I am a Chartered IT Professional who specialises in innovation in online behaviour, and how to help people make the most of it. (One of my joys has been watching the opportunities it opens for young professionals.) This is my career history, in brief.
The roles I take are programme manager, project manager or agile delivery manager, depending on the context. I specialise in working with diverse stakeholders and practitioners. I lead people through difficult transitions using my enthusiasm, knowledge and communication skills.
See also LinkedIn profile at https://www.linkedin.com/in/adriancowderoy and About Adrian Cowderoy – emerging spy thriller author
Career aspirations – what did I want to be?
The advisors at school said I must have a steady career. My parents said they would be proud of me, whatever profession I chose. But I fluctuated. My interests and hobbies changed every few years. “Choose something, and stick with it,” I was told repeatedly.
I dreamt of the person I wanted to be. I was in love with Astronomy, inspired by Patrick Moore, and I wanted to be a scientist, such as an astronomer. I also wanted to be an entrepreneur and build my own business – which was totally contradictory to being an astronomer. And I wanted to be a writer, because I was inspired by a school alumni, W. Somerset Maugham and was already writing short stories.
I had a gap year after school and before my university. I worked in a civil engineering company in Botswana, and then on a communal farm in a war zone, and finally in a winery in England. By then I wanted adventures and challenge, not science. But I hadn’t picked a profession.
Nobody suggested a career in computing. Why should they? The smallest computers were the size of a room. And the role of “computer programmer” was so new it didn’t appear on the list of career options.
Early career pointers
My first job was working for a large computer manufacturer, ICL. It was a structured method of working that pioneered aspects of what would later become software engineering (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_engineering). I was also involved in developing some of the first personal computers. Our dream was of having a computer on everyone’s desk in the office, all linked via a network – though none of us realised how far the dream had come.
That phase of my career finished when I went Imperial College to study for an MSc in management science. Management Science intrigued me as a hybrid between operational research and an MBA. (http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/business-school/)
After my MSc I stayed at the Imperial College Business School as a researcher, working on million-euro European research projects as part of the EU Framework programme (http://cordis.europa.eu/fp5/about.htm).
My initial research focussed on ways of predicting project costs and measuring software complexity. I then had the luck to work on the risk management methodologies that are now widely used in the private and public sector (and which have also influenced the intelligence profession).
I also led the European-funded MultiSpace project, which built an intellectual framework for measuring quality for the web and multimedia. The results of that have fed into other innovations international standards.
The Dotcom era
In 2000 I co-founded Professional Spirit Ltd with a friend, Mehrtash A’Zami. It was at the peak of the dotcom bubble. The first version of Professional Spirit was conceived as a service provider to professional associations and institutes. It was similar to LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/) but a year ahead of it. The website never launched – the British investors saw no future in such a venture.
Mehrtash and I rebuilt the company. Its new focus was to build an online trading platform for accountants, financial advisors and other consultants. Using the new website, professionals and their clients could quickly contract and obtain expert consultancy online. It meant small consultants and freelances could offer services to compete with much larger practices.
Professional Spirit never made it. The technology was built, staff were recruited, but there was no money for the launch or marketing. So the company closed. With hindsight, it was a good idea for its time. But not now. The world has moved on and found other ways to fill the need. But perhaps it would have moved faster with our model.
Online publishing and e-commerce career
After Professional Spirit, Mehrtash headed off in his own direction and I decided it was time for a more conventional career. But I found a lot of suspicion to someone who has built a start-up and sought normal employment. I had to start again, initially as a business analyst.
I developed skills at helping publishing companies transform their online business towards digital first – in digital first they publish online before publishing to print.
From entrepreneur to intrapreneur
Increasingly I found myself handling sprawling multi-million dollar projects that were either too ambitious for conventional project management, or they’d become out of control and needed redirection. Managing that kind of project involves stakeholder management – very close working with middle and senior management, and the different divisions.
Passive management (coordination) was not enough. When a project is wrong, it’s not enough to complain and wait for better ideas. You need to find ideas that work for everyone, and are better than the ones that are already on the table. I found myself working on the detail of the business cases, and with the broader enterprise politics. My skill was in helping entrepreneurs within companies (“intrapreneurs”) to achieve their dreams.
My years from the dotcom period (above) helped within the big enterprises. And vica versa, the experience of enterprises taught me how to look at start-ups and companies going through the early growth phases. One of those is MetaTalent.ai (https://metatalent.ai/), where I’ve been advising its founder, Rehan Haque, from the start. And now I have the joy of watching him go from strength to strength – see more about his journey.
Intelligence-led project management
My biggest surprise recently, has been the “discovery” of intelligence-led project management (see more on this site). That began as a trial of fusing the intelligence process with project management. It allows me to manage projects with high levels of “unknown-unknowns”.
Bizarrely, it came because I’d been writing espionage novels about intelligence operations. The research gave me ideas. And with it, the world of fiction has influenced the real world.
And in full circle to my early ambitions of becoming a scientist, I notice that the research and analysis processes used in the intelligence profession have an overlap with scientific methods – the difference is, they have to be done at break-neck speed.