Claire Fitzpatrick of ConsenSys is smiling into the camera.
Claire Fitzpatrick. Image: ConsenSys

‘Leave the ladder down behind you rather than pull it up’

9 Mar 2020

Claire Fitzpatrick of ConsenSys highlights some of the the rewarding and challenging parts of her career as a woman in tech.

Claire Fitzpatrick is global director of strategy and operations at blockchain tech company ConsenSys – somewhere she didn’t expect to end up given her training in commerce and accounting.

Here, she talks about various aspects of her career journey, from co-founding a company to balancing working full-time in an emerging tech industry with a busy personal life.

‘My biggest challenge is to stop talking myself out of opportunities and career moves – it is something I have to continue to keep in check’

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

I always had an interest in technology despite not having a typical tech educational background. I studied commerce in UCD and went to train as a chartered accountant with PwC. My world was filled with profits and losses, cash flow statements and balance sheets.

My first job after qualifying was in a high-growth early-stage software business where I caught the bug for the pace and energy of the tech sector. It was all changing so fast and the ambition to scale was exciting.

What educational and work experiences led you to the role you now have?

I pinpoint two stand-out career choices in my working life which have led me to my global role at ConsenSys today. In 2013, I left O2 to join Wayra, Telefonica’s startup accelerator, to invest in and accelerate early-stage digital businesses.

It was a move that was questioned by many of my peers who thought it was a step down from me in career terms, but I really wanted to get involved in the digital innovation tech space, to be exposed to the energy and passion of the people and ideas in early-stage scaling software businesses. I was back in the sector and I loved it. We were making equity investments in new digital businesses and I got to see up close the great innovations which were being spawned and developed.

The second is recent. Within a year in ConsenSys I was approached for my current global role and for the first time when approached I straight away said, “Yes, I want this role”.

In my head I had many concerns, doubts and the usual ‘I am not good enough’ conversations, but my instinct said, “Just go for it, what’s the worst that can happen?”. It has taken years for me to take my own advice and it felt great and empowering to do that.

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

The biggest surprise to me is that I actually co-founded a business, Red Planet, and sold it. I never, ever thought I would co-found a business – let alone sell it!  I reflect now and think I never would have done it only for the team that was involved, I know that sounds a bit cliché, but it is true.

It was an evolution of the Wayra team. We saw real value in what we were doing, and we were good at it so we decided to set up Red Planet. We had complementing skills and decided why not give it a go.

I am surprised I do what I do today. I never set out a plan with this as the destination, and actually it’s not the destination because it’s not over yet, so I guess this is another stop along the way.

My biggest challenge would be to actually stop talking myself out of opportunities and career moves. It is something I have to continue to keep in check.

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

I wouldn’t say one person in particular, but several along the way. There were a number of senior female leaders in O2 while I was there, and they definitely encouraged me to go for particular opportunities when I wouldn’t necessarily have put myself forward.

It goes back to that saying: ‘Leave the ladder down behind you rather than pull it up.’

What do you enjoy about your job?

While sometimes a challenge, working in a groundbreaking sector and technology company brings you in contact with so many different people who are not wired like me. Whether that be nationality, skillset or just plain very different people, the diversity makes it both interesting and challenging and allows us to make something great happen.

Collaborating and co-creating solutions with our clients means you get to work with people external to ConsenSys in different industries. Learning about these industries and finding solutions to their challenges, whether that be system improvements or new product development, means meeting new people, which I thoroughly enjoy and gives me a kick.

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

With the excitement and potential for this nascent technology that is blockchain also comes ambiguity, and I think my personality allows me to thrive in this environment rather than sink. This industry is constantly evolving, so flexibility, agility and passion are needed to keep on course.

I also prioritise – not always getting it right, but attempting. I have a busy home life filled with a husband, two young children, a cat and seven fish to be balanced with the job.

Don’t let anyone say that it’s easy – it isn’t and the wheels come off regularly. I always say leaving the office I am off to the real job now, but lists and prioritisation help me at least some of the time to get it all humming.

How did ConsenSys support you on your career path?

In the first instance, giving me the opportunity to be a part of the establishment of a brand new product engineering development and delivery hub in my hometown in Dublin. I feel that it’s been a genuine privilege to get this opportunity.

Second, believing and taking a chance on me after a relatively short period of time and giving me the opportunity to step into a global role with wider responsibility and leadership. This is the beauty of the start-up fast-moving world – you don’t know what is around the corner and you take the chance.

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

Blockchain is only getting started. We at ConsenSys see ourselves as building the infrastructure and tools to build ‘Web3’, or the next internet. It’s a really exciting time – there are so many decentralised applications being developed and rolled out which will transform everything from how we buy a house and confirm where our food is from, to how we manage our data.

For instance, decentralised finance (DeFi) applications using Codefi, or digital identity solutions like uPort that will help characterise the future of digital identity ownership, allowing individuals to take control of their own data, and products such as Treum can allow individuals to transparently access food chain details for their groceries, including any pesticides used, countries of origin and times of production by just scanning a QR code.

The breadth of roles and skills which are, and will be, required are vast so you don’t have to be purely technical.

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