Meet the Patrons - The Biggest Lessons you’ve Learned in your Career

The Biggest Lessons you’ve Learned in your Career

Posted by Learnovate

Reading time: approx 4 minutes

Learnovate’s Meet the Patrons series provides a space for representatives of Learnovate’s Patron Members to reflect on their career development, emerging trends in the learning technology industry, and how artificial intelligence and machine learning will shape the future of learning and work.

Here, senior figures from start-ups, multinationals, and education institutions reveal the most important lessons they’ve learned in their career. Their answers not only offer insight into their diverse individual backgrounds and perspectives, but also the values that drive them to be successful.

Ciara Ni Fhlionn, Flexible Learning Manager at SOLAS

Ciara at SOLAS, the State agency that oversees the Further Education and Training sector in Ireland, says that her key takeaway from a career that began on foot of the 2008 financial crash is to embrace change.

“The only given is change – that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learnt,” she explains. “You can deal with change how you want but your career will advance a bit better if you act positively. I graduated into a recession, so flexibility and adapting to change was key, as well as access to education and training. I’ve ended up living in many different countries and doing many different things. The ability to roll with change has stood me well.”

Greta Stahl, Senior Director of Organisational Learning & Development at Workday

Like Ciara, Greta sees change as an inevitable in a modern workplace but takes comfort in knowing that employers now focus on an employee’s core skills rather than how they were applied in a previous context.

“Skills are portable. As your life evolves and your dreams evolve, the opportunity to apply your skills in different places is something that serves you well,” she says.

Indeed, while Greta understands that her professional history may appear somewhat disjointed – beginning as Director of the Debate programme at Michigan State University, then serving as a Content Developer at Duarte, followed by six-and-a-half years at Workday – she points to her skill as a communicator as the common thread that ties her career together.

“In your career, you never end up where you started,” she says. “My career has consisted of three chunks, all of which look different from one another. You might think they’re completely unrelated but, for me, they’re connected by a passion for communication and education.

“Follow your passion and your skills and be open to wherever new pathways take you,” she adds.

Mark Finlay, Head of Public Sector at Amazon Web Services (AWS)

For Mark the most important career lesson is formed of three parts. “Do what you say you’re going to do; if you don’t know something, say you don’t know; and take care of your networks,” he says.

At the core of this philosophy, Mark explains, are the themes of honesty and connection.

“Earning trust and maintaining credibility starts with following through on things you have committed to doing and being honest about what you don’t know. That way, when you do speak on a subject, people know you’re giving an informed answer,” he says.

“Looking after your network is so important – not least became Ireland is small and people cross paths on a regular basis. In terms of career development, I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never had to go through a recruitment agency for a job. My network has helped me progress into new roles.”

CEO and co-founder of ESI, Alan Maguire

Alan is similarly evangelical about the importance of building and maintaining a network. A former finance executive in London and New York, Alan believes that access to the wide array of experience in his network has been hugely beneficial to his company.

“I learned very early in my career the importance of protecting and preserving your relationships. You never know when you will cross paths again with a former partner, employee, or colleague. Even now, 30 years later, I’m still connected with former colleagues,” he says.

“We could be exchanging business experiences, nuggets of information or just checking in on each other – the world is so connected now that it’s easier than ever to preserve those relationships.”

AJ McQuillen Technical Product Manager at Yum!

The value of honesty and transparency is also something that AJ McQuillen has learned to appreciate throughout his career. “People tolerate people who are honest about failure,” says the Technical Product Manager at Yum!, the US fast food company that operates the brands KFC and Pizza Hut among others.

“I find that if you’re honest and transparent about everything you’ve done in a development process, it’s perfectly okay to fail and pivot to the next step. I try to impart that on my team. It’s a fail-fast mentality, a mindset that allows failures to be identified quickly.

“I’ve seen it all the way through our organisation and throughout my career. I’ve also seen the opposite, at other organisations, when people would not be transparent and subsequently were left exposed when things didn’t work out, which happens a lot in technology in business.”

Carma Elliot the first College President of United World College South-East Asia (UWCSEA)

United World College South-East Asia (UWCSEA) is an 6,000-student international school based in Singapore. The breadth of the school’s offering, Carma says, only puts further emphasis  on the importance of recruiting people with a skill level beyond your own.

“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that, as an employer and leader, you should always recruit people who have expertise you don’t have. You want them to become an asset to you and your company and that will also mean that they’re going to challenge you. As a senior leader, you have to move towards a more broad-based leadership,” says Carma, who also recognises the value of drawing a distinction between hearing people and listening to them.

She continues: “Take the time to listen to people. Hear what is said and take the time to reflect on it. Listening and learning is a very important skill.”

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