PIERRE PONSIN – CIO Interview Series
Can you please provide a little introduction about yourself
I am currently working from home for a company called WiFi SPARK based in Exeter. I have been working for the company for over 3 years. Hired as a Development manager, my mission was to drive the development department from a small start-up to a medium size enterprise from a product and delivery quality standpoint.
What has your journey to your position been like? What path have you taken?
I started at the bottom of the ladder 20 years ago. I tried to create an IT company and failed because we tried to build a .net company as the .net bubble of 2000 bursted. I then started working in a telemarketing company as a ‘food choice’. It was a performance driven company – as you can expect from a call centre. I learned a lot about business and communication there.
I climbed the ladder slowly in the next few roles I undertook, until I was headhunted for a Head of QA and Governance role in Flybe. It was fascinating to discover what a big corporate machine would look like from the inside.
The next significant role was being hired by WiFi SPARK as a Development Manager. In a year I managed to transform a team that couldn’t keep a date and were releasing bugs with every release, to an “always on time with zero defect” delivery. I believe because of that I was promoted to the role of CIO over a year ago.
Has it always been your vision to reach the position you’re at? Was your current role part of your vision to become a tech leader?
In short yes, it has always been my vision. Being on the board of a tech company has always been my BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).
Have you had a role model or mentor that has helped you on your journey?
Up until my recent role I have been self-made. I always felt that the big names in the industry (Gates, Jobs, Bezos, Musk …) are too cutthroat for my taste. They all achieved great things; true, but at what cost? I was always keen to follow a work ethics of fairness and I always thought that technology is here to serve the masses, not profit the few. Needless to say, that it’s not something you find in spades in the world of business…
Until I met my current boss that is. His name is Matt O’Donovan and I happily admit that he’s my role model. He showed me that good business is compatible with helping people and making a difference to their lives.
I always had big ideas about how to do things right in the world of tech but before WiFi SPARK I was never given the opportunity to act on it. Matt told me: “You have carte blanche to solve our problem, tell me what you need and you’ll get it” and he delivered. That did three things:
- His trust gave me a huge self-confidence boost
- It gave me the courage to spend company money to do what I thought was right
- Because the plan worked well, it put to rest my imposter syndrome
I always knew that as a rule in life we should all aim to lead a healthy life (healthy mind in a healthy body) but I could never find the motivation to do the body part. He showed me how by example. He is one of the best communicators and influencers I have ever met. When someone goes to talk to him about a problem or a question they always come out of the conversation feeling like a million dollars, with their problems solved and more importantly, a plan to move forward. I wish I was half as good a communicator as he is. To top it all off, he has a fierce sense of humour and leaves us in stitches during his Christmas dinner speech.
How do you see the role of the technology leader evolving over the next 5 years?
Technology is at the core of our everyday lives. Reaching more and more personal areas of life like health, for example. Who doesn’t have an app on their phone to count steps? If not a watch monitoring your heartrate? It means that technology has more responsibilities than ever. Where 10 years ago, Health and Safety (H&S) in tech was for a specialised market like healthcare – It is now almost everywhere.
Tech leaders of the future will have to live and breathe H&S.
The generations coming up behind us are more concerned with responsible and ethical development than we were. The impact tech has on global warming and overall pollution are but a few of the concerns that will be in the forefront of tech leaders of the future.
What skills do you think leaders of the future will need in order to thrive?
I’m probably the wrong person to ask that kind of question. I would love to say that they would need to be ethical, responsible, think about the impact of what they are doing on others before diving headfirst into a profitable venture. But who am I kidding? This is probably not going to help them thrive.
What would help them, is to know themselves. Make sure that senior management is what you enjoy doing as it’s not easy. It comes with many responsibilities and a lot of pressure.
I’m a strong believer that regardless of your job, one should always strive to learn and better their skills in their trade.
How do you keep current with new skills, technologies and personal development?
I use tech-oriented podcasts and newsletters for the more technical parts. The other way to learn is communication – networking with other tech leaders.
What do you see as the next leap in technology that will impact your business or industry in particular?
We are working on it so I can’t tell you ;o)
Other than that, the way people stay connected will keep evolving until it is seamless. The mobile phone market is now mature. I wouldn’t be surprised if a new disruptive tech would show up in that arena.
The advent of Robotics and AI is likely to change the way we live our lives in the next few decades.
If you were mentoring a leader of the future, what advice or guidance would you give to help them on their way?
Don’t be afraid of mistakes. A mistake is only bad when you don’t learn from it.
Keep learning, always.
Take responsibility for something and see it through to the best of your ability. Learn everything you can from it.
Is there anything in particular that you would still like to achieve in your career or what is the next step on your journey?
At this point, the next step for me would be a CEO role. I love the world of tech and there is still so much to learn there that it would be an endless task. But I want to learn more about the other area of a company; Finance, Sales, Marketing, OPS …
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
It’s a tossup between world hunger and war. Take your pick 😉
A big thank you to Pierre Ponsin from WiFi SPARK for sharing his journey to date.
If you would like to gain more perspective from Tech Leaders and CIOs you can read some of our other interviews here.