The senior manager at Barclays Bank takes us through her working day, sharing the strategies for success that she’s honed throughout her ‘plan B’ career in tech...
What’s your role and what are you responsible for?
I’m Head of the Cloud Centre of Excellence at Barclays. In simple terms, ‘Cloud computing’ is the delivery of technology resources and services over the internet and generally paying for them as we use them. rather than building them ourselves. It could be basics such as computing power and storage, or services such as machine learning or big data – all sorts of things that would be expensive and slow for us to create ourselves. Using Cloud means we can innovate and experiment with new products, because if it doesn’t work out, we just shut it down and we’re not left with a lot of expensive equipment we can’t use. As a regulated British universal bank, we have tight controls to meet, so we obviously have to do all of this in a secure, controlled manner that meets regulatory requirements.
How does your day get started?
I pretty much start every day with a Pilates or yoga workout. Since I formed this habit a few years ago, it’s sorted out my back problems. After that it’s a 25-minute commute to the office in Cheshire. I either drive or car share.
What’s the first task on your to-do list?
The first task is to make the to-do list! I try to be one of those people that ends the day by drawing up the priorities for the next. But general, I’m working right up to the last minute. Once I’ve made my list, I allocate time in my calendar for focussing on each one. That’s the only way I find I can avoid being distracted with things that come along throughout the day.
What sort of tasks are typically on that list?
They tend to be a balance between transactional stuff – dealing with technicians’ questions — and the more strategic things like planning a training module.
What’s the office environment like?
I’ve got a lovely team, and the environment is very collaborative. It’s open plan, and there are always technical discussions going on around desks, which really helps with knowledge sharing. We try to take tea breaks together, and talk about stuff that isn’t necessarily work related. By midday, someone is usually mentioning lunch so we’ll walk across to the canteen to get food and a bit of fresh air.
What’s the most fun you have at work?
My favourite day recently was when we put on a showcase event to demonstrate to colleagues why we use Cloud and how it benefits Barclays. There’s nothing better than sharing your passion with others and finding that they’re interested! I also run a scheme where we invite schoolkids into Barclays to learn programming skills using Arduino robots and I love that too. That reminds me, I need to fix some broken wires and replace batteries in one of the robots!
What does a stressful day look like?
The times I feel most overwhelmed are when everything coming in is considered urgent. Most of the time I’m pretty good at identifying true priorities and then having that conversation where you’ve got to explain to someone why it’s going to be a few days before we can get to their thing. But when we’ve got a whole bunch of applications going live on the same date, we might get a crunch and that’s when I struggle more. Having a supportive team is the thing that gets me through, knowing that I can divide the work out.
How do you manage your stress levels?
Wellbeing wasn’t something I thought about much earlier in my career, but over time I realised how important physical and mental health is to my performance at work. As well as my Pilates classes, I switch off on the way home by listening to podcasts – there’s the everywoman one and loads about good working habits and how to balance your life.
How do you strike your work/life balance?
For me, work/life balance is about flexibility when you need it rather than just leaving on time every day. So it might be taking time in the middle of the day for an appointment, or putting the washing machine on between calls when I’m working from home, or not feeling obligated to reply to emails on the weekend – and not feeling guilty about any of that. I found it hugely more challenging when my children were really small. Dynamic working wasn’t really around then. It’s such an enormous advantage and a huge step forward for society.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Years ago a senior manager told me that if you get into patterns of working, people accept and expect that. So if every Wednesday you go home at 4pm to pick up your kids, then come 4pm every Wednesday, your colleagues will assume you’re gone. That really stuck with me, and I’ve found that getting into those habits and patterns doesn’t just make it easier for me to strike a balance; it helps my colleagues know what to expect of me too. Twice a week I leave right on time for my Zumba class and choir night – singing for two hours makes me completely switch off from everything.
How do you make time for networking and keeping up to date with the world of technology?
I want to leave events feeling invigorated, energised and having met some interesting people, so I choose wisely, perhaps selecting just one or two per year – any more wouldn’t feel like a good use of my time. Keeping up with everything that’s happening isn’t easy for any of us. Again, I take a selective approach; doing just a little bit of reading each week makes a massive difference and feels manageable. By following the right people on LinkedIn and Twitter, you can get a good overview of what’s happening.
What was your career Plan B?
Tech actually is my plan B! I did a degree in finance and was going to be an accountant, but IT was the only module I enjoyed. While temping in an admin job, I spoke to some software consultants who came in and I was fascinated. I ended up going for a job at their company and getting it. It was very much about being in the right place at the right time. I’m not a massive believer in having a formal 5-year plan. I think that making the best of the choices in front of you right now is just as valid. Technology was definitely the right choice for me, but if all that stopped, I think I’d do something like furniture re-upholstery. My daughter and I just did a course in chair upcycling and I do some jewellery making – I love being creative and hands-on.