Punching cards and breaking glass ceilings

Posted by Gillian Clark . Apr 09.21

In a recent interview by Rosey Nathan for her Rosey on Recruitment podcast, HYPR’s CEO Gillian Clark shared her experience of a career spanning multiple technology revolutions, talked about the business and the importance of conjuring moments...

What made you want to go into technology?

I originally wanted to be a flying doctor – mainly because I wanted to fly and just wanted to go to Australia. But then I realised I have a complete aversion to bodily fluids so was never going to be a doctor. Both my brothers had gone into technology so I said ‘ah, I’ll do that’.

Tell me a bit about your first recruitment experience and how things have changed

When I went to college, we had work experience – similar to an internship now – and we had to go out for six months into the workplace, get some experience and then come back and finish your degree. I remember being petrified meeting these really formal business people who were asking me all sorts of business questions and I had no idea what they were talking about. I got the job. I have no idea why.

What are you looking for in your hiring process?

We always hire for attitude. To a certain extent, we can build the skills. If you don't know .NET, that's fine. It obviously helps if you’re in a particular field but if you don't have the curiosity, then you're really not right for us. The curiosity and desire to learn is so, so important nowadays because everything's changing so fast. If you think you've passed your degree and you know it all and you've done five years, then that’s a very painful path.

We've just taken on an intern and I think he was visibly shaking when he came in. And now he's here, he's just such a confident, young man. It's amazing to see the confidence.

Tell us a little bit more about HYPR

At HYPR, we work with organisations to help them move from their legacy software into new, scalable software. We’ve lots and lots of different ways of doing it. We understand legacy software, we understand how to migrate data, we understand what the new technologies are, we know what the limitations are. Then we also consult for companies and work with people like Callaghan Innovation. Through Callaghan, we’re helping post-validation startups make sure they've got their software all set up so they can scale to meet the business demands or the strategy. And then we also do key consulting at scale for larger enterprises.

HYPR has some fantastic guiding principles. ‘Conjure moments’, ‘listen and observe first’, ‘explore experience and find purpose’. And then, lastly, ‘good things multiply’. How were these decided upon and why are they important to you and your team?

It all came from ‘conjure the moments’. When I met my business partner Gareth years ago, he started talking about TDD and Kanban and test automation and a way of working that I simply had not picked up… It really was the technical side of software and I've always been in the business side of technology. There was this somebody who could really eloquently explain how important it was to understand these things. And I realised how much I didn't know. It was a moment.

When I first found out about Agile, it was a moment. I was like ‘Why am I doing projects in this really archaic way? No wonder it's so hard’. So my view is, once you've had a moment, you can’t go back.

And so, if we can work out how to create moments for ourselves and then moments for others, then that would be a good thing. Then you follow that through and listen and observe first.

So many people who are in technology or consultancy just think that they're to be heard; you know, ‘I have so many important things to say and I'm the big I-am, I’ll just talk’.

Listening and observing is the key to really understanding what people want and how you can help – or if you can help. And then, ‘explore experience and find purpose’. Don't assume there's only one path. There are multiple ways forwards and so let's explore this experience.

We live in a very complex world and there isn't a single path. Understand that and then good things multiply. When you do one good thing, another good thing happens and another. Then you help others, you see things happening and you can slowly walk away because the job's done.

And that momentum continues and grows. It opens a whole new perspective…

I had one recently. Gareth and I were at a Scaled Agile conference pre-COVID and we heard Dr Mik Kersten talking about ‘project to product’. We turned to one another and went ‘That's what we've been talking about for years and he's just perfectly described what we've been attempting to describe’. So you still have them.

How have you seen the technology area and opportunities change for women over the years?

Oh it's so completely different. When I first started programming, I used a Hollerith hand punch. I had to punch card and write out in pencil on cards with 80 characters – because that's all you could write in code – and then we'd send it off to the punch ladies. Definitely no punch men then. Then they would type it up and the next day come back and it would be run. Then there'd be some series of errors and if I wanted any amendments, I'd have to use the hand punch – basically eight digits – and type in EBCDIC in the cards, which was fascinating and extremely hard. So you had two runs a day of your code and if you got it wrong, you'd have to wait to the next day to do the run. So that was very, very different.

One day, I sent it off to the operators and they dropped my cards – this is when I was programming in COBOL – and they said ‘oh, we dropped your cards, but we ran it anyway’ so I came back with thousands of errors, like thousands. We had this league table listing how many errors you had a day. All of a sudden, I was off the stratosphere and I had to buy drinks and all sorts, which was really very expensive for an intern, but quite amazing.

The resources we have now with compute power… I used to have to worry about 16 bytes, how much memory you’re using… I understand completely why the year 2000 issue happened. You'd save two bytes to save those extra two characters on the century because everything was so expensive.

The compute power you've got on your phones and your devices, the way that technology is helping the world and sometimes hindering the world, it's just very, very different. Very few women, when I started, had very few opportunities. Women just did not go into technology when I was young, they just didn’t. They'd be lawyers or accountants or whatever.

What more do you think needs to change in STEM to attract and retain women top talent?

