C-suite career advice: Anton Roe, MHR

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? “That tech jobs are not creative. Tech jobs are about finding creative solutions to solve problems.”

Headshot of Anton Roe, CEO at MHR

Name: Anton Roe

Company: MHR

Job Title: CEO

Location: Nottingham

Anton Roe has been Chief Executive Officer of MHR International Group since July 2017, having previously served as Chief Technology Officer. He has been instrumental in the growth of the business, bringing two decades of tech industry leadership and experience to the role. Roe has driven forward the corporate vision for MHR, heading up the planning and management of MHR's continued expansion in the UK and globally. He has unrivalled expertise in how technology can support the future of work. Roe’s passion for emerging technologies and high performing teams has delivered exceptional results for customers of the MHR product and service portfolio, which includes market leading offers such as iTrent and People First. Roe is a fellow of the British Computer Society.  

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? If you are ever unsure of something, always ask for help. You should never be afraid to ask for assistance, ultimately it means getting the job done more efficiently and to a higher standard. It’s also the best way you can learn and progress in your career. When you stop asking questions, or for guidance, you risk missing out on valuable advice. Equally, when an opportunity presents itself, take it with both hands, even if it puts you out of your comfort zone. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: you can’t grow in your comfort zone, and neither will your career.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? People often told me that I’d need a computer science degree to be successful in IT. In some respects, it was good advice, as I was determined to prove people wrong.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Start by identifying the area of IT you are passionate about and focus on that. Learn from the experience around you and be prepared to widen your knowledge outside of your core area of interest – do not limit yourself to one discipline.

Learn from the experience around you. Nothing beats working with great people who can help you with your development.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? Yes, I came from the home computer generation of the 1980s when schools were just rolling out the BBC Micro. From the moment of playing my first game and learning to code (BBC Basic was awesome), I knew I wanted to work in computing after school.

I got a YTS placement at Derby ITeC (Information Technology College) after leaving school in 1988. They taught me the basics of programming, networking, and micro-electronics. After about a year, I then had a placement at Arcast Software in June 1989, now known as MHR, after three months I was taken on full-time.

Although my original desire was to move into software engineering (or ‘computer programming’ as it was called in the ‘80s), I found system and network administration was something I really enjoyed and was good at, so I focused on that for five years. After which I moved into software engineering and software architecture design.

What was your first job in IT/tech? I was a Computer Operator at the age of 16, looking after ICL Series 39 mainframes and ICL DRS6000 Unix servers. My first job on my first day was cleaning the tape decks used for backups, the line writer printers and stock checking for printer ribbons, printer paper, reel tapes, and floppy disks. I bet nobody remembers those.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? There are quite a few, but my top three I still hear are:

Firstly, you need a computer science degree (or another relevant degree). A degree can be helpful for certain roles, but it is not essential.

Secondly, tech is only for men. Although tech is still under-represented, there are many smart women working in IT. In the past few years, we have seen a real push to encourage more women into IT, but we still have a long way to go until tech has a more equal gender balance.

Thirdly, that tech jobs are not creative. Tech jobs are about finding creative solutions to solve problems.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Broaden your experience outside of your technology role. As you move into a senior leadership role and eventually a c-level position, you need a working understanding of all areas of your business, especially sales marketing, customer services, and finance.

What are your career ambitions, and have you reached them yet? My ambition continues to develop as I progress throughout my career. That might seem like I have the mindset of ‘nothing is ever enough’, but I am able to appreciate each achievement, enjoy each moment, and then reflect on how I can build on that success. Creating new goals throughout my career has been a great way to stay motivated.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Yes, I am lucky that I do. This is something you must keep working at and keep adjusting, depending on changes in your workload and the business environment. It’s not always easy, but having that balance is also crucial to maintaining a good work ethic. Yes of course ‘work hard’ but make sure you don’t burn yourself out, because that will only lead you one way. In my spare time, I confess to be an avid long-standing Derby County fan, proving resilience is not just for businesses but also for fans.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? To be honest, nothing. I have been lucky to work for the same business from a young age, a company that has really nurtured me and enabled me to grow my skills. I have worked with very talented people that I have learned a lot from over the years, and that continues today with the talented team at MHR.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? If you have good problem-solving abilities, a passion for computing, and a willingness to learn, then a bootcamp can provide you with a good grounding to get into the industry. From there, it is down to you. There are also plenty of online free-to-learn resources to get you going.

How important are specific certifications? Certifications are good way of testing your knowledge and encouraging continued development. This is something we encourage and support our people with.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Good problem-solving abilities, willingness to learn, a good work ethic and being a team player (sorry that is four).

What would put you off a candidate? A lack of interests and hobbies outside of IT.  There must be more to a candidate than just IT, right? At MHR we value people and a part of that is understanding and caring about who they are outside of their day job. Passion for one’s profession is important, but also is being able to build an interesting and varied life. I believe that if people are happy outside of work, they will generally do a better job in it.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? It seems like such a simple thing, but you’d be surprised how many candidates don’t show they made any efforts or have done basic research on the company. Showing you know the business, its main competitors and more importantly, why you want to work for that organisation is something that applicants should always prepare for.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? In your early career, developing those technical skills is vital. But as you start to progress into more senior roles, it’s important to broaden your skills out to the wider business and develop good general management knowledge. Ensuring you have a good grounding in technology and a broader business understanding is vital for a C-level role in a tech business.