Damian Whylie Pt.2| Shares On Leadership, Gender Equality in IT, Managing Millennials & More...

Damian Whylie Pt.2| Shares On Leadership, Gender Equality in IT, Managing Millennials & More...

Damian Whylie

Damian Whylie

In this post we continue with Part 2 of our feature interview with Damian Whylie, Head- Technology Infrastructure, JPS as he shares on leadership, gender equality in IT and more.

PANACHE: What’s the biggest myth in business that you have discovered?

DW: Hmm, the biggest myth in business is that a leader knows everything. The notion that the person that leads you has all the answers is crazy. I believe that we are all leaders and in everything you do- you should own it. I used to have a boss that whenever she was making a decision, she would say to me, “If you were building your house, would this be the way that you’d spend your money?” At first my response was, “What the heck does this have to do with my house?” But over time I understood what she was saying; if you had a vested interest and your hard earned money in the project, would your current approach be the best option? Are you getting the best price and value for the decisions you have made? If you operate with that mindset- more times than not, you’ll make the right decision.

Leaders lead and they encourage. They are empathetic, they are strong and decisive. And it’s not always about leading from the front. For example, if a team were to lift this table, would the leader be lifting it with you? If he/she does that, then that is a true leader- someone who is truly a part of the team. And the team members will know that when things get rough their captain will be in the trenches with them. I have had a couple of great leaders.

PANACHE: Are you a great leader?

DW: I am a work in progress and that is the most honest answer I can give you.

PANACHE: We like that answer...So what advice do you have for millennials entering or already in the workforce? And a millennial is typically described as a person who reached young adulthood around the year 2000 and thereafter.

DW: (Laughs) Millennials… first you have to understand the mindset of a millennial. A millennial is anyone who came after the Generation X-ers and Y-ers and I am deliberately not putting an age limit. Generation X-ers believe if I work hard and work long enough I’ll get there and Generation Y-ers say if I get educated and do the time, eventually I will succeed. Millennials don’t believe in any of those things- they are from the instant coffee, instant oatmeal, instant everything era. They are the Facebook and Instagram generation where everything happens for them now. If I were to give them advice it would be- Be Patient.

Yes, you went to school and you have a degree in management- but that doesn’t entitle you to anything. Also you cannot come out and decide that at the first sight of a challenge you’re going to run in the opposite direction, which is what I have discovered with millennials that I have worked with. Show some “stick-to-it-tivity”. Once you do that and it doesn’t work, then you move on.

The challenge with millennials lies in connecting with them because they see life in a very different way from the typical employee. No, I don’t like that word “employee”, let’s say team member. And because millennials see the world differently, the constructs and boundaries that you could use to motivate a non-millennial is not there. For example, they have no problem with going back home- if they don’t like the work they just leave because bread and butter is not necessary. They’ll say: “I can go back to my parent’s house”. So motivating somebody with that outlook is very difficult- extremely difficult. You need to constantly challenge millennials or they get bored. Bear in mind though, in the right frame work it can be hugely beneficial because they challenge things. They are a source of constant innovation but this has to take place within a structure, without telling them its structure (Laughs). They don’t like structure, they don’t like boundaries, and they don’t like being told what they can’t do- which is great! However, sometimes you really can’t do it as you wish, so the more routine or structured the environment the more difficult it is to manage them.

So my advice to millennials is before you start having a short fuse… learn your craft and hone your skill. Whatever it is, take a year, two years or five years to hone your skill- but learn it well. It’s one thing to come into a system and criticize it. However, if you cannot offer any solution- be quiet, because in that moment you are adding no value.

PANACHE: Thank you for that, it should prove useful for millennials and their managers alike. So would you say that Jamaica is keeping up in the area of technology?

DW: No, we haven’t been able to capitalize nearly enough in this area. Jamaica is an extremely resource rich country in all its aspects but its greatest resource is its people. A great business for us to be in, is the export of labour. We have some phenomenal people here and I am not just talking about Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce. Take for example, the linemen at my present company, JPS. These linemen are ‘poached’ on a yearly basis by firms from Canada because they are among the best in the world. So within reason, we should be much further along the technology totem pole than we are right now. Nevertheless, I think we’re better than many of our Caribbean counterparts and the ones that we aren’t ahead of - it is not an apples and apples comparison. Our internet penetration is deepening as a result of the proliferation of mobile technology, but then one could argue that neither of our mobile carriers are doing nearly enough to deepen and widen the bandwidth requirements needed.

PANACHE: What do you think is the next big thing?

DW: Not Samsung (Laughs), no I’m kidding.

PANACHE: Watch it Sir, it’s a Samsung Note that’s recording this interview. (Smiles)

DW: Hmm, the next big thing… has already happened. I think a lot of people mistake evolution for revolution.

PANACHE: That’s an interesting statement. Do explain further...

DW: Yes, people mistake evolution for revolution especially when it comes to technology. The iPad was a revolutionary product. Mobile access was revolutionary but since then everything else has kind of evolved (just been an incremental step). The tablet didn’t start with Apple. Microsoft had the first tablet- so one could argue it wasn’t revolutionary it was just evolution. People often times misinterpret the next iteration of something for the next big thing.

However, I will say the next big thing is where we use technology as a service. That is, you don’t need to own the means of technology to use it. You will see technology becoming like electricity, gas or telephone- you’ll simply get a bill at the end of the month and you pay for what you use. That’s it. Now that would be a revolution, especially within the local landscape. When this happens for technology- I believe that’s the next BIG THING.

PANACHE: Lastly, what’s the best way to address the gender gap in information technology (IT)?

DW: Okay, more men work in IT than women. Even Google, one of the best places to work, has undertaken an extensive programme to improve diversity in the workplace. So how do you address this gender issue? Spend more time encouraging girls from the onset because you can’t seek to fix it at the university stage. That’s like a bandaid approach to a hemorrhage- you have to start early. We need to encourage our girls to go into robotics, do mathematics, pursue engineering, get dirty- and let them know it’s OKAY to get physical.

The focus has to be on increasing interest and awareness of the IT professions. Parents play a key role in this, they need to encourage their kids. I grew up in a time where you either wanted to be a lawyer, doctor, engineer, teacher, policeman or a banker and so you were channeled into one of those areas. Unfortunately today, there are only three of those that are still of value- sorry to say.

So you have to start with the foundation from the primary level and high school. We need to host competitions and sponsor more girls in technology scholarships too.We need to open the doors early.

So let’s not just say IT is predominantly male and that’s just the way it is. I reject that notion because you can only choose from the pool of talent you have. And right now, the pool of talent does not include very many women – so we need to start at the foundation. And I will say the two ladies I happen to work with are among the brightest women I have ever worked with- not only in technology but generally. The cream always rises to the top.

So if right now we are faced with numbers of 20% of women in IT let’s set targets of reaching 40% or 60% in a set time frame and put the plans in place to make it happen. The only way to get more people in it is to qualify more people- so that they can be in the pool too.

I can tell you that one of my daughters is mechanically inclined- she loves to build and fix things. As her Dad, I am not going to hinder that and tell her do something else. Girls can do anything they want to do. Women are the stronger sex and medically speaking that’s a fact. Men die an average 15 years earlier (Laughs).

At the end of the day though, I expect the tech landscape to look significantly different within the next ten years. |P|

Have a comment or thoughts to share? Connect with Damian Whylie on LinkedIn.

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