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Ghilaine chan

Chief of staff, self employed 

 

And - former long-time volunteer of St John Ambulance

There isn't just a single path to anything, but curiosity, enjoyment and interest will carve a path that suits you.

What do you do?

I work with people solving interesting and meaningful problems. I build and manage teams, establishing why they do what they do and ensuring they are equipped to deliver their best work. I build company-wide systems and processes that complement natural human behaviours and utilise technology to support that.

 

I am on a mission to change how work is perceived and carried out so that people can do what they enjoy and benefit themselves and each other. Technology has a big role to play in that, but we know it cannot replace humanity and empathy.

Why did you choose this field?

After getting mediocre exam results and taking a year out to decide what to do, I applied for Product Development for the Fashion Industries at London College of Fashion. As a daughter of a seamstress (amongst many other things), I can make my own clothes. With my interest in making clothes, Business and Psychology, I was accepted. My father was a software developer, so I was fortunate to have a computer at home running later software than that at university. So I would be the person that everyone turned to for computer advice, including the IT lecturer.

I realised then that I have a passion for technology - I need to be using it constantly and helping others get the most from it. When I started at Microsoft, I was part of a new organization that was started by a few leaders who were given a budget and allowed to go and 'make it so'. We created an onsite support service for our biggest customers. I was directing the workload of 10 engineers across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. We had no formal processes or tools, most of the company didn't know who we were or what we did. We made it up as we went along. We were successful at showing our customers how great this service was. We hired more engineers and were not able to keep all that information in our heads. I built the processes and systems that we needed to grow. I built teams to manage the engineers' workloads. I helped design the tools the organisation needed to manage the workload and growth. When I left in 2014, my teams of c.70 people, were managing the workloads of c.3500 engineers, globally. I loved it!

In addition, between the age of 10 and 24, I spent a lot of my spare time volunteering for the St John Ambulance. That taught me valuable lessons that you can't necessarily learn through studying alone. 

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

"You just have to find the right people."

I benefit from being raised by parents who said I could be what I wanted to be as long as I could support myself financially doing it. I approach anything with the thought that if I want to do it, I will make it happen, one way or another, with the support of the right people. The only thing I didn’t think was possible was me being a mother. But I manage that OK, so far…..

Why do you love working in STEM?

"[Technology] is powerful and awe inspiring."

I believe technology has the power to change the world for the better and must be managed ethically. It allows you to start the day wondering how you can do something. It enables my curious nature to expand and go down a rabbit hole. It allows me to work globally without leaving my home office. It allows me to work flexibly to maintain the life I want to live. It allows me to meet inspiring people that I may not have met without it.

Best advice for the next generation

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something you have your heart set on. Many women have fought exactly that and proved it wrong.

 

Don’t lose your curiosity. You can have big ideas and make them real. Don't lose the belief that you have the capacity to make big changes. This is only possible by finding the right people to support you. Contact, connect and research people that you admire and interest you. Understand their journey, ask questions.

 

There isn’t just a single path to anything, but curiosity, enjoyment and interest will carve a path that suits you. This allows you to benefit from serendipity and a bit of luck in meeting the people who will help you on your way.

Role model 

My mother - she taught me to ignore what other people think and be true to myself; I can achieve what I need by being useful and helpful to others. I live by her quote “Do what you love and you will get to where you want to go.”