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An Interview with Donna Herdsman, Director: Client Executive with Hewlett Packard

Donna_May_headshot 20 x 20.jpeg"Technology has many facets not all of which are ever fully promoted and thus it is easy to forget that it is an industry, driven by innovation, creation of on going products and services focused on changing for the better the way enterprises and indeed individuals interact"

Tell me about Hewlett Packard Enterprise,what do they do?

Hewlett Packard Enterprise offers worldwide IT, technology and enterprise
products and services, focused on supporting clients in the idea economy
and transforming their IT to achieve their business outcomes. To do so
enterprises need to enable their workforce to connect any place, any time;
and utilise big data effectively to provide actionable business insight;
protect their assets especially with the increasing advent of cyber
threats, and all underpinned by a technical foundation or infrastructure
that flexs to meet the enterprise's changing business consumption
requirements. I read somewhere that the only thing that is constant is
change, and I think that is particularly true of technology.

How would you describe your role to someone who does not work in the technology industry?

My key focus is determining how we can work effectively with clients to
ensure the technology provided enables the fulfilment of their business
outcomes. I also think it's important to have a strategic view to ensure
decisions made now contribute to long- term success.

Have you always worked in tech? If not, where were you before? Please briefly describe your career path.

I actually started my career at the London Borough of Lambeth where I
qualified as a Cipfa (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) accountant.
I joined Coopers and Lybrand's Audit Department
focusing primarily on auditing local government and charitable
organisations. I spent one year on secondment to Cipfa and found I really
enjoyed working with teams to design and deliver courses, publications and
a range of other income generating activities.

On returning to Coopers and Lybrand I joined the consultancy group. I've
provided advice to clients both in the UK and overseas specifically
Mozambique and South Africa, the latter as a Director in
PricewaterhouseCoopers. Technology became a more central focus in my
career, when IBM acquired PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting in 2002. I have
managed the take on of new technology services, bid for and delivered IT
outsourcing contracts and partnered with clients to maximise the engagement
with their customers and the delivery of projects and services. I loved in
particular the freedom that technology provides to innovate as well as
being a driver of innovation in it's own right.

On leaving IBM I joined Hewlett Packard Enterprise, with the focus of
driving an internal transformation programme maintaining the alignment of
IT and the business outcomes achieved, especially key given the impact of
all things digital and the on going disruption that the technology industry
is witnessing, for example with the advent of the Internet of Things.

As a black woman I think it is critical that I support others, sharing my
experiences to help them achieve their own goals. Through out my career I
have promoted and supported diversity and inclusion for all. Talent comes
in many guises and as an Executive I believe my obligation is to both be a
role model, and walk the talk by creating/influencing an environment that
embraces and allows people to be fully authentic.

What were the top three factors that contributed you to working in technology?

The first factor actually was curiosity. Working in Mozambique, which had a
significantly lower technology environment for example, the lack of
payments system, than the UK, provided a deep appreciation of how much
technology contributed to our daily lives. The second factor has been the
variety and breadth of people I have had the pleasure to work with and from
whom I have learnt much. Finally, applying technology to solve complex
business problems for clients requires me to utilise existing skills and to
acquire new. The ability for me to continue to grow and to help clients
fulfill their business outcomes has always been a key motivator for me and remains so today.

What was your favourite subject at school and what did you want to be when you grew up?

My favourite subject was English at one point I thought I'd become an
author as I had a poem published when I was very young. I grew out of that,
and when I secured a weekend job at Sainsbury's I thought HR was the way
forward as I was really impressed the HR Director's empathy post a fire at the store.

What were your top three chosen subjects at GCSE, not including the compulsory Maths, English and Science?

That's quite easy, English Literature, as opposed to English Language which
was the compulsory element when I sat me O levels, as I loved reading
Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and George Elliot and I still love reading today.
History fuelled by my introduction to Greek Mythology when I was 12 and
Geography as my teacher inspired me to never be constrained by other peoples view of my abilities.

If you went onto Higher Education, what did you study?

