✊🏿✊🏾✊🏽 Black History Month Keynote Speaker, Thando Tettey, Head of Engineering at Investec UK
Thando Tettey, Head of Engineering at Investec UK discussing his experience from working in South Africa to moving to London and leading the engineering team at Investec UK.
Welcome to another episode of Black History Month Fireside Chat. I'm Chad. I look after the Sub-Saharan African market from a commercial perspective for Cloudflare.
And I also lead the Afroflare group in the UK. And for part of Black History Month, we've invited keynote speakers to share their journey and experience in the industry.
And today, I'm happy to welcome Thando Tetty. He is the Head of Engineering at Investec UK and a fellow South African.
So thank you for joining us and to contribute to these sessions.
Welcome. Thank you. Thank you very much, Chad.
It's a pleasure, I think, to be here and to be able to participate on this platform and to be able to contribute to your show.
Fantastic. So yeah, I guess just to kick us off, should we just start with, maybe we just start with like, tell us a little bit about yourself, you know, you know, where'd you grow up?
You know, tell us anything. Okay. Yeah. A little bit of an interesting one. So I think from my side, I was actually born in a tiny little kingdom called Swaziland.
One of the last remaining monarchs in the world, I'm sure, as people may know.
I was born there. I've got, I'm part of six siblings. So there's three boys, three girls.
So quite a big family in modern standards that I come from. I grew up in Swaziland.
Early parts my education were in Swaziland. Later on, I then moved on to Johannesburg in South Africa.
And that's really where I spent a huge part of my life.
And yeah, I think more about me. I love sports. I'm somebody that enjoys my sports very much.
Most of the time I participate from the couch. So it's not like I'm very active.
I have been a little bit active in terms of action cricket here and there.
But it hasn't really been anything that has been consistent.
Most of the time, I'm just one of those fans or those critics that sit from the couch.
So I think in a nutshell, that is me. In the technology sector, I love technology quite a bit.
Well, fantastic. Hopefully after this lockdown ends, you can get a cricket game going on.
And then also, if you're into golf, I'll be happy to invite you for a golf round, because I know that's a lot of sports.
That'd be nice. So that's a really, really cool background and interesting to hear a bit of your story.
Do you want to just tell us a little bit about exactly what you do at Investec and maybe for some of the people who don't know what Investec is, give us a brief intro to Investec.
Okay. So I think I'll start off with Investec.
So Investec is really a specialist bank. It's a specialist bank and wealth manager.
It's a bank that originated in South Africa, proudly South African company.
Exists in quite a few geographies, but primarily between the UK and SA.
We also do have branches in Mauritius and different offices in various parts of the world.
And really, it's a company that does punch above its weight.
So I think when people think of Investec, they always think of this like massive corporate, almost similar to a lot of the high street banks in the UK or the big banks in South Africa, but it's actually quite a small niche sort of financial company.
And yeah, it's really interesting, exciting environment to work with very dynamic, intelligent people who challenge you and push you every day.
In terms of my role within Investec, I predominantly on the engineering side, head of engineering, also play in the architecture space.
And really what I do is I look after the digital estate, which is really the client facing channels.
And that's a lot of where I spend my time. But however, I do engage and join as part of the architecture and engineering virtual team, where we globally connect in order to make sure that we are sort of headed in the right direction from a technology point of view.
Wow. And it does sound like quite a lot of massive responsibility and quite a large portfolio that you work on.
So how did you end up in Investec?
Like, was that kind of one of the first companies you worked at? Yes, I mean, so it's actually, it's a bit of a strange story.
And to think about it at the end of the day that I've been at Investec for over 10 years now.
So Investec is the third company that I worked for.
I studied electrical engineering.
So how an engineer actually, electrical engineer ends up at a bank is a bit of an interesting one.
But yeah, I think at the time that I was doing my degree, there was this interesting thing called information engineering, which was very interesting to me, it was dabbling, it was more a component of an engineering degree that kind of started to recognize that IT was on the rise.
