This is Your Tech Leader Speaking
We're talking to Leigh Gibson about the importance of deciding a hierarchy of optimisation levers when transforming tech.
Hi there, good morning. I'm Gretchen. Thanks for joining us for today's session of This is Your Technologist speaking.
So we've got a series of talks with local APAC industry leaders and shouldn't say I've got favorites and I've been saving some of the best for last but that is definitely what's been happening this week.
So my special guest today is Leigh. She studied software engineering and information systems at Griffith University.
She's had an amazing globe -crossing and has even worked on the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.
She's had her own successful startup in online fashion and she leads a tech team at ANZ whilst also having been a champion for SheStarts which helps women entrepreneurs build and build out their tech ideas and aside from that she's just a great person to have a coffee with.
I don't know how she fits all of these things into any day to be fair.
So Leigh, thanks for joining us this morning.
Hello Gretchen, thanks for having me. Is it always strange I find it hard when someone introduces me and I go is that how they see me?
I love that you're on the Olympic Games.
Unreal. It was so much fun. It was so much fun. I love sports so it was an absolute no -brainer and I think the real one of the reasons I got the job at the Games was because I'd worked for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
I didn't know that. For a few years yeah that was that was kind of the entree.
I'd met a lot of people who then went on to work in London and so I did.
I had to follow the whole interview process and it was a very very stressful 12 weeks, very long 12 weeks of unemployment in London which is very expensive but yeah absolute best job career highlight was such What did you actually do?
I managed all the, so I was there as kind of the project manager in the technology team and so there was a variety of different projects that needed to be done to create kind of things that needed to help organise the Games.
So one of them was the accommodation system so we had an accommodation system that was just for VIPs and coaches and all the very important people so we managed 50,000 hotel rooms across London for the Games and the accommodation was booked 18 months in advance and we had everybody's passport numbers so like we had the Obama's passport numbers, private phone, all the all this really amazing information that we had to keep really secure because it was 18 months ahead we were constantly having hack attack attempts on our systems there was a not enormous scrutiny and it was absolutely fascinating it was the best it was the best job ever.
I love that sentence you're like it was massively traumatic and stressful and I loved it.
I did I did that's that's pretty much the story of my career really I like problem solving I really do and the the the more difficult the problems are the more excited I get unfortunately I don't know if that's unfortunate or not but I get really energised.
I think if I was employing you I would love that and I would throw everything at you as fast as I could.
Oh wow so problem solving you I know you've been quite involved with transforming technology which is always some kind of ginormous problem right in the world when we've got big systems.
From your perspective when you're in an organisation what do you think motivates them to go you know what we need to do some form of tech transformation do you think it's is it to innovate or is it like oh my gosh our competitors are better than us or is it because you realise something in your old system is bonkers and needs fixed what kicks it off?
Usually well in my experience it's bad stuff happens it's that it's that there's there's been some systemic fails or there's been some metrics that come back that that show that significant improvement is needed if something's working well why would you transform it there's no need to if something's not working well if you've got a lot of unhappy people if you're you know your customers are in pain then then you absolutely have to transform it and that's that's how a lot of transformations get up to the top of the queue because they're just so broken that they need to be they need immediate attention and they need immediate funding and and and people to to come in and help.
So it's an emergency at the hospital?
Often yeah so it's either it's an emergency or it's or it's a really significant blocker so I kind of it's funny when I chat to my teams I like I really like the the SpaceX analogy of they wanted to get rockets into space and they they really wanted to do this but to get to Mars but they had to have reusable rockets because they just couldn't afford to to do things the way that everyone else wants to do it they couldn't afford to spend you know a million dollars every rocket they had to get the cost down and so that was kind of the catalyst for innovation and and I think that's really interesting because it could be a blocker of funding or it can be a blocker of unhappy customers.
It doesn't matter what the blocker is you need to and that creates innovation in itself right yeah on something yeah I don't know that about SpaceX.
