Conversations with a CTO

Mar 13, 2023
hackajob Staff

No matter which path in tech you take, there’s no denying that becoming a Chief Technological Officer is a real achievement. Along the way, a CTO will have picked up plenty of experience, skills and insights as well as helped to decide on company strategy and shaping the business. So what’s it like being a CTO in Digital Services at Kainos? We sat down with Aislinn McBride to find out her journey, what she gets up to day-to-day and her advice for women in tech.

“My biggest focus is to try to look ahead and spot the challenges or opportunities with a real technology lens.”

At Kainos, passion is just the beginning. Their people are empowered to think big, be bold and do great things. As digital transformation specialists, they’ve been involved with a number of national and international projects that have impacted millions of people. Plus with world-class benefits, a thriving company culture and plenty of roles on offer, there’s never been a better time to join. Let’s find out more from Aislinn below!

Hi Aislinn, tell us more about yourself/your journey into tech and how you ended up in your current role at Kainos

Going right back to the very beginning, I didn’t grow up with a lot of technology. My parents were newsagents, my family were mostly farmers, and I wasn’t particularly academic. But one day, I spoke with a woman who was in a software engineering role in Belfast and she told me all about the job she did. That conversation had a real impact on me – it was my lightbulb moment. It led me down the path of picking up Computer Science at A-Level and then going on to do a Software Engineering course at university. My placement year was at Kainos and I loved it so much that four years after graduating I joined the company. That was around 20 years ago, so I’ve seen a lot of change in my time. In fact, my journey to CTO has been a road of many unexpected opportunities.

“Say yes to everything.”

I would say yes to everything, even if it was out of my comfort zone, I soon realised it’s incredibly important to try new things, and explore and understand both people and tech. I’m grateful that I was able to do this with a support network, and this has been a huge part of my journey. I’ve been able to experience various software engineering roles such as, Senior Software Engineer, Solution Architect, Principal Architect and even an Engineering Manager role for a while. From this experience, I realised I wanted to stay more firmly in technology and took on more tech leadership roles, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few years.

What does a CTO do, and what are you focused on now?

I’ve found that the role of a CTO constantly changes. What I’m doing now is vastly different to what I might have done a year ago. Even week-to-week the focus can be different. There are so many different areas of the business that I get involved in, which I love. Holistically, my biggest focus is to try to look ahead and spot the challenges or opportunities with a real technology lens. Especially with the scale of Kainos as an organisation, it’s not possible for me to be all-knowing which is why we’ve focused on our whole team being deliberate technology explorers and deliverers. Fundamentally, we deliver better outcomes for customers through progressive technology.

One aspect of this is improving and developing our continuous improvement approach, we do this by focusing on technical excellence. Across everything we’re doing, we continue to forge ahead, support the culture and explore technology. That’s both in our practices, like Cloud, Data and AI or Intelligent Automation and within our communities, like serverless, GCP, Java, and low code. Being opinionated, providing sensible viewpoints and looking at the spectrum of different technology that exists also helps our customers to make better decisions. This then supports the work we go for and the solutions we provide to our customers.

With over 3000 people working at Kainos, networks and storytelling are essential. People are encouraged and supported to actively tell their stories, and to join connections to other parts of the organisation. So if you joined Kainos, you'd be able to see all of these different communities that exist and are open by default, and be able to be part of them. This creates a great environment to build a career. A core part of my role is to support this; collaborating and listening to the team is a default enabler for this.

Kainos is very forward-thinking; what types of technologies or tech stack have you enjoyed using and why?

I get interested in a whole range of tech, of the most interesting things for me is just how much the tech world is changing. This is really easy to see in the whole developer experience. What you can do as an engineer now is incredibly different to what you could do five to 10 years ago. The first time I deployed a release to production, I downloaded the code onto my floppy disk (remember those!), I drove to our customers' office, inserted the floppy disk into their server, typed a series of commands to allow manual testing to start; and repeated this to get it to production. We can now do all of this with a click of one button; allowing our team to focus on higher-value problems and decreasing the time to value for customers.

We continue to see a change in this space, guiding customers to accelerate to value, through an improved developer experience, low code, cloud modernisation, AI technologies and more. The tech that supports these outcomes is really exciting to me and a real priority for Kainos.

We are seeing more and more intelligent technologies that accelerate the developer environment. You’ve got AI technologies as part of the standard developer way of working, so predictive code will preempt the code you’re going to write and do a lot of the work for you, which is brilliant. That’s an active part of what we’re working on, but there are other trends in this space too.

We’re starting to see more adoption of technology to support data-driven intelligence. The high value of data has been talked about for many years, but organisations have struggled to achieve the benefits.  We see a sea change in this space, with AI becoming more accessible as a technology and ethics and governance approaches to data being matured and data visualisation tooling becoming more robust; we believe that this will help customers normalise the use of their data; providing mature insights to the right people at the right time, across the organisation.

I expect to see more focus on cloud platforms and the associated ecosystems. If you look at the likes of AWS and Microsoft, and the scale of the platforms they have built, it tells a story. They enable radical transformation of an organisation's technology estate, and this is only a building block. They then provide a huge range of more niche services that can unlock greater value that organisations wouldn’t otherwise have access to; NLP, Cognitive reasoning etc. Those platform ecosystems have made those types of technology much more accessible and feasible for our customers so a big part of what we're working on is how we connect the dots between the use of services really effectively to solve the problems that our customers have.

Finally, there’s a real shift in the maturity of low-code tooling; this will be an ongoing focus in the year ahead. There’s a careful balance required in this space, as with any product selection; low code has limitations. We are focusing on using low code to solve problems in its areas of strength, accelerating delivery; and then complementing it with more bespoke technology where it’s right for the problem; therefore ensuring a sustainable solution.

Aside from the tech, what is your favourite thing about Kainos and why should other engineers come and join?

It comes as no surprise – and you’ll probably hear this from 90%+ of Kainos employees – it’s the people. From our CEO to the wider team, the organisation is made up of stellar people. We hire not just based on technology capability, but also those with a great sense of teamwork and collaboration. This is embedded into the culture of Kainos. It’s very rare to find an organisation that truly lives and breathes its mission, but Kainos does.

This culture is deliberately embedded and invested in. Everyone has a People Manager that is within the same discipline as you, and they provide you with guidance, and best practices and help you on your trajectory for the future. This is complemented by the manager within your project, who supports your development within your project, as well as project delivery. The real personal focus on the individual, and helping them to grow is very special. It's not about individual people that are highly skilled, it’s about working as a team and supporting each other and importantly the shared vision.

If you speak to our CEO, he has people at the heart of the company. If you look at where Kainos originated (from the founders who went to Queen’s University in Northern Ireland), it was because brilliant people were going to our local universities and had a great understanding of software engineering and computer science, but almost all of them were leaving Northern Ireland to start their careers in tech elsewhere. Kainos was set up to create that thriving culture and help people have a great career path, and that hasn’t changed.

To be a company that has people at its heart, you’ll also have to equally value the impact that you have on your customers. It’s this that allows Kainos to be a sustainable organisation for people and their long-term careers. That's Kainos.

And that’s it … for now! Stay tuned for part two.

Aislinn still has plenty of gems to drop, so stay tuned for the second part of this conversation with a CTO where we find out more about how Kainos stays ahead of the curve (with practical examples), how she’s turned failures into opportunities, and her tips for growing your network.

If you're looking for a career that is both exciting and rewarding, with the chance to write software that makes a real difference in people's lives, then Kainos could be the place you've been looking for. If you're interested in a role with the Kainos, then head on over to our platform where you could be matched with them. It takes just 5 minutes to sign up.

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