The new Tech at Mintel series shines a spotlight on our global IT department and how some of the industry’s best and brightest build Mintel’s modern, agile, and scalable technology backbone.
I’ve worked at Mintel for nearly 15 years and, like many of my colleagues, one of the main reasons I’ve stayed this long is the people-driven culture that’s been present from day one. Heck, our company purpose is “Helping people and business to grow” (emphasis added), after all!
Over the past fifteen years, I’ve grown alongside our IT team from a software developer to a team lead to a member of our senior management team. During that time, I’ve focused on the people aspects of the department to make sure we weren’t losing what so many of us love about Mintel as we grew into a team of nearly 120 spread across three locations (London, Chicago, and Shanghai). And that’s why, when we decided to expand our software engineering team into Belfast, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to lead our recruitment efforts there… and turn that experience into the role I have now.
What we set out to do
As Mintel’s business has grown, so have our ambitions. In early 2021, we decided to add roughly 40 IT roles – more than a 30% increase to our existing department – as part of a larger investment into Mintel’s future. We elected to add the majority of these roles in Belfast, where we already had a small Data Science team and a relationship with Invest Northern Ireland. This would also give us a fourth location as an option for adding people in the future.
The plan was to have our new Belfast team start contributing to significant projects right away. This meant step one was to hire a VP of Engineering and then go after more experienced candidates.
One thing that we realized early on was we needed someone to dedicate themselves to this project. It required more than just time spent in interviews; we needed to put the right amount of effort into designing the roles and setting up effective team structures by working with IT managers, HR, and other parts of our business regularly.
What we did, and what we learned
Hiring a team of senior engineers required more than just coming up with a set of interview questions and getting on a bunch of Zoom calls. Expanding showed us that we needed to look at how we do things more holistically — that’s where I came in. As part of my assignment, I was tasked with making changes in the following areas.
Over the past two decades, we had developed a reliable process for hiring software developers who were on their first or second job, but had struggled when it came to hiring more experienced candidates. Since adding senior engineers to our team was crucial to our business objectives, we needed to rethink our overall approach to recruitment.
A key component of this was working closely with our Recruitment team to ensure we were always on the same page in terms of the type of candidates we were looking for and how the market was responding to our job ads and sourcing methods.
We also identified regional inconsistencies in our interview process that we’re addressing as a global department.
Prior to expansion, we had engineering teams of 30 or more, along with a VP of Engineering in both London and Chicago, and a team of less than 10 in Shanghai. While we made a good effort at cross-regional collaboration, we still found ourselves working in silos and attempting to solve the same problems from time to time. It was critical that we didn’t exacerbate this problem with a new team in Belfast!
The biggest change was to redefine the responsibilities of a VP of Engineering. Instead of a regional operating model, we updated our management tree so that each general area – application development, shared services, and the underlying data platform – is owned by a VP, with teams that span multiple locations This new structure allows us to hire engineers in Belfast that can contribute to any of our teams.
It’s not a perfect setup just yet, but it has helped our new SVP of Engineering (another new role we added) to hit the ground running.
What lies ahead
This is where I start talking about myself again. At this point in time, we’ve hired all but a handful of the new roles, so this specific project has wound down. But the lessons learned while expanding into Belfast have resulted in yet another new role for me: Global IT
Training and Enablement Director.
What does that role do, other than roll so beautifully off the tongue? The elevator pitch is that I will focus on working closely with our HR, Recruitment, and Training and Development teams to help all of our IT colleagues be more successful. In more detail:
Training and personal development
As part of our investment into IT, we’ve set aside some budget for everyone to use for personal training and development purposes. My role is to facilitate the use of this budget and empower everyone within the department to continue growing their skills.
Promoting people management best practices
Prior to expansion, I had already gotten involved in this area quite a bit by helping to develop our engineering career framework and putting together some management resources. Now that I’ve taken on this new role, my goal is to reduce friction when managers need to take on standard management challenges such as recruitment, performance management, and career development. Step one is to continue standardizing our interview process and make sure those materials are easily accessible for managers and others involved.
Celebrating our achievements and excellence
Back when I started and IT was about a third of the size it is now, it was easy to know what other teams were working on and who was doing great work. But as we’ve grown, it’s naturally gotten more difficult. Recognizing all the IT department’s talented people is important in maintaining our awesome culture and making Mintel a great place to work, so we need to be proactive about celebrating our accomplishments!
Overall, I’m very excited to take on these new challenges, and I think progress in these areas will be a huge win for Mintel!