International women’s day special: The IT Chat with Rubi Kaur

For Rubi Kaur, senior solutions architect at Vodafone with over 20 years’ experience in technical lead experience, working in science and technology has always been her future. Under her purview in Vodafone, she’s responsible for putting together unified communications technical solutions and collaboration services for enterprises around the world to help stay connected, communicate and create value for their customers. During her tenure in the UK government in 2012, Rubi led her team to win the Business Green IT Team of the year and the Government Finance Award for Sustainability.

Despite being the only girl in an A-Level physics class, a minority in the university, as well as the only female architect in the room, Rubi has never been deterred from chasing her goals in IT. A relentless supporter of women in technology, she’s a fellow of the BCS and serves on the committee for BCSWomen as well as the SteerCo for the Vodafone Group Women’s network, where she leads the “Inspiring Leadership” program to promote the growth of women in technology. Freshservice spoke to her about all of this and more.

What inspired you to pursue a career in IT even when there weren’t that many women role models to look up to at that period?

I’ve always been interested in science and technology since school, and I knew it had to be the future. So I decided that’s where I wanted to be, even at a young age – it was a natural progression. Being minority in university, and now at work, has never put me off and will never stop me from chasing my goals in technology. The only other area I was interested in at school was economics. Who knows where I could be now, had I pursued that line.

What really inspires me is that technology knows no barriers, and the pace of discovery and change is breathtaking.

Working in IT is challenging, to say the least. What was the most arduous feat you’ve achieved?

Although it was nerve-wracking, this was one of the greatest experiences for me. I was asked to present the results of a technology feasibility study which my brilliant team had undertaken at the UK Government Treasury in Whitehall to a panel of 30 executive board members of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. I needed to convince the board that the organization should adopt Mobile and Flexible working technologies and policies across the workforce of 80,000 to improve departmental efficiency and assist civil service reform, and I successfully won their support.

The experience taught me to always be confident, believe in myself and my tech knowledge. Being confident, articulate, and passionate while delivering presentations makes a big difference in the impact I create.

Given your scope of work at Vodafone, how do you organize work with your team despite the boundaries?

My typical day is all about collaboration and alignment. As I am responsible for putting together the components of the solution architecture, this involves technical meetings with suppliers, project teams, and the product manager to ensure there is alignment to the business, and the solution to deliver the requirements.

That said, there’s so much more to the role than technical skills – problem-solving, technical know-how, design, and strategic thinking, alignment as well as judgment.  

Though our head office is in Newbury, UK, Vodafone’s global footprint extends to over 60 operating countries around the world. And in this particular role, I do not manage a team, but there are over 100 people of diverse cultures and nationalities in the international team – being part of this makes you appreciate the diversity of different nationalities and cultures who come together to solve problems and create compelling technology solutions.

As you explore more innovative styles of working, what do you look for when you recruit for your team?

I always go beyond just the technical skills. I look for problem solvers who have fantastic team-working, networking skills and enjoy putting their heads together with like-minded people. It’s really important that those people can think for themselves and have a driven passion for succeeding in everything they do.  

With the rise of the digital age, so has remote working in organizations. How do you manage to collaborate with international teams?

Working in remote teams has become the norm now. Being part of a virtual international team automatically requires you to pick up new skills, like being highly articulate and a good communicator – with more importance for listening skills. While not everyone might be able to communicate well, it’s a good practice to always sense-check and not assume before understanding an issue. Another tip – always respect cultural sensitivities.

Based on your own successes, what are your two cents for women trying to make a breakthrough in tech?

Rubi Kaur BCSWomenJust be yourself, and be strong. You have many unique skills to bring to the tech industry and we need women just like you. There are so many technology job roles to get involved in, for example, I know lots of women in tech whose job roles range from business analyst, project manager, programme manager, systems analyst, systems designer, UX [user experience] designer, app designer, solution designer, enterprise architect to technical journalist and tech entrepreneur. Look for opportunities in everything you do, and keep up with the change.

Customer satisfaction is the biggest driver for an organization’s success. What’s the one thing that every solutions architect should do to ensure great customer service?

Always be on top of your game, and see things from a customer’s point of view. You need to understand and design the architecture building blocks from a customer’s perspective – this will ensure that you build something that delivers exceptional customer service.

To build a successful IT team for this, I firmly believe in focusing on the ability to design, deliver and operate a quality product every single time. Also, never get stuck into too much technical detail. It’s unnecessary and wastes time for solution architects.

You’ve been in IT all your life. What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve received and what do you wish you had known when you began your career?

The best advice about IT – change is always going to happen, you just have to ride the wave and enjoy it. The one thing I wish I had known when I started out is that you need more than IT skills to survive. You need to be a problem solver and have excellent business and communication skills for the long run.