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Westpac CIO Dawie Olivier on 'The killer app for today’s ICT teams'

Westpac CIO Dawie Olivier on 'The killer app for today’s ICT teams'

“Unless we build organisations that are able to adapt to and to use whatever technology comes along we are actually wasting our time."

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The route to CIO

Olivier came to the CIO role in a circuitous manner. Prior to joining the enterprise world, specifically finance, he was with the South African Navy for 10 years.

“As a youngster, I used to code for a hobby,” he says. “It was easy to decide what my next career was going to be after the Navy.”

He worked as a software developer after a year in the Caribbean as a diving instructor.

“My wife and I spent a year on the beach,” he says, smiling. “When we got back I picked up more formal training [in software development].”

He also taught coding for a couple of years, and then went into project management training. He worked as a contractor for a number of companies including the Department of Justice and a couple of banks in South Africa.

One of the banks, Sasfin Holdings, hired him as GM of technology and then as CIO.

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Olivier explains that most of his work outside the Navy has been finance. He has worked in both corporate and commercial banks, starting with IT support for foreign exchange and shares trading.

“It is one of the places where you have access to the most number and the biggest spread of technologies,” he states, of his continuous work in the sector. “It is the kind of world where there is most often budget available to do things, especially if you are going to improve things.

“Lastly, whatever your team does will have a direct influence on the quality of people’s lives, which is a very important place to be… There are many industries where that is not true.”

He looks back on his years in the military as a great grounding for his current leadership roles.

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“I believe that the military is one of the best places to learn leadership,” he says. “Contrary to popular belief, military leadership has nothing to do with command and control, it has everything to do with trust and with delegation and collaboration.”

He paraphrases a famous quote from Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., who led the coalition forces in the Gulf War, about the solder in the front line being correct ”unless proven otherwise”.

“Which means, you leave the decision making to the people closest to the fight,” he states.

We can’t wait until high school to influence children, young women especially, to have an interest in maths and technology science.

Dawie Olivier, Westpac NZ

Related: Dawie Olivier on If the All Blacks were an IT team

Working with future ICT teams

Being CIO in a major enterprise allows Olivier to contribute to fixing the gender imbalance in science and technology, "a key issue in the industry”.

Recently, he and his team were privileged to sponsor a session for #SheSharp, an organisation that encourages women to go into computer science, computer engineering, IT, and tech-related fields.

Olivier says some leaders in the ICT team spoke to a group of high school students about the range of interesting jobs they can have in information technology and their own experiences in getting there. He believes, however, children in primary school should get the same message.

“We can’t wait until high school to influence children, young women especially, to have an interest in maths and technology science. We have to start really young.”

He believes the UK government’s overhauling of its education system to have mandatory programming classes is “fantastic”. Locally, he lauds the work of MindLab and www.codeclub.nz in this space.

“It is a lot better than teaching people just pure maths because at least you can see what you make,” he says.

Asked to share a career advice that will transcend technology trends and fast paced changes, he says, “There is a winning combination of traits and behaviours that will get you anywhere.”

“One of them is a good grounding in maths and science,” he explains. “Math teaches you the patterns for problem solving.”

“Then, [have] a really deep curiosity which will allow you to read as much as you possibly can, because that will give you the information to the patterns that maths will give you.

“Lastly, is boundless enthusiasm…You really have to be enthusiastic in everything you do.”

As to applying the oft-repeated dictum for ICT teams to ‘fail fast, fail forward’ to one’s career, he proffers: “Do not be afraid to break things.”

“If something interests you, go for it. Even if you fail, you would have learned something.

“We win some, we learn some is the right catchphrase,” he concludes. “There is no such thing as failure. There is only a whole bunch of lessons.”

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

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