Name: Ellen Candil

Current position: Engineering Manager

Bio: Ellen started out in tech working with software development and implementation in 2005, building websites in PHP, HTML, Adobe Dreamweaver, Framework and Flash, as well as programs in VBA, C# and Microsoft Access for small businesses. In 2010 she changed career to work with Microsoft Dynamics AX as a developer in x++, c#, SSRS and SQL. In 2016, Ellen began her path to become a technology leader.

Ellen is passionate about supporting Women in Tech; she has been a speaker on panels including: “How to Attract & Retain Female Tech Talent” for Hays in 2020, featured on the Oloros Brazilian Blog, and more recently, an article in the UK’s ThirtyOne magazine upcoming issue, discussing Microsoft ERP and DevOps combination.

Ellen says: “At the time, the idea of leaving my family, home, and friends in Brazil to pursue my dream of a career in senior tech leadership, was very scary. But I am glad that I took the risks and today I can share my path and experiences with others.”

Hi Ellen, tell us about your life before leadership – what kind of roles and projects did you work on?

Before taking the step up to leadership, I had the opportunity to work in different roles such as computer instructor, accounting, and developer.

My career path was decided in 2005 when I attended a technical school for two years, after which I got a job as a computer instructor in a computer school, specialising in training people to use Microsoft Office and Adobe.

Back then, women in IT were still very rare and it proved difficult to find a job afterwards, so I decided to work in accounting first. Luckily, that job opened the IT doors for me.

In 2010, in my first year at University studying Information Systems, I joined a Microsoft partner as a developer; the job required someone with Brazilian Fiscal and Accounting knowledge to build an .isv product inside Microsoft Dynamics AX. The product was sold to Microsoft in 2011.

From 2010 up to 2016, I worked as an analyst developer across projects in Brazil, Argentina, Ireland, England, Germany, Italy and Poland.

How did your first leadership position come about, and was it intentional on your part?

When I moved to the UK at the end of 2016, I decided that I wanted to take a step up to be the kind of manager missing in my career. In my roles as an analyst developer, I had not seen women in technical leadership roles. Shocking, isn’t it? So, it was totally intentional and I pushed for a more senior role.

I began working as a release manager at a fashion company on a project for the UK, Germany and Italy. I was responsible for the technical deliverables, including quality and documentation of the process, before getting the deployments into the production system. I thought that was the best opportunity [to pursue leadership] as I knew the fashion product they were implementing, and I had years of experience with the product.

A few months later, I took another leadership role – and joined the UK’s first clearing bank in more than 250 years – as a technical lead. I was responsible for the development, maintenance and documentation of the system; everything related to their finance and operations system. 

As someone who always looks for new challenges, I jumped at the chance to later join one of the biggest real states in the world, an American company rolling out Dynamics AX across England, Ireland, Germany and Poland. I first joined as technical lead to develop a new process that complied with SOX requirements and put together a technical team. Although they already had technical resources, they were relying on contractors and did not have a structure in place. After leading the data migration and establishing new processes to improve technical teamwork, I became Head of Development. It was an amazing opportunity to improve my knowledge in processes and procedures, creating policies and structuring the team, as well as working with budgets.

How did you manage the transition? What came easily / what was difficult?

I feel I could have managed the transition better. One of the things I love about leadership is the openness and authority to flag and resolve issues. Unfortunately, as part of my first leadership role, I worked with people who weren’t particularly forthcoming or collaborative, and it was clear I faced some obstacles and was wrongly treated poorly, due to my gender. 

Because of that experience, I became really tough and started to take everything personally. It took me a couple of years to process it, learn from it and ultimately let it go.

What was your biggest failure in that first leadership role?

My biggest failure was not in my first leadership role but in my third. I made the mistake of putting my job above everything else in my life and as part of that, I did not look after myself well. I was managing too many people and projects at the same time and it became difficult to keep track of. I had two panic attacks and developed anxiety, and wasn’t able to ask for help for over a year. That was my biggest failure: communication.

