Interview: Sèan Brazier, head of device management at the Parliamentary Digital Service
1. Describe your job…
The Parliamentary Digital Service (PDS) supports all users at Parliament, across the country. My team (currently 11 people) manage the hardware catalogue (what computers, tablet and smartphones are available), getting operating systems onto these and applications onto those, plus printing. We’re a busy third line team supporting all this, and we also work on multiple projects at any one time. I own the strategic direction for all these technologies, and attempt to make sure that everything runs smoothly. This is an area of IT that people interact with directly and really care about, so there’s a lot of talking to our users and ensuring that the technology meets what people need.
2. How did you get to where you are today?
Some hard work, lots of happy accidents, a few setbacks, following what I find interesting. I failed an English degree (twice) and discovered I was good at computers randomly in a temp job. I worked through a few different sectors, settling in the non-profit world because it motivated me to come to work. I worked my way up through the support ladder – fixing people’s computers, managing people who fixed people’s computers, and I stayed in touch with the technology behind all of this through reading, podcasts and certification so the eventual jump to Solution Architect (helping build stuff) wasn’t too great. Some things didn’t come off – I’ve needed a fair bit of perseverance. I’ve tended to move onto new challenges when I got bored. I’ve always been happier on the side of IT where it interacts with people and how they use it.
3. Talk us through a recent work day…
We’re very meeting-heavy here, so my work is often done between them. I’m usually in at 8 unless I’m doing the school run – I’ll spend the first hour trying to get ahead of my emails (wishful thinking). Then, as an example day:
- I met the team that run Office 365 to talk about how we could change the way we update Microsoft Office across the estate.
- Then I ran our team meeting, making sure we all knew what we are working on and identifying blockers to this work.
- We then ran a stand up meeting [a short daily meeting] on a project we’re doing in my team.
- I next attended a project board, to ensure that Windows 10 is rolled out and updated regularly here.
- Then straight to a meeting with another project that’s looking at improving cyber security around our applications here.
- In a rare bit of non-meeting time, I grabbed some lunch, and booked an escape room for a team social outing, then
- I attended a Google call talking about the way Android should be supported across enterprises.
- I caught up on my email (more wishful thinking)
4. What digital skills do you use on a daily basis?
I’m never sure if my skills are digital enough. I do a lot of research. ‘Just Google it’ is easy, but parsing what you get back can be hard. I do a lot of thinking about planning – what we need to do, how we might get there, what processes we’ll need to invent to get us there. I do some troubleshooting, though less than I used to. I collaborate both within my team and across others, both digitally and by using my feet/mouth. My team manage a lot of digital platforms that enable all our technologies, and I have to understand all of these well enough to not look like an idiot in front of the experts in my team.
5. What digital skills or attributes would you encourage educators to support young people to develop?
- Understand how to interact with people on different platforms. What’s the etiquette? When should you not contact people? Are you IM’ing someone when you should be sitting with them?
- Research for troubleshooting. I’m from a support background, so learning how to go from an error code to the right fix for your situation, as opposed to the other 387 situations that code appeared in is something you can learn.
- Write well about technology. It will really make you stand out. Many, many technologists don’t write very much – you have to do it to be good at it.
- Background reading. If you understand context because you’ve listened to podcasts, or read the tech (or wider) press, you’ll sound like you have the most relevant opinions, even if they’re not strictly speaking your opinions.
- Collaboration. Technology has a million tools to help you collaborate, but you have to figure out when/how to ask for opinions and when to make a decision. Watch how other people do it.
- Be curious. Try and suspend your ego. Ask for help and clarification if need it, even if you’re worried you’ll look stupid.
6. What advice would give to a young person looking to enter the digital sector?
Try stuff out. Follow what you’re passionate about, and what you find interesting. Find an industry that motivates you. Be prepared to move sideways as a gamble to get into somewhere you want to be. If something fails, work out why and use that to do a better job. < This will happen – don’t be afraid of it. Look at the trends in your bit of the sector – where is stuff going? Learn about this – do you need to train to stay ahead of the game? Remember that people are why the digital stuff is cool – understand what the people need. Sometimes qualifications are important, sometimes experience is important. Ask someone who’s got where you want to be how they got there. People love sharing their experiences. Do it because you like it.