As PwC Ireland’s digital upskilling lead, Sinéad Thavenot focuses her energy on embedding technology into the company culture.
An important aspect of preparing for the future of work will be incorporating technology into our organisations and teams. In PwC Ireland, Sinéad Thavenot’s job is to foster that tech engagement among staff.
Here, she discusses her role as the company’s digital upskilling lead and how her previous positions have helped in her career journey.
‘Trying to embed technology in an organisation has many parallels to embedding a language in a society’
– SINÉAD THAVENOT
What first stirred your interest in a career in digital upskilling and technology?
While a lot of my early experience was in language, culture and communication, I can’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t interested in technology. I never had much interest in becoming a coder or developer but the impact technology was having on work and our social interactions was really interesting to me from early on.
What experiences led you to the role you now have?
I’ve had a varied career that’s taken me to where I am today and I love that PwC recognised my varied career in hiring me. Before moving into the technology space where I work now, I worked in Brussels, first at the European Commission and then at the Council of the European Union.
Before my Brussels adventure, I worked for the Irish language non-profit sector and then spent a year in the US on a Fulbright programme. While teaching Irish language and Irish culture at Southern Illinois University, I studied bilingual language education.
What I do now at PwC – trying to embed technology in an organisation – has many parallels to embedding a language in a society. You need to foster a positive environment and make it part of the fabric of everything you do.
What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path and how did you deal with them?
After six years in Brussels, I decided to take a career break, move to London and try something new. This was a big step out of my comfort zone. I had worked hard to pass the exams required to become an EU official and had done some interesting work in Brussels, but I suddenly realised that I had to sell myself and my skills in a different way if I wanted to break into something new.
Instinctively I was always drawn to the fast-paced evolution that the technology space brings with it, but I feared my background was a bit different to most of the other candidates. In the end, I chose the right organisation over the right role and joined a growing tech consultancy called Appirio.
After six months, I moved from a support role to a client-facing one and never looked back. In that initial six months, I certainly had doubts from time to time. But I made sure I seized any opportunities that came my way, using it as a learning opportunity first and foremost.
Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?
I’m fortunate to have worked with some wonderful and interesting people over the years! One person that continues to influence me is Adrienne Schutte, director of global projects and change for PwC.
In my time on her team, I learned so much from Adrienne about how to successfully manage a truly global, dynamic team. Adrienne taught me the importance of putting people at the centre of all our technology projects. That was before I joined PwC Ireland two years ago, but I still interact with Adrienne regularly and she continues to be one of my role models.
What do you enjoy about your job?
Before I returned home to work for PwC Ireland, I worked on a global PwC team, responsible for the roll-out of G Suite (Google’s set of collaboration tools) across all PwC offices around the world. I travelled to so many wonderful places – Bermuda one week, Cyprus and Israel the next.
Meeting colleagues in these far-flung places has been so rewarding and I love that I have been able to maintain these connections with my greater ‘PwC family’ in my current role. In New York last summer on a work trip, I was reunited with many familiar faces from my PwC travels. PwC puts great value on their people and maintaining strong relationships.
What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?
I’m currently responsible for rolling out a major digital transformation programme to all my colleagues across PwC Ireland. Right now, we’re completing Digital Academies, a two-day, classroom-based workshop offering foundational hands-on training in data manipulation and visualisation tools as well as gaining insights into what it means to have a digital mindset. Learning by doing is the name of the game so we greatly encourage people to get stuck in.
Our goal is to get all 3,000 PwC staff through a Digital Academy by the end of 2020. We started in October 2019 and now have almost 70pc of our people through. Teamed with my colleagues, Andrea Paolella and Rivash Ramowtar, I facilitate the first day of the academy. This has certainly fed the social butterfly in me! I love engaging with people and helping them reach their potential, so being involved in Digital Academies has been very rewarding.
When the Covid-19 lockdown kicked in, we very quickly moved from a classroom-based academy to a virtual delivery model. I love a challenge and having to flip our whole approach and content in less than two weeks certainly was that. Using a mix of the G Suite tools to keep us afloat – Meet, Chat and Jamboard – we amended our content to make it as interactive and collaborative as possible.
The crisis also gave me the opportunity to share two things I’m really passionate about: evolving technology and helping our people navigate the early days of working from home. I was able to help people at all levels in the firm get really comfortable with the modern technology and digital infrastructure we have in place, really quickly.
How did PwC support you on your career path?
PwC greatly values coaching and the professional development of its people, and there are strong structures in place for this. In addition to people like Adrienne, my coach at the moment is PwC’s head of digital, Joe Tynan. Since taking me under his wing, Joe has been a great source of inspiration, helping me to push my limits and be confident in my abilities. I like that both my personal and professional goals are acknowledged and aligned with the goals of the wider team and organisation.
What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?
View every engagement as a learning opportunity. The world of work – and the technology we use – is changing at such a rapid pace that we all need to adopt a growth mindset and be prepared to continuously upskill ourselves.