6 things I’ve learnt from developing my digital career

Written by Sam Gray, Senior Product Owner, DWP Digital

October 2019 marked my 25-year anniversary of working for DWP. My career started on the frontline in Byker Jobcentre, now I work as a senior product owner. I’ve been in DWP Digital for more than 4 years and I love this role.

Every day is a learning day and I love the agile culture, being part of an empowered, collaborative team and the focus on users.

I wanted to share 6 of the main lessons I’ve learnt since I moved into a digital role, to help others build their capability and maybe follow my path.

1. Set yourself a goal

I’ve always tried to keep pace with change during my career. In 2003 I was 1 of a team of 4 that introduced the first Jobcentre Plus Contact Centre into Newcastle. A few years later, I was also part of DWP’s Pensions Transformation Programme.

I became a mum in 2009 to my daughter Millie, and by the time she was settled in education, there was a real buzz in DWP about digital transformation and delivery. I knew this was where I wanted to be so I set myself the target of being part of it.

To build digital delivery capability within DWP a ‘Digital Apprentice’ scheme was introduced. I knew this was my chance, so I applied. It was an opportunity to work in a digital team for 6 months and become an advocate for the new ways of working. It was a nerve-wracking process which included a Dragons’ Den-style pitch but I was accepted. It changed my future for the better.

2. Always be open to learning new things

The Digital Apprentice scheme wasn’t easy but I loved every moment of it. I attended the DWP Digital Academy (now the GDS Academy) for 2 weeks and learnt so much about agile, coding and user-centred design. It was a real turning point for me.

I joined a team in Newcastle developing a new digital service and I was introduced to a new working environment and culture (including lots of Post-It notes!). It felt like a new language at times, but over the 6 months I learnt:

  • the importance of agile development and putting users at the heart of the service
  • empowered teams deliver amazing outcomes
  • the importance of transforming services across all channels, not just digital

3. You don’t have to be technical to work in digital

Before joining the digital team, I did question whether I would have the knowledge and skills to be able to add value. I was not from a technical background, but as I found out it’s not all about the tech.

Although agile was new to me, my experience in operations and change management was actually invaluable. In DWP Digital it’s about working collaboratively, ensuring the right thing is built for users and transforming end-to-end services. It’s not just about building digital products.

4. Don’t doubt yourself

It can be overwhelming when you are in a new team and you don’t understand 99% of the conversations taking place around you! However, as the saying goes, every journey starts with one step.

I was determined to overcome these initial doubts. From day one I decided not to be afraid to ask ‘what, why and how’. In fact, I often still do!  There is always someone willing to explain and there is no better way to learn then being part of the team that are responsible for delivery.

Sometimes in those early days I was the only female in the room but it’s important to believe in yourself and your ability. That’s the only way to help inspire more women to become part of digital.

5. Have a passion for digital

I do believe you need to have passion for what you do and working in digital provides this.

For me, there’s nothing better than speaking to real people and designing services around their needs. Working in an environment where you review the team’s way of working on a regular basis and agree how to improve things was refreshing.

But the best part of being in a digital role is seeing a user achieve an outcome from what the team you have been part of has built. What can be better than that?

6. It’s all about users

I’ve worked in a number of different digital teams in DWP, and I’ve realised if you want to make a difference to citizens then there is no better place to be. Everything we do to transform our products and services has user needs at the centre, while at the same time delivering better outcomes for DWP.

One of my key roles as product owner is to ensure the team understands why we are doing what we are doing. User needs make everything real to the team. As a team we can understand if we’ve successfully met the needs of users through research, data or feedback.

We all know we’ve played a part in this, from developers, technical architects, business analysts and all the other amazing roles that make up an agile delivery team. We do what we do to make a difference to users.

Making a difference

Moving into digital has probably been the best career move I have ever made.

The advice I’d give to people thinking of moving into digital is just do it, you will not regret it. Take the opportunity to observe a digital team, the environment, and start researching user-centred design. Set yourself a goal and go for it! I did and I’ve never looked back.

Originally posted here.

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