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ACS-Women - Industry Insiders: Helen McHugh

Wednesday, 19 Nov 2014

Keeping agile
                           

Helen McHugh has overseen some major ICT projects and never hesitates to tackle problems head on. We discussed career, family and the juggling act it requires.

Tell us a little bit about your career to date.

I have worked in many roles and have loved all of them; as developer, help desk manager, test manager, project manager, PMO, coach and mentor. It’s all been great fun, and full of big challenges.

My advisor told me to ‘get yourself onto the big projects and move around’. So I did. The really big projects were part of the Australian Tax Office tax reform program and at the Government’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations’ Welfare to Work program. Big bodies of work, fast releases, high profile and stressful but it was never boring.

At the moment I am working on a couple of ACS’s boards. I am semi-retired and am giving this time to helping ACS and ACS Women to achieve an improvement in women in ICT.

How did you get into IT?

When I went to uni I was very young, only 17. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so my dad suggested becoming a librarian. It’s a job you can go back to after you have kids. As part of the degree we had to do one unit of IT. As I started the unit, I thought this is what I want to do - writing programs and creating systems for people.

I was a digital native as I grew up around computers. My dad was one of the two first programmers in Australia working on the CSIRAC: Australia’s first computer.

How did you get to where you are now?

Hard work, big projects, an excellent ICT degree behind me and some wonderful CIOs who let me be a part of change programs.

Tell us a bit about where you work

I have performed the same role in the last three organisations, as a PMO system development ‘methodologist’. That just means I have a good grounding in system development life-cycles and project management lift cycles. So I run project offices, recruit project managers, induct them and then do continuous improvement of the processes. When needed I will jump in and deliver a project that has fallen behind for some reason.

What do you love most about your job?

I love building systems but I mostly enjoy working across teams and helping the program and project managers, and their teams, deliver. I love it when all the work is visible, the issues are being shared and fixed, and the body of work is being delivered.

I love working with the CIOs and senior managers to implement big systems and do process improvement along the way. It’s great when the improved processes are happily accepted and used by all the teams. But not processes for processes sake, my mantra is that good processes are good business. Basically it is easier if everyone knows where and how things are.

What do you think are the best things about working in IT?

Delivering good solutions to the business and ultimately to their customers.

It is never boring and the people are a bit quirky, but we have the best laughs.

IT is pretty tricky sometimes. But if you stick with KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and never assume anything, you are usually safe. A number of times I have gotten developers to think of the end customer who has to use it, then they have a different focus. Its good to get creative and have a customer to work with.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Respect from my peers, my managers, my teams.

What tips or advice would you give young people about choosing a career in IT?

Do it! Make sure your course gives you a good grounding. It needs to be practical and give you a good understanding of coding, design and architecture. At the end of the day there is code and people.

There is always more than one way to do things. So be flexible but work as a team. Make sure you have a good group of peers and mentors.

What do you think about people's perception of IT and why do you think that's the case?

It is still considered a black art, that IT is for geeks. And sadly in business it is a necessary evil, but the source of great frustration for many managers. ICT professionals who listen to the customer do well. This cost effective ‘good will’ should never be underestimated.

Businesses know IT costs a lot and that it makes their lives easier when it works, but there is a lot of negative feelings and failed projects to back-up their apprehension. So when you focus your IT project on getting the business what they want and need, look after their needs and then deliver, it is magic. I have had managers say things like ‘Helen is like a dog with a bone, she never gives-up’ and ‘the project would never have happened if it wasn’t for you’.

Do you see IT as a profession that can change people’s lives anmake a difference in the community?

IT is absolutely a profession, like doctors and lawyers you bring all your technical training and experience to service the needs of the customer. Good IT is about good simple solutions that make customers lives easier. IT allows the customer to do more with less. It unburdens them from time consuming tasks to do the things that use their talents and skill to do good business.

As connectivity gets better and better, the frustrating things of life, such as getting messages to people and bills paid, is all heading to the device in your hand. Awesome.

What would you say to a school aged girl who is considering a career in IT? 

Do it. It’s not just for male, geeky young guys. It’s exciting, it is always changing, and there is no limit to what you can do. It pays well and you get to work really hard and do some amazing things.

Every girl and boy I have told to do IT have done it and loved it. No project is exactly the same so you have to think and be ready and that is some of the fun!

 How do you think working in IT makes it easier to be a working mother and achieve a work-life balance?

I am a single mother who has successfully raised a Lawyer and a registered nurse. It has been pretty hard, but it has been great. As a mother in ICT you get paid well, you get to work flexibly, because when projects are running into their deadlines you work the hours that have to be worked. I have worked some huge hours, but have been able to come home, be a mum, and when the kids have gone to bed I can login remotely and keep working.

I am also using my project manager skills. The washing is on, a big pot of spaghetti may be on the stove and I am clearing the issues log of a major project, emailing and getting responses at 11.30 at night. Crazy but fun!