All right yeah well it's I mean it's good they got the cost right down I think they got it down oh I've got yeah I can't remember the number right right now but um yeah the cost that that was that was really the the focus and I think so when I when I come into a transformation that's often um what I want to look for is is I want to understand what are what are the big problems what what are we trying to innovate for what are what are we trying to um improve and um and yeah so and and then how can we create some data to to help help people understand what this is how dire is the situation today and measure the improvement as we go yeah I love that we had a team talk this morning and we were comparing um product management with Sherlock Holmes in essence you know you're a detective and you're trying to problem solve and I think where we got to was you need data and you need to find the data and look at the data without preconceived ideas about what it's telling you which we don't want to do no no well I think some people get a bit scared of collating information um and and look sometimes when you're when you're when you're at the start of something um it if you were so to where I'm working with some delivery teams at the moment and we're going to be collating some data and some of the data might show that there's room for improvement with the way that we work and um and that's where the data doesn't the data doesn't um it's not upset with the team it's it just is reflecting a situation and I think until you actually um start measuring that you don't know you don't really understand and it's a great communication piece to be able to sort of say hey look we've had a look at the last six months of performance and and here's a different perspective on that work um that maybe nobody's really thought about and so and we've decided that it's important so why don't we all collectively discuss whether or not you think this is an important perspective and if you do think it's important then let's let's see if we can make some changes to to improve that I love how you're framing that though because it's um you're saying there's room for improvement so we're actually going to go forward together and get better as opposed to hey Steve you're doing a rubbish job which is not helpful Steve Steve's only ever going to get upset in that situation um I mean that's a really easy thing to say is hey Steve I want to fix these but um or just be better but um but that's not helpful that doesn't help so so when and when we're all together and we're all kind of um aligned and with large transformations it's impossible for a single person to achieve the outcome by themselves and you work with um very distributed teams right and they are quite large teams I used to that piece oh yeah sorry my current team my current team's actually really small because I've started a new role where I'm actually building out technology but my my my former team was very large yes we had you have to get that piece together about everyone I don't know going to the same direction right the same goal is that a big part of the transformation it's really yeah yeah it's a it's an enormous part of it getting everyone aligned getting a make sure making sure that everybody understands um the direction that you want to go what's important what are we optimizing for all the different levers that's really important to make sure that everybody hears from one or two people about what we're doing so when you're deciding what to optimize for how do you even begin that process I mean there's so many things right yeah yeah there is and um and it's funny because when so when we when I was working with Internet banking I think we had a few different workshops with our tech leads and we went through and we had all this troubleshoot we we worked out we had 18 um things that we wanted to optimize for and there was all 18 were equally very very important things and so um what we did was we we ran a a quicksort um one of the lead architects in in the team is like I've done this before I'm going to do a quicksort with the team and we're just going to talk so we we grabbed two things and we said okay which one choose choose a or b a okay great grab the next thing okay is this yep on paper we did a quicksort and so we ended up with a ranking of all the 18 and and it was really of course security was number one yeah you know availability was number two and you end up with these really you you just end up getting getting everything um getting everything uh it just becomes much simpler and a lot of our automation a lot of the sexy bells and whistles unfortunately were 17 18 um and the and the great thing was yeah well the great thing was over the over the two and a half years when we solved it for all these other um optimization things at the top we were able to get down to the the ones down the bottom and we actually we managed to get everything done but you have to start with what's important yeah you cannot be at a you know organizing the olympic games or at a banking institution without having safety as your number one can you try it with people's money no no and you don't want anyone else to get access to it and you need if if someone wants their funds they've got to get it straight away um yeah so so that was the thing and and um i think i sound like a real data nerd but actually data is really important and and it was funny when um when we were doing that transformation um we didn't have enough data so we actually didn't have enough monitoring and alerting in different places so um that's one of the