A young dark-haired man in a flannel shirt looks directly at the camera and smiles widely, showing dimples.
Cahir O’Leary. Image: Johnson & Johnson EDC

This is how you can successfully navigate a career change

19 Mar 2019

Cahir O’Leary is a scrum master at Johnson & Johnson EDC. You may be surprised to learn, however, that he got his start in HR and sales.

In this modern working world, movement between industries – sometimes called a ‘career pivot’ – is easier than ever. In fact, future-of-work experts anticipate that the latest generation of workers will work in multiple fields over the course of their career.

Are you contemplating a career pivot but don’t know how to go about it? Then read on. Cahir O’Leary, a scrum master at Johnson & Johnson (J&J) EDC, initially started out in the firm’s HR department. He told us about how he pulled it off, his top tips and how J&J supported him throughout the transition.

What first stirred your interest in a career in this area?

I moved internally within J&J from HR to our technology services organisation. My first exposure to a career in IT was on the ‘outside looking in’, hiring employees for the (at the time) new development centre. When I looked in, I saw a team-focused environment and an energetic, creative approach to problem-solving unlike anything I had seen before. There was – and still is – a great atmosphere here.

Our teams are autonomous, so they are self-organising and focused on continually improving how we do what we do. Seeing them in action is inspiring; people with diverse backgrounds and experience coming together to develop and implement innovative solutions that deliver business value. They also ultimately help J&J create a better and healthier world through our products and services.

Collaboration and a desire to continuously improve are big motivators for me, and the more I understood about the scrum master role the more I knew I wanted to do it.

What education and/or other jobs led you to the role you now have?

My original education and experience were more commercially orientated in B2B and retail sales and marketing. It taught me the value of listening to and prioritising the customer and understanding their needs.

I went from sales to HR and upskilled along the way with additional qualifications. I then went back to university to upskill by doing software systems development.

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path and how did you deal with them?

There is definitely a learning curve coming into software. It might feel daunting at the start, but it’s absolutely surmountable. Some of our best developers started life as civil engineers or from arts degrees and their curiosity drives them to be better.

We work in a fast-paced environment where colleagues support and help each other and are there to answer any question, but it’s really down to you as an individual to drive your learning path. At the EDC, we have a huge amount of online and in-house learning tools available to us.

Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?

I’ve been very lucky to have mentors at J&J who I can go to at different times to get their thoughts and advice on my work and career. Our site leader, Mark, has been a huge advocate for me personally and helped me to get started in IT and to return to J&J.

There have been also many people I’ve come across within my career who I have taken guidance, inspiration or best practices from.

What do you enjoy about your job?

In my role, I’m responsible for coaching the team to become more autonomous, to find that improvement, and I get a lot of personal satisfaction helping our business meet their objectives whilst seeing individuals and team members grow in the process.

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?

I’m a good listener and try to be conscientious. This helps me to understand how and why people act or think in certain situations, whether it’s in the face of a technical problem we are trying to solve or when we are trying to find ways to improve our processes.

I try to encourage the team and give people the trust and freedom they need to express themselves and do their jobs well.

How did J&J EDC support you on your career path, if at all?

Johnson & Johnson has supported me through internal and external courses such as effective coaching, leadership, consultancy skills, scrum master, product owner and Lean Six Sigma.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?

Take the time to find out what you are passionate about and immerse yourself in them. Whether it’s college, online courses or nano-degrees, there has never been more information available.

The old adage of ‘find a job doing something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’ is true.

Go to meet-ups and conferences and talk to people who are in this area. Connect with people online, directly on sites like LinkedIn or in group environments like Stack Overflow. Ask questions and see what doors you can open and who can help you. Explore return-to-education programmes such as Springboard or Skillnets. There’s never been a better time to get started.

Want to work at Johnson & Johnson EDC? Check out the Johnson & Johnson careers page for current vacancies.

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