[Interview] – Career Journeys – Keith Copeland
In this interview we talk to Keith Copeland new Head of Technology Operations at EDINA in Edinburgh about his career journey from US to Australia and now his new post in Edinburgh.
Ben: You’ve recently started a new role as Head of Operations with EDINA in Edinburgh. They have a specialist field in data analysis and data for geospatial and satellite data but also in other areas as well. On a personal level why was EDINA the right organisation for you?
Keith: Relocating from Melbourne. My wife and I really wanted to make sure that the next opportunity that we took was one that would be long term for us. To move from Australia to Scotland was one where we really wanted to make sure this is an anchor, it’s going to be home. So we really wanted to find an opportunity that had a challenge of work-life balance, strategic objectives, and some technical challenges. With EDINA, this opportunity seemed to fit everything, all my requirements. Plus, though, the interview process was great, the job description is intriguing with the combination of the technical and management requirements as well as just the ability to look forward in the industry and help tailor to see what the next couple of years are going to be with data.
Ben: Fantastic, and it does sound like a really exciting opportunity and a brilliant time to be joining that organisation. So congratulations on that.
Keith: Thank you.
Ben: What challenges have you had to overcome in your career?
Keith: Working for the Department of Defense was a fun start to the career. I did two tours, two trips out to the Middle East and just the amount of learning that I was able to do, just tossing oneself into things that you’re not yet fully knowing if you’re ready for but knowing that you’ve prepared enough to take that step. So to me, just some of the travel, the trips to the Middle East, the contracts in Indonesia, where you’re always thrown for a loop, you’re always challenged in a way that keeps you pushing and finding new ways to innovate.
Ben: I think Richard Branson’s been attributed as saying, “if somebody offers you a great opportunity, say yes and figure out how to do it later”. Sometimes that’s something you have to do with your career if you get that opportunity.
Keith: Yeah, absolutely. You never know the future. So, to me at present, the least you can do is be best prepared to what you know today and that will always help you succeed tomorrow. You don’t know what’s coming, but just do what you can today. You hope it’s enough for tomorrow.
Ben: Maybe tell us a little bit more about your experience of moving job from the US to other countries, and things that you had to adapt or adjust to?
Keith: Absolutely. First moving from the States, you’re used to just having so much stuff. In other places, you learn how to be more efficient. So firstly, moving from the States to Australia, I just had to go through the visa processes and the documentation and unpacking and repacking. A lot of this stuff is really just getting your head around the new place, the location, the new logistics, sometimes there are going to be language challenges. Once you get your head around some of the cultural changes, then you can start to get those “new normals” back. With every one of those moves, there were certain things you just had to do; the visas, the account setup, the finding the place to stay, closing out accounts, moving and selling furniture and vehicles. Just kind of having that standard process, knowing what you’ve got to do helped with the next few after I got it down the first couple of times. I’ve been moving a lot over the past few years.
Ben: It’s interesting, there are always intriguing subtleties in the way different organizations and companies and countries manage their systems and processes. Just knowing how those things work makes a big difference.
Keith: Absolutely. Knowing who to contact and when, because you’re going to have a lot of moving pieces when you’re looking to get visas, and people need all varying types of documentation. So, kind of keeping that structure because the processes are pretty heavy.
Ben: So was there anything in particular that you’ve identified between the way different organizations engage with technology professionals.
Keith: Absolutely. The best way I could put it is I bucket the engagement into three different places for companies, you have the objectives for the company and for each employee, you kind of have to engage them with their personal lives and knowing that the work environment takes a significant amount of their time and then you need to engage them kind of within the company camaraderie. So not really around what their job role is, but building the team concept. To me engaging them in different ways within those three buckets, you’re really going to start to be able to build a really good team.