things where by introducing some monitoring and alerting on some of the 128 interfaces that we had with this asset um we were able to cut we were able to cut um unplanned outages by like 90 in the first year really without doing much with code and it was really what by telling everyone telling everyone in the team that availability was really important to us yeah making sure that everyone who was involved in that work was aligned and knew knew that that was what we were focusing on making sure that everyone knew and um and then just accepting all ideas so everybody so it wasn't so the team was not as smart as me the team was as smart as the 200 people who were in the team um which meant you know it was amazing it was you're unstoppable when you've got 200 brains all able to contribute as as equally as you can and trying to get them aligned that's amazing and and that's really um that's transformation it's difficult it's it's challenging to get to get to that yeah but it's um it's it's amazingly valuable when you can get that so it sounds like you gave people you know the north star or the north stars and the way to get to the furthest one and you gave them the freedom to come back with all the ideas and all the options well i tried to do that yeah i tried to do that and and look some people came back with some pretty zany ideas and and um maybe they were amazing but they didn't all seem amazing so we didn't actually act on every single idea what we did was we were open to every idea and that's the key i think and having a space that is welcoming enough for people to put forward the zany ideas is success in itself i think yeah so just by putting in some more monitoring and insights i can't believe you reduced all the outages by 90 it sounds i know it sounds a bit unbelievable doesn't it yeah no there was um yeah no there was a there was like a thread pool thing we had to fix as well but um but that was actually yeah that was that was kind of caused by a few other things so there was actually a lot of outages that were created by we're kind of taken out at the knees and um and and sometimes what happens when you have really large distributed systems sometimes what can happen is you'll have one thing go down and that takes everything down and by creating some self-healing you can actually be a bit more graceful about that and say okay now our customers are going to come in only five actually use this one feature so we're going to let that just degrade um gracefully and let everyone else come on and do their do their thing and um and so there was some things like that as well where we we allowed you know we we made sure that everything could stay um available and we would let one one element degrade instead of everything going out were those hard decisions to make or did they come back to aligning with what you were transforming for and towards our top two was safety and and availability for the first year and so you know if it was secure if it if security wasn't going to be negatively impacted then then it was an absolute go and um and we had we did quite a lot of experimentation and and luckily a lot of these changes didn't require um code like not not as much code change so we were able to make changes in the interface instead of in the actual code base that's intriguing i really like it so how i mean in my mind um the established banks are not places that you experiment because there's such a need for safety how do you experiment and innovate within those constraints then oh there's heaps of opportunity to innovate and experiment um uh look in the first year because we had so much we we had a lot of the first year i was there so um so yeah there was lots of opportunity to to um to remediate and to to experiment you have hypotheses about you know how do we think this might run better um and and how can we how can we get this going and and what oh hello hello this is will this is my son he's getting ready for school it's preschool time isn't it it's a tricky part of the morning all right it's nice to see you will hey can you get your socks on thanks dude sorry no i love it we've had we've had cat viewings before we've had children viewings it's fabulous excellent this is the reality and that's i mean we talked um in the green room a little bit the juggle with um working from home and being humans with families at the moment is is quite hard how are you going just in a general sense oh it's it's two days before school holidays kicks off so um everyone in our house is a little bit grumpy and tired and um i think will doesn't want to go to school yet counting down the last two days do you get a short day for friday um yeah i think the kids get us i think the kids get a short day um yeah i'll be i'll be working short days it's mad we got to have a short day i know wouldn't it nine till three i'd like those hours hey this is um a little bit off topic and it's more personal interesting for me what do you think about neo banks and what's happening in australia with with that i'm fascinated i think it's i think it's fantastic um all i don't know my employer might not like me saying this but i think competition's great i think it's great to have competition because it makes everyone better yeah yeah i agree i mean up bank caused quite a disruption and i know they're tied to another bigger bank but their interface their marketing and and their um their applicant like their mobile app that you use has forced everyone else to go we need to be better it's it's fantastic yeah i've got a i've got a um an up bank um card and i use it my that's my