of suitable candidates, including women.
We are seeing pockets of progress, however. I have worked for a female CIO during my last two roles, and while I‘m sure they both came across bias and prejudice during their careers at some stage, their skills and capabilities overcame any potential barriers caused by gender. While it is exciting to see this kind of progress, there is still much to be done to achieve true gender parity in the IT industry.
To help us get there more quickly, making training and development truly accessible to all is key. That is why I am so excited about the FutureScale
initiative. For individuals, it provides access to training that is specific to the recruitment demands there currently are within the IT industry in the UK. For employers, it provides access to motivated and trained individuals across genders, ages, and ethnic backgrounds who have ambition and aspiration to succeed with a career in IT.
From a manager‘s perspective, there is nothing more rewarding than identifying talent, coaching and mentoring them through their careers and helping them be more successful than you ever were. On the flip side, there is nothing more disappointing than recognising talent and the potential not being realised.
So, I encourage you to take advantage of any training and skill development opportunities that may be available to you. Your future success depends on it."
Learn more about the FutureScale initiative here