Senior Spotlight: September 2023
Crimson’s Head of Customer Engagement, Chris O’Brien, interviews senior technologists across the UK. Discover what drives these individuals as we delve into their careers, most exciting projects, and tech predictions for 2023 and beyond. Be inspired by their stories and connect with your IT peers.
Sofia Alcala Paterna | Data Excellence Practice Director | Intuita
Chris: I met you almost a decade ago at a Manchester event that I presented around data.
So, the first question that I always ask is: how did you get where you are today?
Sofia: Through relationships? I'm becoming convinced that what we do in life is about relationships. I think I've been moving through organisations and the market mainly based on relationships, connections, and the next challenge.
I didn't choose data, data chose me. I started with a data migrations project by chance. This allowed me to gain a sense of what data is. Today when I look at CVs, if I see data migration, they already stand out. You learn a lot by doing that hard work and from data migration to basically what I'm doing today.
Chris: That's good to know from our perspective, that people of your level will have an idea of what they're trying to identify as a perfect candidate for your company and culture.
Sofia: Data migration isn’t a must-have, but it’s valuable. You have to show so many skills in a data migration project, including technical, personal, and relationship.
Chris: Brilliant. What's your biggest challenge currently?
Sofia: In a small company like Intuit, my challenges are that I try to do it all. I have to wear many hats simultaneously: tax, delivering great solutions to clients while looking for the next one, nurturing a team.
You have to create a team that you can trust to deliver the standards you want. So my challenge today is gaining the trust from the business owners to invest in me.
Chris: It sounds like you've got a lot of pressures and challenges, but you're well-equipped to manage them. Obviously you've had good mentors in the past; Dan Pass and Darren Timmins are two really powerful people within data. I know individuals here would be so grateful to have those sort of people within their network, helping and mentoring them at any level. You've got two pots of gold dust really, and obviously you've got others within the network as well.
Sofia: I feel blessed to have those relationships. Coming back to the point of nurturing that community, relationships obviously go beyond the organisation you work for. Maintaining that network and what you’re doing in the north is fantastic, and what Crimson has been doing in many parts of the UK is amazing, it keeps us together.
Chris: Absolutely. So, what's the most exciting project on the cards?
Sofia: I happen to work in the non-sexy side of data as I always say. I deal with things like regulation, governance, management, quality, metadata, and data modelling. But my observation around the market currently is related to a few years back – obviously we've been talking about exploitation and advanced analytics and all of that, and with the movement to the cloud, everybody's trying to perform the most effective algorithms. I see a change of foundations again; we can’t do all the sexy stuff if we don't have our house in order. That’s where I shined.
Chris: You’re the backbone of getting everything right and all the quality assurance behind it. Then all that super trendy stuff can come in once you open that gateway.
Sofia: Yes – I just happened to choose a side that organisations don’t want to do, and consultancies are focusing more on the ‘sexy’ side of things. So, I think that puts me and Intuit in a very advantageous position.
Chris: I agree, because you see all these awesome things that are going on, but then without you in there, companies don't have a quality skillset. Things then get scattered all over the place and there's not that level of governance. That's where you sit. It’s a job that nobody wants to do, but you do it and it's rare. Wherever you go, they need to retain you.
Next question: What do you think is the biggest trend going forward within data?
Sofia: I'm going to tell you something that probably isn’t the answer you expect. One of the most important skills in data is storytelling. This influences a change in culture in an organisation. So for them to embrace what you want to do, try to influence the operating model and that shift in culture, storytelling is the skill that I would value the most currently. Technology-wise, everybody can implement a solution – but that's not the challenge.
Chris: Without cleansing the data, you're never going to get those algorithms or those right answers from the database. And things like AI and obviously NML, everyone's into it, and everyone wants to get into it, but you need the good, proper data. So you’re right. The cleansing stuff is very underrated and, again, it’s something that nobody wants to do.
Sofia: Everybody wants their toilet clean but nobody wants to clean it.
Chris: That's a really good analogy. What would be your dream role or what would you like to do in five years’ time?
Sofia: For many years, I wanted to be a Chief Data Officer. I’ve surpassed that. I'm probably working in a small company like Intuita to give me a sense of what it’s like to manage a complete business. So I want to be a CEO, running a business end to end.
Chris: If you were to be CEO, and obviously you come from a really governed data background, what sort of company would you like to run?
Sofia: Something like Intuita. I’d start a small/medium data consultancy to begin with.
Chris: That sounds really cool. Last question: what would be your tech predictions for next year and beyond?
Sofia: I think the whole digital twins, and everything around that, is going to continue. Also quantum computing – Canadian governments invested in quantum computing because they believed it was going to be the next thing. So, probably something there to deal with security that traditional computing isn’t offering yet.
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