My kids are proud of having an IT mum, they may not understand what you do, but they still think it is cool.
Helen McHugh

Helen McHugh has overseen some major ICT projects and never hesitates to tackle problems head on. We discussed career, family and the juggling act it requires.

Tell us a little bit about your career to date.

I have worked in many roles and have loved all of them; as developer, help desk manager, test manager, project manager, PMO, coach and mentor. It’s all been great fun, and full of big challenges.

My advisor told me to ‘get yourself onto the big projects and move around’. So I did. The really big projects were part of the Australian Tax Office tax reform program and at the Government’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations’ Welfare to Work program. Big bodies of work, fast releases, high profile and stressful but it was never boring.

At the moment I am working on a couple of ACS’s boards. I am semi-retired and am giving this time to helping ACS and ACS Women to achieve an improvement in women in ICT.

How did you get into IT?

When I went to uni I was very young, only 17. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so my dad suggested becoming a librarian. It’s a job you can go back to after you have kids. As part of the degree we had to do one unit of IT. As I started the unit, I thought this is what I want to do - writing programs and creating systems for people.

I was a digital native as I grew up around computers. My dad was one of the two first programmers in Australia working on the CSIRAC: Australia’s first computer.

How did you get to where you are now?

Hard work, big projects, an excellent ICT degree behind me and some wonderful CIOs who let me be a part of change programs.

Tell us a bit about where you work

I have performed the same role in the last three organisations, as a PMO system development ‘methodologist’. That just means I have a good grounding in system development life-cycles and project management lift cycles. So I run project offices, recruit project managers, induct them and then do continuous improvement of the processes. When needed I will jump in and deliver a project that has fallen behind for some reason.

What do you love most about your job?

I love building systems but I mostly enjoy working across teams and helping the program and project managers, and their teams, deliver. I love it when all the work is visible, the issues are being shared and fixed, and the body of work is being delivered.

I love working with the CIOs and senior managers to implement big systems and do process improvement along the way. It’s great when the improved processes are happily accepted and used by all the teams. But not processes for processes sake, my mantra is that good processes are good business. Basically it is easier if everyone knows where and how things are.

What do you think are the best things about working in IT?

Delivering good solutions to the business and ultimately to their customers.

It is never boring and the people are a bit quirky, but we have the best laughs.

IT is pretty tricky sometimes. But if you stick with KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and never assume anything, you are usually safe. A number of times I have gotten developers to think of the end customer who has to use it, then they have a different focus. Its good to get creative and have a customer to work with.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Respect from my peers, my managers, my teams.

What tips or advice would you give young people about choosing a career in IT?

Do it! Make sure your course gives you a good grounding. It needs to be practical and give you a good understanding of coding, design and architecture. At the end of the day there is code and people.

There is always more than one way to do things. So be flexible but work as a team. Make sure you have a good group of peers and mentors.

What do you think about people's perception of IT and why do you think that's the case?

It is still considered a black art, that IT is for geeks. And sadly in business it is a necessary evil, but the source of great frustration for many managers. ICT professionals who listen to the customer do well. This cost effective ‘good will’ should never be underestimated.

Businesses know IT costs a lot and that it makes their lives easier when it works, but there is a lot of negative feelings and failed projects to back-up their apprehension. So when you focus your IT project on getting the business what they want and need, look after their needs and then deliver, it is magic. I have had managers say things like ‘Helen is like a dog with a bone, she never gives-up’ and ‘the project would never have happened if it wasn’t for you’.

Do you see IT as a profession that can change people’s lives anmake a difference in the community?

IT is absolutely a profession, like doctors and lawyers you bring all your technical training and experience to service the needs of the customer. Good IT is about good simple solutions that make customers lives easier. IT allows the customer to do more with less. It unburdens them from time consuming tasks to do the things that use their talents and skill to do good business.

As connectivity gets better and better, the frustrating things of life, such as getting messages to people and bills paid, is all heading to the device in your hand. Awesome.

What would you say to a school aged girl who is considering a career in IT? 

Do it. It’s not just for male, geeky young guys. It’s exciting, it is always changing, and there is no limit to what you can do. It pays well and you get to work really hard and do some amazing things.

Every girl and boy I have told to do IT have done it and loved it. No project is exactly the same so you have to think and be ready and that is some of the fun!

 How do you think working in IT makes it easier to be a working mother and achieve a work-life balance?

I am a single mother who has successfully raised a Lawyer and a registered nurse. It has been pretty hard, but it has been great. As a mother in ICT you get paid well, you get to work flexibly, because when projects are running into their deadlines you work the hours that have to be worked. I have worked some huge hours, but have been able to come home, be a mum, and when the kids have gone to bed I can login remotely and keep working.

I am also using my project manager skills. The washing is on, a big pot of spaghetti may be on the stove and I am clearing the issues log of a major project, emailing and getting responses at 11.30 at night. Crazy but fun!

My kids are proud of having an IT mum, they may not understand what you do, but they still think it is cool.