Leaders in Tech: Rob Delaney

Welcome to the next feature of 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.

Today, we talked to Rob Delaney, Software Delivery Manager at Paddy Power Betfair, to find out more about why he joined the tech industry, what his role entails, what are the challenges he faces, and his advice to aspiring engineers and testers.

 

What is your current role and responsibilities?

Currently, I would say I wear two hats.

Firstly, I am very fortunate to say that, as my direct reports, I lead an exceptional multi-disciplinary team consisting of the front end, back end, and quality assurance engineers. They are an incredibly smart (much smarter than me but don’t tell them that!) and hard-working crew. Over the years that I have been working with them, they have built some unbelievably high performance and low latency platforms that just happen to add massive value to the business we work for. I am very proud to be able to call them my team and grateful that I get to work with them every day.

Secondly, I am very lucky to have been chosen to be the technical lead on a huge internal project.

This part of my role you could say has sub hats to my second hat!

This is a project that was brought into existence in the early part of 2020 and it’s focused on automation but that’s all I can tell you! It means I have gotten to work with architects, engineers, product owners, QA, technical analysts, our customers in the commercial teams, and our colleagues around the world (some very early morning meetings with our teams in Sportsbet in Australia) to name but a few to get to a stage late last year where we had an agreed up high-level design. Now we have that design to work to it is my responsibility to manage how that work is completed across multiple teams in multiple countries. This really keeps me on my toes!

What inspired you to get involved in the IT industry?

I’m that one guy in my family that every family has.

The guys who “knows tech” and can fix your <insert any and all items of tech here>.

I enjoy understanding how things work and I enjoy making and building things. I’m also a semi-proficient welder for example. When the opportunity arose to get a proper qualification in tech about ten years ago, I jumped at the chance. I went to college full time for four years and got myself a BSc in software development and that’s really where my story in tech began.

Can you tell me about your journey and how you got where you are now?

Tech is actually my second career. I finished secondary school in the UK at the age of 16 with honestly some pretty poor results in my GCSEs. I went through a string of some really awful jobs that no one would really enjoy. The worst of which I can say with some ease was working in an abattoir. You can imagine how traumatizing that was!

When I was about twenty years old, I landed a job as a customer service agent. I quickly moved internally to telesales in that company when I found I had a knack for sales. From there I worked a string of sales jobs up until when I was twenty-nine. Around that time was when the global financial crisis hit Ireland, where I was now living, and I became unemployed.

Now, my opinion on this was crisis breeds opportunity. Instead of moping about how I was unemployed, (I did mope  a little bit.) I decided to see what opportunities this situation could present to me and found out that I could avail of a state-funded opportunity to go to college full time. This was not an easy choice as I had a wife and two young children to provide for and a mortgage to pay. I would have to do all this while on social welfare. Nonetheless, that was the choice I made. I got through college (I can’t tell you how proud I am of this still!) and within 3 weeks of finishing college, I managed to convince my then-boss to take me on as a junior .NET developer at Paddy Power.

Within days of starting there, I knew I had truly found my niche. I loved the challenges software development provided. I loved working with my new colleagues who were a massive help to me, and I had the opportunity to flex my creative side in the work I was doing.

What I truly loved about my role then though (and still now) was working with people. Within eighteen months of starting as a junior, I was promoted to mid-level engineer. Roughly six months later I had to opportunity to move into a team lead role. From there I learned my trade as a people manager (a role which I love by the way) and about two years ago I was lucky enough to move into the role of delivery manager. Then as I have mentioned last year, I was asked to be tech lead, managing a huge project across multiple teams.

That brings me to where I am now. I love managing people and no doubt that is where my future lies.

Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?

For inspiration, there are several people of note that I look to whose ideas and ethos very much fit with my own beliefs.

The first of these is Simon Sinek. I imagine that most readers here will have heard of Simon and the first of his books, Start with Why. I have read this book several times as it really helps me to frame my own thoughts and reaffirm to me why I take the approach I take when managing people.

Secondly, I would say Gary Vaynerchuck. Gary has an extremely polarising personality and his approach to business can be seen as extreme, but he really understands that for a business to succeed you have to put people first in all cases.

I one hundred percent agree with this.

People are the most valuable asset any business or team has and if you don’t get this bit right, you won’t win in the long term.

In terms of mentorship, there are a few people I could mention here but there are two in particular who through my career in tech so far has really helped me.

The first is Rob Burke.

Rob became head of our department several years ago and immediately we gelled. We both had the same “just do it” attitude and we both liked lifting weights! During the time we worked together I couldn’t count the different number of times Rob gave me advice and helped to guide me. He hands down have had more impact on my career so far than anyone else.

The second person is Cristiane “Coca” Pitzer.

