C-suite career advice: Julie Grieve, Criton

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? "Gain as much experience as possible and train yourself to think strategically."

Name: Julie Grieve

Company: Criton

Job Title: CEO

Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

Julie Grieve is the Founder and CEO of Information Apps Ltd. Her product, Criton, is the first DIY app builder for the hospitality sector in the UK. It allows operators to bring all their guest facing technology into one easy to use branded guest portal. Prior to starting her own business, Grieve was the CEO of Lateral City, a luxury serviced apartment operator in the heart of Edinburgh. Her early career was spent in serviced offices where she became MD of Abbey Business Centres, a UK wide serviced office operator, which she successfully sold in 2011.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? That you cannot progress until your team can cope without you.  It has stood me in good stead and it helps me focus on delegation and upskilling.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? Actually, I don't think there is ever bad advice, it's just that someone else's experience is sometimes not relevant to your situation. The receiving of advice always makes you think and that's never bad.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? My advice, particularly to women starting their career in IT, is to act like you are a manager from the start. Your reputation matters even when you are beginning your career. And by that, I don't mean telling people what to do, I mean thinking about issues as a manager would. What's the likely impact? What's the risk? How can we make this better? These questioning skills will stand you in good stead for the future.

Did you always want to work in IT? I've always had a passion for technology, I like the logic and I seemed to acquire the role of family IT support from early days. Because my early career was spent in Universities which were digitally advanced, I was often responsible in following private sector roles for installing new systems because I had the experience and could sell the benefits. As I progressed in my career, IT has always been part of the solution being resold to my clients. My transition into full time IT started when I realised how expensive and time consuming it was to create the guest directory for the luxury serviced apartment company I worked for. As I couldn't find a digital solution that would enable me to digitise the guest information at an affordable cost, I saw a gap in the market and decided to start my own company. So, I sold my house, secured an investment and started Criton - a digital platform for accommodation providers to digitise their guest information and wrap all guest facing technology into one portal that guest could download on their phone.

What was your first job in IT? My first dabble in IT was in 1996; I built a website from scratch using the book "HTML for Dummies" for a membership association. But realistically starting Criton is the first job in IT fully.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? One of the biggest misconceptions is that men are predisposed to tech. That's not the case, and gender equality is something I feel very passionate about - it's one of the reasons I helped to found Women in Tourism (WiT). While it absolutely needs to be the ‘right person for the job,' we need to strive for gender equality; for example, having mixed panels and keynote speakers at events. We need to provide role models and we must support women in positions of leadership, as this will ultimately encourage other women to come to the fore and shout about their successes.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Gain as much experience as possible and train yourself to think strategically. In any job during your career, you can find opportunities for personal development and you can learn from your colleagues and your manager on how to approach decisions that will impact the organisation. No one is born with the right answers, but we can learn how to make the decisions that are best for a company.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, who were completely self-reliant, so my ambition was always to be my own boss and to be in charge of my own destiny. I have achieved that with Criton and my ambition is now to build the leading technology brand for independent hospitality.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? No, is the short answer, it's almost impossible at this stage in a company start up and mostly I wouldn't have it any other way!  I travel a lot to speak at events, meet partners as well as current and potential clients which means there is little routine.  When I am not travelling, I try to spend quality time with my family and I try to get to the gym a couple of times a week.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Actually, I could not be happier with the route my career has taken. I always wanted to have my own company and I am delighted to have built a team at Criton who shares my values and works with enthusiasm to build a product that is changing the way hotels and serviced apartments engage with their guests.  I wish it had happened sooner, but I didn't have the idea at that point and all the experience I have gained to date is proving very useful as we scale Criton.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? It depends on the sort of person you are. We have both in our organisation and both provide excellent work. For me the bootcamp route is very useful for someone who is retraining, to minimise the amount of time they are not earning.  Nowadays bootcamps, like Codeclan, with whom we partner, are helping with how to learn to code rather than specific languages in depth and I believe that's a code thing. The right frame of mind learning a new language is crucial.

How important are specific certifications? This is very depending on the role and the business. We haven't gone down the certification route, but are starting to look at cyber security as we look to add further personalisation ability into our system.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Resilience. Drive and willingness to learn. Team Player.

What would put you off a candidate? Someone who thinks they know it all, in our industry there's always something to learn and as a growing business we need people who will roll their sleeves up and do what is necessary to get the job done.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Not asking enough questions! Candidates should be interviewing us and making sure it's a good fit as we are doing the same. To avoid that come prepared with a long list of questions, even small things (e.g. can I see the office) can tell you a lot about a company.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? There is no one answer to this, it completely depends on the needs of the business and that changes over time.  In my early career, I was fairly technical to get things done and I learned the business skills on the job. Now my business skills are more important, but I wouldn't be where I am if I hadn't started with the technical. Ultimately you should want to love what you do, we spend a huge percentage of our life at work, I would always advise that people try to make sure they care about what they deliver and therefore work won't seem like work.