For me, a leader who cannot communicate will fail. Luckily, my mistake did not impact anybody, but it could have jeopardised my team’s success and that of the other leaders I worked closely with.

What made you keep doing it?

I still believe I can make a difference as a woman in tech and that we must push to make technology and technical support people-first and not ‘hidden in the basement’ as it is still sometimes viewed. IT isn’t an ‘expense’, but an investment! I want to bring this approach to customers.

Tell us a fun fact that nobody knows about you

Before lockdown, I could lift 102.5kg and half-squat 120kg! Slowly but surely, I am getting back to how I used to be. I am also one of those people that wakes up at 5am to go to Crossfit classes!

What are the three key skills you think every leader needs?

  • Be approachable: at any time and in any situation. 
  • Communication: listen and talk to everyone from the cleaner to the CIO. If you can communicate at every level in the hierarchy of a company, you can deal with any kind of situation regardless of the circumstances.
  • Collaboration: working together with a team is what makes the leader someone a ‘leader’ and not a ‘boss’. 

What have you learned about acquiring and retaining talent?

Acquiring:

  • Sometimes the best candidate won’t know the right answers, but if they have the best attitude, that person will be your most valuable resource.
  • Share your culture: how the team is structured, ideas, projects, your leadership style, and what you do with your team as extra or fun.
  • Avoid the ‘flatterers’: they can’t deal with stressful situations and most of the time talk more than they do.
  • The ‘stars’ are always the most difficult to manage, they will test your knowledge on the things they are good at, to prove you shouldn’t be their manager. But don’t mistake the ‘star’ ones with the intelligent ones. The latter can distinguish people’s skills and will value their leader because of the differences.

Retaining:

  • Go above and beyond for your team. Even if that means you will be impacted and sometimes get in ‘trouble’ because you defend their ideas.
  • Recognise their efforts: raise their achievements in team meetings and make sure you are not putting the other ones down.
  • Have a chat, conduct 1:1s and listen to what they have to say; let them be the ones talking most of the time.
  • Practice what you preach: if you listen to them and want to help, start by taking actions to help, share status, updates and even when there isn’t anything else you can do, but let them know everything that is going on.

How do you motivate your team and manage their stress levels?

Although I am naturally an anxious person, I deal very well with stressful environments and am able to keep calm. It shows the team that they can talk to me in any situation, But, if it doesn’t help, the best way is to listen.

There is a reason people go to therapy, and it is because therapists will listen to people’s problems. If you can listen to your team, they will share what is bothering them and it will help them manage their level of stress by themselves. Together you can see both problems and resolutions.

If that also doesn’t work, let them change context: go for a walk, go home, go for a coffee, etc. It doesn’t matter what it is, but let them do something else and get some headspace.

To motivate my team I like to innovate: bring games that can be helpful to get to know each other and hold in-house training days, where they share knowledge between themselves. I also believe in inspiring them to get to the next level of their career by offering external training and discussing their aspirations in life and how I can support them. Also, show other girls and women that they can get into a senior leadership role without needing to be ‘tough’. Because if I got there, they can too!

How do you manage your own stress levels and productivity?

To manage my stress, I normally go for a run or attend a CrossFit class. I need to do some kind of physical activity that requires most of my focus and doesn’t allow me to think about anything else.

Listening to music also really helps my productivity; it must be very loud so as to block other distractions (obviously, it will be while I am wearing earphones and not talking to anybody/collaborating!). This will be when I am finally able to get my list of activities and ideas, done.

How do you stay in sync with other parts of the business?

Having regular cross-team meetings. It does not need to be all the time, but if their department affects mine, then I would like to have a meeting where everyone talks about what they are working on and planning to do, etc. Emails can get lost for a few days, especially in my inbox(!), and those meetings can help fend off big disasters.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

I would probably say that I would like to do more panel talks about women in tech, sharing my experience and being an inspiration for other women, as well as supporting others and helping them get the jobs they want.

Finally, what product do you wish you’d invented?

I’ve never thought about this before – as I don’t think my path is to become an entrepreneur – but maybe Bluetooth because I love the idea of not having cables everywhere!

Thank you, Ellen!

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