daughter's um bank account and and she loves it it's great it's fantastic so it's great to i really um i really enjoy seeing what everyone else is doing it's fantastic there's there's a lot of really interesting ideas um coming out and um it does it makes sure that everyone else has to be better they have to be so much better do you think some of those smaller smaller ones have have an easier time of innovating and and doing the wild crazy things that are harder to implement in a bigger organization um i think what it's it's it's kind of like they can of course you can dance while no one's watching that's true you can do anything you like and um and there's there's a lot of freedom in that but then also um at some point you need to get the customers in to to make sure that you can pay the bills and and that's really going to be something that i'm going to i think is interesting and having been a small business owner myself um you know we did lots of experimentation um with my business and i did lots of um interesting pivots with with various um other business owners and we had a lot of fun and we we we innovated a lot um but eventually you know we you know it was going to take another four or five years to get that you know sweep of enough customers to really make it a a um a viable and you know profitable concern like a really seriously useful concern um and that's where we kind of just looked at it and went okay well actually i'm just going to go back to it and have a bit less stress but it's i mean it's not really less stress but i don't you know stress about different things you don't have to stress about you know um paying other people's mortgages yeah and that was what i was most stressed about and your marketing campaign at the same time you get to choose the yeah yeah you get to that's really intriguing about those things so that was a conscious choice then so you built it up and you had a great time and you learned all these things and you experimented and then went the journey for this to be kind of self -sustainable and doing that next thing is not not my jam at the moment um that i think um i think the the way i knew it was kind of possibly going to be over was um i i had a amazing lunch with um with um a lady called megan who's one of the original founders of net portay um which was like a i was such a fan of of that business and um i'd kind of shopped there a lot and i just thought oh my god you're amazing and we had this lunch and she um she shared some truths and i sent her like she she'd done a shop with my um business and she gave me some really great feedback and that was amazing and and we had a talk and she kind of she she actually um sort of said yep yep yeah this is going well you're you're doing well but yeah you're going to go you're going to have another four or five years until you really you know take that sort of trajectory and um and that's my husband works in finance and he he runs numbers for businesses as well so he was telling me the same thing and that was the week yeah and then that was the same week i found out that um that we were pregnant and that we were going to have a little boy and um and then i kind of just went okay well this is going to be interesting um to have another four or five years worth of hard work and then you get another 18 months down the road and you think well actually the business is still going well but i've got a i've got a baby at home and i've got a husband at home and and they're not seeing me enough um and and you do have to make that choice i think it is a conscious choice about whether or not you want to prioritize um you know a business that that's not really there yet over um you know a family who are there and and who do love you you did the cards with your family didn't you family one luckily i like that but then so then you went to um a and z and i know you've been such an advocate and supporter of diversity within the organization i mean wherever whenever we talk you're you're busy supporting other women in the industry and going have you talked to this person or can we connect these people i love that you do that what what motivates you to to be that person as well with all your spare time oh i don't know i don't know that i don't feel like i really am that much of an advocate for diversity um i think it's um for me it's people so it's it's um it's not just it's not just women it's actually um there's a lot of a lot of people that i i work with and um maybe i talk to you about mostly the the women's things that we're doing um i i don't know i've i've got a i think um when you're bullied at school abuse and you have a bit of an underdog growing up mentality um i like to help people out if i can see that you know they they're struggling and they need a bit of a bit of help and um i've been very privileged and fortunate um you know in my career to have been able to get a really senior role and so i like to use that opportunity to help other people if if i can and i think you do like and you're right it is people i i narrowed that down in my mind but yes you are a when i watch you as a leader i often go oh there's an element of leadership as a servitude here right you clear the way for your people to have the smoothest smoothest run to do what it is they need to do is that a conscious choice have you read leadership models around that um no i think um no that's my dad actually my dad's um yeah my dad's a really um wise man i've got a little person behind me you can't tell um and no it's actually phoebes it's a different one all i could see was here it's like different