Foundry4's Product expert Matt Jukes looks back on a busy three years
Tomorrow is my third year anniversary at what is now Foundry4. Now, for many people this is a rounding error in their time in a single place, but for me it is pretty much unheard of - I’ve only ever stayed with two organisations longer in my career. I was at Jisc for four and a half years in my first spell (I returned for another year a little while later...) and I was with the Office for National Statistics for three and a half years. None of the 11 other roles since I left university in 1996 come close in terms of longevity.
To some extent it remains a surprise to me. I still think of myself primarily as a public servant and never had any ambitions to be a consultant. Even when circumstances initially led me down this road I saw it as a short detour and I’d soon return to the Civil Service or similar.
Yet here I still am and despite some ups and downs I can honestly say that I don’t regret the decision at all (though there are a few decisions within that decision I might want to rethink given a time machine!).
Projects and products
It has been a busy, acronym-filled three years. As far as I can remember I have directly worked on projects for the DVLA, BBC, UKHO, MHCLG, FSA, CRUK, BEIS, PGS, ECC, HMLR, NHSBSA and SHELL.
I’ve contributed to countless proposals and attended numerous pitches (although my win rate at pitches is nothing to write home about it has to be said...). I even had a short spell as interim co-CEO in the back end of 2019.
When I joined Notbinary (which went on to become a founding part of Foundry4) there were an even dozen of us as permanent employees. According to our HR system Foundry4 is now nearer 40 with many more set to join in the coming weeks. We have grown quickly during the last year - which has been particularly strange given the remote working world we find ourselves in, as I’ve met very few of our expanded team in person.
The road to consultancy
At times the learning curve has been steep. I was an established, senior digital ‘leader’ in public service and was always pretty secure of my place in that community and where/how/why I added value. Finding out that I needed a new approach - fast - on this side of the relationship was a bit of a shock to be honest, and it took me a while to find my consultant persona and toolkit.
Interim roles were steadier ground but advisory, consultative engagements were a real struggle initially. It wasn't that I couldn’t do the work, but how to carry yourself and present your findings without falling into the very cliche of a consultant is hard without going too far the other way and losing objectivity.
Just as I started to feel like I was making progress with that side of things the curve went full hockey stick as I found myself as co-CEO dealing with Board meetings, sales targets, Group strategy, marketing plans and so many other things I was ill prepared for. It was a constant education (and thank god for Google & Wikipedia...) and while I suspect I have been a bit hard on myself about how it went I am sure in the statement that I never felt comfortable in the position but that I remain proud I was asked.
Top of the list
There have been some real highlights.
1) I loved my time at the BBC. It was a bucket-list job for me and even living in a Travelodge in North Acton for five months didn’t put me off. It was a great team, an interesting product/platform and really interesting to see the way the BBC worked on the product/agile side of things.
2) My first Christmas party at Aqua (at the top of the Shard) was also quite the experience! There is only so much I can remember and truth be told the food was only okay but the venue and the atmosphere in the team was really a special moment. Still not happy about the Bristol City mug though James!
3) Helping to hire Sara, Lana and Paul. All three have contributed hugely to our work and team culture in their time with us and we were lucky to get them all. (The same goes for Lucy and Lloyd of course but I can’t take any credit for bringing them in!).
5) The first time I attended UKGovcamp as a sponsor. It was brilliant to give back to a community that means so much to me.
6) I’ve met so many great people on my assignments and have kept in touch with a good number of them. I sometimes miss the ability to put down professional roots over a longer period of time but there is a lot to be said for having the opportunity to peek behind the curtains of so many places and make so many connections.
Our culture, our people
It has been great to see the culture of the company evolve and adapt over these three years without losing the core of what (I think) makes it a great place to work. There is an openness that can sometimes edge towards bluntness in our organisation's DNA but it is tempered by real empathy - something I was the recipient of to a large degree in 2020.
The way we work with each other is reflected in our work with clients. I’m weirdly proud of how many times our recommendation at the end of Discoveries and Alphas has been NOT to move forward. Of how often we have challenged a client requirement where we were sure it was ill-fated. I’m not sure I would have lasted long in a place where this wasn’t expected or encouraged.
In a nice bit of synchronicity I find myself (virtually) back where it all started on this anniversary. For the first time since my first role with the company at the DVLA I am working with a Welsh client, based in Swansea, where I’m being a day to day Delivery Lead and ‘public service whisperer’.
So that's three years. There is so much going on at the moment, who knows what Foundry4 will look like in another three... The only thing I am sure of is that it will never be dull.