Meet Charlene, the Head of Product at Kainos. For 17 years she’s been a part of the Kainos team, working as a Software Engineer, Scrum Master, User Researcher and Tester just to name a few. What’s kept her there for so long? Well, it's simple - every project feels like a fresh start, and with a team stacked with talented women, empowering others is what they do best.
Ready to learn about Kainos' unique approach to product management, their commitment to diversity and sustainability, and their mission to make people’s lives better through technology? Let Charlene show you the ropes on how to have a long, fulfilling career at Kainos in this in-depth interview.
Tell us more about how you ended up in your current role at Kainos and what has made you stay for almost 17 years.
After graduating in Computer Science, I joined Kainos as a Trainee Software Engineer. Lucky for me, our company has a flexible approach that allows us to explore different roles and not just climb the ladder upwards but horizontally too, and I’ve really taken advantage of it. Before my current role, I wrote code as a Software Engineer for a good few years, before trying other roles such as Delivery Management, Scrum Master, User Research, Testing, before specializing in Business Analysis and Product Management.
Every project feels like a fresh start with new teams and clients. It's like having a new job every time but with the comfort of being part of the same organization with familiar faces. It's the perfect balance of freshness and stability that keeps me going. And at Kainos this is quite common – it’s a place people tend to stay for a while.
How have you been able to utilise internal mobility at Kainos and how have you seen your skills develop over time?
At Kainos the possibilities are endless. You can try on new hats and see what suits you best – there aren’t many limitations here. We thrive on continuous learning and growth so you will be able to upskill and develop, and I’ve personally benefitted from this. We've got it all: self-study, on-the-job learning, formal training – you name it.
The best way to learn is by doing and working alongside your colleagues. Lucky for me, I've had the pleasure of working with some seriously talented people throughout my career who have taught me plenty. Everyone is open to sharing their knowledge and energy around here. We're a team, after all. Need help? Just ask. No one ever says no. We're all about supporting each other at Kainos.
Working for a consultancy, even as part of the Product team, can bring many highs and lows. How are you pragmatic and flexible when change comes without notice?
You need to be able to roll with the punches. Consultancy isn’t always easy, you really have to learn to adapt quickly. Public sector changes come at you fast, and it's critical to stay nimble and not get flustered. The key is to keep a cool head, make decisions quickly, and assess the situation to see how urgent it is. You also need to understand the impact of your choices and what happens if you put off action. Face-to-face client work is the best way to sharpen these skills. When clients demand something on the spot, you've got to deliver quickly, no hiding or stalling allowed.
You’ve mentioned that there’s always been a strong female presence during your tenure here. How does Kainos manage this? Are there any policies or ways of the culture that help?
When I started at Kainos, we only had a team of 130-140…now we have over 3000 people so we've come a long way. Our team has always had many talented and strong women, who invest their time and energy in others. But we didn't stop there. We've established our ‘Inspire Network’, sponsored by none other than Russell Sloan. Our network focuses on topics ranging from coaching junior women to take on tech roles to supporting women during menopause and all that’s in between.
At Kainos, we're grateful to have many strong, experienced, female role models at senior levels throughout the organization. We're not just saying this to sound good, we mean it. Women are represented throughout the organization, and we are also involved in the work of other organizations such as Women in Business and Women in Tech in Northern Ireland to support women in the tech industry. It's not just about supporting those who work at Kainos but empowering women in all parts of the tech industry. It feels really good to be a part of such efforts.
How does Kainos do Product differently?
Our approach is what sets us apart from the rest of the pack. Often, people enter the Product field for the wrong reasons, thinking they can execute their own creative vision and desires, but that's not what we're about. Our job is to bring together all the different disciplines and foster collaboration to meet client needs while working within constraints. We're the champions of team spirit, promoting collaboration, and ensuring everyone understands what we're trying to achieve and why.
Don't underestimate the challenges of being a Product Manager though- it takes real management skills to bring people together and get the best out of them. We take a collaborative approach across the organization and with our clients, making sure all disciplines are pulling in the same direction. By being intentional and working together, we consistently achieve better outcomes.
When it comes to the future: what is a high-level overview of what you and the team are trying to achieve and what innovation are you currently interested in?
Our mission is to revolutionize the services in the UK public sector and healthcare. We're not just building products, we're building better solutions that save people money and make a real difference in their lives.
Now, let's talk about innovation. Everyone's talking about AI, but as a Product person, I'm all about making sure we do it right. We need to be ethical and diverse in our approach, which means having a team that represents all walks of life. We're also big on green Software Development. We're doing our part to keep this planet clean and green.
So, to sum it up: we're in the business of making things better. We're exploring AI, but we're doing it the right way with diverse and ethical teams. And we're committed to being green and minimising our impact on the environment.