Welcome to the next feature in our Leaders in Tech editorial series. Speaking to leaders in the industry to capture their stories, career highs and lows, their trials and successes, their current company and their role, most recent projects, advice to others, and the individuals who they most look up to in the industry.
This week, we talked to Daniel O’Reilly, Head of DevOps and Tech Engineering at Emirates NBD, to find out more about why he joined the tech industry, what his role entails, what are the challenges he faces as a tech leader, and his advice to aspiring engineers and developers.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I run the DevOps and Technology Chapter in a leading UAE Bank. That means I provide those capabilities to any of our cross-functional agile delivery squads or projects.
That capability is mostly made up of hiring and growing people with specific skills, technologies, and SME product experience. It also includes building the standards, methods, approaches, and culture around to provide those practices and processes.
I also keep a hand in several key initiatives, objectives, and solutions I have a personal interest in, or my colleagues and bosses still need assistance with.
What inspired you to get involved in the IT industry?
For a few reasons, I always had a thing with computers and gadgets. I vaguely remember getting a ZX81 for Christmas around the age of 10.
We always had computing equipment around the house as my dad was a Clipper, CICS, and Cobol programmer and later Development manager for a bank in the UK, mainframe geek. I remember the first portable Intel computer he brought home one day, a Compaq briefcase with CRT and semi-detachable keyboard, no battery, external modem, but weighed a ton.
Can you tell me about your journey and how you got where you are now?
I did some great summer break work at about 16 years old with some IT guys that were really interesting, we were solving some real-world problems for some local council services – logistics, contracts, etc. I was lucky to get invited back and do that for a few holidays until University.
At University, I studied Computer Engineering. I always liked the hardware more than software then, chips, circuits, logic boards, storage, etc.
My first job after that was doing infrastructure support and I just kept learning, asking questions, and growing. I’ve been fortunate to work in a lot of industries, org sizes, countries, and projects. I’ve had varied roles, although predominantly in the infrastructure domain. I have mostly been sought out for Engineering, Design, and Architecture roles, a career contractor and consultant for around a decade, but permanent longer-term work and engagements the last decade. Yeah, I am old now.
I have always believed in pervasive telemetry, monitoring, and automation to work smarter, I have zero interest in repetitive boring low-value tasks or troubleshooting for hours. That just hampers spending time and involvement on interesting activities and problem-solving.
Cloud and DevOps kind of just happened in little increments through a number of roles and engagements with the right level of funding and stakeholder support, like all the best products.
Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
I have had some brilliant, smart, funny, and downright scary mentors, bosses, and peers to learn from throughout my career. I also have some great ex-colleagues and family that still help guide me today.
I personally am inspired by people that harness new technology and methods quickly, because they have the fundamental core IT skills and experience to break down problems and activities, experiment with any new product. People who just get it basically and can do anything with some kit and a bit of time, I think I used to be like that, but not so sure nowadays as the industry and growth are so much deeper, broader, and quicker than it ever has been.
How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?
I ask them what they want to do, work on their goals, and aspirations. Then I back them, and help them around obstacles, as I really do enjoy seeing them hit their objectives and delivering cool solutions and initiatives. I was lucky to get the same assistance some time ago.
Better, I don’t talk about conflict, as anyone who knows me well knows I am still working on this…one day I may get there, but I just cannot look away, butt out, and shut up when I see something wrong.
What are your current goals?
I could tell you but they will likely change, next week, I’m Agile.
I need to focus more on nonwork goals, health, family, friends, travel hopefully again soon.
What are you the proudest of in your career so far?
I think the fact I still get asked every day for advice or input into something keeps me happy.
Then again, winning an award for the best IT project delivery in APAC that I was the Lead Architect on was kind of epic.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Staying relevant, taking criticism (sorry negative feedback), patience, being content with a role or company.
What is the favorite part of your job?
Lunch and end-of-week drinks.
Seriously though, without that networking and steam blowing, I would have had a triple bypass by now, and could never have found out about those new options for jobs I have taken, that have led me around the world with some great companies and lifelong friends and laughs along the way. This industry is great but we all make some big mistakes.
Giving pay rises or benefits to hard-working and deserving people is fantastic too.
What have you learned from your experience so far?
That there is always more to learn, and it is not going to stop.
Do you have a memorable story or an anecdote from your experience you’d like to tell?
A long time ago on a helldesk far far away…
“My computer won’t start!”
“Oh, is there an error or anything on the screen?”
“Press any key to continue.”
“Please can you check there is no floppy disk in the computer?”
“No, there isn’t.”
“Oh ok, I will stop by soon.”
Go down 3 flights of stairs, walk across the trading room floor, exchange pleasantries, avoid someone else, get to the desk.
Bend down underneath, and eject a floppy disk.
“I thought you said there was no floppy disk in there?”
“Well I didn’t put it there, nobody should have been using my computer, so I just assumed it wasn’t there.”
Facepalm. That guy made a lot of money trading.
That motivated me to learn a bit of programming, SQL, sysadmin, scripting, and automation for my first Engineering role. I just don’t have the patience for Operations and Support.
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring engineers and testers who want to grow in the tech industry?
Experiment a lot, don’t be scared of failing or screwing something up, always backup your data and have a rollback plan, ideate, ask for help, ask questions, help others and return favours, call on favours, suggest things to your boss, ask what he needs weekly, and have yearly goals taking you towards your next job or milestone.
More money, promotions, and offers will just flow from all of that. But you must ask, and use your own initiative to progress, nobody is going to babysit you nowadays.