Leaders in Tech: Ecaterina Harling

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Welcome to 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 Ecaterina Harling, Head of Technology Innovation at EBRD, to find out more about why she joined the tech industry, what her role entails, what are the challenges she faces as a tech leader, and her advice to aspiring engineers and developers.

 

Can you describe your current role and responsibilities?

I head up technology innovation at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. I also look after the information management team and automation teams at the Bank. It’s an exciting part of the IT leadership team – I get to see how we leverage technology to launch new products and services or to improve internal business processes.

Can you tell me about your journey and how you got where you are now?

My first interaction with technology was during my consultancy days with Accenture. I helped organisations make sense of their processes and how technology can accelerate business outcomes.

I then moved on to work in a mid-size tech firm – that was invaluable in learning how to take a product from idea to market in 12-16 weeks, as well as to understand all the parts that need to change alongside the technology.

At EBRD, I was attracted by the Bank’s ethos, as well as the opportunity to establish an innovation team that is at the heart of understanding some of the organisation’s challenges and works closely with the business in finding solutions to address these.

What do you like about working in the banking sector?

EBRD’s ethos is ‘we invest in changing lives’. I wanted to be part of the team that helps maximise the impact of the development dollar. The best part is aligning people, processes and planets. Often it involves deploying new technologies.

What is the favorite part of your job?

I enjoy being part of the team that helps shape technology investment decisions for the next 5 years, whilst also getting involved in projects on the ground, which are delivering imminent value. This has particularly been the case during the pandemic, as the whole Bank had to adopt new ways of working and be effective in what they do remotely, at the time when there was an increased demand on the Bank’s services in our countries of operation.

How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?

I am proud to have one of the most engaged teams across the Bank. There were several important parts in getting here. Firstly, we co-created the team’s mission and team charter, an informal agreement about how we want to show up.

Secondly, we agreed on adopting agile ways of working, which creates transparency and enables us to focus on valuable initiatives. It also enables us to celebrate our achievements and course-correct where necessary.

Thirdly, I run a 30-30 with each of my direct reports. I spend no less than 30 minutes every 30 days listening to concerns and planning for each individual’s growth.

What are your current goals?

I spent some time away on maternity leave. As a returning parent, my main goal is to establish a routine whereby I create time to connect with my colleagues, but also with family, in particular on days I am working from home. It is easy to get absorbed in the mini verse of virtual calls.

What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered in your career?

When it comes to technology, I feel strongly about diversity and inclusion. I feel that many of the technology disciplines could be fulfilled by people with a diversity of thinking (think introverts vs extroverts) as well as from diverse backgrounds.

This is particularly the case now when we are reviewing our ways of working after the pandemic. Whilst I’ve always been lucky to get roles based on my technical ability, I’ve always felt outnumbered when it came to gender.

At EBRD, I am part of a leadership team with a 50/50 gender split of men and women and I find we’re better at decision making and more considerate in our risk-taking approach. I feel listened to and that I’ve grown professionally by learning from my colleagues. It is truly a privilege to be part of this team and made me more mindful when I recruit for my teams.

What are you the proudest of in your career?

I was lucky to meet HRM Queen Elizabeth to receive the Queen’s Award of Enterprise Innovation. This was a great recognition for the hard work that went into co-creating a product with a client. Whilst it was a technical product within financial services, it helped to completely redesign the business processes which it enabled.

It was a great recognition of the importance of creating a biz-dev-ops set up where domain experts and technical team members seamlessly worked together.

What have you learned from your journey so far?

One of the key lessons learnt was the importance of understanding the intrinsic motivations of people and teams. I have found that spending enough time listening to colleagues or customers has enabled me to design and implement better technical products, without leaving anyone behind on the transformation journey.

Do you have a memorable story or an anecdote from your experience you’d like to tell?

I was trusted to facilitate a workshop with a large audience of very senior stakeholders. As I wrote observations during the session I inevitably ran out of whiteboard space. Instead of picking the eraser, I wiped the board with the spectacles case of the key project sponsor. I instantly acknowledged my mistake, apologized and used it as a metaphor to say that “things aren’t always as they seem”. We ended up writing this as a heading and documenting all the processes that might appear to be effective but could do with a redesign if we look under the surface.

And so, what felt like a career-limiting move at the moment, ended up being a great workshop technique. I must say though I’m extra vigilant of permanent markers and whiteboard erasers.

Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring developers who want to grow in the IT industry?

Spend time setting goals and find fun ways to achieve these. It is so easy to get carried away by the day to day that we sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture, be that in relation to personal or organisational goals.

I think it’s important to set aside thinking space to set goals as well as time for deep work to make these happen, be that individual ‘head down’ time or time to work with colleagues that could make these goals come to fruition.

I’m a ‘group think’ person, so I’ll often set time aside to connect with colleagues and bounce ideas around. I encourage my team to do the same – get involved and build on the ideas of others.

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