Rob started as an OS/2 & Smalltalk Developer back in the year 2000 when Endava was just starting out as a small firm in London. Read the story of someone who has been part of taking Endava from those small beginnings to a fully global firm.
Describe your professional path within the company.
I started at Endava as an OS/2 & Smalltalk Developer when I was looking to move into Unix & Java. Endava was just starting out as a small firm of about 10 to 20 staff in London and the world was just emerging from the Y2K crisis and in the middle of the dot-com boom. At that point, Endava was just moving onto Java via a technology called Silverstream, from a technology called PowerBuilder. We rapidly moved on to just plain old Java and also BEA Weblogic and Oracle technologies.
I became an architect in around 2001, helped author a couple of technical books (Professional WAP in 2000 and Professional Java Mobile in 2001, Wrox Press), and spent a lot of time with Julian Bull (now our Chief Commercial Officer) travelling around London talking to clients about how we could help them deliver real change in their industries using new technologies.
By 2007 we had offices in Chisinau and Cluj as well as London, and I was the UK Delivery Director and Endava’s Chief Technical Architect. I left Endava to join a global bank which gave me great experience of how a large investment bank operates, how complex the eco-systems of a global bank can be, and how to deliver production systems in a 24x7 operational environment. I managed teams in the UK, US, India, and Russia and learned from the inside how the financial markets operate. I was away for three years.
When I rejoined Endava in 2010 we were just over 500 staff, and I took the role of UK Managing Director and headed up the Financial Services Sector. Subsequently, I assumed responsibility for all the client-facing business groups, was an Endava Board Director for a few years, and am now the Chief Operating Officer.
My role at Endava seems to evolve and change as the company grows, but in some ways, the basic parts of my role remain the same as it has always been. I work alongside Julian Bull - Julian's team sell it, and me and my team deliver it - it’s a close partnership and one I love.
Tell us about what drives you at Endava.
My job combines three things that I care about:
1. Computational problem-solving, which comes from my love of Mathematics and Philosophy
2. Using my talents (for better or worse!) to try to improve the economy and working environments and the livelihoods of our teams, by delivering to our clients the highest possible productivity, quality, and innovation as they disrupt their businesses and industries using next-generation technology
3. Helping our clients to personally succeed in their businesses - it’s all about making our clients successful as individuals
My proudest moment at Endava is probably getting the COO role - leading the whole of delivery at Endava is a huge honour for me, particularly as we continue to grow in all our current locations and expand in new locations around the world.
How would your colleagues describe you in one sentence?
I have no idea! I would hope they would say I was smart, trusted, open, thoughtful and adaptable! But I think they might also say I was driven, tribal and competitive (and frequently a bit chippy) . Things I see as my strengths (and sometimes my weaknesses!).
Name some books/tutorials/speeches that had an effect on your career path.
Christopher Alexander’s book “A Timeless Way of Building” was a big influence on me as a technologist - it made me think about what we build as software developers in a more structural and physical way, both for those who have to use our systems, but mainly those who later have to inhabit them as technicians from a future support and development point of view - there can be great beauty hidden in code.
Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and Paul Feyerabend’s “Against Method” probably had the biggest influence on me when I was young about how we know things, and how we structure knowledge. I started off studying Physics at University, but didn’t much care for all the practicals (!), so ended up switching to Mathematics and Philosophy and studying the Philosophy of Science in some depth; the department I was in was hugely influenced by Karl Popper, but I was much more drawn to Kuhn and later Feyerabend, and both their ideas helped shape how I saw the world.
The other book that definitely affected how I saw the world as a manager of people was Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism and Humanism” - it’s all about managing feelings of overwhelming angst, futility, and alienation and striving for authenticity!
Tell us more about yourself outside of work.
Books and reading are probably my biggest passion and expenditure! I’ve always got a few books on the go!
I’m a big fan of the theatre, and love taking advantage of London’s theatres, with my family; plays, musicals, concerts, and ballet, if it’s on stage… I love it all!
I’m also a big photography fan, and love taking snaps and sharing on Instagram and Facebook - as many Endavans who are connected with me on social media will know!
One of my defining characteristics is how I react to change; I’m very comfortable in a changing environment, but can also be highly nostalgic. I think this comes from an incident when I was about 14 years old when it was decided that my school should close, and merge with the two other schools in my hometown. For our final year of secondary school, all the younger kids were moved to other schools, and just the final year was left. But no teaching happened there anymore, and we were bused to lessons at other schools, coming back at break times to kick about our empty school. I remember our art teacher reciting from a poem by Yeats: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold” - it was a profound lesson in impermanence and disintegration. But although there was cause for sadness in many of the traditions of our school ending, I also loved the fact things previously solid were breaking down, and new structures emerging from the ashes to meet new demands, and all the opportunities that brought.
Something else you may not know is that I did not start my career in IT. When I left university, I spent 2 years as a Tax Accountant before I transitioned into IT via the Tax Technology group.
What advice would you give yourself if you were starting work at Endava today?
Culture (and specifically team health) eats strategy for breakfast.