EPISODE 3: Diversity & Inclusion Q&A
EPISODE 3: This month I had the pleasure of speaking with Frances D’Silva, VP, Head of Data Delivery & MDM. Frances shares her incredible career journey to date, the challenges she has faced, the importance of data and some powerful advice for anyone wanting to become a leader in their career.
Frances, I hope you and your loved ones are keeping safe at this crazy time. We are very excited to hear your career journey, thank you for getting involved. Can you share a little bit about what it is that you do and what a typical day as a VP, Head of Data Delivery & MDM for you is like?
“Thanks Ellie, we are doing what we can to keep ourselves safe and hopefully also others. Yes! These are interesting times. They have forced us to embrace changes like working from home, online meetings & schooling that many would never have thought possible to introduce in such a short time. As Head of Data Delivery & MDM, my team and I provide data products and secure data in quality customer data. We provide these to teams at Nets and Nets’ customers to help them make better decisions.
Some of our products are internal dashboards and visual analytics solutions. We also support innovation projects by providing data for proof-of-concept work. For Nets’ customers, my team builds data-driven products and customised extracts of data.
COVID-19 has been very hectic; we have had several requests from within Nets and our customers requesting us to provide them with their data for the past weeks. Typically, if things are running as normal, people don’t have the same urgency for data because they know the trends through the year. But, when things suddenly change and there is uncertainty (COVID-19), one needs to look deeper at the numbers. During these last weeks, everyone needed data to discuss and decide on contingency plans moving forward. We need to provide a level of data good enough to take these decisions. Reports that were delivered monthly, now need to be provided on a daily or weekly basis. In times like this, one develops a deeper appreciation of the value of data.
As of February 2020, I have assumed responsibility for Nets’ Customer Master Data Management solution. I have worked with projects related to Customer master data at Nets earlier and understand the urgency for a solution and the governance required to make this work. Good Master data makes our data deliveries better too. So this was a win-win situation.
The MDM team consists of 7 people and on the Data Delivery side, we are a team of 8.”
What do you enjoy the most about your current position?
“The best part of my current role is uncovering and addressing new challenges where data can play a pivotal role. My team gets to engage with business users to understand different perspectives on how to use (or enrich) data; this results in creating concepts, prototypes and often dashboards in a short space of time. For me and my team, it is a joy to follow the rapid spread of a new dashboard, from launch to top of the charts. An added bonus is the good discussions in uncovering new opportunities with data. This is both inspiring and rewarding.
Being a small team, I enjoy the occasional opportunity to write code or develop a dashboard as part of a delivery project. Understanding the power of programming languages gives me a better opportunity to discuss solution options with my team and business users.
My most recent responsibility (Tech lead for Customer Master data) is very promising as it allows me to integrate our master-data flows, streamline our operational processes and improve reporting to our customers. I appreciate the challenges in juggling different skills; keeping abreast with programming, preparing budgets and negotiating with outsourcing vendors.”
That’s awesome that you are also able to occasionally dive into writing code. How would you define your technical expertise?
“I have retained some of my developer skills from different aspects of data management. This helps me in my work with data architecture planning and problem-definition conversations with business users. At an early stage, I found out that mathematics with set theory, together with simple statistics was extremely useful.
While I started coding with Basic and Fortran in high school, my early work involved data modelling and file-based data management. My core technical skills are in data-modelling, database technologies with a focus on relational database technology and SQL. Since the late 90’s, my technical focus is on metadata-driven technologies that can automate the different aspects of a data-driven business e.g. data integration, data quality, self-service reporting and visual analytics.”
Are you still learning? How are you further developing your career in this area?
“Absolutely! I look for learning points continuously. Very early in my career, I focused on coding best practises and software certifications. Acquiring and sustaining knowledge through a disciplined approach is something I grew up with (I saw my father, an aeronautical engineer, continuously training and certifying on new types of aircraft and engines).
I was one of the few IT professionals certified on EUCIP (EU Certification of IT Professionals). This was a pilot effort at the Norwegian Computer Society. EUCIP is however no longer active.
Last year, I signed up and completed an Analytics & Big Data Certification program at Copenhagen Business School. The course was rigorous and included a project assignment and examination. I loved the experience!
I learn a lot from my colleagues and enjoy working together on new ideas. I have participated in most of the Hackathons conducted at Nets.
I also learn from participating in open forums of professionals. More than 20 years ago, I took the initiative to start the Norwegian chapter of The Data Warehousing Institute. A few months later, I was approached to co-found a similar forum in the Norwegian Computer Society, I did not think twice. I have been in the NCS’ Special Interest Group for BI & Analytics since 1999, first as a member of the board and now as chair. This experience has allowed me to meet and learn from people across different industries.”
Given how fast the market moves, it’s refreshing to see that you have been working at Nets Group for 14+ years, what factors have contributed to you staying in the company for so long?
“I was recruited to Nets (then known as BBS) in Oct 2005, at the time when the company signed the BankID (Norwegian e-ID) agreement. I was proud to join a company that had a long history of digitalisation (BBS was set up in 1972) and had a unique position in the digitalisation of Norway. I have been part of an exciting journey as technology recovered from the dotcom crash and Nets delivered solutions for e-payments, interbank, card payments and e-identification.
