C-suite career advice: Pamela Maynard, Avanade

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? “To truly embrace what makes you different—because it is the very thing that makes you strong.”

Headshot of Pamela Maynard, CEO at Avanade

Name: Pamela Maynard

Company: Avanade

Job Title: CEO

Location: United Kingdom

As CEO of Avanade, Pamela Maynard is passionate about building a people-first culture for Avanade’s 60,000+ global employees while driving sustainable, responsible growth centred around client success. A veteran of the technology industry, Maynard has dedicated her 25+year career to helping clients rethink their business strategies by harnessing the power of digital innovation to renew and grow their businesses. Prior to being named CEO of Avanade in Sept. 2019, Maynard was Avanade’s President of Product and Innovation, focused on defining and delivering innovative solutions for our clients. Earlier in her Avanade career, she served as President of our European organisation and as General Manager of Avanade UK. Maynard sits on the boards of the Royal Horticultural Society and Junior Achievement Worldwide.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? When I was younger, my mother gave me the book by Susan Jeffers, “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.” It’s all about being willing to take risks and betting on yourself—and it’s a book that I still share today.

“Feeling the fear and doing it anyway” is something I’ve done throughout my career. Whether it’s been to raise my hand for a new role, to try a bold new approach, or to seek advice from a mentor. It’s about having a “growth mindset” and taking risks, learning from your mistakes and carving a better path forward. I believe it’s such a critical skill that we’ve provided our people at Avanade with training to adopt this way of thinking.  

The experiences we’ve all learned over the past few years show that growth comes from the uncertain moments in life such as a failure or from taking a chance on yourself.  

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? As a leader of a business where your people are your “product”, it’s all too common in times of economic uncertainty for business leaders to want to make immediate cuts in headcount as a means of addressing financial challenges.

I too have received this advice—particularly during the recession in 2008 and in the early days of the pandemic. Each time, I’ve listened, trusted my gut instinct and prioritised people first.

We faced a similar situation when the global pandemic took hold in early 2020. Had I listened to that advice in those early days rather than doing everything possible to preserve our headcount, we wouldn’t have been as well positioned to capture the opportunities that came from the accelerated growth in the technology industry - as companies quickly pivoted to remote work and embraced digital transformation at an unprecedented pace - leading to the strongest year of financial growth in Avanade’s history.  

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? I would encourage young professionals starting out in any career, but particularly a career in technology, to truly embrace what makes you different—because it is the very thing that makes you strong. 

One of my favourite poets Maya Angelou once wrote: “If you’re always trying to be normal, you’ll never know how amazing you can be.”

Early in my career I struggled with a sense of belonging. It’s a real challenge when you feel like an anomaly, when no one in the room looks like you or shares your experiences. But looking back, my biggest accomplishments came when I had the courage to show my true, authentic self, embrace the things that made me different and share my unique perspective. In fact, I still remember a senior leader coming to me one day and encouraging me to keep asking questions even though I was shy because it made others in the room stop and reflect.

I’ve realised that being different is a position of strength. It allows you to see things another way, to tackle problems from a different angle – and that’s where true innovation comes from and it’s something the world needs more of!   

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? No! The first thing I wanted to be was an architect and as I got older and was closer to university age, I wanted to be a lawyer. Even though I was intent on a law degree, I changed my mind when I was at university. I remember having a conversation with my mum about it at the time, and she asked me an important question: “What do you enjoy?”    

She encouraged me to trust my gut instincts and pursue a management science degree instead. It was a big deal for me, because I was the first person in my family to go to university.   

But that decision led me to an internship at IBM, which gave me my first real experience in technology. I loved working with clients to help them with the technology enablement of their business strategy.

What was your first job in IT/tech? Through my one-year internship at IBM, I knew that I loved working with clients and technology and never looked back! I joined Oracle right after graduation, where I really learned about building applications, data, and management consultancy. From there, I had the opportunity to join E&Y, which combined both technology and consulting.   

I joined Avanade in 2008 and served in various capacities until I was appointed CEO in September 2019.  You could say that “trusting my gut” has led me down a path in which I’ve had a wonderful and fulfilling career in tech.  

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? A big misconception about working in IT/Tech is that you have to be really ‘techie.’

Compassion, empathy, creativity, a willingness to be vulnerable and bring bold ideas are an integral part of the work we do, which is why we look for people with these skills. Think of the work we do: we’re harnessing the power of technology to help our clients create meaningful experiences for their employees and their customers. That requires having the ability to see everything through the lens of complicated human beings!

We can’t innovate and do the best work for our clients—who are tackling monumental challenges, by the way—if we don’t have diverse perspectives, skills and voices at the table and if we don’t also have the ‘soft skills’ to make those big ideas a successful reality for our clients. It requires more than a solid understanding of the technology; you need a good understanding of business, helping clients navigate change, and so much more. 

