Human Resources

C-suite career advice: Steve Lowe, Student.com

Name: Steve Lowe

Company: Student.com

Job Title: Chief Technology Officer

Location: London, UK

Steve Lowe joined Student.com as Chief Technology Officer in June 2017, bringing more than 15 years of experience in leading technical teams and driving continuous improvement for businesses. Before joining Student.com, Steve held various senior technology roles at Paddy Power Betfair across the UK and Europe. He has an excellent track record in delivering quality at speed by maximizing the potential of teams and providing collaborative and engaging working environments. He graduated from the University of Manchester with a BSc in pure mathematics and computer science.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Do not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone or job spec. Always be willing to take on new challenges, and never be afraid to take control of your work to shape the role you want. This is the best way to grow and develop, at any stage throughout your career.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? The worst piece of business advice I’ve received to date was within a conversation about how many managers a team should have. The colleague giving the advice was certain that you cannot trust team members and you need project managers to keep them organized. I fundamentally disagree with this recommendation, especially within the tech world. In my experience, it’s much better to have doers than orchestrators.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Do not limit yourself. There is a lot of a tech out there. It changes rapidly. It also changes frequently. The best way to immerse yourself in this industry is to go out and get as much exposure as possible. Learn about as much and as many things as you can. And don’t be afraid of becoming a specialist in a particular area of interest -- but remember the world changes and breadth of knowledge is often more useful.

Did you always want to work in IT? I started to think about working in IT when I got my first computer. As soon as I realized I could build almost anything I could think of, I was hooked.

What was your first job in IT? I worked for IRD Teleride as a Systems Manager, part of a small development team and fixing Novell NetWare (remember those?) implementations.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? That working in IT is all about writing code. It’s much more about problem solving and understanding problems. Most of the time the code should be the smallest part of your work.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? I would say the first step is making sure you know why you want a c-level position. I had no ambitions to become a CTO until quite late on in my career, when I thought I could do the job better than the CTO I worked for at the time! The best approach is to have a tangible goal in mind -- something you want to achieve -- and not just a desire for the title. My goal is to build efficient software delivery teams and a c-level position allows me to achieve this.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I am constantly setting new goals and career ambitions -- I don’t think I’ll ever stop. My career ambitions have definitely changed over time. There was a time when I was a dedicated coder and would never have considered a management career. Now my goals are much more about bringing new technology to businesses to add value.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? I’m happy with my work life balance. It’s all about give and take - making sure you’re available when you’re needed and ensuring you don’t burn out.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? Hindsight is a wonderful thing! I’ve enjoy my career mostly and didn’t stick around when I didn’t. But if I knew at the start of my career what I know now, I could have accelerated some parts of it.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Whichever you are most comfortable with. We all learn in different ways, and as technology is always changing, you will always be learning on the job.

How important are specific certifications? I don’t find certificates particularly useful as a measure of skills. However, as a method for learning I can see them as useful tools. Continuous learning and, more importantly, a continuous appetite for learning is much more important.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? A willingness to learn, flexibility, and the ability to collaborate effectively.

What would put you off a candidate? Anyone who starts a sentence with “I can’t” or “I won’t”. Or anyone who can’t name something they are excited to learn about.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Knowing nothing about the company they have to interview at, or even not admitting when they don’t know something. A little preparation goes a long way. Check the company’s website and read their media coverage to find out a little about the company before you turn up. Also, be honest - no one expects you to know everything!

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? In a modern business I believe everyone needs a mixture of both. If you can’t or won’t understand the business, how can you expect to solve the businesses problems?


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