When I look to see the opportunities available now, it's just a question of how do we make technologies attractive? There's so many amazing things out there so it's not just technology that's attractive, it’s great advances in health sciences and all sorts of things. If you can use technology to find a passion and find something which really is exciting for women, I think that's really what we're looking for.

There's lots of stuff where you can talk to real people and make lots of differences – the product development side – maybe it’s to just help women understand that technology isn't about coding. A lot of it now is about really understanding people and really understanding what people want and they're becoming as important, if not more important. Engineers to technology is not just engineering.

I think product development and product management is definitely the space. I can see women being very good in that space because women are just naturally more empathetic. So if you're looking at products – it doesn't have to be like a SaaS product or something like that, it can be any product in a bank – when you think about customer journeys and personas and really understanding your customers, women are definitely better there.

What’s been one of your biggest failures or career challenges and what did you learn from it?

I think your struggles and your challenges in your life are your best learning opportunities. The one I had was very early on when I was CIO. I had this great idea and I thought it would be really wonderful to get this new way of working in. And I got this consultant and spent a lot of time thinking about this new way of working and then I went out to my team and said, ‘Here you go, this is it’ and charged off into the distance and I turned around and nobody was there. Nobody was there. And I just kind of trotted sheepishly back – metaphorically, of course – and they didn't understand what was in it for them, they didn't know why I was doing it, they didn't see any point whatsoever and they weren't going to do it. And therefore, the whole restarting of that was really hard. I spend a lot of time now trying to think about what's in it for other people.

Through your work and transformation, what major shift are you anticipating in business and ways of working in the next two-to-five years?

Everything is changing. You can see Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, you can see IoT, you can see all of that happening and getting faster. I think the big problem is people's ability to keep up. For me and the business I'm in, I think the Quiet Revolution I'm going to see, certainly for the shorter term of two-to-five years, would be around Value Stream Management and really looking at using data to drive out the improvements in organisations and particularly transformations.

You have standard corporates – banks, insurance companies, shipping companies – and they've been on software for 10-20 years, and to move from that legacy software to new, scalable, highly-usable, modern software is actually really hard.

So I can really see us helping clients adopt Value Stream Management and using VSM tools from companies like Tasktop so we can say ‘Right, this is data, these are flow metrics, this is your efficiency, this is how fast you're getting your features to market and this is where you should look to improve’.

I think, in terms of impact, that will probably be the biggest one that's coming. It’s certainly something I'll be focusing on for the next two-to-five years because it’s actually data associated with how efficient you are, as opposed to the data you’ve got. Most people don't even look at it, they can't analyse it so all changes have been done on gut.

If we had data, objective data, then you can use your data and your gut, perhaps not waste so much money. We waste a lot of money in New Zealand and certainly a lot of money in the world. Money is finite and, more importantly, people are finite. You've only got a certain amount of time to change.

I understand you're working with new partners all the time?

I just mentioned Dr Mik Kersten. He wrote a book called Project to Product about flow metrics where you have quantitative data to work out how to improve your software delivery. The company that he set up is called Tasktop and they do Value Stream Management software. So you can basically plug in all your tools like JIRA or your DevOps, ServiceNow, whatever into Tasktop and you can service these metrics really, really easily rather than having to do it manually. I just believe that it’s going to make such a difference to people when they can actually see what they need to do to change. We’ve just started working with them and they are just great people. And again, learning something new.

What is it most that you love about working at HYPR?

Helping companies make a difference. I'm working with a client at the moment and my mantra is ‘just keep going forward a little bit better’. I find the whole transformation journey a little bit lofty; a lot of people saying they're doing a transformation when they're not doing a transformation at all. They're just maybe putting in a new programme or a new piece of software. I prefer the word ‘transition’. How can we transition from where we are to somewhere better and create it so it becomes part of the way that we work and constantly improve? I'm really more into transitions, always go forward, always get better. I'm working with some of the largest companies in New Zealand and some of the smallest. I was in a small company that does data analytics for museums and people who do exhibits and things and they're fantastic. They’re called ‘Dexibit’. I love being there and the energy. You say do something and they do it and they change. You go into large companies and say do something and they don't.They probably tell 10 or 15 people and then write a memo and then do a PowerPoint presentation and then they change.

What's one thing you wish you had known when you began your career?

Follow your passion. I've ended up probably very late in my career doing something I really love. I’ve always enjoyed IT but I've never been passionate about it and I think, if you do have a passion and you can apply your technology skills or whatever skills you've got to something that you truly believe in, then it just makes your life much more meaningful. And it's not that I haven't done meaningful work, it's just I think I could have been more driven and more passionate if I got something which really, really did make me leap out of bed in the morning. At the end of my career, I’m leaping out of bed in the morning because I'm really passionate about helping New Zealand Inc. I absolutely adore this country and how do we make it better. Some of the things we've done with Callaghan Innovation, some of the companies we've helped, you know we know we've made a difference and it's pretty cool.

Listen to the full interview here.

Gillian Clark

Gillian Clark

Co-founder and Director of HYPR, strategic transformation adviser and one of the first fully-certified SAFe® Programme Consultant Trainers (SPCT). Gillian is always in pursuit of the 'moments' that make us love what we do.

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