C-suite career advice: Ross McCaw, Our People, Inc.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? “Speaking as the leader of a software company, it is a huge advantage to have some understanding of code…”

OurPeople, Inc.

Name: Ross McCaw

Company: OurPeople, Inc.

Job Title: Founder & CEO

Location: Bristol, UK

A proven software entrepreneur. Founded Cap2 Solutions in 2009, which was acquired by Jonas Software (part of CSI) in 2011. A mobile first SaaS solution which provides Course Management software to thousands of fitness locations globally - 2.5 million enrolled users in 2017. McCaw now leads OurPeople team in both the UK and USA.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? It’s all about the people. You spend a huge part of your life at work and relationships with colleagues and customers are key not just for social sanity, but to create a great business. Surround yourself with the people who compliment your knowledge gaps or weaknesses.

What was the worst piece of advice that you received? For me, it is less about advice and more about mistakes. In my last business, we resold our product through various partners and resellers and I made two mistakes here. Firstly, we didn’t treat them as a customer - we should have listened more to their feedback and, generally, communicated more proactively. The second mistake was assuming they could sell our product as well as we could internally, as this is rarely ever the case.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Speaking as the leader of a software company, it is a huge advantage to have some understanding of code, even at a very low level. If nothing else, it provides you with insight into the ‘inner workings’ of what you are selling and teaches you to be patient if something (invariably!) takes much longer than originally anticipated.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? No. For a very long time, I was considering going into medicine. Thankfully however, I ended up sticking with the technology industry because I enjoy identifying problems and creating solutions to solve them - it’s how both my businesses were born.

What was your first job in IT/tech? I started off designing and building websites for a local web design agency. When I look back at my work, I really was terrible at it so I can only be grateful I’m much better at starting and building tech products and businesses from the ground up.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? I don’t think there are misconceptions per se, but it’s a great industry which is constantly changing. With new businesses constantly popping up, IT really offers various possibilities for those thinking about getting a job in the industry.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? For those looking to get into a c-level position it’s vital you learn to deal with distractions as early as you possibly can. These distractions come in different forms, evolve over time and creep up on you. If you're not careful they will start to negatively impact your efficiency and time.

It’s also important to note that the bigger your team, the more HR nonsense you have to deal with. 

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? To date, everything I’ve done has always revolved around companies making money so I am very keen to take these skills and apply them with charities / NGOs. Not only would it be great to help out a worthy cause, but I feel the change in the underlying motivation would provide a very different type of working.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? OurPeople had teams in both the UK and USA, so I have been very lucky to be able to travel quite extensively, which is a real perk. My wife and I even relocated to the US for a quarter last year, which we enjoyed enormously. I have also found that, for all its hindrance, going through lockdown has also helped provide more family time, which has been great. 

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Both OurPeople and Cap2 Solutions were either founded or co-founded by myself from scratch. It’s not easy taking a product or solution from being an idea or thought and turning into a successful and profitable business. 

I think the main takeaway for me is that it’s vital to understand it takes time to build a business from nothing. While this isn’t something that can necessarily be changed, it always takes longer than you anticipate.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? While both are useful, I really would recommend to anyone wanting a career in tech that they look into a coding bootcamp. The best route into the industry is to get practical, hands on knowledge as quickly as possible and this will help.

How important are specific certifications? Here at OurPeople, we generally look for experience and skills over any specific certification. Of course, there are certain roles within our business where certifications are crucial (financial and legal, for example) however, for the most part, experience, and having a team member that fits into our work culture, are the things that matter most.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Experience, passion and willingness to work outside their comfort zone are three really important things I look for in a candidate when hiring.

What would put you off a candidate? I wouldn’t say there is anything I have seen a candidate do that has ever ‘put me off’ them. However, we are a small team at OurPeople and so it’s vital that whoever we look to hire will fit in well with our existing staff and our culture, while being able to do their job well. Saying that, I think we’re a good bunch, so it would be hard not to fit in.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Specifically for those candidates starting their career, self-belief is important in an interview. You’re not meant to know everything about coding or programming, for example, right away so don’t believe you don't have what it takes to do the job well.

Do you think it’s better to have technical or business skills - or a mix of both? While this really depends on the role you are looking to get, I don’t think it can hurt to have a business person who thinks technically, or vice versa. When technology and IT is your business, it’s great to have people who can do both.