Rob Paddon, old enough to remember when the internet was something new and amazing, tells us how he came to be solutions director at Trilogy Technologies.
What first stirred your interest in a career in tech?
Growing up in Exeter, I was an avid science-fiction fan and I loved the view that properly applied technology would open up huge opportunities for everyone. I was lucky that my school had one of the first computer labs in the country. We were encouraged to think of technology as a fantastic tool that could be used to achieve things and not some arcane cult for weird people!
I think that when I started work it was the first time that technology really started to become mainstream and accessible. I was lucky enough to work in companies that saw technology as a key way to beat their competitors and were willing to invest and try new ideas.
What led you to the role you now have?
After college I was studying to qualify as a management accountant. Looking back, I can’t see myself as well-suited to that as a career but it was a very important grounding in how business works.
Instead, I got hooked on IT and got a job in application support. I was working on the help desk, going on-site to look after users for the accounting systems that I had been using and installing, and customising their systems. That led into bigger and better things.
A huge breakthrough for me was when I got the chance to work for Logica in the UK. At the time, Logica was one of the top companies in the world for big-scale IT projects. I got exposed to all of the key disciplines around consulting, development and project delivery from early on.
When we moved back to Ireland as a family 20 or so years ago, I was lucky enough to be recruited to set up Gartner Group’s business here. That gave me the chance to work with some amazingly talented people both inside the company and as customers, and to get an understanding of high-end IT strategy and how IT links to business strategy.
I was always more interested in IT as a service, rather than products. After working for a number of multinationals, such as Siemens, BT and Microsoft, I wanted to see what I could bring to a smaller Irish company and if the learning that the big companies had provided could add some value. I had known about Trilogy Technologies since the early days and, when the solutions director role came up as I was also looking to move, it just seemed like a natural fit and great timing.
What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path?
One of the biggest surprises for me was how many companies talk about the importance of IT but, in reality, for whatever reason, they have no real commitment to understanding how technology could and should operate as an integral part of their business.
In fairness, as an industry, we don’t help ourselves in this respect. We can often fall back into tech-speak instead of explaining the value of IT in meaningful business terms. Even though I try to guard against this, I still catch myself doing it.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I get to work with a lot of enthusiastic, bright and talented people. IT tends to attract people from diverse backgrounds, so you find yourself working with individuals of all different ages and backgrounds. I also get to meet a lot of different customers, all of whom have different business challenges that they need to address with IT.
IT is also an environment that brings a wave of new graduates every year who come with fresh thinking. This helps to make sure that no one can become complacent and, unlike a lot of industries, you can’t fall back on knowledge from 10 or even five years ago, so the learning never stops.
Finally, I do get to play with some very cool technology.
What makes you suited to this job?
I hope that I am still open to new ideas and to keep questioning whether what we are doing is as good as it could be.
IT can be a tough place to be, especially in IT services, and some emotional resilience is important. I think customers can see when people are being genuine in their desire to help and so striving to be the best possible in terms of service and professionalism, even if you can’t always achieve it, really matters.
I believe that anyone who works in IT and does not get excited by change and new technology is going to find it hard. I am still keen to see what the next technology change is going to bring.
Finally, a decent helping of skepticism about marketing hype from vendors helps a lot.
How does Trilogy support you in your career?
Trilogy has a clear aim to support and develop our people. We try to make sure that we enable our teams to pass relevant technical and general business qualifications. This helps them to develop broader and deeper skills and also keeps us up to date as a company with formal accreditation with our key vendor platforms.
At a certain level of seniority in an organisation, career development is less about agreeing a roadmap of structured qualifications and more about ensuring everyone is on the same page regarding your aspirations and what objectives need to be met to achieve them. In Trilogy, it has been very easy to have these conversations. We are an extremely honest and open company and I have always felt supported and encouraged.
What advice would you offer to others considering a career in tech?
Firstly, don’t get hung up about doing computer science as a degree. There are many routes into IT and some of the most famous and talented people in the industry did not start with a BSc in computer science.
Try to combine technical qualifications with a good general business education. IT is mostly about adding value to users so if you don’t understand business then that is a major handicap.
If you are working as an IT professional in an industry sector, then learn as much as you can about that industry; it will make you stand out from your peers.
At the start of your career, try to work for companies that will invest in your development. They may pay less initially and in a large company you may feel like a small cog at first, but the methodologies, skills and processes you will learn will be invaluable later.
Understand that virtually no IT job is ever going to be nine to five. An IT career will eat into your personal life and if you don’t accept that upfront you will become very frustrated.
Finally, don’t feel downhearted when all your friends and family expect you to be a free technical support guru on every device they have bought.