Jefferson Cowhig, technology transformation lead for Ireland at EY, explains how tech leaders and professionals can prepare for the challenges 2021 may bring.
When Jefferson Cowhig was 16, his friend suggested they study computer science at college because it was “guaranteed to get them a job”. Now, more than 20 years later, he has no regrets.
“Technology has afforded me a life filled with challenge, learning and adventure,” he said. He began his career as a software developer and worked for almost a decade in technology change for RBS, JP Morgan and other large banks. During this time, he lived in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Cowhig joined EY’s financial services technology consulting team earlier this year. In his role as Ireland lead for technology transformation, he now helps CIOs, CTOs and IT teams to work more efficiently and adopt new technologies. All of this has given him an insight into the ever-evolving trends taking the tech world by storm.
The challenges ahead
Like many other industries, Cowhig believes that companies in the financial services sector in Ireland will be hit hard by the impacts of Covid-19. For CIOs and CTOs in these businesses, a “perfect storm” is brewing with decreasing budgets, increasing regulation and oversight, more competition from fintechs and neobanks and “ever-increasing expectations” from digital-native customers. According to Cowhig, this is “incredibly hard”.
“However, necessity is the mother of invention and we already see an increased appetite to try new things, to experiment and to innovate,” he said. “For some, this might mean bringing enterprise agility from the boardroom to the factory floor.
“For others, it might be time to double-down on engineering excellence; to accelerate their move towards DevOps operating models, to make the next leaps towards public cloud adoption or to harness data for their competitive advantage.
“In each scenario, there is enormous opportunity to grow and learn for the benefit of customers, colleagues and the community at large.”
The skills we’ll need to overcome them
While a mix of technical and soft expertise will help us through the day-to-day of 2021, Cowhig believes that one skill will be particularly useful.
“The greatest skill any of us can learn is perhaps the skill of learning itself,” he said. “By way of example, most of the ways of working, developer tools and programming languages that I learned as a young man are already outdated.
“When I mention them in conversation to my new graduate colleagues, I get a look that is somewhere between pity and disgust. So, every day needs to be a school day; we all need to become lifelong learners to stay relevant and to lead.”
‘Necessity is the mother of invention and we already see an increased appetite to try new things, to experiment and to innovate’
– JEFFERSON COWHIG
He explained that EY recently launched a partnership with Hult International Business School in the US. A technology MBA is being made available to all 300,000 EY employees, with classes such as machine learning through Python on offer.
“As a general theme, I would encourage people to bring an agile mindset to learning,” Cowhig added. “To get their hands dirty. To try something new. If you feel you are ‘not technical’, then please put the word ‘yet’ on the end of that sentence. You are not technical – yet! Get learning. It is never too late.”
Finding the right candidates in 2021
As well as training and upskilling their current employees, many companies will also be looking to hire new talent next year. At EY, Cowhig said his team is looking for experts in project and programme management, cybersecurity, data and analytics, agile, DevOps, cloud and “many disciplines in between”.
“I like to say we are looking for fighter pilots, not plane spotters,” he said. “To explain the metaphor, both groups know a lot about airplanes. However, the fighter pilots are better placed to help when times are tough. We want practitioners; certified professionals who care about quality and will support our clients in solving their toughest problems.
“However, more than anything, I believe we are recruiting for diversity of thought and diversity of experience. In EY, I see an enormous focus on inclusion and diversity; it is central to every conversation we have. We are passionate about creating a place that provides equality of opportunity to each of our people.”
His advice for hiring managers is to respect candidates “as though they were already team members”.
“There is a lot of pain out there in the world. The very least we can do is to be sensitive to this. Please don’t ‘ghost’ candidates; if they are unsuccessful, please do give them constructive feedback that will help them next time around.”
For jobseekers, he wants them to “bring their best”.
“If you can make time, then focus on developing your skills. Sharpen your saw. Go onto Udemy, Microsoft Learn, Cybrary, ACloudGuru or any one of the online learning platforms to build your skills. Earn some new certifications. Evidence that you are as passionate about learning as I am. And have fun along the way.”