Did you enjoy school?
I certainly enjoyed aspects of school. I went to school in central London and the school was very diverse with students from many interesting backgrounds. The friends I made there are still amongst my closest friends today. I had some very passionate teachers, particularly in politics and this rubbed off on me and was partly responsible for me continuing the subject to degree level.
What was a shame was there was a culture amongst students where those who worked hard and showed a genuine interest in learning were labelled as geeks or ‘boffins’. I struggled with this as I enjoyed getting involved. I used to run things like Debating Club and an Amnesty International group, but I’d try to play down a lot of the effort I put into it. I think about all the opportunities missed because of this culture.
What qualifications do you have?
I hold a degree in Politics from Birmingham University.
Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or a combination of both?
It’s been quite a smooth transition in that I’ve always been interested in fixing public sector IT. There’s so much more support we can give those who are vulnerable in society with good digital services. And by improving technology and data, and simplifying our estate, there’s so many cost efficiencies to be saved, with that cost then being able to be directed elsewhere.
I started my career working as a journalist frequently writing column pieces with my thoughts on different large public sector IT projects. When the Government Digital Service came along, I saw so much passion and drive in the people starting it up, I felt inspired to get involved myself and join the Civil Service to directly try and help fix the types of issues I had been writing about.
What is the best career advice you can give to others?
To make sure you fully understand the problem you are trying to fix and to make sure you focus on solutions that address the problem. Often people get so focused on the solution itself, they forget why they are doing it. Ask questions and get to the bottom of how things are working so you have a very clear picture of whatever situation you are trying to tackle. It sounds obvious but there’s a lot of people that try and get work done without fully understanding aspects of it and then the project ends up unfeasible or lacks direction, or both.
If you had to pick one mentor that had the biggest influence on you, who would it be?
It would be a previous head of content at GDS, who was also my line manager for a while I was setting up the government technical writing community. I found her very inspiring as a leader. She is someone who can motivate people with simply her confidence and positive attitude, and has the knack of getting people wanting to learn more and do more. She empowered her teams, encouraging them to use their initiative and judgement in their work, but was always on hand if you were struggling with something. I found her to be very authentic and always had complete trust in her leadership. As I have found myself in more leadership positions myself, I frequently think ‘how would Trisha have handled this?’
From where do you draw inspiration?
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My family. My mum, dad and older siblings were all journalists as I grew up and started my career. It was them who taught me how to write and communicate ideas clearly and succinctly. It was also them who taught me to question things I didn’t understand and try to remove ambiguity wherever possible. They also instilled a desire in me to try and make the world a better place!
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced to date?
Setting up the Data Standards Authority (DSA) in lockdown while home-schooling my two young children, alone as a single parent.
The DSA is a new government authority focussed on fixing data exchange across the public sector, so that both services and decision-making can become more data-driven.
What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?
A lot of the qualities I mention above! Parenting teaches you how essential it is to show passion in order to build passion in others. I think being able to inspire others is a sign of good leadership. David Attenborough is someone who is great at this. His speeches bring me to tears and I feel so fired up about the environment afterwards. My daughter was also so motivated by his talks, she’s started an environmental club at her school.
Linked to this, I think good leaders need to be able to get people wanting to do things. I see a lot of ex-military people who are very good at motivating people towards a goal, and they remain relaxed while doing so. I think often this involves the leader getting really stuck in and aware of all the details. I think our current Home Office CTO is very good at this. He manages to stay on top of so many strands of work, while still being involved in the detail, and appearing completely calm.
From a work viewpoint what has the last 12 months been like?
A bit strange. I started at the Home Office and still have yet to meet the majority of my colleagues in person. I’m enjoying learning about how a department works compared to the centre of government. It has been pretty intense since I joined though. We launched the Home Office Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) Strategy on GOV.UK at the end of the summer. Since then I’ve been working on the Home Office DDaT assurance model and how we can improve things there.
What would you say are the biggest tech-based challenges we face today?
In the public sector, it’s making data exchange more effective across the different departments and organisations. That, and how we deal with legacy IT.
Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know.
I learnt how to DJ different genres of dance music while at university. I didn’t drink alcohol for a long period so djing was a way I could get involved in the dance scene and still have a lot of fun. I never became very good though. I still listen to a lot of music although now I’m more into softer sounds. I’m currently listening to a lot of Jazz as I learn how to swing dance.