Coca is an extremely talented agile coach who moved from Brazil to join our team at PPB in Dublin, bringing her whole family with her. She is one of the most mentally strong people I have ever met and is really able to guide you into thinking about why you are doing the things you are doing and helping you get to the right choice. She has an amazing knack for getting you to the right place without actually giving you any new information. Although Coca has since moved on to pastures new, I am very proud to still call her my friend and we still catch up on a regular basis.

How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?

This answer is as simple as it is complex to me. I talk to them like they are human beings.

Throughout my whole working life, I have worked for people across the whole spectrum of managers, from dictators to people I would gladly follow into battle. The people who have always stood out to me are the people who just talk to you, one human to another.

It’s my firm belief that to form any professional relationship, you must first cultivate a personal one. You must really work to get your teams to trust you. If they do, they will follow you and work with you through good times and bad.

What are your current goals?

Professionally my focus right now is delivering the project I am working on. It takes a lot of headspaces to keep this project on track and leaves little time for anything else.

That being said, I am always on the lookout for new challenges within my current organisation. I am very lucky to work for an organisation that has grown almost exponentially over the past few years. We have offices all over the world now and they really support internal moves so who knows what could be in my future.

Personally, I am planning to start a YouTube channel in the coming weeks talking about my experience, my journey, and any other pieces of advice that I think others might be able to use so watch this space!

What are you the proudest of in your career so far?

Honestly what makes me proudest is the recognition I get from my customers when I deliver value to them. Probably due to my previous career in sales I like to think I am extremely customer-focused. What matters to me is keeping my customers happy and when you get that piece of feedback that says the work you have done has had a positive impact and has helped them in some way, nothing better!

For context, for me, my customer is everyone that I work with. My team, my partners in commercials, and the organisation as a whole. I always feel one should not limit your perspective of customers to only the end-user of the product.

What has been your greatest challenge?

This may surprise a few but the hardest thing I have done in the whole of my career so far is go to college to get the degree to allow me to actually apply for a job in tech. I had to spend 50-60 hours a week studying while trying to earn a little money on the side to make sure I could pay as many of my bills as I could. Financially it was a dark time for me and my family, but we came out the other side, and given where I am now in my career it was worth it.

I wouldn’t want to do it again though!

What is your expertise and what is a typical day for you?

I am an engineer at heart. My technical expertise is probably similar to a lot of .NET engineers, so I won’t bore anyone with the details.

Where I really like to think I stand out is my ability to work with people and help them develop. Working out how people think and what their motivations really interest me massively. I find it genuinely exciting when I get a new person joining my team as I get to start this process with them. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing someone succeed and guiding them to show the world the impact that they have had.

A typical day for me? I really don’t have one, which I love.

I work in an organization that feels like it is sometimes moving at the speed of light. I love this. I love the feeling of working under pressure. I love constantly having new problems to solve and hurdles to overcome. At a macro level, I always have my team to look after, and currently, I have this massive project to manage. At a micro level, there really is no typical day.

What is the favourite part of your job?

The people I work with.

I am a firm believer that if you are the smartest person in the room you are in, you need to pick another room as you have nothing to learn where you are.

I have been incredibly fortunate during my career to be constantly able to work with some incredibly smart people. I do my best to watch how these people behave and how they interact with others. I do my best to absorb all this so hopefully, it makes me a better manager and a better person over time.

What have you learned from your experience so far?

It’s never all candy canes and sweet-smelling roses. Sometimes, it’s really, really hard. I love my job but sometimes it just doesn’t go the way you wanted. You lose someone from the team you were close to, you miss a really important deadline, the project you have been working on for months gets canceled, etc.

My advice though is don’t lose heart. Over the long term, a career in tech (particularly software development for me) is incredibly rewarding and I wouldn’t change it for the world now. Don’t focus on the micro problems that will no doubt appear day today. Focus on the bigger goals and keep working toward them.

Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring engineers and testers who want to grow in the tech industry?

  • Learning your craft is a long and constant game. Have patience. Work Hard.
  • Be prepared for change and don’t shy away from it. It’s a constant in this industry.
  • Embrace new technology. Be an early adopter. If it doesn’t pan out, your knowledge has grown.
  • Tech knowledge is only half the picture. Learn how to talk to other people.
  • Do the dirty work. If your customer needs it, do it. You may not like it, but it builds relationships.
  • Build your network. Reach out to everyone from the janitor to the CEO. All those relationships matter.
  • Assume you know nothing, always. Assume everyone has something to teach you. Be humble.
  • Assume your wrong. If something goes wrong, start with yourself. How could you have avoided calamity?
  • Recognize when someone has helped you out. Say please and thank you. Drop a note to their boss.
  • Don’t try and solve problems on your own, for anything. This is a team game. Collectively you are smarter together.

 

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