And it's seeked to basically give engineering students the skills, modern skills for the IT world.
So I got involved in software development, almost from a university point of view, went out, first company that I had was actually a very, very exciting company that's in South Africa, that's more in the defense space.
And I sort of at a very young age got involved in developing software for military aircrafts.
And this was a very, very exciting thing for me.
It was one of the most exciting jobs that you could ever do.
I used to look forward to coming to work, look forward to being on flight simulators and flying through various flight paths.
Yeah, it was totally, totally exciting.
But unfortunately, it was an industry that and still is an industry that is in decline, even more so today.
With South Africa sort of changing the political landscape, the amount of money that the government started to invest in, you know, in sort of defense started to decrease.
And it became challenging in that industry.
And what I also noticed about that industry was that the more you stayed is the more you became specialized.
And I wasn't really I didn't really see myself as a pure technical specialist, I've always wanted to have a bit of a commercial side to me.
I then moved to a consulting company, which consulted to the mines.
And it was more in the software, but I was more of a technical analyst, you know, I would still develop and work on prototypes.
But the challenges there were at the time that I joined the company was around 2008, financial crisis, a lot of the mines were tightening their belts, the work was starting to dry up.
It was a very, very early stage in my career. So I thought to myself, I can't really be hanging around, not having much work, not being involved in exciting projects.
So I started to get like itchy feet. And I started to think, no, I need to be doing more work, I need to be getting my hours and doing a lot of hours and really trying to master my craft.
And I think that was the point where I started to look up.
And then I came across the opportunity at Investec. At that time, that was in 2010.
Yeah. Okay, wow. So that's a very fascinating background.
And I mean, personally, for myself, I've always wanted to be in a fighter jet to work on.
It was very, it was very beautiful. I mean, I think even the a lot of what I know today about building software and engineering software was really, you know, stuff that I learned at that early stage, you can imagine building software for critical systems, you really need to employ the highest levels of, of engineering, you know, sort of skills and methodologies to be able to qualify software for flight.
And, and also accuracy, it's not one of those where you're looking for error, because it's 100%.
Yeah. Very, very fascinating. Yeah. And, you know, so ending up at Investec, and now like, it's been a 10 year journey, and I'm assuming you started at Investec in South Africa.
And I want to kind of also find out about how you got from SA to UK.
But before we get there, you know, dive a little bit deeper in your role, your day to day role at Investec.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Being the head of engineering, what does that actually mean? Yeah, I mean, it's a, it's an interesting role.
And, and I think anyone that is at Investec will probably know that you're, in terms of what your role actually describes, is described and versus what you do on a day to day basis, sometimes varies quite a lot.
And it's very rare. And this is one of the things that I love about Investec is it's very rare that if you are involved in a particular role, that that is exactly where you stay in, you're normally not boxed in, there's a little bit of flavor in terms of what you do.
And really, I think, from my side, the biggest component of what I do from an engineering point of view, is we, as I said, I'm part of a virtual engineering, global engineering team, we establish the standards around what we want.
So we've got a set of OKRs that we want to be able to work towards around our engineering practices around how we deliver and produce software, we establish what are those those guiding principles.
And then a lot of our day to day work is to work with the teams, understand all the challenges that are there.
One of the biggest things at the moment that we are focusing on is how we are able to deliver software, high quality software at pace.
And that's really been our mantra and really just sitting with the teams discovering what are all the bottlenecks that exist in our process that either prevent us from delivering quickly, or that result in us deploying software that perhaps is not of the right level of quality.
So I think at a very high level point of view, that's really the focus on my role.
From time to time, it does vary at the moment, we're trying to look at how we can adopt cloud as an organization, how we can not only adopt cloud in the sense of moving our state into the cloud, but how can we actually derive the benefits of pace that we can get out of the cloud.
And that's really, again, when you sit with different teams, you get involved and start to unpack the estate and how we can start to reshape it in order for us to achieve those objectives.