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? I think the totality of one’s experiences is more important than a linear career journey. The richness of diverse experiences, perspectives and backgrounds can make a profound difference on the work we do for our clients and the impact we can make.  

You only need to look at my own career to see that it wasn’t a straight path to CEO! 

There have been many experiences that have served to help me grow personally and professionally, but I’d have to say my experiences as a woman of colour have been the most influential. Being the only woman of colour in the room for a long time really challenged me and motivated me to go above and beyond. It propelled me forward and it’s helped me progress and fight for my place at the table – and now I’m passionate about helping others do the same.      

Instead, I look for leaders with a career journey that demonstrates a willingness to be open to trying new things, shows resilience and an eagerness to challenge old ways of thinking and the status quo.

If there’s anything we’ve taken away from the past 24+ months, it’s that change is inevitable and out of our control. But we can control how we react to these shifts and how we perceive the challenges and opportunities that present themselves. 

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? Quite honestly, my career journey has never been a straight line and I’ve never had a five-year plan—but I’m so glad that my path and experiences have led me to the opportunity to be CEO of Avanade. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and I look forward to helping Avanade achieve so much more.

One of the things that’s important to me as CEO is to create a legacy for our people and our clients. It’s why one of the first steps I took after being named CEO was to formally introduce our company’s purpose, which is to make a genuine human impact. Later, we evolved our vision to showcase how we innovate for our clients through the power of our people and Microsoft technology.

Our purpose and our vision have galvanized our teams around common goals. I think it’s because it inspires us to all to look beyond the ‘ones and zeros’ of technology to the actual human impact of the work that makes it that much more meaningful for our employees and our clients.

We all want to feel like we’re making a difference, that we’re doing what matters. A clearly articulated company purpose and vision achieves all of that – and regardless of where my journey takes me next, I know that making that lasting impact will be what drives me forward.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I won’t deny that as CEO of a global company with more than 60,000 professionals, it takes more effort to balance your professional and personal life than it used to. But it isn’t impossible.

The global pandemic reminded me that family, friends and authentic connection with the people you care about is more important than spending every minute at the office. It’s critical to rest and recharge, regardless of your role in an organisation. I absolutely love what I do as CEO, and it can be difficult at times when you love what you do to find that balance.

But I also value spending quality time with my family and friends, and I have made a conscious effort to do that and to demonstrate the importance of personal well-being. If our professionals don’t see me and my leadership team balancing their personal and professional lives, how will they feel safe to pursue the same kind of balance for themselves? It’s why we’ve been so open and forthright about our position on the Future of Work.

It’s all about flexibility and choice: giving people work options so they can live full lives, professionally and personally. We’ve all changed—and I think for the better. There is no longer a one-size-fits-all box we all have to fit into—we can choose what works best for us and thrive at work and at home. And we can put our well-being first. I call that a win!

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Honestly, there isn’t much I would change. However, I would have made the decision to join Avanade faster than the eight months it actually took me! I’ve been very fortunate to have pursued a career that I love and to have opportunities to demonstrate my passion, commitment and capabilities in so many different ways.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? As someone who made a pivot during her university years, I think it’s really important to reflect on what lights you up—what you want to do. Having a passion for what you do is critical in the fast-paced world of technology, because it fuels the desire to stay curious and to keep learning – something that is so important regardless of what path you take. If you’re undecided or not quite ready to commit to the investment in a degree, a coding bootcamp may be a great place to get a taste for whether you love the profession or not. It will also add a deeper understanding of the more functional expertise needed to thrive in that space. If you couldn’t get enough and can’t stop thinking about it, that’s a great sign that it is something you love and a computer science degree may be the perfect fit. If it isn’t, perhaps it’s some other facet of the IT/tech industry. Marketing? Sales? Strategy? CEO? The truth is there are lots of degrees that can land you in a career in technology—I’m living proof of that. The point is to really listen to your gut about your passion and what you love to do—and pursue that with everything you’ve got.

How important are specific certifications? The reality, particularly in the technology industry, is that we’re always innovating, evolving and adapting to align with the market and ever-changing client needs. Learning never stop - and it’s why certifications are so critical.

I’m proud to say that we emphasise limitless learning at Avanade, and one of those avenues is through certifications. It takes work to stay ahead of the market so that you can help your clients navigate what’s next—and it’s why we value additional training and certifications at Avanade and have more than 60,000 Microsoft certifications! 

From my perspective, it’s also not just about having the technical certifications, either. You need to build your career with leadership skills, for example, so that you can manage and lead teams with a wide variety of skills and inspire them to reach their full potential.

It’s why, for example, we’ve launched a Technology Leadership Career Path programme at Avanade, where we select professionals with a passion to pursue deep engineering careers to get the training and support they need to become future Distinguished Engineers in our organisation. I’m proud to say that so far, nearly 200 technical professionals have joined our Technology Leadership Career Path. I’m a big believer in providing opportunities to find, develop and nurture the next generation of leaders at Avanade. 

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