Being Non-Technical in a Technical Department

February 27, 2023

By: Steph Paine

The opportunity of moving to a new department is often an exciting thought for many, but for me it came with a level of doubt. Business Resources, the central admin and support team to the Engineering team is like going from a small, fun outgoing team to what is seen by many from the outside, a large super smart, tech focused introverted closed division of the business.

How to make a difference

The Engineering team is made up of over 150 people but unfortunately a less than 20% female representation, a department full of extremely intelligent and gifted people, what did I have to offer this team? I know very little of coding, nodes, Kubernetes, clusters; but I am a practical, organized individual, I understand people, and this is what I was told that I could bring to the role and the department. This was an exciting opportunity to grow, to learn but also to make a tangible difference.

Looking at the job description was a bit daunting – the importance of the need to drive and improve engagement and development of teams and people was evident. The Corda business unit (BU) had recently been a victim of the ‘tech boom’, lots of people had left to explore new ventures and opportunities and those remaining were feeling the pressure. 

Overcoming challenges and knowing how to contribute

Six months in and I really don’t know what I was worried about. I have had to overcome some challenges, the biggest one was creating myself work. In my previous role the work had always come to me, I was dealing with requests and reacting to situations. In this role there was of course tasks that end up in your lap but a lot of it has been seeing an issue and creating yourself a project and executing a solution. This is a different way of working for me but something that I think I have excelled at.

Yes, sometimes I sit in on meetings, and I can get lost but it’s okay, there is no better way to learn than be emersed in the conversations. My role isn’t to understand the technical stuff it’s to drive processes and find ways of working that can be improved. To gap fill where we are perhaps missing some guidelines and bring a different view.

Being a workplace Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) has allowed me to bring soft skills to the role. I feel I can use my instincts to know what kind of initiatives will bring about positive reactions and outcomes for my team. I have been described as a ‘consistent champion for team building and for the promotion of wellbeing in the team’. Something that can often overlooked as important but as someone who was worked in management and business a lot longer than me once said “software is a people business”.

Leveraging soft skills to improve a technical department

The biggest task I was set when I came to the role was look at the BU’s results from the mid-year engagement survey and look at the areas where we scored low and find some ways to improve what was being done (or not being done). I quickly identified three areas where we were struggling to meet expectations and those were: Engagement, Communication and Career Paths. This is where I was to bring my soft skills, previous role experience and new ideas to the table, working with others I knew I could influence some real change.

The first thing I identified that we needed to do was implement structure to our communications. We now have a regular monthly All Hands for the entire BU, a successful blog pipeline and several interesting Tech Talks that we host on a Thursday when we know we will have the most amount of people in the office to attend in person. Regular and reliable communication drives engagement.

Career progression was a much harder issue to address, mostly because everyone sees their pathway differently. Learning isn’t always work or fact based it can be personal development and R3 has always made it clear we support both. In the end the Leadership team agreed to implement a dedicated learning day for the BU. Now every third Friday of the month its booked in everyone’s calendar to remind them to utilize the learning platforms to undertake the courses/talks/exams that they want to in order to improve their knowledge.

We have seen definitive improvement in these areas in the feedback we have received recently and that is personally very gratifying. There is still a long way to go and other areas of focus going forwards, but I can honestly say that this improvement wouldn’t have been seen without someone whose dedicated role encompasses these tasks.

Some people might think this would be a solitary job but far from it. I am in the office most days; it wasn’t a requirement of the role, but I think there is a benefit to being present for the department. I am not part of any specific team (I am literally a lone branch on our BU org chart) but I literally get to float around teams constantly. If I organize a lunch for one small team or an after work social for another I am normally invited along, perks of the job 💁🏼‍♀️.

Grab the opportunity and make an impact

Looking back on when this chance was first offered to me nearly a year ago now the fear I had at that time has long gone, time really does fly when you are having fun and engrossed in making an impact. You aren’t offered opportunities if people don’t think you are the right person for it. Sometimes it takes a little pushing, but it will all be worth it in the end.

I hope that I have proved that there is a need for all types of workers in a software company. R3 is brilliant, and I would highly recommend it as a place where you will enjoy and feel proud to work. If this sounds like a bit of you check out our website with a variety of open roles: Job postings.