C-suite career advice: Paul Gosling, Thales

How important are specific certifications? “I think achieving the Chartered Engineering qualification is important, as it is a measure of a commitment to life-long learning.”

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Thales

Name: Dr Paul Gosling

Company: Thales

Job Title: CTO

Location: London

A physicist by education, Dr Paul Gosling started his career in radar and communications technologies before making the transition to underwater sensing. He joined Thales in 1990 as a Sonar Algorithms Specialist Senior Engineer and over the last three decades has held a variety of Technical Director roles, overseeing the C4ISR, Maritime and Security Domain, the Naval Division and the 2087 Sonar System design and delivery. In 2014, he was named the VP Engineering for Thales UK. With around 25 years’ experience in naval sensing systems, predominantly sonar, Dr Gosling has had considerable experience of all aspects of sonar design from advanced signal and data processing algorithm development to dealing with complex system integration and acceptance issues.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? I once asked a senior manager for his advice on the choice between two options. He took out a coin and tossed it, shouting “heads or tails?”. I was confused. Then he asked me what solution I thought was the right one. After I told him he said, “you knew the answer so why ask me”. The point was if you have the answer, just go with it. Not making decisions is worse than occasionally making the wrong one.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? I was told that I needed to consider taking a pure management role to progress in my career. Fortunately, I valued what motivated me more and becoming CTO recently has vindicated my decision.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? I would say work hard to get your qualifications. If you are not strong in technical subjects it will always be a struggle. Secondly, follow your own passions.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? No. After finishing my doctorate from Oxford I considered a post-doc at MIT. I am not sure I would have left academia if I had done that.

What was your first job in IT/tech? I worked for STC Technology Limited in radar and comms technologies, and actually worked on some of the very early 3G mobile technologies in the late 1980’s.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? That engineer talent is not valued as much as management. I can assure you that is not the case.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? I would say understand your own strengths and weaknesses first. Secondly, follow your passion, don’t chase a job simply for the position.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I think getting to CTO is pretty much where I wanted to be. At some point, when I get closer to retirement, I might consider going back to do something in academia.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Yes, although my wife says I don’t switch off well if I have a complex problem to solve. I must say, however, that Covid-19 has reduced my travel, giving me the chance to spend more time with my family.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Nothing. I think it has worked out pretty well.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I did a physics degree and a doctorate in low temperature physics, so I am probably not best to give advice. My view is that it is better to do a general technical degree and learn coding alongside.

How important are specific certifications? I think achieving the Chartered Engineering qualification is important, as it is a measure of a commitment to life-long learning. This is essential as technology is changing so rapidly so you’re continually learning to keep pace.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Inquisitiveness, passion and problem solving.

What would put you off a candidate? A lack of any of the three points I identified above.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? I would encourage candidates to do some research about who they were hoping to work for. It is quite insulting if someone comes in for an interview and has no idea who you are. Also, don’t try and be someone you are not. Like most engineers, I am quite introverted by nature and I see a lot of people like that, but you shouldn’t see it as a weakness.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? In my early career, having been quite academic, I would have been pretty firm that technical trumps business every time. I am much more aware now of the importance of having a mix of both, but the balance depends on the role you do.