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January 16, 2018
Leaping into the unknown and loving it
By: Niamh McKenna
Niamh

I joined Accenture straight out of university – I’m a bit of a lifer. I studied social and political science and the thing I didn’t know when I joined was how much I would enjoy the technology side of things. When I came onboard, no matter what part of the business you joined, you would learn computer programming for a few weeks.

In school, I’d been writing essays about American politics and Wittgenstein’s philosophy and things like that so I hadn’t come across anything like coding before. I really enjoyed it. It was one of those happy accidents where you inadvertently end up doing something you really enjoy!

My journey in the first few years was quite traditional, I started out in what we called our systems integration part of the business doing programming and testing. After a few years of that, I wanted a change. So I took a leap, doing pure management consulting in retail — and I loved it. I had to learn it all very quickly and had great fun doing so. In fact, the best things I’ve ever done in my life have always been when I’ve taken a leap into the unknown.

Then I took my next leap — into (at the time) an emerging, but not well-known part of our business — outsourcing. At the time, I could barely spell “outsourcing,” but it ended up being probably the best job I ever had. I led a team of about 100 people in central London doing first-line support for a retailer. Everyone there was very kind to me, even though I was probably a bit of a young upstart. But in fact they took me under their wing and taught me everything I needed to know.

After many happy years in retail, I leapt again. They were looking for people to go and work in Japan in 2013. I put up my hand up and lived and worked there for three years as COO of our health and public sector business. In fact I’d never even been to Japan before. But again, I just took one of those steps into the abyss and landed on my feet. I really enjoyed the team there and just living and working in Japan was a brilliant experience. They welcomed me with open arms, I brought some change with me and Japan also changed my view.

Now I look after our healthcare business in the UK — combining technology and everything else I’ve learned through client-facing work. You know, ultimately, that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning, speaking to clients and helping them directly with their challenges.

We’re at an exciting point where all this new technology is democratising everything, including work. Anyone can learn it. You don’t need a degree in computer science to be able to add value. One of Accenture’s health tech trends is “Design for Humans” and that is an opportunity for people with social science backgrounds. If you studied sociology or psychology you’re used to asking questions like: Why do humans do the things they do? Why are we interacting in the way we are? Why is society moving in the direction that it is? You can learn a lot of the technology and for complicated things like quantum computing, we have very talented colleagues who handle that. Diversity of thinking is what’s really important. Never let the tech bit put you off. You never know where you might end up!

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