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Spotlight Series: Josie Smith, Chief Architect, Digital at BT Group

Josie Smith

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Meet Josie Smith, Chief Architect at BT Group’s Digital Unit, a tech leader with over 27 years of experience and a passion for diversity in STEM. Discover her inspiring career journey and how she's reshaping the role of 'Chief Architect' in the dynamic world of technology.

Josie Smith, BT Group’s Digital Unit’s Chief Architect since 2017, oversees architecture across Business, Consumer, Corporate, Cloud, Engineering tooling and digital infrastructure.

Her responsibilities encompass core engineering services and new business structures to enhance user experiences with BT Group. With over 27 years in tech, including executive roles at Vodafone, Alere Inc, and Cable & Wireless Worldwide, she emphasises comprehensive thinking and impactful outcomes. Josie is an advocate for diversity, supporting BT Group’s Gender Equality Network, and promoting careers and learning in STEM fields. She stands out as one of the only women Chief Architects in the FTSE 100 and was a finalist for the Women in Tech Excellence Awards 2 years running.

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Growing up, did you know you wanted to work within engineering? What was your career journey like before joining BT Group?

Before joining BT Group , I held a number of significant roles in various telco businesses, including Head of Enterprise Architecture at Vodafone. This experience paved the way for me to step into my role as Chief Architect at BT Group in March 2017. Since then, I have worked to become the Chief Architect within BT Group’s Digital Unit, where I am responsible for overseeing architectural transformations that span across the entire business.

I’ve dedicated my career to reshaping perceptions and driving change when it comes to the role of ‘Chief Architect’. My motivation lies in championing and establishing the true value that architects bring, especially in the dynamic and fast-evolving digital landscape we navigate. I’m genuinely excited about fostering a new mindset, inspiring team members to embrace architectural thinking, and seamlessly integrating architects into every team.

Interestingly, while I didn’t initially foresee a path in engineering, my journey has been guided by my determination to lead and make an impact in a tech-driven world.

It’s safe to say that I’m thoroughly passionate about the work I do.

How did you land your current role? Was it planned?

My longstanding fascination with technology led me to pursue a degree in Information Systems for Business at Leeds Beckett University. Leveraging this foundation, I’ve helped reshape BT Group’s architectural approach, transitioning from conventional paradigms to a dynamic tech leadership stance. With responsibilities including engineering oversight and Cloud Integration, I connect strategic vision with operational execution, all while meeting advanced customer demands. This multifaceted role encompasses discussions, engineering security, quality benchmarks, and pivotal strategic choices — an evolution from the conventional Chief Architect model. It’s a direct response to our tech-centric era, demanding constant learning to remain adaptable. My journey underscores a progression from conceptual Chief Architect to hands-on project leadership and team cultivation, all within the fast-paced tech landscape.

What are you most proud of in your career, so far?

What truly fills me with pride goes beyond mere architectural accomplishments. Although I’ve been responsible for engineering for over 18 months, my contributions extend beyond just fulfilling these roles – it’s about the transformative impact I’ve been able to make to the wider BT Group. Seeing some of my visions and dreams translate into successful realities is a source of immense satisfaction.

Reflecting on my journey, what stands out is my evolution from doubting my place in high-level roles to realising that I can drive the change I wish to see.

What does an average work day look like for you?

My average work day is a dynamic blend of activities that span the spectrum from high-level architecture planning, similar to the strategic planning involved in town planning, to aspects of day-to-day engineering operations in the cloud. Within the realm of engineering, my responsibilities encompass the operation of cloud infrastructure, integration solutions, and the management of engineering tooling platforms, all of which play a crucial role in supporting a vast community of over 10,000 developers.

In addition, I am deeply engaged in both the human-centric and strategic facets of my team’s endeavours, effectively bridging the divide between conceptualisation and execution. In an era where technology plays an ever-expanding role, I maintain a keen awareness of its profound importance and work diligently to ensure its smooth incorporation into our operational framework.

Overall, my role is diverse and complex. From delivering talks to spearheading engineering security and quality standards, to engaging in high-level calls, my involvement spans a wide spectrum. It’s worth noting that my role as Chief Architect is not confined to conventional boundaries; it’s an evolving landscape which is constantly challenging and rewarding me in equal measure.

Have you ever faced insecurities and anxieties during your career, and how did you overcome them?

Throughout my career, I’ve encountered moments of insecurity stemming from a sense that I didn’t fit within the mould of a traditional leader. These doubts, however, fuelled my determination to be a catalyst for transformation. I understood that fostering diversity in leadership required a personal commitment to challenge norms. Embracing this philosophy, I sought mentorship, engaged in introspection, and recognised that I did have a place within the technology sphere.

As I navigated this evolving path, I found that embracing authenticity and confronting insecurities became mutually reinforcing. Encouraging mentors and a supportive network supplied invaluable guidance in building self-confidence.

By aligning my convictions with actions, I moved from self-doubt to empowerment.

What advice would you give other women wanting to reach their career goals in technology?

Embrace the changing landscape that today’s career market can provide you. With more women taking tech leadership roles, the concept of female digital leaders is becoming more acceptable offering valuable role models and inspiration.

To women looking to advance their careers within technology, I’d say understand the power of these role models in shaping your journey, especially in an industry marked by underrepresentation.

Building a robust support network is also vital. Women often hold back from high-level job opportunities due to confidence gaps, across all roles. Surround yourself with those who encourage authenticity and taking bold steps, propelling you towards growth. Reflect on the importance of your own network in your journey. No success is solitary.

As we aim for fair tech leadership, today we need to work together to create a supportive space for female talent to succeed. Let’s work together to create an industry that nurtures diversity and supports women’s growth, aiming for a future where such strategies won’t be needed.

Is there anything that you would like to see changed in the industry?

Absolutely! There are still many critical changes I’d like to witness in the industry. Firstly, the insufficient presence of female leaders in roles like mine needs to change. Diversity at the leadership level is essential, as it introduces a range of perspectives that can contribute to more inclusive workplaces. Such environments promote a sense of value and respect for all, transcending gender.

Considering that approximately half of the world’s population is female, the current gender disparity within the industry is undeniable and unacceptable. This lack of representation is a stark reminder of the work that remains ahead. It’s crucial for senior teams to accurately reflect the diverse workforce they oversee.

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