Build your own brand

Delegates at the recent YPG networking event were told that they needed to build their own kind of professional brand and were given tips on getting ahead and making a successful career in IT. YPG member Elizabeth Harrin reports.

Owen King, from Citi Markets and Banking, Mark Bloodworth, the chief solutions architect at BBC Worldwide, and Marc Holmes, an architect evangelist for the Microsoft Technology Centre, shared their hints and tips for career planning with an audience of IT professionals. 

The event, held at the BCS London office on 30 August, attracted a wide range of IT professionals from analysts to project managers, all keen to find out more about career planning.

After a warm welcome from Portia Tung, existing events lead on the national committee; the three speakers introduced themselves and shared their own career paths.

speakers at Canterbury YPG event Graduating into financial services

Owen King decided that he wanted to work in an industry that wasn't technical but that was reliant on technology and chose a career in financial services. He joined Citi Markets after graduating.

Once he left the graduate scheme he led small projects through the SDLC and also opted to spend time with the business understanding their needs to be better able to support them.

He was also involved in business analysis and soon built a reputation as a trusted technology partner. This gave him the recognition in the company that helped him shape his future.

Owen stressed the importance of good communication and gave several examples of where he had been able to do this in his job to ensure buy-in for projects including using newsletter articles and promotional mugs to get his messages across to the diverse range of people who work in financial services.

He spoke about the challenges for the future in this industry, namely the move to outsourcing and offshoring as well as the massive appetite for technology and, therefore, the need for technologists.

Managing successful teams

Mark Bloodworth's career in computing began back in 1983 when his parents offered him the choice of a computer or a holiday - and he chose the computer. After his arts degree he worked in the travel industry and was lucky enough to work in a small company that enabled him to learn a bit of everything.

Within six months he was managing their IT systems and found a particular interest in web programming. A company restructure meant he was faced with losing this IT responsibility so he moved on into a programming role and developed his career in IT, gaining exposure to .NETstandards interoperability and Java. Another reorganisation saw him move into his current architecture role at BBC Worldwide.

Mark helped to grow his architecture team from two to twelve people within a year, and moved into a team management role. Mark said it was important for him to maintain links with the technical community even though his role no longer involves writing code. He's started a blog and also passed architecture qualifications this year, as has the rest of his team.

From teams to subject matter experts

Marc Holmes has also managed teams, but for now he's chosen to be an 'individual contributor', working as an architect evangelist at the Microsoft Technology Center in Reading.  His early aspirations to become a doctor melted away and instead it was his interest in IT that he turned into a career.

Marc moved into hospitality after studying for a degree in computer science and artificial intelligence and the hard work of kitchens and hotels taught him a lot about teamwork. He stressed how important it is to learn from every experience. Marc managed to turn the restaurant world to his advantage when he ended up building a website for a restaurant, and finally made the move into a pure IT role when he went to work for Philips.

This gave him the opportunity to experience working in a large company which was a useful precursor to being an IT director during the dot com boom. Once the bubble burst he moved into a team management and technical design authority role at BBC Worldwide.

Marc said how different people management is from the technical work and mentioned how difficult it is to switch off from managing a team if you are genuinely committed to those people. The decision to move from his previous job to his current one wasn't easy, but he felt that it was the right one for him to make.

Hints and tips

The floor was opened to questions and the audience benefited from a frank debate about how to get ahead in your career. Marc stressed how important it is to build your own 'brand' by maintaining a level of professionalism, for example, by ensuring you are always on time for meetings. Owen suggested focusing on adding value to the role you do by finding ways to bring in your other skills - he ran a course on persuasive writing for his department.

All the speakers talked about the importance of knowing where you are going and what you want to achieve, even if it takes a while to get there. Owen said that it is important that if you take on other responsibilities above and beyond your job these contribute to your overall plan. 

It's critical to keep evaluating what you are doing and to really ask whether or not you enjoy it. It's also essential to feel in control of your career plan as no one else can know what you want - although they could help you achieve it.

In a large organisation it might be possible to move to a completely different role by taking a sideways step, although if you want the stay in the same role but with more responsibility it might be better to look outside your current employer.

With all the opportunities available, Mark said it is easy to get distracted, and commented that it is important to find the right opportunity, not just any opportunity.

Making the right choice for you depends on what you want to achieve and the kind of person you are: someone who thrives in a team, needs direction or is a creative free-thinker.

Marc said that management is not a route for everyone, and that you should consider the company and the position available, and not always follow the 'traditional' path of being promoted into a management role.

Marc added how important it was to keep on good terms with the people around you, and that you should quickly learn to speak your mind.

That will help you get over the embarrassment factor that perhaps other people will criticise your ideas, but always take into account the context and other peoples' motivations. You should always speak out if the situation is appropriate - you may well be right.

About the speakers

Owen King

Owen King has worked at Citi Markets and Banking for three years, dealing with everyone from hyperactive traders to back-office clerks and senior managers.

Since joining the bank's technology graduate programme, Owen has undertaken a number of roles including software development, business analysis and most recently strategy and planning. He's also been involved with efforts to increase the effectiveness of communication within the firm and sits on a council tasked with improving Citi's graduate recruitment.

Owen graduated from the University of Southampton in 2004 with a MEng in electronics.

Mark Bloodworth

Mark Bloodworth is the chief solutions architect at BBC Worldwide, where he leads a team responsible for architecture and systems analysis. His time in this role is split between technical strategy, architecture and team management.

Mark's background is in software development and design, specialising in web applications and integration. Most of his career has been focussed on using Microsoft technologies, especially .NET, with a little Java thrown in for good measure.

Outside work, Mark is the author of nspectre, an open source validation framework for .NET, keeps a blog at remark.wordpress.com and dabbles in intriguing technologies.

Marc Holmes

Marc Holmes is an architect evangelist for the Microsoft Technology Centre at Thames Valley Park in the U.K. where he specialises in architecture, design, and proof of concept work with a variety of customers, partners and ISVs. Prior to Microsoft, Marc most recently led a significant development team as head of applications and Web at BBC Worldwide.

Marc is the author of 'Expert .Net Delivery with NAnt and CruiseControl.Net' (APress) and maintains a blog at http://www.marcmywords.org

Recommended resources

About epidemiology and ideas
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few, James Surowiecki

Thought-provoking reads
Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
The Purple Cow, Seth Godin
Hackers and Painters: Essays on the Art of Programming, Paul Graham

On weird economic effects
Freakonomics, Steve D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
The Long Tail: How Endless Choice is Creating Unlimited Demand, Chris Anderson

Understanding organisations
Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development, James O. Coplien and Neil B. Harrison
Understanding Organizations, Charles Handy

Lean manufacturing and software development
The Toyota Way, Jeffrey Liker
Lean Software Development - An Agile Toolkit, Mary Poppendieck and Tom Poppendieck

Career development
What Colour is Your Parachute 2008, Richard Nelson Bolles

Guest speaker blogs
Marc Holmes's blog: http://www.marcmywords.org  
Mark Bloodworth's blog: http://remark.wordpress.com

Future YPG Events: Supporting the Professional Development of IT Professionals

The YPG ProNetworking event series aims to provide a unique opportunity for members to participate in a discussion on current IT topics with a panel of industry specialists. The series also provides the chance for members to share and expand their experiences with like-minded professionals.

The YPG aims to nationalise events whenever possible. For events run in London and, where speakers are willing to travel and schedules permit, the YPG National Committee strives to work with YPG branch reps around the UK to help make more events happen.

For a list of future YPG events, go to: http://www.ypg.bcs.org/events/

September 2007