Engineering an Executive Career

posted in: Compass, Reasons why | 0

Gordon Hollingworth (EMBA 2017) – Director of Engineering at the Raspberry Pi Foundation – reflects on his interest in problem-solving, and how he is utilising the Cambridge EMBA within his engineering  toolkit.

I always felt I was destined to be an engineer, not because I spent many hours tap-tapping away on a BBC micro in my bedroom writing computer games, or building a radio kit from the local Tandy store (or was it Maplin? I can’t remember). Instead, I’ve always been interested in puzzles and finding clever, creative solutions to them. I remember one of my older cousins being amazed at my solution for a humane bird trap so they could study the birds in our garden. Or my various experiments with flammable liquids and aerosols to provide what I thought was a safe foray into chemistry. To me, some of the more impressive things I did as a child – which signposted my future as an engineer – were the solutions I created to everyday problems. Of course, as I grew older the problems I became interested in were more technical and computer based, but the same method of solving them was evident.

My career has mostly been a story of implementing solutions (both in hardware and software) to problems I’ve been presented with. This has continued to excite and challenge me as both my capabilities and seniority have advanced, but in the last few years, as I moved towards a management role at Broadcom and finally at Raspberry Pi, I’ve found a limit to my role. Due to that limit, I’m finding my work less interesting and I’ve stopped learning. In the last year, I’ve tried to learn new things, such as how to wheelie on my bike, play classical guitar, and even doing an online course on convolution neural networks; what I’ve come to realise is, I’m still capable of learning new things.

From this, and an offside discussion with two of my Raspberry Pi colleagues, Eben Upton and James Adams – alumni of CJBS’s Executive MBA programme – and Roger Thornton – who was also thinking of applying – I decided to go along to an Open Day at the School. I wanted to understand what CJBS was offering and whether it would be interesting to me.

It was an eye-opening experience. I spent an hour in a lecture discussing the importance of the end of the Cold War, globalisation and how these factors may have led towards the financial crisis. What I learnt from this lecture wasn’t anything in particular about the crisis (which I knew had happened and that some bankers got fired), or about hyper-globalisation (which I didn’t understand at all) but instead I learnt that I had found these concepts interesting, and found the other people in the room interesting as well.

What I’ve learnt through the first six months of my 20-month EMBA programme, is that I have an interest in these concepts. I quite enjoy learning about subjects such as corporate finance, and utilising the tools that are handed to us. Understanding the background to the decisions made at a corporate level helps me make better decisions in my day-to-day business, and allows me to think about projects from different directions. Projects such as:

  • Using financial analysis to understand how the Raspberry Pi business compares to other computer manufacturers, understand what our strategy is and how we are going to achieve our mission.
  • Using a recently-read article on institutional strategy to think about how our project decisions affect our global partners.
  • Using concepts of management science to draw decision trees and analyse our use of options.

I feel that my studying is helping me step up a level from my engineering roots and is giving me a new toolbox. Of course, such a toolbox isn’t much difference to the others I wield, whether it’s netting and string, aerosol cans and air rifles or computers and electronics. But the EMBA is kitting me out with a new method of solving problems and I’m excited to be beginning a new direction in my career.

Just need to work out what the point of wheelies is though!

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