Carol is busy. Very busy. Her volunteering life sees her wear many hats: chief among them is chairing the Quality Specialist Group - a very active community that focuses on quality issues in both the development and use of IT.
She is also an integral part of the Risk, Audit and Finance Committee and the BCS Council. She was also present at BCS Women’s founding committee meeting.
She believes passionately in BCS’ charitable mission, it’s relevance and also in the vitality of the Institute’s many member communities. She urges everyone to get involved in BCS and to experience its unique benefits.
What does BCS mean to you?
‘BCS is an organisation where commitment, knowledge and skills are valued - making IT good for society is a meaningful strap-line.‘BCS enables you to get valuable experience you can't always get at work, so it's a good way to improve yourself as a professional. I found that there was no discrimination in BCS, in contrast to what I sometimes found at work.’
Why are you an active member of BCS?
‘I want to help improve the IT profession. I was one of the first generation to start work with computers and live with them in my pocket. Ubiquitous computers (we now call it the internet of things) and analysis of data to predict decisions and control real life - using AI and augmented reality - was the obvious direction of travel.
‘It’s easy to lose sight of the human need, especially when you consider how diverse humans can be. When designing systems, we tend to lump them together as one called “user”. That’s why I got involved in the quality specialist group and why I am also working on standards for ethics in system design.’
What do you do as a volunteer?
‘I have multiple voluntary roles for BCS. I am part of its corporate governance structure, on the Risk Audit and Finance Committee. I am just completing my year as Vice Chair of Council and I am also Chair of the Quality Specialist Group.’
How does your role help BCS to succeed?
‘The Risk Audit and Finance Committee is part of the general governance of running a charitable company. It reviews BCS’ internal controls, financial reporting and risk-taking. To succeed, an organisation needs to take some risks. My role on the council supports the senior management team in strategy discussions, which ultimately determine the success of the organisation.
'Finally, member groups like the Quality Specialist Group are how most of our members connect with BCS in person, to develop their careers and get experience in presenting their ideas. Successfully run member groups contribute to the overall success of BCS.’
What is the most interesting part of your role for BCS?
‘BCS is working with the government and employers to influence the way the IT industry is viewed and treated. The fact I contribute to a tangible difference and actually influence change is interesting and rewarding. I help with discussions about the implementation of major systems by thinking critically about mistakes other sectors have made - like how we treat people after a failure - in order to learn from them.’
What are you most proud of with BCS?
‘It’s difficult to single out one thing. In the past, I’ve served on a wide range of committees, boards, groups and even some awards panels. The variety of opportunity has been incredible and each one has paid back in experience for my personal development and career. I’m quietly proud of nearly all of it: we’ve made a lot of progress, but there is still much to do on diversity and equality in our profession.’
What makes your role enjoyable?
‘So many things! Working with people who are committed to the success of BCS and the diversity of ideas which they bring. Helping the management team consider alternative options to the obvious ones is always rewarding.
'I also love helping others turn around the situation their business is in through consulting and mentoring to see them develop, find their niche and make the most out of their career.
'I enjoy asking the difficult questions about why things are the way they are and scrutinising systems to make BCS more efficient and influential. Overall, the fact that my role is so rewarding is what makes it enjoyable.’
Are there any memorable / striking moments you've had with BCS?
‘I've had way too many to choose just one, so here are four! Firstly, hearing that BCS had full license to award Chartered Engineer unsupervised by another engineering body. I had been on membership board at the time and we had been working hard towards robust processes.
‘Next, being at the founding committee meeting of BCS Women, because I knew it was going to make a special contribution to BCS.
‘Thirdly, being on an awards panel for the Karen Burt Award across all engineering professional bodies and being told that our BCS nominee had won the main award.
‘Finally, I’d say seeing that BCS is leading parts of the discussion on ethics and AI. It really addresses what we are about as a professional body.’
How do you balance work / personal life / volunteering?
‘Having a portfolio of roles helps. When I was in a full-time job, I learnt to be very aware about what I was committing to. I ensured I scheduled in plenty of thinking time so that I was effective in what I was doing as a volunteer and a professional. I’m convinced my colleagues can tell when I’m not well prepared, so it's imperative that I am.’
What matters most in your professional life?
‘It's important to me to appreciate skills which are overlooked because they're not in the job description. Most people will have skills which haven't been recognised or have lacked necessary training. It matters to me to communicate with teams about what they are capable of and how they want to develop.
‘Looking at the bigger picture, I can see productivity issues in many companies partly because diversity and different ways of thinking have not been appreciated. People get pigeon-holed as the skills they have which are specifically related to their current job and managers sometimes forget they had a life before that job full of rich experiences and skills.’
How did you get to where you are now?
‘Initially, I failed my A-levels, so I took a basic job at a big company. There I learned key skills and how businesses work. From there, I went on to become a trainee programmer and eventually progressed, becoming a project manager and team manager. I was lucky, I worked on interesting projects like a software company developing on five continents.
‘Next up, a consultancy role gave me a platform for more senior management roles. I gained postgraduate qualifications with BCS, Open University and online study platforms before my first degree.
‘Now I have a portfolio of jobs. These include teaching postgraduate level courses to senior managers and coaching and mentoring managers and small business executives.
‘Elsewhere, I write exam papers and consultant on business improvements. Finally, I’m working on a couple of book projects.’
What's important to you outside of work?
‘I enjoy wheelchair rugby - it’s a sport that combines building people's ability and confidence with engineering and excitement. It’s a contact sport and you never quite get used to the sound of the chairs crashing together. I was a lower-league official until an injury stopped my training in 2019 - in context this seems an insubstantial excuse!
‘I love to see people perform beyond their own (and others’) expectations. The transformation from new player to friendly league level is amazing. Players and their carers realise there is more to life than they initially thought was possible.
‘A slightly calmer passion of mine is reading: I read (a lot) and I write (not as much as I should). I also review books from a wide range of genres and volunteer at the MK Literature festival.’
What would you say to a new volunteer who asks you how to be successful?
‘Take the opportunities that you are interested in and fully engage with them. Don’t focus on what value you will get from the activity because payback will come in unexpected ways and may be more valuable than any trade-off you might have made. Don’t take on something just because it will be good for your CV: your heart won’t be in it and the rewards will be poor.’
What do you want to do next in your BCS journey?
'My role on the Risk, Audit and Finance Committee has meant I've had to turn down other interesting opportunities to stay independent of those processes. After my second three-year term comes to an end, I will rotate off and look to work on other initiatives.
‘I would also like to be re-elected onto Council once my one-year term as Vice Chair ends. As a relatively new chair of the Quality Specialist Group, I still have a lot I would like to achieve there, like making our events more accessible to our remote and international members.’
With the turn of the decade, where do you think BCS should be heading?
‘We had a major rethink last year and the outcome was that we need to focus more on our members. We need to understand who our members are, where they are in their careers, their areas of interest and how they need to help their career development.
‘Another thing to do is continue to look at ethics - with the rise of AI, we need to continue to inform the wider public and governmental debates about ethics within automated systems. Another area to look at is what (and how) qualifications are delivered for the future tech profession. There is a lot to do!’
If you had children, would you recommend they follow in your footsteps?
‘Yes, in terms of taking opportunities and gaining experience. My CV is backwards, so I would recommend doing it in the order it is designed to be done instead. But if you are coming at your career from the middle, like I did, don't stop and start again - start where you are, look at what your next steps are and work at it from there. There will always be opportunities to gain experience, so just go for it!
‘Follow me in focusing on your enjoyment and experiences rather than money, because you get so much more out of life (and work) when you're having fun.’