Gary McLelland has travelled the world rolling out and implementing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platforms. Based in Scotland and currently Head of Solutions at Morrison Utility Services, he leads a team of Business Analysts, Support Analysts and Change Managers.
In the second of our two-part interview, Gary spoke to us about his career path, what his role as an ERP specialist involves and the range of skills needed to succeed in a tech career.
“When I was growing up, I was a bit of a ‘geek’ and always expected to end up in a career using computers. I think my earliest job aspirations were to be a programmer. I was probably seven or eight years old writing lines of BASIC on a ZX Spectrum 128k copied from a textbook,” Gary recalls.
His first ‘proper’ tech job in 2000 came with a steep learning curve. “I joined a Facilities Management business which was embarking on a company-wide ERP implementation. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but became a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’ as part of the project team. I started to learn how to set-up the various business functions, from procurement and supply chain, to operations and sales processes,” he explains. “I was interested in the technical side, which led to understanding the database hierarchies, writing some basic code, using SQL Query etc. but the underlying focus was always on the business processes and the data requirements themselves. After getting a successful go-live under our belts, I progressed into leading a small team of analysts supporting the business from a process and systems perspective.”
Technology: a business enabler
Gary wanted to start on his career path straight out of school and was keen to progress his career by gaining ‘hands on’ work experience. “I learned on the job, I felt that was the best route for me,” he remarks. “A lot of what I do depends on the soft skills that I associate with my background as a Business Analyst, so stakeholder engagement, listening and communicating, and an ability to present. You have to understand business requirements and how to document those requirements properly. I guess that came fairly naturally to me. Some people prefer to get a certification or go to university, and of course there are many jobs out there that absolutely require a formal education.”
And what advice would he give to those looking to embark on an IT or tech career? “I often find that the most effective people have been ‘in the trenches’ within a business, getting to grips with business processes, working with different functions and work streams to understand challenges from the business side,” Gary notes. “My advice would be to experience a bit of everything, put yourself in the stakeholder’s shoes, understand the challenges they face. For example, if you’re going to develop a work management system, it’s useful to be part of the work management process beforehand. Technology should always be a business enabler rather than a blocker – the more joined up IT is with the business, the more value it adds.”
‘Enthusiasm and passion’
As Gary underlines, individuals must also demonstrate key skills beyond their technical subject matter knowledge. “I developed my own ‘competency triangle’ which I use to gauge a person’s ability and potential, with each point referring to a tangible skillset or experience – for example, systems and technical know-how or analysis and delivery experience. In the middle, however, I have a circle for behaviours and personal qualities such as communication, relationship building, problem solving, team working. I believe these to be a skill in themselves which bind everything together.”
Referring to “the difficult to quantify ‘je ne sais quoi’” and ability to get things done, Gary expands on the soft skills he looks for when hiring. “Ultimately, it comes down to attitude. You can’t always learn dedication, enthusiasm or reliability. Be a good person, empathise with people, build positive relationships – this is what will help you succeed. I’m always more inclined to give someone a chance if they show the right kind of attitude. People can learn new skills, but if they’re not willing to put in the effort then they’re not the right fit for my team. I’m looking for hard workers who have the best interests of the business at heart. Enthusiasm and passion go a long way.”
While it’s tough for those setting out on their careers, Gary remains optimistic about the future, “It’s difficult to gauge the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing difficulties people may face. There has been the obvious disruption to exams which must have been distressing for a lot of young people. And there’s the potential hiring freezes that some businesses may have in place which reduces opportunities for jobseekers, not to mention the uncertainty furloughed staff may face. There are some tough months ahead, but I’m confident that longer term opportunities will spring up again. Persevere and you’ll find the right role!”
If you’d like to know how Fyte can help you hire the best tech talent, email Tim Kent at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07866 538242.
Read part 1 here