Wow. So I can imagine a lot of like cross functional discipline, and communication across different teams and trying to manage to that common purpose.
100%. Yeah. And you said something that was quite interesting, like in terms of some of the challenges you kind of face, like what, you know, as you mentioned, you know, speeds to deliver software, but like, what are some other things, can you unpack a little bit more?
Yeah, so I mean, the Investec story is a little bit complicated.
And maybe, you know, because it's the bulk of my career has really been at Investec, I'll say it's complicated, but maybe it's the same, you know, everywhere.
But if you look at Investec in terms of how the organization was formed, it was formed through a series of small businesses, some of them startups, some of them acquisitions.
And over time, we've sort of organically grown into separate divisions.
And one of the realizations that we've had as a company is that we are actually in most cases, servicing the same client group.
And some of the ways that the organization was formed and was set up means that teams are working in silos.
And very often, we're trying to look at leveraging technical capabilities in order for it, you know, the projects I always say to the guys on my team, the projects that add a lot of value are the ones where we need to connect different dots across our state in order to be able to present that value to the client.
And really, those are some of the challenges is how do we enable the delivery of those kinds of projects at pace?
There's different teams working on different prioritization processes, there's duplicate capabilities that exist within the organization, our data is not necessarily sitting in the most coherent way for us to be able to deliver solutions.
So these are all the items that are there that we are focusing on.
And this is what we believe will then enable the organization to get to the right level of delivery that we want.
Wow. And, you know, I'm just like also taking all this in, it's so fascinating to understand, you know, that complexity behind the scenes.
Yeah. You know, I'm myself an Investec customer.
So it's good to know that, you know, you, you know, someone like you, that's kind of looking at that complexity, driving, driving an agenda forward and solving a problem.
And also, you know, I guess, making it simple for me as a customer to enjoy the service.
Yeah. So it's very fascinating. And it sounds also like quite complex, right?
So I'm pretty sure that there's a set of skills that, you know, a person would need to do your job.
That's quite unique. And, you know, what would you say those are?
Yeah, I think there's, you know, there's various sort of skill sets that you would need.
But I think one obviously needs to be that curiosity, you know, so you've got to be curious about technology, you've got to be curious about what technology can do.
Moreover, I always say to technical people, sometimes we get lost in the excitement of what a piece of tech can do.
But moreover, we need to immerse ourselves in the business areas and understand the teams that are servicing clients that are, you know, that are presenting products to clients.
And we need to immerse ourselves in those worlds. We need to immerse ourselves in the client's shoes as well.
And we've got to have a holistic picture that helps us to understand the problem that we actually need to solve and technologies than the tool that we can then apply to solve those problems.
Because sometimes we can get lost down the rabbit hole of trying to present, you know, to create these brilliant technical solutions, but they don't really add much value to the business or to our clients.
So I think that's probably one of the big, you know, the biggest one.
The other one is collaboration. So being able to collaborate and join dots across multiple areas, you know, of our organization, and that obviously involves establishing relationships, you know, with different people across the organization.
And sometimes it's realizing that you're not the technical specialist on a lot of areas, they are people within the organizations that have got deep specializations in what they do, and being able to form those relationships, bring them into the conversation, and be able to facilitate a dialogue that allows us to be able to, you know, we say, like, bring the best of what Investec has and present it to the client.
So I'd say, you know, overall, those are really the, you know, the skills that are important.
And at the end of the day, most of what we do is, from a technology point of view, is software, we deliver software, we engineer software.
So at the heart of it is, you know, it's the understanding for how to actually build software, and how software teams work, you know, how we can optimize and evolve them in order to be able to, you know, deliver quality software to our clients.
So I think at the heart of it, that's what it is.
But the software skills are definitely collaboration, it's definitely being able to bring people together, being able to learn from and discover what we have within the organization and figure out how to put it together, you know, in the in the best way possible.
Wow. And I guess, in terms of your team, you know, it sounds like obviously, to be to do your job, you need to have those sets of skills.
