Spotlight 54: let me introduce you to Meri!
It’s Spotlight Friday! I know it’s been a bit silent on CodePancake (I’ll change that soon!) and I’m more than happy to publish this amazing interview with Head of Technology, Meri Williams. She’s a geek, a manager, author of the book “The Principles of Project Management” and she won the Young IT Professional of the Year Award! And of course, there’s much more to share….let Meri inspire you! :)
Name: Meri Williams
Job: Head of Technology, M&S Digital (@mandsdigital). Also CTO of ChromeRose, a micro-consultancy focused on helping digital & technical teams be brilliant.
Favorite website, app or gadget: Without a doubt my Kindle Paperwhite. Ironically, when e-readers first came out I was convinced I could never enjoy reading on them as much as a book. Not only was I wrong, I can’t imagine being without a portable library whenever I travel these days :)
Favorite book: First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham. It’s about what conditions are essential for high performing teams, and dispels a lot of traditional management “wisdom” (which mostly isn’t very wise).
What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
Honestly? I was torn between focusing on Classics or Theatre Tech (I did a lot of backstage stuff at school), but couldn’t afford to get into massive debt as an international student in the UK for something that didn’t lead directly to a job. I’d always been messing with computers and so opted to study Computer Science at uni instead, as it felt like it had better career prospects.
What does your working day look like?
It varies hugely! I lead a pretty big organisation (roughly 350 people) so some days are full of meetings. This isn’t as bad as it would sound to some people — I really value spending time in 1:1s with my people, and for technical meetings we try to be as whiteboard-centric as possible, so it’s really interactive.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Work-wise, it’s a toss up between working on the Olympics when I was still with P&G, and helping to scale up the team at the Government Digital Service so that we could deliver GOV.UK.
Do you have a hero, or someone who inspires you?
For many years I’ve looked up to Kathy Sierra (her latest book, Badass: Making Users Awesome is BRILLIANT) and Gina Trapani (who I met early in my career and found hugely inspiring).
Why do you love working in IT/Tech?
I love being at the centre of the main force changing our time — technology is enabling entire new ways of working, economies and globalisation that is making country boundaries increasingly blurry. That can be both positive and negative — similar to previous major changes, like the Industrial Revolution — but there’s an opportunity to make things genuinely better for people, in small & big ways. I love that.
It’s not so much the starting point that matters, as how you keep going along the journey.
Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
Yes, I studied Computer Science, mostly with a focus on Artificial Intelligence — I particularly loved the agents-focused AI stuff that I did. Ironically some of the courses I least enjoyed at the time (databases, for instance) ended up more practically useful once I got into the working world.
What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
Learning to code can certainly be fun, but it isn’t necessarily easy. To echo/paraphrase Kathy Sierra’s brilliant advice from her XOXO talk: it’s OK that it’s hard. Some things are hard. If you don’t find something immediately easy to master, push on, try again and keep working at it. There is no such thing as an innate aptitude for coding, or tech, or pretty much anything else. It’s all about trying, getting feedback and practicing some more.