Terry Brown is an engineer and leader with a passion for people, working across many industries in his 25 year career. He’s delivered digital products for the NHS, for academia, and has led engineering at one of the biggest online bingo companies. He has now joined GSK as a Director of Software Engineering where he is helping the organisation through significant tech and cultural transformations. Terry focuses on creating high performing teams through culture, psychological safety, and effective alignment on outcomes. His pronouns are he/him, and he is passionate about his allyship and mental health issues.
What’s the story of your career so far?
I wrote my first lines of code when I was 8 and fell in love. It’s been a hobby, and then a career ever since. I’ve been lucky to span a number of areas and industries including academia, agency, high traffic gaming, and healthcare, currently working as a Director of Software Engineering in one of the largest Pharma companies in the world.
I was lucky to find my niche in delivery of web solutions early and have enjoyed working in that space ever since. The web is evolving at such a pace, but is so fundamentally powerful in reaching a wide audience for products, that it’s just really exciting to be involved in.
The past 10 years or so have seen me move into the people management track, and I’ve found a brand new area to focus my growth and create spaces where people can be their best selves. I now lead both individual contributors and managers, and give as much of my time as I can to coaching and mentoring to help others grow.
Outside of that, I’ve been lucky to be involved in supporting mental health, LGBTQ rights, and women in tech through mentoring, and I find it hugely rewarding to be able to use my privilege in these spaces.
What do you love most about what you do?
It used to be the creation of technical solutions – be it helping a company to scale their software delivery and market share, or just designing and delivering effective architectures and solutions to solve the complex problems businesses were facing.
Since moving into people management, I’ve loved the challenge of helping others grow while supporting and challenging them. Management is something we don’t give enough time and attention to within tech, and there are so many tales of ‘bad’, and not enough of ‘good’. I’m now starting to enjoy working with groups to scale their organisational cultures, introduce measurement and programmes such as psychological safety, in order to foster environments where high performing teams can thrive.
What’s the most important lesson you learned in 2020/21 amidst all the Covid-19 disruption?
We as managers have an obligation to create environments where support and care is at the core of what we do. Everyone during this time has had their world turned upside down – there is no ‘new normal’, we are doing our best to show up and be effective through a time of significant upheaval. I think it’s revealed a number of organisations that are handling this brilliantly, and a few who are floundering as they don’t have the ‘bums on seats’ and haven’t adapted.
It’s key for any organisation to measure outcomes from their people, not the hours their people do. It is natural that someone may have to step away, or that they have childcare issues so require some flexibility. Focus on outcomes – these are what matters.
With the right culture, the right support and the right care, I’ve seen so many organisations keep the bar high on outcomes, and increase staff engagement.
As far as you can predict, what’s on the cards this year for you and your business?
This is a complex one to answer for my business. There is of course some focus around the divestiture of the consumer healthcare business, and the setup of a new GSK focussed around it’s biopharma pipeline. Naturally, the day to day work of drug discovery and effective support of our patients and customers continues too.
For me, I’m focusing some of my own growth in the AI/ML space – it’s going to be more important over the next decade in so many areas, and we’re seeing shoots of great application everywhere. Outside of that, my goal is just focussing on having a wider impact around effective management. I’m trying to piece together a book on effective management based upon a tool I’ve been building and open sourcing (https://brilliantmanagers.info) – it’s not going as quickly as I’d like, but it’s something I’d love to complete in the next year.
If you could go back and do it all over again, would you choose a different career path and why?
I think I found empathy and emotional intelligence a little too late in my career, and I suspect I was harder to work with during my earlier career than I would have liked. I was incredibly driven, and although that has taken me to a great place today, I suspect I could have achieved the same pathway with a little more of both of those skills applied earlier in my career. Empathy and Emotional Intelligence are two skills at the heart of who I aspire to be each day now, and I think these skills make for better leaders, better employees, and still don’t get the focus they deserve – especially in tech.