I recently had the opportunity to talk to Zoe Cunningham, Zoe is an outstanding tech professional who is currently Director of Softwire. She started her career as a developer and worked her way through the ranks until she ran the company.
I wanted to bring her story forward to aspiring leaders. Having spent her entire career with the same software firm, she learned the ropes before taking on more and more responsibility. She is a shining example that it is indeed possible to progress from a developer all the way to the top of a business.
Here is my interview with Zoe:
Zoe, what was your route to your current role?
I started as a developer, then worked as a technical project manager, before becoming Operations Manager (running a team of project managers delivering software projects) and then Managing Director of the whole software agency.
Can you talk about how you stepped into this role?
My route was quite typical for small businesses and perhaps very different to larger ones. I have stayed with the same organisation my whole career. This meant that I could start doing parts of the role without being officially appointed, and then by the time I was appointed to Operations Manager it was just clear to everyone that I could do the job.
What was the first thing that you remember hitting you when you became a senior manager?
People never do things for the reasons that you think they do them. If someone is struggling, there is probably a reason that is much more complex than either “they are lazy” or “they just need some training”. People can have quite serious medical conditions or personal circumstances that they are used to hiding in a professional setting, so unless you can build deep trust, it’s hard to get the best from people.
What advice would you give an aspiring leader that was in a senior developer role now and hoping to step into a CTO or leadership role in coming years?
Try everything!! Try networking, try asking other CTOs how they got there, try just applying for roles and try to find ways to get the experience of doing the role in your current role.
Can you share any top tips for junior or first time leaders that want to learn more about the role?
- Work on your own energy levels — if you don’t have it, you can’t help your team get it.
- People over processes — look after your people as your number one priority.
- Have fun!! If you enjoy the job, it will make everything else easier.
Are you thinking about your career and what you hope to achieve? Are you looking into your first leadership role, planning to become a CTO, or perhaps just exploring your options? At RecWorks we believe that networking, seeking advice, and learning from senior professionals is of huge benefit throughout your career.
We have developed a large community for tech professionals to share experiences and learn from each other. With (entirely free) initiatives like the London Java Community, Aspiring Speakers and Meet a Mentor, we have created forums where you can meet and develop with your peers.
If you’d like to learn more about RecWorks and our many initiatives, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.