I started out as an apprentice in the defence electronics industry four days after my 17th birthday. It set me up with a pragmatic approach to my career, but I identified early on that I had to make a decision: did I take a technical route or could I explore programmes? Looking at the bigger picture, and being able to run programmes, appealed to me. So I decided to go down this route and I gravitated towards systems engineering and end-to-end integration.
While I spent the early part of my career in the defence sector, more latterly I have worked across the globe in the pay TV industry. At Cisco, we develop the software that enables pay TV companies to broadcast their programmes. What I like about my job is the diversity of what we do for our customers and the challenges that come with addressing the dierent ways that people consume content nowadays.
Until recently, I ran Cisco’s global programme management and services organisation for its service provider video group. This meant that I was ultimately accountable for running to budget, time and quality on all our programmes, which represented a never-ending challenge. Now, I am in charge of restructuring our client engineering division.
It is really important to embrace change. One of the biggest lessons that I have learned is that if you can accept upfront that there is going to be a certain amount of chaos, you are going to be more comfortable when change happens. One skill that you need as a project or a programme manager is being able to adjust to change. I’ve seen project managers come and go because they’ve been too rigid.
As I rose in my career, I realised that it was critical for me to invest in the people around me and to give them the hard and soft skills that they needed to make more informed decisions and to become better programme managers and leaders themselves. I enjoy seeing people coming through the ranks and I’m very proud of the small part that I have played in their career development. I never thought that I would get to this level in my own career. A vice president at Cisco is a very high position within the company. But a title means nothing unless you have a team of people who believe in you, and you’re investing in them and nurturing them.
I am truly thankful and humbled by the support that I have been given by some great people. In my early years, a brilliant man called Robert (Bert) Milliken, who was my manager when I was seconded to the Ministry of Defence, instilled my work ethic and professionalism in me. Over the past decade, my true mentor and friend has been Raffi Kesten, another vice president at Cisco (and chief operating officer of my former company, NDS).
He truly pushed and pulled me to levels that I did not dream of getting to, but he believed in me.
A lot of people stumble into project management as a by-product of being good at their technical role, regardless of whether it is a natural fit for them or not. So my advice to up-and-coming project professionals is to commit yourself to the profession, rather than allow yourself to fall into it. It is a hugely rewarding area to work in and it is a career that can easily transcend dierent markets. Finally, don’t forget to value and protect your integrity in everything that you do.
This article first appeared in the 2015 Spring edition of Project Journal.