I went to London South Bank University and completed an honours degree in
Business Studies. I also later on in my career had the opportunity to
undertake and complete an Advanced Diploma in Strategy and Technology at
Said, Oxford Business School. It's interesting but I find that I apply all
the facets of my education, perhaps somewhat differently than initially envisioned, in all I do today.

What was your first job out of education?

I completed my training at the London Borough of Lambeth and on the
abolition of the Greater London Authority I worked with nominees from the
other London Boroughs to continue the Coin Street development on the South
Bank. It was quite complex at the time, but also rewarding given that it
the project was focused on providing long term affordable housing in London.
Shortly after completing the project I moved to Coopers and Lybrand and became an audit manager.

What do you think the perception of the technology industry is to people outside of the industry? Do you think it's accurate? If not, what would you do to change this?

There are many conversations trending in social media in particular, about
the perception of technology. My view is that that technology has many
facets not all of which are ever fully promoted and thus it is easy to
forget that it is an industry, driven by innovation, creation of on going
products and services focused on changing for the better the way
enterprises and indeed individuals interact. The ability to take an idea,
shape it into something that is then utilised by many is I think pretty cool.
It's often easy to forget that technology touches all our lives and
in essence is an enabler, in the simplest terms for improving society as a whole.

What do you think businesses can do to help with the gender imbalance in tech?

There is no one single thing one can do and I think the issues are very
complex. The first step I think is to acknowledge that there is an issue,
and having and sustaining the conversation. I have been really impressed
with how businesses are collaborating and focusing on ways to engage young people in particular.
On going interventions via what I refer to as 'show
not tell' initiatives are important also. Working with schools and other
organisations to provide insights into the world of technology and indeed
the careers available is key. Giving people access to those that are
engaged in technology embeds the human dimension. All industries, not just
technology, are also aware that retaining engagement with women when on
maternity leave, and men taking paternity leave, can help their return to
the work place and the resumption of their careers by providing an
environment of openness and transparency and support. Finally, I don't
think we can over estimate the importance of authentic senior female role
models as they are a tangible indication that it is possible to succeed in
what is widely acknowledged to be a male dominated industry.

What do you think keeps people happy and productive at work?

Knowing that their employer values them, and that as they develop that they
can progress their careers. Clarity of [organisational] strategy and
purpose, underpinned by effective employee engagement, creates an
environment where individuals can thrive. I also think it's really important to have some fun.

What are your favourite things about working in the tech industry?

The breadth of people that you meet and the range of skills and experience
that they have has me forever in awe. Knowing you have played a part
however small in an organisation meeting it's own objectives, improved
customer care, enhanced public security; protecting UK plc. are just a
small example of the types of technical projects I have been involved in,
and which still provide me still with an immense sense of pride and achievement.

What has been your biggest achievement in your career in tech so far?

When I think about my career it is hard to highlight any one achievement as
think has all been eventful and it has not ended yet. I think like this but
it was not always the case. My family has always supported me but I was
told at junior school that I'd probably never have a career such as the one
I have had due to my colour. Since that time I've been told that either my
colour or my gender or both would mean that I would have a senior role in an organisation.
I was very angry and I'm not sure that I handled that
negative pressure as well as I could have but then I realised that for all
those negative voices, I could use my own voice and those that saw
something special in my to retain myself belief. Sometimes it is ok to
survive, but you have to take the opportunity to thrive, when such
opportunities present themselves in your career and indeed in life.

What one thing would you say to every 11-13 year old in the country to encourage them to consider technology as a career choice?

There are many career paths and thus opportunities available to you within
the technology industry. Please engage in initiatives, such as TechFuture
Girls which is free and of which Hewlett Packard Enterprise is a Platinum Sponsor.
Attend coding events; HPE host a number of these throughout the
country, as such events provide an insight into the world of technology as
well as being fun. Parents and teachers also have a material role to play,
be curious, and explore the art of possibility that technology brings.

Please feel free to leave any additional thoughts?

I think it's really important to find your passion and experiencing
different situations can help with that regard. For my part I realised the
impact of technology when I had to write a programme to solve a partial
differentiation equation at colleague. I was fascinated by my ability to
apply my knowledge and use technology to do so. It is that underlying
passion, of using technology to make a difference and to solve
problems/drive outcomes that has remained with me to this day.