hair this time um yeah so tell me about your dad then what did he role model for you in that regard he was a school teacher and he was always about um asking other people what they think and valuing their opinion and and you know um very inclusive um he was always taking you know kids out surfing with him um you know on the weekends and um and i was always one of the boys going out with him with all the the other people and and and he had he had a lot of time for people and yeah that's that was really his his thing he he said everybody everybody has value everybody has their own ideas and it's good to um understand what that is um and i think that's what's really that's what's really helped me in my role um as a leader i don't have all the ideas i am not the smartest person in the room and i don't want to be i want to hire really smart people of a really wide diverse range of people from different backgrounds and different ages and different of course different genders and different religious backgrounds because everybody who then joins that team has their own ideas and their own experiences that then they can bring and it's such a rich experience when you when you get that in that team and then when everyone's trusted and everyone's feeling safe and they're then they start bringing some of their zany ideas to the table some of those are absolute gold yeah it's amazing um so so that's really yeah i think that's whole seven leadership i think the experience of of being brave enough to try it and then finding that actually it's wildly successful i'm never going to stop doing that that's brilliant i think um what you touched on there around everyone having value but you need to make it so they feel safe and secure enough so that you can tap into that and it's it's great now that there's so much um data and research into having diverse teams is actually you know in a really crass business argument state it's profitable so it gives you then the the i guess the freedom and the ability to really focus on it and make it something that you can you know this is actually really good business that's why i'm doing it and yeah it's not easy to get that yeah it's not easy to get it though and it's not it's so it's something that um so so at the moment i'm building a new team and um and i've got some really great people who have kind of seeded the the core team and and we're now um on a on a hiring binge so anybody who wants to come work for anz be an engineer or assistant come build with me um we're being really picky and selective about getting the right personalities in the team and you know it's it's really important obviously to have the right skills if you're a gun developer um yeah we'll we'll talk to you but if you're someone who's going to come in and kind of be really close-minded about how things have to be and not open to um accepting other people's views and you know if i really do hire for mindset as well because i think it's um it's it's really important to make sure that we've got the right people in the team and and sometimes sometimes we'll have we'll hire someone who sounds great in the interview and then they have some really toxic personality traits yeah um and that can really disrupt the the team and and make the like one person coming in can can really disrupt so we we do i am pretty i try and coach coach and mentor and you know encourage people to um to adjust their views but if they're really not going to then then we'll we'll um move them along pretty quick yeah because i'm it is do you think this is a slightly loaded question i guess do you think it's harder to learn how to write code or to be truly empathetic i think it's i think it's actually really difficult to be empathetic hmm yeah yeah but but i think that's people like sometimes people bring their their own life experiences and maybe maybe they've not had that experience and and sometimes you know if there's someone who's really open and curious about learning something it's pretty easy to teach them how to code yeah yeah whereas whereas the the journey and and the learning and the coaching how do you teach someone to be empathetic that's really um challenging if it's not already there yeah if there's not seeds of it existing already i think that's a that would be a wonderful one to solve yeah and and you know sometimes people aren't open to learning that i mean there's i think there's a lot more people who are open to learning a new skill that they can put in their toolbox and take to their next job um yes there's not necessarily a lot of people who are willing to really work on those core values yeah because i think sometimes we've not been taught that they are as valuable like they're not as you know on your resume you don't go oh i can code in java really well that kind of has a dollar value it's hard for us to apply that transactional measure to empathy hey we've got a tiny moment less for one last question what do you think the biggest myth in tech is well great question isn't it horrid yeah um i think the biggest myth is that everything's really complicated and really really hard it's it's not always um it's it's ones and zeros we distill it down it's ones and zeros it's um yeah there are opportunities to simplify it's ones and zeros and we do that in kinder right so we can all get involved slightly more complicated but yeah it's it it doesn't there doesn't need to be so much um smoke and mirrors i love that that is such a good answer and we're actually out of time now thank you so much for joining me this morning with your beautiful children thank you