From the moment I met Jeni, I knew that I wanted to work at the Open Data Institute. And with the help of a data themed pub quiz I designed (hiring processes were quirky back then), I left the civil service in November 2013 to start my dream job.
Four years and a few days later, I found myself reading out my leaving speech, in which I said that I didn’t know many organisations where you could meet Prime Ministers across Europe; sit down with a CXO/Director to discuss and design their data strategy; present to a group of 1,000 professionals about the future of their industry; or get an award from a princess. The ODI was an incubator/accelerator for my personal development and growth.
It was a place where I built on my data strategy skills by helping corporates to go open; where I became a registered trainer and taught leaders across the World about data and innovation; where I survived large scale and multi-year European projects and met new colleagues and friends from outside of our little island. I worked with completely new sectors including sport, global development, agriculture, finance, legal and academia.
When I announced I was leaving a few folks asked if I would share my stories, projects I worked on and lessons I learnt during my time at the ODI.
I’ve put a lot of pictures in, mainly because its the weird gap between Christmas and New Years where you forget what day it is and question if starting the day with chocolate/bubbles is still okay.
‘Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.’ I’ve spent a lot of long days in conference rooms with questionable catering — and travelled to places I could never dream of. ODI took me to Tanzania, Ukraine, Norway, Slovenia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Germany, many Greek islands, Ireland, Austria and new cities/states in USA, Spain, France, Belgium and Portugal. There’s definitely more I’m missing off that list.
I’ve spent a week staying in a log cabin in Beitostolen with Swirrl working on the DaPaaS (Data and Platform as a Service) project during the day and snowboarding and eating reindeer at night. I’ve travelled to Kiev to deliver two days of training and facilitation and been greeted at the airport with a huge sign, flowers and tears of excitement from Ukraine’s future Prime Minister.
I’ve survived a week of delivering workshops, talks and panels at the International Open Data Conference in Madrid — and stayed on for the weekend to celebrate with some of the team in a huge house, crafting homemade tapas and reading Chat magazine’s real life stories by the pool. I’ve even eaten dinner in a castle that was prepared by Ana Roš, the World’s best female chef.
When I joined the ODI I was a shy 26 year old who had never(!) travelled alone and had appalling knowledge of geography. When I arrived in Bulgaria for the first time I really felt like I’d made it as I strolled through the city, navigating myself, talking to strangers and getting (inevitably) lost in a new place — and enjoying the entire experience.
I flew on a plane that got struck by lighting. I’ve had connecting flights cancelled and cried with exhaustion in unfamiliar airports. Oh and I’ve caught e-coli. But I’ve also slept in an eight year old girl’s princess bed.
‘Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go’. It is only because of the woman sat by my side for years, the incredible Anna Scott, that I’ve been confident to put pen to paper. I find it embarrassing to say that I’m dyslexic and that I really struggle with punctuation and grammar. It holds me back from blogging more. Anna has taken my verbose ideas, research findings and practical experiences and crafted them into clear, accessible papers that people love to read. Further credit to Adrian Philpott, the man behind the ODI brand.
I’ve found out how companies are using open data and why big businesses are embracing open innovation. I was interviewed about my experiences in leading a data initiative in government for our paper on open data in government: how to bring about change.
And most recently launched the Data Ethics Canvas to help those collecting, sharing and working with data. (Papers on data infrastructure for legal data and investment banking are due to be published soon).
Find your tribe. Spend your time in a workplace which puts people and culture first, where you can bring your whole self to work, and where you can be open, vulnerable and trusting.
If it’s true that we’re the average of the five people that we spend the most amount of time with, then spend it with good people who you can learn from and teach, be led and lifted up by. Weather tough storms together with optimism and hope. I treasure the people I met at ODI, and know that some of them will always be in my life.
Don’t think you’ve found your workplace Tribe yet? Look around you. Do your colleagues match your values? Do you connect to the mission of your organisation? Can you be yourself or do you have a ‘work’ self that you’re uncomfortable to act out each day? When you can’t be yourself, or aren’t appreciated or your values feel compromised, then go and take your brilliant self elsewhere.
Always take the time to appreciate people. Briony introduced the concept of the SAYbox which encourages people to anonymously post suggestions, appreciations and ‘did you know’ facts about each other. During our team meetings and offsites, we would pass the box around and add notes for each other to read them out at the end.
In a world of delivering at pace and rarely making the time to reflect between completing one project and starting another, this was a wonderful way of sharing successes, recognising smaller projects which can easily get dwarfed by larger ones, and taking the time to thank each other. I have a vintage suitcase full of kind things people have written about me, which I’ve re-read at times I’ve struggled to believe in myself.
Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes. Before I came to the ODI, I was too nervous to speak in public and didn’t speak up in meetings. I felt frustrated that I used to let my colleagues in the civil service present my work, or that I played small because I didn’t want to be bossy. The best thing I did was to have coaching sessions with Carl in my first few months at the ODI.
I used to force myself to get on stage to deliver talks, and keep a list of every time I’ve spoken in public to remind myself of how far I’ve come. The nerd in me treats each speaking engagement like a mini mission, eg, ‘delivered a speech without slides’, or ‘used a Madonna style microphone even though I thought I would knock it off my face because of my enthusiastic hand gestures’.
There’s plenty more projects, people, cities, achievements and failures that I’ve forgotten. I’m sure I’ll come back to this and add more in.
But for now, ODI cast and alumni, this ones for you. Don’t be a stranger.