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The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. An interview with Kate Jones

DevOpsGuys build high performing IT teams within enterprise organisations.

The company work with household names such as Vodafone, ASOS, Fitness First and Admiral. Along with private sector, they are supporting important changes and aiding in the digital transformation across the UK, working with Companies House, DVLA and MOJ.

They are winners of: Best Tech Workplace, Wales Start up Creative and finalists at the St David Awards, the national awards of Wales which are nominated for by the public. Deemed ‘thought leaders’ in an emerging field, they champion Wales as the home of Digital Innovation.

The company also has an in-house training academy, having felt the pain of the skills shortage within their industry they decided to tackle it head on. The DevOpsGuys Academy was founded on the belief that they can make a positive difference to the IT skills gap and nurture the next generation of talent along the way.

I spoke with Kate about her stellar career within technology. From programmer to now Operations Director, she has a lot of determination to drive positive changes and is an exceptional leader with a passion to encourage more women into technology.

Kate, what is your day to day role at DOG?

My time is largely split over ensuring we have the right processes and systems in place to scale and on day to day operational issues, traditionally I’d be giving direction and the solution to solve the problem directly.

I try and do things a little differently, a lot of my time is spent listening to the challenges we face and helping individuals or groups by teasing out the details and giving them a sounding board to talk through the problem. Trying to help guide them on how they could solve it, injecting an occasional steer. Sometimes this doesn’t always work and people need (or want) a direct steer but generally I find it helps people understand the course of action, could things have been done differently or give them a perspective they may have missed as they are close to the detail.

I find the approach rewarding on two fronts, talking it through helps understand why my team have chosen a sequence of actions and I can prompt some reflection, secondly we get fresh, innovative ways of problem solving operational issues from a diverse workforce.

What is the best part of being a ‘women in tech’?

In what is a very male-dominated environment it’s nice to be able to provide that different perspective, to make a place more diverse, to challenge the status quo and hopefully encourage more women to have careers in tech. I’m not sure this is because I’m a woman but its exciting. It’s always changing, it’s always interesting and there is soo much opportunity to shape the future.

You have had a hugely successful career in technology, from Project Manager to Operations Director what challenges have you faced with career progression?

I think peoples expectations of me has been a challenge. For a reasonable period I knew I had bosses who thought I would start a family and saw this as a hinderance, this left me feeling conflicted. I didn’t want to deny I wanted a family but I was very aware that this was seen as a negative thing to aspire to. Rather than companies working out how to make this work, they would work out how to get round it and who would replace you. I would also say my own internal voices have challenged me, I still find it hard to sell myself and the reality is that in many companies you have to do that. You need to put yourself in the running if you want to be considered.

What advice would you give to women who would like to step up into a management position?

Be confident, you can do it. Put yourself in a position to be considered, look at how your male colleagues put themselves forward and ask yourself “Are they really that much better than you, or just more confident to say they can do it?”. I think the best advice I ever gave myself is no matter a persons’ seniority they are just a person at the end of the day, don’t be intimidated. Women (including myself) are too good at looking at their flaws instead of their strengths.

Did you always know that working in technology was what you wanted to do?

Ha ha, no not at all. I have two brothers and when we were kids we had a Commodore 64 and we used to code from a book and save to a tape. My brother’s programs always worked, mine, not so much. I did a politics and history degree. I kind of fell into tech and realised quite quickly that it offered such a spectrum of variety. Initially, I was a developer, I liked the logic and I liked making something work (I had progressed from my early days) but I think the bit I liked the most was learning about new industries, and the tech gave me this opportunity, it was always changing. And it’s all around you, so once I found it, it just felt right.

From my knowledge, the DevOps guys do very well in supporting and hiring students into the business. How do you encourage women to join DOG?

I think we try hard to promote an external image of inclusion and diversity that reflects our internal way of working. We offer very flexible working and try hard to understand what a person needs. We understand that for many women they do have a family which means they have other commitments and we want to make that as easy as possible for them, you shouldn’t have to choose a career or a family. We actively discourage people working long anti social hours which also often leads to trying to be the hero, we are all about teamwork. The biggest issue we have is that there just aren’t that many women out there who are even looking to be in tech at the stage we are looking.

We need to find a way to encourage the younger generation of females to stay in tech so that they have the opportunity to even try. We are trying and need to do more though. We are looking to have regular sessions at our monthly company meeting that are solely focused on women and how everyone can help make it an even playing field. We have started a lean in group to have a forum for women to discuss things. But we need to do more, we can always do more.

How can managers help retain technical women in their team?

They need to listen. There are a lot of men in managerial positions in tech and they care but they need to actually listen to what the women in their team are saying, not assume they know. I have worked with a lot of men who are quite passionate about getting more women in tech, but until recently none had actually asked me what I thought. If we want to retain women we need to listen to them and allow them to be themselves not try and turn them into something that suits other people.

We are advocates for promoting women in technology, what advice would you give to a women considering a career within the industry?

Don’t let other people tell you what you can and can’t do. It might be hard but that doesn’t’ mean it’s not possible. You can have a family and a career, yes its hard, but it is possible. Don’t feel you have to make a choice. There are an awful lot of assumptions people make, its learnt behaviour, challenge it, try and find a partner who will be a true partner and share your home life 50/50 and enable you to have the career that you are capable of. And tech can be so wide-ranging. To so many, it just seems to mean coding but there is such a vast array of jobs in the tech industry, don’t write it off without finding out first. And its flexible, a lot of tech companies are a lot more flexible than traditional companies, this really helps with the work-life balance that so many people want and when it comes to having a family it’s invaluable.

What have you learned about leadership and mentoring?

It matters. Being a good leader is hard, you have to put your ego aside, ask yourself tough questions about what you could have done better, realise that your behaviour shapes other people and that you are not there to tell people what to do but help guide them to where they need to get to. Working out how to move away from blame and understand how you get better, how you help.

Another quote that I think says a lot of what leadership works towards is “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”. Socrates

For a long time, I’m not sure I thought I was either a leader or a mentor, seeing yourself through other peoples eyes is not always that obvious. So I think the other thing I have learnt is things I take for granted that I know, or do, have value to others and sharing them is a very positive thing. And you can always get better at it, for me it’s a huge responsibility that I love but I feel very responsible for. I want to help make people in our organisation the best that they can be and that takes time and effort.

From me to you ….

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t give up.” – Stephen Hawkins

Thank you so much Kate, I am looking forward to hearing you speak at the Women Rock event on the 21st June.


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