Michelle McDaid tells us how she pivoted from business roles to becoming director of engineering at Workhuman.
In her role as director of engineering at Workhuman, Michelle McDaid gets “to lead others to do their best work”. She has been enjoying that element of her job since she started in 2018, but initially she hadn’t even considered pursuing a career in software development.
Here, McDaid talks to us about her journey from business to technology, with roles at AIB and Fidelity Investments before arriving at her current position.
‘The key thing is seeing the potential in people, demonstrating I believe in them, enabling them and then getting out of their way’
– MICHELLE MCDAID
What first stirred your interest in a career in this area?
At the start of my career I worked in various business roles within AIB. Back then, roles were less clearly defined and I worked in various roles, testing and doing business analysis.
When I worked in busy business operations roles, I was always looking for ways to simplify or automate processes. When I worked closely with developers, they often said I should be in software development, which sparked an interest in me about something I previously didn’t consider.
What experiences led you to your role at Workhuman?
When I enquired about the possibility of moving from business to technology, the first step was to do an aptitude test, which I did well in. At the time, I was in a people leadership role in business. So, [it was] back to zero – I started at level zero on an IT career path and worked my way up, doing various courses and working with developers to build my knowledge.
It helped that I understood the business processes and I knew the importance of implementing better error handling and automation to provide timely data. I had many opportunities to lead teams in technology in AIB and Fidelity Investments through some trying times, which definitely built resilience!
I joined Workhuman in November 2018 as director of engineering and am delighted to be here.
What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path and how did you deal with them?
I thought that if you put your head down and worked hard that people would notice you. They may do, but it is not enough. You need to own your own career. I gained varied experience working in many roles and learned something from each of them but if you are not intentional about the direction you want to go in, years can pass and you can wonder how you got to where you are.
In recent years, I have become more aware of the importance of working in a company with values that align to your personal values. Joining Workhuman, this was a big draw for me and I am happy to say I have not been disappointed.
Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?
One? Too hard! My family have always been key influencers and supporters. Within AIB, two people who had a key influence were Betty Donovan and Joe McDonagh, due to their authenticity and their belief in me and the impact that had. When I came across the ‘Pygmalion effect’, I understood why.
McDonagh was progressive around flexible working and enabled me to work from home and do part-time hours when this was uncommon practice. At the time, this allowed me to collect my girls from school and it kept me in the workforce when I often considered leaving. We are all aware of the low number of girls in STEM, but we lose more women than men from tech roles, so anything we can do to plug the leaky pipeline is key.
Within Workhuman, VP of engineering Ronan O’Dulaing empowers me and gives me space to get involved in many initiatives outside my direct role. Dr Andrea Johnson [senior director at Workhuman] stands out as someone who really ‘sees’ me and pushes me out of my comfort zone with the right amount of support.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I get to lead others to do their best work. I feel proud to be working in a very successful Irish-founded company, with a product that helps workplaces become more human through the power of gratitude.
As engineering is based in Dublin – in partnership with Epam in Belarus – and we have fully functioning scrum teams with all key roles in each team, we get to do innovative work and have autonomy. This enables us to make the right decisions for the company and our customers.
What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?
It is really important to be clear on your strengths. I am naturally curious, which helps me ask questions instead of jumping to solutions. Despite working in banking for many years, I am not risk averse. I love change, which is helpful in a fast-paced environment.
I did an advanced diploma in personal, leadership and executive coaching two years ago, which made me more conscious of the power of asking questions and helping others unlock their own potential and the knowledge they already have.
I love to chat and naturally connect to people. I think the key thing for me is seeing the potential in people, demonstrating I believe in them, enabling them and then getting out of their way!
How did Workhuman support you on your career path?
I get to work to my strengths with a product that is meaningful to me. In my role, I have the opportunity and space to do much more than my direct role requires.
Since joining Workhuman, I have had the opportunity to do some really meaningful work. In recent months, I had the opportunity to do a fireside chat with Dr Anita Sands which, for me, was a stand-out moment in my career.
Last March, I had the privilege of attending the Workhuman Live Conference in Nashville and hearing from top thought leaders. This conference goes beyond HR, and delves into the data behind gratitude, implementing human rights in the workplace and the conversation around the future of work.
What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?
Emotional intelligence is a greater predictor of success than IQ. Be self-aware, put the effort into being clear on your strengths – we don’t have weaknesses, just strengths that go into overdrive – and understand the impact you have on others.
Regularly seek feedback. Self-reflect about what gives you energy and ensure you are in a role that enables you to spend most of your time doing this.
Build relationships – we are wired to connect. Express gratitude and give credit where it is due, but own your successes too! You owe it to yourself to work in a company and with a people leader who values you and provides growth opportunities.