But what does it take to, for me, for example, or anyone listening, if they wanted to join your team, what do you look out for?
Yeah, so so I mean, it's really two parts, you know, so I think it's always the personal qualities, you know, and in terms of personal qualities, curiosity, I think is the number one thing is the one thing that is that is important.
I think curiosity, I think respect for your other colleagues being able to work as part of a team, I think that's quite important and collaboration, you know, those are really important things.
And then I always say, like, one of the important attributes is, is care, you know, when you've got team members that care for what we do, they deeply care for what, what they do, I think those are skills that are important, being able to, you know, caring also about your own personal skills and your craft and, and always wanting to figure out ways to improve your craft.
I think those are important attributes.
Then, then on a on a technical level, you know, it is, you know, it depends which area that you, you know, that we want you to be deployed in.
But definitely, it will be some knowledge about the technology, some understanding around where the technology is going, etc, and all of that.
But I think that other than just the technical skills, I think the, you know, the soft skills are quite important as well.
Of course. So I can imagine that there must have been quite a few challenges or, or should I say pros and cons when moving from best tech South Africa to UK?
Yeah, yeah. Because I'm, I'm guessing, you know, any person looking and joining, might be considering joining your team, you know, now they have skills to, to, to have, and maybe they also consider the relocation piece.
What would you say to that?
Yeah. Yeah. Look, I mean, from a relocation perspective, relocation is, is a very interesting process, interesting thing to undergo.
I'm sure as you know, Chad, it's, but it's something that I would definitely encourage for everybody.
You know, there's something about being in a, in a, in a particular country, living there, whether you've grown up there, there's, there's so many things that you take for granted that you never even, you know, considered, you know, the, the one thing is for instance, to go from, if let's say you are in Johannesburg, you stay in four ways and you're going to Sandton, roughly in your head, you know, how much, you know, how long it takes for you to be able to get there.
There's, there's lots of details every single day that you, you take for granted because you just grown up there, you know, you just know this is the type of shop where I get this type of jersey.
This is the kind of store where I get these kinds of cleaning detergents.
And there's a lot in your, in your day-to-day mind, you know, life that your mind is just like abstracted and it's so easy.
When you move into a different city or a different country, especially it is an incredible shock to your system.
Suddenly all sorts of senses that you never knew you had become a life, you know, all of a sudden you need to be using, you're constantly carrying your phone in order to figure out direction.
You actually do care whether your phone battery dies or not, because if it, if your phone abandons you at any point in time, then oops, you may not know actually how to figure out your way back home.
You know, so it's a, it's a very, very interesting.
It's been an interesting experience.
I definitely would encourage it, you know, to anyone that's looking to even have a stint abroad.
It's something that I'd say at some point in your life, try it out.
You know, and there's so many things like brands to clean your bathroom. You know, you refer to it as a brand name, but like when you come into a new area, it's like, is it, is it fabric soft now?
Or, you know, is it, you know, you find that it's called, it's called something else in a different area.
So, so just being able to converse and try and get what the parallels are in the environment that you are.
It's yeah, it's sometimes it can be frustrating, but also there's an interesting thing about just discovering a new place as well.
I know, you know, cause I was smiling through that whole thing, cause I can, you know, reflect on my experience as well.
When I first moved to London, I kind of describe it as, you know, my brain was rewiring and finding new paths.
And, you know, as you like in the, in the first, like, if you could say phase one, you're like, whoa, what's going on?
And like, always looking at your phone and then phase two, when you start developing that sense of direction and you know, okay, cool.
I cannot get to point A to point B without my phone.
And then like, it's like, Oh wait, now I know the shortcut.
Right. So rewiring and learning new things.
It is kind of like personally also for me, it's, it's quite a positive experience.
Yeah. Yeah. And yeah. So like in terms of some of the, you know, kind of pros and cons, if you will, like you know, what are some of the favourite things that you've experienced and you know, what are some of the, if you could say, if you could redo it again, you know, what would be the.
