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 Ashraf Adil, Director of DevOps & IT Operations at Yodel, 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?
As the Director of DevOps and IT operations at Yodel, my role is to oversee the use of technology throughout Yodel, including its development, implementation, and support. I lead and manage the software development and IT teams to deliver software, infrastructure, and architecture that meets the needs of the users.
What was your journey like?
My journey has been amazing, fulfilling, and rewarding. I started as a subject matter expert in infrastructure. Soon, I became Head of Solution Design, where I led a team of experts to successfully deliver Yodel’s biggest multimillion pound IT transformational project. This has proven to be a game-changer for Yodel IT as it has provided a reliable, stable, and high-performing infrastructure platform. It was after this that I became Director of DevOps & IT Operations.
What drew you to the tech industry?
As an industry, technology is focused on breaking new ground. This is one of the main motives that drew me into technology. I am a person who enjoys having to face new challenges and resolve them. This drives me to go further and improve so that I am ready for whatever the next challenge might be. Technology is so close to my heart that I live and breathe it.
Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
I look up to my executive leadership team for inspiration and mentorship. Every member of the executive team I work with has inspired me and guided me in different ways. They have all contributed to my development, allowing me to be comfortable in the leadership role I have now.
How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?
I always try to keep it simple and be very clear on our objectives and the tasks at hand. As with anything, it’s important that everyone understands what the task is, why we are doing it, and how we plan to meet our goals. My colleagues are very clear about what is expected of them and how they contribute to overall organizational objectives. This gives them a sense of achievement and belonging. Where we do identify issues, we attempt to tackle and resolve them at the onset, to avoid potential difficulties. I do have empathy towards others, and I will always be authentic.
To me, these are very important qualities in a leader. We are always striving towards creating a sense of community within the team so that the members see how well we perform together. This helps create a friendly atmosphere and reduces the chance of a conflict of interest arising.
What are your current goals?
In the first 18 months of my Yodel career, we were transforming the entire IT infrastructure to provide stable, reliable, resilient, and high-performing systems. Since then we’ve started our digital transformation initiative. We’ve modernised our applications, rationalised and decommissioned our legacy apps, and built many APIs.
We are currently working on the transformation of our warehouse applications, internal support portal, and other strategic client and customer initiatives. Our aim is to build and support applications that assist us in delivering world-class service to our colleagues, clients, and customers.
What are you the proudest of in your career so far?
I am proudest of our success in delivering the infrastructure and legacy transformation projects at Yodel. Both of these initiatives have been instrumental in providing stability to our operations and ensuring high-level performance across the business. This is a core building block for future transformation and has played a vital role in allowing the IT department to become more customer-focused and centric.
What is the favourite part of your job?
Technology is changing at a phenomenal pace and keeping up with it is a challenging task. This is my favourite part of my work as it always keeps me alert. It means I am continually working hard to stay up to speed on developments in the sector. Working with my talented and gifted team and colleagues is also a highlight of working at Yodel.
What has been your greatest challenge as a tech leader?
Covid-19 was a challenge for me and my team at Yodel. At the start of the pandemic, we felt less connected as a team as we all had to start working remotely. Thankfully, it didn’t take us long before we adjusted and it was smooth sailing from there. We scheduled regular team catch-ups over video calls which helped us connect and feel as though we were all in a room together.
What’s the most important risk you took in your career?
When I decided to leave my permanent job in 2014 to move to temporary contracting. It was risky, however, the move paid off very well, and subsequently, it enabled me to join Yodel.
What have you learned from your experience so far?
I used to invest a significant amount of time trying to build the best technology I could, but I’ve learned that I need to consult more and get other people involved in this to reach the best outcomes. I now spend more of my time focusing on strategic direction, initiatives, and governance. I also ensure I am creating an environment for our colleagues where they can be themselves and thrive at their jobs. It’s all about attitude for me, with the right mindset we can achieve pretty much anything.
Do you have a memorable story or an anecdote from your experience you’d like to tell?
When I was interviewing one of the candidates over the phone for the role of subject matter expert. The interview was going really well, he was very hands-on and very knowledgeable. When I asked questions that were outside of his comfort zone he was nervous and wanted to prove himself, so he started searching on the internet and reading the definition that was written by actual SMEs. I could sense and hear the keyboard strokes. When I realized that, I tried to put him at ease and guide him towards his strengths. In the end, he was inducted and has been a great asset to our organization.
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring engineers who want to grow in the tech industry?
Having the right attitude towards work is key. Hard work along with keeping things simple and honest will take you far. In the tech industry especially, keeping up to date with technological advancements and new technologies is essential.
I would say to those who aspire to work in engineering: be passionate about learning and keep yourself open to adopting technological change.
Those that work in tech generally don’t promote their work and celebrate their success. You should take pride in what you do and celebrate your achievements.