We get to know Tanya Long, the Chief Operating Officer at Argility, to see what makes her tick…
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
While there are many projects that stand out for me as having a positive impact, I would say my most memorable achievement is the leadership roles to which I have been appointed to in my career. When I commenced working in the technology world, there were very few women in management roles. In my youth I was driven towards success and thought that I had to show up and compete with my male colleagues in their ‘game’ to get a seat at the table.
I wore pin striped suits and tried to do things better on what was considered the norm for a tech leader. This honestly caused stress, as being something that you are not takes excess energy. There came a point in time, where close to burnout, I realised that regardless of the levels of success, if you compromise yourself trying to be something that you’re not, then the journey is meaningless. I re-evaluated my life, owned my femininity, and decided to become a leader who brings all of these strengths to the role – even if they were not outlined in the traditional job description – and structured my work to have time for my family and passions. I much prefer the leader that I am today and I’m sure my colleagues also do, by being true to myself, showing vulnerability and compassion and knowing that just because you’re wearing a floral dress doesn’t signify that you don’t expect results.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
My father. He knew a guy, who knew a guy who was doing ‘great’ things in computers. So I did what any teenage girl would do, I rebelled and went backpacking. During this time I did temp work overseas, and got thrown a job where I had to work on a Wang PC. It frustrated me so much, that I signed up for a course to master it and loved it, that as soon as I arrived home I sent myself on a programming and networking course. Needless to say, there were many Christmas lunches that contained a few ‘I told you so’s’.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
I am for servant leadership and a coaching or motivational management style. Ultimately as a manager and leader it is about people and how passionate, engaged and effective they are. If you believe in peoples’ greatness, empower them to be the best versions of themselves possible and hold them to that capability – you can truly call yourself a leader.
What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?
In our world it is customer experience, Internet of Things (IoT) and data science. The technology world is so competitive that a successful organisation needs to focus on bringing extra value to the customer, to simplify their lives. There is a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and IoT but also a slight hesitancy to embrace these innovations which I believe is purely due to not knowing where and how to start, and whom to partner with.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
I call them my 2 W’s. Walking my hounds and writing are my best stress busters. A couple of years ago after reading Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way, I started writing morning pages first thing, a gratitude diary at night and then a weekly blog, which have been useful tools to help make sense of things.
If you could go back and change one career decision what would it be?
To not hold on so long to something that’s not working. Over the years, there have been some stressful situations where I thought, ‘If I just tried this, or tried that’, I could solve this. The result is that I held onto certain things too long. I worked in a role that despite the challenges sapped my energy and for a few years made me completely unhappy. Eventually I had the courage to resign and in spite of the initial fear, I have never looked back. These days it is not that I give up; I have just learned to respect myself enough to know when to walk away.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
Cloud tools and architecture; advanced analytics, inclusive of Machine Learning and data science, and IoT. The ultimate goal is, of course, the digitisation of the value chains and providing a personalised customer experience with frictionless service.
What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in Africa?
There is no doubt that solutions implemented in Africa have to understand the challenges, which are often not solved with international products. Solution design and hardware needs to be able to manage unreliable infrastructure in connectivity and power and must meet the needs of the customer segment that one is targeting.
What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?
I have been on a whirlwind of change since moving from Human Capital Executive to Chief Operating Officer of Argility, a few months ago. The benefit is being able to bring all sections of the business together to drive strategy and execution. Having oversight of sales and marketing now, together with culture, engagement and operations, has allowed me to impact from beginning to end. Going forward I’m thrilled to be able to begin with the end in mind and track it through the full loop.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain C-level position in your industry?
Surround yourself with exceptional people who challenge you, if you’re the smartest person in the room then be worried. Be teachable and continuously push yourself to learn and take on new things. Set WIGs (Wildly Important Goals) weekly, monthly, yearly – for the right reasons.
Be 100% committed to achieving them. Do the work; there are no traffic jams on the extra mile. Make sure you live in integrity and show the way. Never expect anyone to do something that you are not prepared to do yourself. And lastly have courage, take on things that scare you and if you fall down, own it, dust yourself off quickly, learn the lesson and keep moving forward.