Yeah. Yeah. So, so I think in terms of pros and cons, you know, the, the tech scene, I think here is quite big.
And one of the things that I got to enjoy the most when I arrived in London, and it was the thing that I was really looking forward to was meetups.
So lots of high quality meetups that you can attend and you can really meet a lot of people in industry that are working actually for a lot of the big companies whose services, you know, we actually consume.
So, you know, things like, you know, Splunk, there's companies like Sumo Logics, et cetera, and, and, and all of those companies, you get to meet, you know, a lot of those engineers that come from those areas, you get to interact with them.
And actually, now that we are in the COVID situation, it's become a lot more accessible for a lot of people around the world.
So, I mean, I'd really encourage people to jump onto meetups and have a look at those meetups that traditionally would have been in London.
Now you can join via Zoom or via YouTube or something like that.
And that was really one of the great things.
And one of the other things that I was looking forward to, as we said earlier on, being from South Africa, South Africa is quite isolated from the rest of the world.
So being able to like access Europe and being able to travel, that was one of the things I was looking forward to, unfortunately, with COVID, COVID took that away from us.
But yeah, I think one of the things is also that I, that I found difficult in the UK, found difficult from a UK point of view is just socially, socially, it's a little bit more difficult to be able to ingrain yourself.
I think part of it may be to do with the culture.
It also is the fact that it's just a big city, you know, and when you come from South Africa, South African people are, you know, quite different.
They're generally curious about the person next to them.
They easily strike into conversations. And, you know, so those are some of the things that I really missed, you know, sort of from that perspective, but from a professional point of view, I think encountering such a diverse experience, you know, something that's been very positive for my life.
Yeah, I can totally agree with you.
I think, you know, just also sharing my experience, moving to London, I've never, you know, also in the tech industry, I've never felt so excited to be exposed to so much, you know, conversation, opportunity and, you know, just general meetups and things like that.
And yeah, I totally get you on the side of South Africans.
There is definitely a culture difference, but it comes with the territory, right?
But yeah, you can never, you know, you do miss a good South African conversation from time to time.
That's true. Very true. So, you know, I guess this is my last question to you.
And, you know, this is kind of really out to the young South Africans and Africans across the continent in general, you know, kind of looking at, you know, your position one day, what would be some of the advice you'd give them?
Yeah, so I think, you know, one of the important things, you know, I guess that I would say to any South Africans, any Africans is really, you know, to, there's no substitute for hard work.
There's no substitute for putting in the hours to be able to develop and hone your craft.
And one of the mistakes that I probably made at an early stage in my career was I went to work.
I did put in the hours, but I trusted the work that I encountered to be able to give me the knowledge that I needed on a day-to-day basis.
And it's something that I realized took me only to a particular point.
And there was a point where I realized that, hey, I actually need to be putting in more time and more hours outside of work in order to come to work, to be able to deliver the best to my company, to deliver the best to my team, to deliver the best to my colleagues and what they wanted.
So that time that you spend investing in yourself is very important.
The next thing that I would say is, it's just believing and, you know, setting yourself high standards and believing that things are attainable and not letting your circumstances or whatever limitations that you see around limit you from pursuing what you want to pursue.
Like, as I say, there's a lot of things that are changing.
There's content that is available on the Internet, which wasn't available before in the past.
And now you can access it on the Internet. You can teach yourself by Udemy.
You can teach yourself by all the sort of online courses that are there.
So my biggest really advice is continually invest in yourself every day in everything that you do.
Do it differently. Always add your own personal identity.
Try and add different skill sets and get yourself to a point where, you know, you are unique as an individual and make sure that your contribution and what you bring to your team and your organization is unique as well.
And it has your own fingerprint to it.
On that note, thank you, Tandoor. That was a very fantastic talk.
Thank you again for taking part. And yeah, I look forward to playing a round of golf with you one day or some cricket when all of this lockdown is over.
That would be great, Chad.
And thank you so much again for inviting me onto the show.