So my previous employer was really good with the social things once every month, we’re going to get off at 2:30 in the afternoon, we’re going to have a social, those type of things for developers and HR bringing everybody together. It’s not work-related, but it really builds the camaraderie so then you might have people meet back and then have conversations with each other because they met during the social and there might be a peak of interest. So to me, a lot of the engagement for a good company needs to kind of make sure you hit in three different areas, and then you can really bring everything together.
Ben: One of the things that I’ve seen companies talk about so much more in the last few years is culture and especially just now with COVID-19 and lockdowns the effort that some companies have put in to either replicate their culture online or to generate a culture that keeps people connected. So your virtual pub night, quiz nights and things like that are all the rage just now.
Keith: Absolutely. These new times are calling for some new ideas, new concepts to still do the same thing.
Ben: What are your thoughts about having gone through the entire recruitment process through video link rather than actually meeting face to face?
Keith: I felt that this really went very smoothly. I do think it comes down to the interviewer putting the interviewee at ease, and the interviewee opening themselves up on the video chat because you don’t have that one to one contact. I think if you understand the technology and you can get a really good flow of conversation there’s not much missed. Maybe some of the subtleties that you have in other nuance when you’re sitting face to face, but I think if you understand you can really still get all the needed facts and information across in a very good way.
Ben: I think for leadership roles, it works because you can get a sense of somebody’s theories and methodologies and their management style, they can present that. I think for a hands-on tooling job you can’t demonstrate unless they’re doing a presentation where they demonstrate the task.
Keith: Absolutely, for a more technical role for a developer, I might want to give them a challenge or two and just say you have a week, send me back a demo to something to see how innovative they can be, even if they don’t complete it. I might give you a really interesting adage I heard, you know, two kids walk into to a college classroom, the teacher asked them the same question. How big is the flagpole outside? One student had studied it in a previous class gave the exact right answer. The next student didn’t know but he ran outside. He knew how tall he was; he counted the number of shadows and came back with an assumption. The second guy was hired because he demonstrated that ability to innovate on the fly and to me, that’s what this technology is for. You’ve got to understand what you understand, but still, be able to get that end result as best as you can. This technology will still allow you to produce a good result, it just might take a little extra effort with the video call.
Ben: I thought you’d be a really good person to give advice, because you’ve had to navigate a career across different continents. So what’s the best piece of advice you might give anyone for navigating the Tech industry? Or, what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Keith: It was definitely “always assume there’s more to learn”. That in this age of technology, you don’t need to be a Ph.D. trained individual to be able to do certain things. You could take your time, go online and figure out enough to where you can really start to become functional. So I’ve had a lot of friends who might not have been a tech individual, but they asked the right question and worked through the right set of certifications, and six months to a year later, you have the option of doing some new things, because you took the time to learn. There’s nothing outside your grasp. If somebody has done it before, it means you can do it, it might be more difficult, might take more learning but, to me that yearn to always know more, the next day really, will really succeed in the Tech industry, because you’ll just look back 30 days from now, and you would have gained a lot of knowledge through your effort and your failures and then your sudden successes.
Ben: Brilliant. So, some interesting things coming through this conversation, it’s about knowledge, it’s about adaptability, it’s about innovation, it’s about being willing to take that leap, but with intelligence and then a bit of thought process. That’s fantastic. Well, I really appreciate you giving me some of your time. Is there anything else that you wanted to share with us before we wrap up the call?
Keith: Sure, I definitely want to state that this process of interviewing with you has been smoother than I ever would have imagined. Just from the moment, we got in contact around the position, through what I would have expected to be a slow down with the COVID-19 process just really seems to be really smooth. You really made sure that I was informed with every single step. So I must say thank you, and I look forward to any future discussions.
Ben: I really appreciate that. I think it also shows that it’s important for hiring companies to make sure they understand their own recruitment process and be able to drive that through. I think that’s something that EDINA did really well. They were really keen to get this role filled, and they put significant effort and time into making sure they managed the recruitment process through from their side as well. That’s a good sign of a company – back to that what makes a good tech company? It’s that understanding that the human is important in the process.
Keith: Right. Absolutely.
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