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Five minutes with a senior technologist at CGI

Nottingham Trent graduate Tara McGeehan tells us how she climbed the career ladder at global IT and business process services provider CGI and went from analyst to vice president of energy and utilities UK, managing 400 people.
Seek our an employer that allows you to share and express your views, and live up to your potential.

We don’t come across many IT professionals with an industrial studies degree. What made you choose it?

Industrial studies is a hybrid degree that consists of business, engineering and computer science – this mix of subjects appealed to me.

Describe your job at CGI for us.

I run the UK energy and utilities business for CGI. This means I set the strategy on what we are going to sell, I build and maintain senior client relationships to help us sell our solutions and products, and I am ultimately responsible for the delivery of all our projects to time, quality and budget. The business has grown year on year since I have been in charge, in revenue, profit and number of clients.

How did you know IT was right for you?

I was interested in how the industry was still setting its own rules. Having an engineering background I liked the idea that you could take some of the blueprint and structure of that mature industry and apply it to a rapidly moving industry such as IT. I never wanted to code, but analysis and the translation of requirements to specifications interested me.

What was your first job after university and how did you secure it?

After I graduated from university I applied for a management trainee programme at Corah, a clothing manufacturer. The recruitment process was typical for this type of role. There were several rounds, which included a group exercise and a face-to-face interview. There were only two vacancies and more than 100 applicants, so it was pretty competitive!

What aspects of your CV do you think helped you to get hired by CGI?

I think making your CV specific to the role and company you are applying for is a good idea. I didn’t apply for many roles, but I spent time ensuring the applications were high quality and reflected my understanding of the organisation I was applying to.

What have your major career steps been?

I started out in CGI in analysis and then became a team leader. It wasn’t long before I progressed to project manager, following which I specialised in utilities and IT and went into consulting. After that I started to manage groups and then departments, and now I run a 400-strong business unit.

Tell us about a career highlight at CGI.

Two years ago we won the Smart Metering Implementation programme, a £75m contract with Smart DCC Ltd to become the data service provider for the company. We worked hard to do this over a three-year period and are now the recognised world experts in this developing area of IT. On a personal level, winning CGI’s Builder Award for outstanding contribution to the business last year was very gratifying and meant a lot to the team.

And a career crisis?

Before I joined CGI I was working for a small company that was swallowed by a large one. This was the first time I had been involved in an acquisition. It’s hard when you don’t
choose a new company but find the decision is made for you. However, I think going through that makes you far more robust as a person.

What aspect of your job do you find the most challenging?

I am in the minority as a woman at a senior level in CGI, which often means I can be the only woman in a meeting. Making sure I express my views is something I’m conscious of at times.

What words of careers advice would you offer young people entering the profession?

Be flexible and prepared to do a bit of everything for the first couple of years. The more versatile you are throughout life the more experiences you will be able to have, and therefore the more employable you will be later in your career. Read lots and embrace learning; most companies offer excellent online training now. Keep refreshing your skills and when you go for an interview do your research and ask about the business. Try to be keen but not arrogant. And don’t get cynical!

What advice would you give aspiring female technologists?

Start out doing a bit of everything and then specialise in an area you love. Seek out an employer that allows you to share and express your views and live up to your potential, and then ensure you do the same when you get the opportunity to look after and mentor people.

What particular skills do you possess that make you good at your job?

I’m pragmatic and fair – even when that is seen as harsh at times. I like the industry and our clients, and I try to make work fun for my team.

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