A man with fair hair wearing a dark red t-shirt smiling in front of a yellow wall that says make a difference.
Stuart Greenlees. Image: Liberty IT

‘I was surprised to learn how important the soft skills are’

29 May 2019

Stuart Greenlees is an architect working in the Liberty IT innovation lab. Here, he talks about what a day in his role looks like.

In his role as an architect at Liberty IT, Stuart Greenlees uses a lot of technical capabilities and software development skills. However, he told Siliconrepublic.com that one of the things that most surprised him in his role was the importance of soft skills.

He added that building relationships is a key component of his job, especially when it comes to working with business partners in the US. Here, he talks about what a day is like for him at work, his productivity tips, and how his role at Liberty IT has changed and grown over time.

What is your role within Liberty IT?

I am currently fulfilling the role of architect, providing technical leadership to Liberty IT’s Incubator. The Incubator is an innovation lab with the goal of leveraging emerging technology and ways of working to solve business problems to help Liberty Mutual and our customers.

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

My days are pretty varied. I’m often onsite with new or existing business partners in the US. When I’m in Belfast, a typical day could include a stand-up meeting and some hands-on technical exploration or some whiteboarding and strategic thinking.

The technical exploration could be looking at a new cloud service, writing some code for a UI, working on a machine-learning model or evaluating a vendor product. In the afternoons, our business partners in the States come online, so I will often spend time with them in workshops learning about new business challenges or opportunities.

What types of projects do you work on?

My team specialises in rapid prototyping and experimentation. This means we tend to work on projects that involve evaluating emerging technologies in the context of a specific business problem by determining the desirability, feasibility and viability of a potential solution. These projects are often short and usually range anywhere from six to 12 weeks and we usually have a number of these projects in flight at any one time. Currently, our technical focuses are computer vision, natural language processing and augmented reality.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

Due the nature of our work, it’s important to be able to pick up a new technology or business domain quickly. I really enjoy the technical side of things, so I love opening up an integrated development environment or Jupyter Notebook to write some code, look at some data and try out something new. I also spend a lot of my time meeting new people, so I use a lot of softer social and interpersonal skills.

What is the hardest part of your working day?

I love the technical side of things … because we have always had a number of projects on at any one time, it’s not possible to go really deep into the technical side of things on all of them at the same time.

Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the working day?

Yes, I usually have a lot of plates spinning at any one time, so I keep a lot of notes. I transfer important notes and diagrams over to OneNote, but I like using a physical notebook for day-to-day notes as I feel that using a pencil and paper helps me be more creative.

When you first started this job, what were you most surprised to learn was important in the role?

When I first started this role, I was surprised to learn how important the soft skills are. I think building great relationships with business partners, communicating effectively and good time management are as important, if not more so, than the technology.

How has this role changed as this sector has grown and evolved?

Innovation in insurance is no longer just about creating the best or cheapest product. Changing customer expectations along with the accessibility of emerging technology have created the insurtech phenomenon that large insurers like Liberty Mutual are responding to. As a technologist, the biggest change for me has been the pace of change. It’s no longer sufficient just to be an expert in enterprise architecture. Human-centred design and understanding the customer is equally as important.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

I love solving problems, so for me the most enjoyable thing is producing a prototype or research that helps a business partner solve a problem they have been struggling with!

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