I have remained with the company because I had the opportunity to grow and shape my roles to be a part of a bigger picture. I have had various roles at Nets, for example; System Development lead for the Data Warehouse team, Head of SAP and Business Intelligence team, working hands-on with architecture all of which have helped me grow and get deeper insights into different areas of the business.
Most of all, I like being in an active delivery role; delivering reliable and stable data solutions is a result of good teamwork and documenting and sharing knowledge. I am humbled, yet happy and proud, with my most recent role in Customer Master Data.”
Personal development is so important and it’s great to see that Nets Group has been so supportive. Frances, your achievements are very inspiring, how was your journey to becoming VP, Head of Data Deliveries?
“For me, the journey has been all about continuously learning & growing, this has always been super important to me. Becoming VP was not a part of my career plan. I held technology management roles before joining Nets and continued the same at BBS. After managing the SAP and Business Intelligence team at BBS, I chose to return to a Solution Architect role. This was a conscious decision, as I believed that the role would allow me to learn and contribute the most to the transition of BBS to Nets. Recently, when I was offered the role as Head of Data Delivery at Nets and more recently lead the Master Data team in Tech, I took the opportunity. I am very grateful to my managers who have guided me in this process. It has been a wonderful learning and growing experience for me!”
What have been your biggest challenges faced?
“The challenges are similar to the challenges facing many Norwegian businesses. I would highlight two challenges
1. Solving how data is governed as a strategic asset and how the governance impacts existing roles within Nets and at Nets’ clients.
2. Another formidable challenge is talent management; finding the balance between using Nets’ people versus staff from Nets’ service providers. To me, it boils down to retaining the right talent in Nets so that it strengthens Nets’ position as a data-driven financial business.”
Thank you so much for sharing! Looking back, did you always know that working in technology was what you wanted to do?
“Not technology in general. However, in high school, I loved mathematics and decided I wanted to learn how to code when I was very young. Today it seems strange that I made such a decision given that I had not seen a computer at the time. It was only while at university in the early 80’s that I visited a computer centre.
During my first few years of building heavy-duty business applications and such software, I discovered that I was more interested in having the dialogue with business in uncovering user needs. Over the past 20 years, I have been more drawn towards Business Intelligence and Analytics i.e. the design and delivery of reports, insights and managing data rather than coding the applications.”
What or who inspired you to get involved in the technology space?
“I think the inspiration was mainly my love for maths. My dad was an aeronautical engineer (he didn’t have an IT background) but I remember as a school kid, he would talk about the importance of computers and how they were taking over the aircraft, so this certainly had a positive impact on my curiosity.”
Awesome! So given your experience, what would be your advice to other young women wanting to become leaders in their career?
“My advice to everyone, and particularly young women, is to get involved and ‘stay’ involved. Explore, understand and build knowledge about a domain within the company you work for. Technology in its basic form is just organised knowledge. So understanding how things work (or do not work) helps one get better at finding solutions.
To me, leadership is also about problem-solving.
Embracing change is another piece of advice I would share. Change helps you grow and enriches. It does not have to be in a new employer, sometimes it can be more rewarding and challenging to take on a new role at your existing company.
My objective was never to be a manager. I consider management as important, but it is only one of four aspects of leadership. The three other aspects are i) coaching i.e. to work with one’s team members, ii) teaching i.e. to impart new skills and iii) mentorship i.e. to share knowledge and stories of what one did in similar situations.
Ultimately, I regard leadership as ‘being authentic’ even when it may be painful. What is most important is that you enjoy what you do. Working with Data in Tech has given me the opportunity to develop into a specialist, sharpen my analytical skills and do something I enjoy.”
Powerful advice! Most of the Women in Tech I speak with share similar thoughts, concerns and questions around starting a family & mastering work-life balance. How have you managed to find a comfortable work-life balance with your family?
“My husband and I moved to Norway as a young couple. My husband also works in technology so we have a similar understanding and always try to mentor one another to achieve our goals. He has been my strongest supporter from the time we first met at university.
We have 2 sons who were born here in Oslo and are young adults now. I am extremely grateful for the work-life balance in Norway, both in the workplace and how society responds to it. We have always had the opportunity to work from home so that we could combine our work schedules and time with our children.
There is no silver bullet here, every family situation is different. It is up to each one of us to do our best for our children, our family, friends, community and ourselves with the time we have.”
Frances, thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Outside of the technology world, what hobbies do you have?
“I love gardening, especially as spring approaches. Gardening helps me relax and is normally very rewarding. It’s really wonderful to see your hard work create something beautiful as the weeks go by.
Also, as a family, we love to experiment with food. The weekend is often filled with trying new recipes, cuisines and restaurants.”
Awesome, as a fellow foodie, I think we should host a dinner party when I’m next in town!
Tune in next week where we will explore Frances’s ideas on how as a collective, we can appeal and attract more women in tech. While also remembering that gender diversity is just one angle; age, ethnicity and cultural diversity are also important to consider.
Are you a woman in the technology field too? How has your experience been similar or different? Do you have any questions for women in the technology industry? Would you like to get involved in this initiative? We would love to hear from you, please contact me on LinkedIn.