Article

Strategic Risk Taking in STEMM


WORK180Feb 26, 2020

Sinead Grant is a Manager in the Advanced Analytics Enablement Team at NAB which forms part of Technology and Operations. Sinead’s role is essentially providing all non-technical support for data scientists across the enterprise; everything from learning and development, networking and training events, and NAB’s Analytics Guild (education and training programs).

Sinead’s expertise is as an intermediary, translating technical requirements into to business language. With a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Business and Entrepreneurial Studies, Sinead never expected to find herself in a technical role after building a career in Data Operations.

Big Opportunities and Big Organisations

Without a specific career path in mind following university, she went into investment banking, in part for the wide range of future opportunities and the potential to develop skills across many facets of business. Wanting to develop and learn, Sinead has been supported in doing this at large organisations such as NAB.

Some of the benefits of working for large organisations are:

  • Vast networks and support systems
  • Opportunities to upskill,
  • Lateral and vertical movement,
  • Perspective to see how an entire business operates (at scale)
  • Opportunities to learn new things across different parts of the business

Sinead is curious by nature and makes a conscious effort to seek out learning opportunities and the chance to try new things.

Taking Risks to Get Ahead

Sinead tells us,

“I’ve been very lucky with the companies I’ve worked for, and more importantly the people I’ve worked for, but I also feel like I put myself out there, took risks, and that has helped me.”

She has moved around in her career; relocating to Australia in 2014 but all the while she has been flexible in her approach while taking strategic steps in new directions.

“One of the most rewarding decisions I’ve made in my career was taking a risk and moving into a very technical team, which has opened up a world of opportunities.”

“On paper I’m not your typical technology team member; a woman with an Arts and Business background. It isn’t an obvious series of dots to connect, however not shying away from risks and being willing to adapt and learn is how I’ve managed to thrive in technology at NAB.”

Upfront, it’s not always clear to see where an opportunity or role may take you but being flexible allows you to learn new skills along the way and can open up experiences and career pathways you may not have considered before.

How to Be Strategic

Sinead says she has been strategic in her approach, and offered some suggestions on how to do that:

  • Remain open to new experiences, different perspectives and approaches, as increased diversity can result in better decision making.
  • Be savvy but not sly.
  • Understand what you have to give, and make sure you invest in yourself, your role, and your team, while understanding what’s in it for you.
  • When considering new roles don’t be afraid to question things. Asking questions upfront allows you to better understand if you are suited to the role, and if the role is suited to you.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no if an opportunity isn’t the right fit.

Sinead says she’s been blessed with who she’s worked for, working for some strong female leaders. Once you know what you want out of a particular opportunity learn more about who you are working for, how they operate and their management style. If you have particular goals you want achieve voice these early and work with your manager to determine how you can reach them together.

“Very few roles are perfect, but it’s about being clear about what you want to achieve out of a move and discussing that with the leader. Determine if it will be possible and how they can help support you in achieving it. Every role has something to offer or to learn, it just depends on your attitude and what you choose to make of it.”

Careers in STEM for non-technical people

To non-traditionally-tecchy people like Sinead, considering careers in STEM, she shares;

“There’s a lot of opportunity to add value as a non-technologist in a technical team, so don’t shy away from an opportunity in a technical team and don’t rule out learning technical skills."

The hybrid of blending technical and non-technical skills is highly valuable as it brings diversity of thought and perspective.

“For example, bringing human centred design and Learning and Development and applying it to technology.”

She also noted that strong communication skills help with translating technical aspects to layman’s terms. Sinead works in a team of 60+, most of whom are highly technical, yet she feels there is a clear exchange of value, thinking and ideas where everyone benefits from different ways of thinking and learns from one another.

“You need to be willing to adapt and learn. Having an open mind will help you thrive in the technology space.”

Why Flexibility is Important

NAB has a strong focus on gender targets with a STEM target of 50-50 by 2023. Sinead says;

“It’s inspiring seeing strong female representation among NAB’s senior leaders. There is a wealth of opportunities for learning and development at NAB and Senior leaders promote upskilling and self-development. Flexible working is the norm, supporting work life balance. Almost everyone in the team works one day a week from home, and many men take parental leave. There’s support for family life across the bank and all genders.

We have a highly engaged team and collaborative culture, which is also reflected In our team’s low turnover - particularly impressive given how sought-after data scientists are in the current market.”

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