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Spotlight Series: Louise Clayton, Managing Director, Talk Think Do

Louise Clayton, Managing Director, Talk Think Do

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Louise Clayton, managing director at Talk Think Do, is an experienced it professional, having spent 18 years in a range of roles including project and programme management, operations, and directorship.

In her current role as Managing Director (& EOS Integrator), and previously as Chief Operating Officer at Talk Think Do, Louise has led the team towards tremendous growth, with the firm doubling in team size in 2022 alone.

Louise guides the team to provide excellent service to all the firm’s customers, resulting in 107% revenue growth over two years. Alongside growth, a key focus of Louise’s is making the organisation a great place to work, which has recently been acknowledged through winning the Employer of the Year in the UK Dev Awards 2023.

HOW DID YOU LAND YOUR CURRENT ROLE? WAS IT PLANNED? 

Having spent several years in IT change management, working in QA, PMO and project management roles, I decided to take a break and do something completely different. I’d spent over a decade delivering all kinds of IT change and although my skills fit perfectly with this line of work, I wanted a change and a rest from drop dead dates! 

After a two-year break from work, it was time to return. I’d always been really interested in medicine, so I went to work in the Burns and Plastics Unit at a local hospital to experience a different industry.

Whilst I was there, an ex-colleague had been telling me all about Talk Think Do and their exciting plans for some time. My experience and interest in IT projects meant I was always really curious to hear how Talk Think Do were approaching delivery. When the opportunity arose, they approached me about a potential position delivering custom software projects. Although I loved the hospital, I decided to go back to what I knew best and join a young organisation that had lots of opportunity.

From my initial role as Customer Focus Manager, I moved into COO for two and a half years, before moving into the role of Managing Director. It was a natural progression, as I work across all areas of the business and have led the definition and implementation of new functions to support the growing business.

If I’m honest, no, I hadn’t planned this role or my career. But I am highly organised, passionate about what I do, not afraid to have a direct conversation and love to learn, so it’s very refreshing as a female in the tech sector to have these attributes recognised and valued.

WHAT ARE THE KEY ROLES IN YOUR FIELD OF WORK, AND WHY DID YOU CHOOSE YOUR CURRENT EXPERTISE? 

There are several roles that help to deliver IT change, including:

  • Programme/Project/Delivery Manager
  • Business Analysts
  • PMO Analyst
  • Engineers
  • Solution Architects
  • Quality Assurance Testers
  • Designers
  • Product Owners
  • …and the list goes on.

I had an opportunity in my early twenties to join a QA function and after working on a couple of related roles, I soon learnt that my skillset lent itself to managing and implementing change. I enjoyed the responsibility; planning and budgeting aspects of projects, as well as the continual learning you do through definition and management of specific software implementations. 

 Every time I managed a new project, I’d get to learn a new subject – pricing optimisation, large scale migrations, integrated databases etc. Large IT projects cover so many aspects – business cases, tech delivery, stakeholder management, budget management, benefits realisation and so on. All these areas are a good foundation for running a company as you’re doing the same thing but at a much bigger scale.

DID YOU (OR DO YOU) HAVE A ROLE MODEL IN TECH OR BUSINESS IN GENERAL?

I worked for a large insurance company, that for a period was led by a formidable woman. I was just starting out in IT change management, and it was inspiring to see a young strong woman leading a large board. I would present in steering committees, and she was always ‘on it’, but with compassion and encouragement.

I also love listening to Reshma Saujani talk (founder of Girls Who Code).

Her work to address the gender inequality in tech is crucial, and her honesty is so refreshing.

She’s very authentic and relatable, and therefore a fantastic role model, I believe.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR CAREER, SO FAR? 

Winning the ‘Employer of the Year’ in the UK Dev Awards 2023 earlier this year. Over the past four years, as we’ve grown from a team of 3 to 34 employees, I’ve worked hard to ensure we define the right company values, secure the best candidates, define, and implement the management processes and benefits package, all of which contribute to a great culture. This is definitely not something I can take sole credit for, but leading a team that have helped us to achieve this is a standout moment.

WHAT DOES AN AVERAGE WORKDAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU? 

My average workday varies massively depending on what stage the business and clients are at. My day could contain any of the following activities: new business conversations, conferences, commercials/contracts, client steers, key account review calls, finance planning/management, resource planning, people management, risk and issue management (or just being a sounding board for a member of the team), marketing & PR direction, rock setting – whether that be company rocks or individual rocks.

I wear an integrator hat in the business, with the Founder acting as visionary, so through company rocks and across the year, I ensure that the vision becomes a reality.

HAS ANYONE EVER TRIED TO STOP YOU FROM LEARNING AND DEVELOPING IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE, OR HAVE YOU FOUND THE TECH SECTOR SUPPORTIVE? 

I’d love to say the tech sector is super supportive, but unfortunately this hasn’t always been the case. I’ve worked under leaders before that don’t naturally support progression, but in fact fight against it. If you’re a non-technical person working in tech, you have to work hard to prove the value you add as it’s not immediately obvious through lines of code.

During my part-time years, I had to fight to keep positions I was succeeding in.

Maternity leave and part-time hours do not work in your favour when trying to build a career.

Unfortunately, misogyny continues to be a problem to the current day. The tech sector is made up of over 70% men, and I personally face sexism (conscious or unconscious) on a regular basis. I know how to spot it and how to deal with it now, and thankfully the majority of those in the tech sector embrace egalitarian principles.

HAVE YOU EVER FACED INSECURITIES AND ANXIETIES DURING YOUR CAREER, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?

I have faced many insecurities and anxieties during my career, and I still do. Although over time, I’ve learned to live with them and most importantly, to understand them. I know it’s good to keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and while doing this it’s human nature to experience some challenging feelings along the way. It’s all part of the process. 

The fear of not doing a good job can drive my own anxiety, coupled with occasional spells of imposter syndrome. But – that said – both these temporary feelings push me to be thorough and conscious in everything I do.

I wish I could say I have overcome these challenges completely, but that would be a lie. I’ve read books, listened to podcasts, had therapy and life coaching, and all these things have helped to teach me the science behind the feelings, how to recognise them, and therefore how to manage them.

If you asked me if I wished I didn’t experience these feelings, my honest answer would be no. I’ve found those who don’t carry a little imposter syndrome tend to carry a little (or a lot!) of arrogance instead, and I know which one I’d rather have!

ENTERING THE WORLD OF WORK CAN BE DAUNTING. DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF ADVICE FOR ANYONE FEELING OVERWHELMED? 

Always have a can-do attitude. Sounds cheesy and something all employers say, but I can’t stress how important this is.

If you’re a team player, willing to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in, it will help to cement your value in whatever role you’re starting out in.

This is one of the main reasons I am in the role I’m in today – I was and still am always willing to get stuck into whatever needs doing!

Understand that you may know the theory, not the reality, so be willing to soak up the knowledge from experienced people you work with – perhaps a mentor.

Keep learning! Learning in whatever role you’re in will help you to progress and when you are ready to make a move, being a keen learner with recent courses, accreditations or other types of learning will help you to stand out as a candidate.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER WOMEN WANTING TO REACH THEIR CAREER GOALS IN TECHNOLOGY? 

1.      Keep learning and stretching yourself.

2.      If you’re non-tech, don’t be intimated by the technical roles.

3.      Know your value. This links to point 2 – you don’t need to be technical to bring value. You might be decisive, creative, methodical, analytical –  not everybody has these skills and they are a commodity.

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