From education to automation: Changing career during covid-19
Intelligent Automation consultant Martin Griffith on finding a sense of professional community during lockdown
I changed my career and job during the pandemic. Here’s my experience of it all so far.
Let me take you back to March 2020. I’ve spent the last nine months working towards a career change, retraining from education into automation, and now I'm settling into my new role as an RPA consultant for human+ (which went on to become Foundry4).
Why did I change careers? Well for me it was really the lack of personal and professional development I found in the particular branch of education I was in. I worked as a private teacher and a workshop leader, educating students one-to-one and in small groups, tutoring them towards exams and assessments.
I operated under a few company umbrellas, but almost all my working days were spent working alone; preparing my own material, travelling to schools and colleges, and then teaching a queue of mostly individual students throughout the day.
Every so often I would get to deliver an open workshop somewhere to drum up interest from potential new students, and for me this was where I finally got to feel a bit of performance pressure – trying to foster interest in my classes from a room full of strangers.
The buzz of the team
When I started thinking about new opportunities I was looking for a way to keep the buzz of sharing information and connecting with people, but also work in a team and maybe see a bit more variety in the subject matter.
The idea of automation came out of nowhere as a suggestion via a friend’s LinkedIn post. I did a bit of research and was excited when I found that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) ticked all the boxes for me. It involved:
- delivering projects as part of a team rather than alone
- explaining the transformative power of RPA to clients who maybe initially don’t really understand how it works or what the applications can be
- problem solving to find the right adaptive solution to automate the process
- making a real difference to people's working lives; giving them back the time they have to spend doing repetitive tasks and hopefully making their work a bit more engaging.
I should add that RPA also chimes well with my own personal obsession with efficiency… I was always the only freelancer I knew who planned my lessons meticulously and kept a detailed income/expenses spreadsheet, keeping track of my various self-employed jobs, locations, mileage etc.
So, I found a way to take some time off, did some technical courses in RPA tools and technologies, and a few months later, there I was: ready to head in to the office and get started on my new career.
The best laid plans...
Unfortunately, almost exactly the same day as I was due to start, the UK announced lockdown measures and the usual ‘first day at work’ became a distant dream. Thankfully, the organisation set about figuring out a way I could start my new role remotely, so I prepared to start shadowing members of the team.
Now obviously it’s a little harder to get to know new people over video calls, especially during the work day when you only really talk to people during scheduled meetings.
Thankfully I had already briefly met most of my new colleagues over my retraining journey, and I must say that in terms of learning the ropes, remote working has actually had some unexpected benefits to someone moving to a whole new sector.
Here are the main opportunities I've discovered:
1) You can have a full diary of meetings anywhere in the UK
You can see so much more of the delivery process when you’re added onto a schedule of video conferences. I can make multiple meetings with multiple clients in one day, see various stages of the delivery and learn a lot of the business from all angles in a few weeks.
No travel time considerations, no decisions about who to follow to which client that day, just click from meeting to meeting and see as much as you can of everything.
2) Learning without the awkwardness
Remote shadowing is a lot more literal - you log in, introduce yourself and say hello, click the mute button, and you’re a shadow.
It’s not nearly as awkward as it would be to be a ‘spare part’ in the room, you don’t need to pretend to know everything that’s going on or try to redirect people’s questions to those who know the answers, it’s as if you aren’t there.
3) It’s a lot less daunting
On video calls, everyone has the same strange mix of being in their own environment and yet outside of their comfort zone… You might personally be starting a new role or career, but we’re all in this weird situation together!
The most important things you can do
For anyone finding themselves as a remote new-starter, I would say the most important things to do are to be flexible, willing, and attend every meeting you can – absorb the company culture and observe how your new team interacts with clients and what ceremonies and methodologies they employ.
If you feel like you want to see more of a project, just ask to attend more of the related meetings. If you are lucky (as I have been) your employer will be proactive in inviting you to a variety of different teams and delivery stages, but I can imagine it would be easy to be added to just the one project you’ll eventually be working on, and a golden opportunity to get some wider context and see a bit further up the road could be missed.
And for any employers reading this, be as inclusive as you can and check in on new recruits regularly.
As well as inviting me to a variety of client interactions, Foundry4 have daily team stand ups and weekly team meetings which are a great opportunity to get a feel for what’s going on in the company. I also have regular, scheduled 1-2-1 meetings with my mentor – a great opportunity at the start to chat about what I’ve seen and ask any questions, as well as discuss personal objectives, recommendations and any problems once you are settled in.
Martin is an Intelligent Automation specialist with a background in education. He is passionate about the capabilities of the technology and how it can be utilised to improve people's lives.