Brenda le SueurBrenda le Sueur, Head of Data Lab at Cambridge Assessment.

Specialising in Data Analytics and Data Engineering for many years, Brenda le Sueur is an advocate of Agile Values and agile delivery methodologies and her teams align delivery methods to needs.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role 

I am very fortunate to have worked for outstanding companies like South African Permanent Building Society, Betfair, Reliance Mercedes-Benz, Carl Zeiss, and currently Cambridge Assessment. By design, these companies are passionate about quality, allow for innovation, and are forward thinking. This means I have been able to work with a range of exceptional people throughout my career, which has been truly eye opening. One thing that struck me very early on was that these kinds of  individuals have a common enthusiasm for learning and sharing knowledge and are open to new ideas – which is what makes them exceptional.

Personally, I have always tended to gravitate towards technical areas or problem solving because I understand that information is the key to knowledge. This is what led me to my current role as Head of the Data Lab at Cambridge Assessment, which provides education assessments for over 8 million people in 170 countries. I’ve had the pleasure of building the organisation’s big data journey from the ground up. Understanding how data is used and how to build flexibility into data processes, while maintaining security and ethics, takes a huge upfront effort.  With the Cloudera Data Platform we have met the needs of our research, operations and analytical teams in a secure and cost effective way.

Our organisation is heavily investing in upskilling data scientists through apprentice and degree programs as we understand how important these skills are to our future.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

Not really. I knew I was interested in technology, data and problem solving and I have always pursued opportunities in these areas. My passion for learning has definitely helped me pursue this path.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I have indeed faced challenges. What I do is only valuable if there is full engagement from others. I have had to learn the hard way that communication, transparency and drive isn’t enough. You have to be comfortable with putting yourself and your thoughts out there, in order to generate those conversations and get insights back.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

This is a difficult question because achievement should be considered within the context of many things: the funding and resources you have available, and the business value of each project. I am proud of at least one achievement in each role I have had. However, as I gained experience, I have been able to achieve results which were more valuable and had higher business impact.

In that vein, I will have to say that my current achievements are the biggest ones. My team built a big data system, on a tiny budget, which is widely used by business analysts and data scientists accessing the Cloudera Data Platform to provide critical information to the organisation.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Attitude has definitely been a major factor leading to my achievements. I have embraced a commitment to lifelong learning, which has helped me throughout my career. Very few people succeed in isolation from others. I’ve also learned to forgive myself for failures when I demonstrate that I have learned from them.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

I would say they need to have a passion for learning, as technology is constantly changing. I would also tell them to value what technology gives to others, rather than the thrill of what you are capable of doing with technology. The buzz is much greater when others derive value from your hard work.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, I believe there are still many barriers. Working in an open environment should enable the work done to become the focus, rather than the  individual.  However, where this is not happening, it should be called out to enable change.  Ignoring the existence of barriers will never solve the issue.

What do you think companies can do to support the progress of the careers of women working in technology?

Companies need to ensure that diversity is at the centre of their culture, so that bias is eliminated. As consumers, we should also be more selective about the companies we support to help accelerate this progress. Finally, as parents, we should support and encourage our daughters to achieve their goals.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry? 

Produce the statistics that show the whole journey into technology for all.  This will enable us to compare each group’s journey from parental influences to the first 5 years within technology.   Knowledge enlightens and makes it difficult to hide blockers.

What I find interesting is the blurring of lines between technical and non technical roles. What were non-technical roles a short time ago, now have a list of technical skills required. In addition to technical work being absorbed into business departments, many technical roles are being replaced by cloud or specialist services.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc? 

I follow as many resources as you can. I am constantly adding more to my list. I also suggest that women try and network with like-minded people as well as following people they find inspiring. My main sources are :

  • The Economist (Asks and The Intelligence sections)
  • Esther Perel, psychotherapist and consultant
  • Technology Books like ‘Digital Transformation at Scale’, by Andrew Greenway, or ‘SCRUM’, by Jeff Sutherland
  • TedTalks
  • Simon Sinek, British author and speaker
  • Bloomberg every Sunday morning

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