This month we continued our Made Tech team interview series with our Principal Technologist Matthew Leak to better understand his role and to feature the great work he has been doing.
Our Principal Technologists enable public sector organisations to better use technology in order to improve society. They do this by building and managing strategic relationships, leading accounts, finding new opportunities and advising as a senior technology leader.
If you would like to watch the full interview, it is available here.
Q: How did you become interested in tech?
A: When I was about 10 or 11 years old I got my first computer and one of the first things I did was to tear it apart, see what was on the inside, and I got fascinated with the inner workings of the machine. Then a couple years on from that, I got into website development and was using the internet a lot more. Seeing these websites online, how were they made, looking at the source code and building my own websites from there. I built all sorts of fan-type pages for games and things that were current at that time.
The journey just accelerated from there. I’m completely self-taught so I’ve never been to university or studied anything like computer science. It’s just born out of curiosity and that’s where the passion came from.
Q: Outside of tech, what other hobbies do you have?
A: I try to keep fit and healthy. Being sat down all day isn’t necessarily great for your body so I try to do a lot of swimming, although I can’t at the minute because of lockdown which is quite frustrating. Otherwise, I do a bit of yoga and of course going to the pub is also a hobby.
Q: Before you joined Made Tech, had you ever worked in the public sector before?
A: I worked on a public sector engagement for a consultancy I was working for prior to joining Made Tech. It was then that I was engrossed in the public sector ways of working.
Q: How do you find working in the public sector?
A: I love it. It’s great. It’s a completely different set of challenges to what you typically face in the private sector. There’s almost a stigma attached to public sector working in that it’s slow paced, the government is left behind, or you’re not going to be working with cool technology. There is an element of truth to that but the majority of the work that we’re doing now at Made Tech is focused on digital transformation.
So taking stuff that isn’t cool, fun or exciting and bringing it into the modern world using new technologies which are better and more sustainable for those organisations that we’re working with. The challenges and projects that you get to work on as a result of being in the public sector are really exciting.
Q: How long have you been at Made Tech?
A: I’ve been at Made Tech for about 10 months now. It’s going so fast! I joined during lockdown and that was a very strange thing to do – to move from one company to another without actually meeting anybody in person. I got a Macbook delivered in the post and joined a video call on day one. I’m really enjoying it so far.
Q: What attracted you to Made Tech?
A: Having worked on the previous public sector engagements, I knew the type of work that was going to be involved. I had a few conversations with Luke Morton, our CTO, about the company and why Made Tech exists in the first place, its mission and vision and I really bought into that vision. As a result, here I am.
Q: What does your role here involve?
A: Typically, I work with senior leaders in the organisations that we go into to align technical vision with business goals and strategy. Occasionally I get my hands dirty developing proof of concepts to introduce new technologies into the business, introduce architecture principles, and things like that.
Alongside client work, I do work to support the business which involves a lot of bid work. With it being the public sector, a lot of the work that we win is through RFPs and the like, so getting my hands dirty working with Ian Southward and facing the challenges and pressures that come with those tight deadlines. We’re helping support Made Tech by landing some of those contracts. I also get involved with recruitment and building out our engineering team. It’s quite a diverse role really.
Q: What do you like most about being a Principal Technologist?
A: I think for me taking companies on that journey of transformation is hugely rewarding. When you start the engagement you typically do an as is versus to be state analysis and then at the end of the engagement you do a retrospective. But when you’re actually working on the day-to-day within the project, it’s hard to see the journey that you’re going along.
When you do the retrospective at the end of the project and you get to see how far you’ve brought this organisation on that journey of change and the benefits that they’re then going to reap as a result, that is probably the most rewarding thing for me.
Q: What are some of the most challenging things about this role?
A: Organisations don’t pay consultancies a lot of money to solve easy problems, they pay them to solve complex and challenging problems. So projects can be bad for a whole host of reasons. For example, tight deadlines, unreasonable demands, not enough resources, the list goes on. If you work in this industry long enough operating as a consultant you’re guaranteed to experience at least one of those at some point, so I think the most challenging thing is knowing how to navigate those types of situations and how to get out and see the other side.
Q: What has been one of your favourite projects you have worked on?
A: For me, the most recent project is always the favourite. Every new project you go on is like your baby that you then nurture and take on the journey, so it’s very hard to say what my favourite project is.
I think why the engagement that I’m on is probably my current favourite is because it’s really helping align a whole team of engineers to a set of principles. It’s allowing them to adopt better ways of working, to see the current state of technology that’s available to them and bringing them on that journey of change. The stuff I alluded to previously on what I really like about this role, this particular project I’m working on now has a lot of that in it.
Q: Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to be a Principal Technologist?
A: This is probably down to more junior members, but it’s not something that can be rushed, it’s something that comes with experience. Getting some consultancy experience is going to be hugely advantageous to getting yourself into the Principal Technologist type role. Due to the nature of consultancy work given each project is quite short-lived, there’s always an end in sight and each project typically has a different set of challenges. The reason why working in consultancies is great is because you get so much experience in such a compact amount of time versus what you would typically get working in say a product organisation. So I would say, don’t rush it and get that experience if you can.
Q: What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to face since lockdown started in this position and how did you overcome it?
A: Cutting my own hair given the Peaky Blinders cut that I’ve accidentally given to myself. No, it’s difficult for everybody right now. The amount of mental stress it’s putting on people, not just because we’re all stuck inside our homes but because we actually find ourselves working a lot more. Finding that point of knowing when to switch off and how to be really strict with your time is incredibly difficult. Anything past 6pm is a hard stop for work and actually putting those things into place is important.
When we started lockdown back in March of last year, it was all new and so we didn’t know what we were going to be faced with or how long this thing was going to go on for. We didn’t know how to manage it and I think a lot of people ended up burning themselves out because they were unable to switch off. It’s just so easy to keep on working way into the night because you’re at home already. Then you go to bed and the next morning you’re at your desk again at eight o’clock, so your brain is just constantly in overdrive.
I think knowing when to switch off and looking after yourself are probably the biggest challenges that not just me but a lot of people have faced. Being really strict in making sure I leave the house every day because it’s so easy to let days go by without leaving the house. I try to get out for at the very least a walk every day whether that’s on my lunch break to just absorb some of the fresh air. Some people go for a walk in the morning to get a version of a commute in. That’s not what I do, I’ve tried that but it didn’t really work for me. But just trying to look after yourself is the biggest challenge and being strict with that.
Q: What do you like most about working at Made Tech?
A: I like the fact that it’s very people focused. Kudos to the people team and the amount of effort they put into actually ensuring that it is such a people-focused organisation. A lot of companies say they’re people-focused but they’re actually not. Not to throw shade at other companies and companies I’ve been a part of in the past, but the difference here is huge.
Any pastoral care that you need you’re going to get, any progression that you want to take in your career you’re going to have a mechanism in place to support that, and your well-being is really looked after. The fact that you get unlimited holidays – any break that you need, that’s yours to take. I really love the fact that it is so people-focused.
Q: Do you have any books or resources you would recommend for someone interested in this position?
A: Crucial Conversations is definitely a good one. It helps you to know how to handle difficult conversations, which in this position there are a lot of those conversations that need to be had. Team Topologies is another really great one. It is helpful for the organisational transformation type work which I find myself doing a lot of. Accelerate is another good one for implementing a solid DevOps culture into organisations. Those are probably my top three at the minute.
If you have any more questions for Matt about his here, you can get in touch by reaching out on Linkedin. Additionally, if you are interested in joining our team, you can view our current open positions here.
Be sure to stay tuned for our next Made Tech Team Interview coming next month.