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This month Automated Intelligence marks its tenth anniversary since its launch in May 2010. We speak to one of AI’s longest-serving team members, Pauline Timoney, to discuss how AI has grown and changed over the years.
Hi Pauline, so when did you first join AI and what was your first role?
I first joined in February 2011, on Valentine’s day in fact, as the ‘QA and Compliance Manager’ which was a very grand title for what was in effect a Software Quality Assurance role. Though the title was daunting, I was joining a team of people that I knew well and respected from my previous roles in Meridio and Autonomy, so it was an exciting time to take a risk on a start-up company. The Company and the product at that time, AI.COMPLIANCE EXTENDER, was about a year old and starting to make traction in the market so the team realised it needed some rigorous testing before customers got their hands on it. That’s where I came in. My role was to ensure that the product was fit for purpose and would satisfy our first customer requirements.
How has your role developed over the years?
What started out as being the sole tester of a single product soon became setting up the QA function so that quality was not something that happened at the end of the product life cycle but became a way of working. ‘Quality’ has always been one of the core principles of AI and I was very lucky to be working with a group of like-minded people. It was my responsibility to build quality-focused and repeatable processes with the Head of Development, Jonathan Loomie, for the development and delivery of all software created by AI. As we grew our customer base and our product offerings, we had to expand in response. For me, that meant hiring to build a team for the first time.
My first hire was a graduate QA Engineer called Naomi Nash who instantly became part of the AI DNA, always expanding and flexing with the company and is still a key member of the team as the Product Delivery Manager. The culture at AI was, and continues to be, one of always learning; we look for new and better ways to do what we do. Joining a start-up gives you access to all business functions. As we grew, I didn’t want to lose that access so my role expanded to ‘Head of Quality’. An organisational growth milestone triggered the need for an Operations Director and while I didn’t see the correlation between my Quality-focused role and this new position, I was fortunate that Mark and Simon could see that the skills and mindset I applied to my current role were transferable to an Operations Director role.
Both roles are centred around people and quality processes. The Operations Director role was a great opportunity for me, and I would say I learnt more in that first year than any other period in my career up until that point. A few months ago, I was promoted to Chief Operating Officer, a role which oversees the operational effectiveness of Automated Intelligence and supporting my colleagues in reaching their fullest potential.
How has AI changed over the past 10 years?
In some ways very little, I feel that the values have consistently been about Care, Quality and Innovation and we have managed to maintain the ‘small company’ culture. I would say that is partly due to a large number of people who have been there from the beginning still playing a significant part in the leadership team. They are passionate about what we do and the part they play in it. The technology we use, the methodologies we adopt and the products we offer have changed over time, however, we have always been about helping people take control of their data.
Why is it important for an organisation to be ‘data-driven’?
Data is vital to the success of any business. Data-driven organisations gain insights that create new opportunities across their business and drive business value. Data insights allow businesses to make smarter decisions and operate more effectively. At AI we have spent the past 10 years helping organisations take control of their data so they can benefit from data insights.
AI has a strong culture of nurturing new talent. Why do you think this is important?
There is a massive return on investment, so it makes business sense! When people start with us during a placement, they become part of the culture so quickly. AI is a great place to learn as we allow the freedom to explore ideas and be innovative as part of daily work but also with more structured initiatives like 10% time and hackathons. There is a high level of psychological safety that is required to promote a culture like that, it’s born from trust and respect and is something that has been part of AI from the beginning under Simon’s leadership. People pick up on that and it makes them want to stay. Over 90% of our placements have been offered returner Graduate positions and they have all accepted. This is because we allow people autonomy in their roles they continue to learn and that’s what keeps people around – it’s not the free food, treats and pool table.
What do you think are the main skills required for someone interested in working in STEM?
I would say problem-solving skills above all else. I mentioned above that the people who have stayed with AI have a common set of traits. A lot of these centre around critical thinking, being analytical and problem-solving at their core.
In 2018, the number of women working in STEM roles accounted for 22% of the entire workforce. Why do you think women are still under-represented in STEM industries?
I think it is a mix of culture, stereotypes and confidence. Reshma Saujani’s said it best in her Ted Talk:‘we’re raising our girls to be perfect and our boys to be brave’. For a lot of the women I know, I think we have an inner voice, which tells us that if we are not perfect at something, we are rubbish and should stop. Unfortunately, sometimes we listen when imposter syndrome takes over. In addition, women often take breaks in their careers for family reasons, which results in them not climbing the ladder as much as their male counterparts. This results in us having fewer female role models and mentors. My first manager was, and still is, one of the strongest people I know. She showed me that I didn’t have to choose one or the other, that I could have a bit of both but that it would at times be a tremendous juggling act.