Chirpa Santhanam featured

Inspirational Woman: Chirpa Santhanam | Head of Performance, Programmes & Quality, GBG

Chirpa SanthanamAs Head of Performance, Programmes and Quality at GBG, the global identity data specialist, Chirpa is responsible for ensuring that the best performance in our products and services is delivered both to our customers and for internal operations.

GBG offers a series of solutions that help organisations quickly validate and verify the identity and location of their customers, and detect and prevent fraud. Through the fundamental belief that the digital economy relies on everyone having access to data they can trust, GBG enables companies and governments to fight fraud and cybercrime, to improve the customer experience and help to protect the more vulnerable people in our society.

GBG works with over 20,000 clients in 72 countries including some of the best-known businesses around the world, ranging from US e-commerce giants to Asia's biggest banks and European household brands.

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

I’m Head of Performance, Programmes and Quality for GBG, a group-wide role responsible for ensuring that the best performance in our products and services is delivered both to our customers and for internal operations.

With a wide range of experience in science, engineering and management, I have always been inquisitive and have never been satisfied when I hear “that is the way it is”.  I’ve always strived to get answers for how things work and how we can make them work better – and I won’t stop until I get one.

10 years ago, when I came across the job opportunity in GBG, I knew the company was embarking on a growth plan and quality would be an integral part of it. I instantly knew I could make a difference.  Although I knew it would be challenging, as it entailed setting up everything from scratch, that challenge and the value it could bring really appealed to me.

I was not wrong.  A decade later, GBG has QA engineers acting as quality assurers, analysts and ambassadors, and the team ensures to deliver high quality, working software to customers. They are also breaking boundaries and reaching new heights, with notable achievements including being finalists at the 2019 European Software Testing Awards under two separate categories.

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

When I joined GBG in 2010, there was no dedicated Quality Assurance (QA) team. QA existed and was highly valued, however there were no formal processes or consistency across the business. The company was growing at an incredibly fast rate, so they hired me to establish and develop a team that focused on QA and the needs of customers. This was an exciting challenge and prospect for me, but I never anticipated how big the project would be.

When it comes to People, Process and Tools (PPTs), building all three from scratch within an incredibly fast-growing organisation was a challenge in itself.  Tasks ranged from recruiting, training and developing talented and motivated graduates, to instilling new processes, and designing and implementing tools for test automation. To then bring all of these elements together while meeting the continuously growing business demands required a strong focus and hard work.

However, the biggest challenge of all was aligning the QA functions from all our regular and periodical acquisitions and establishing the community of QA.  Although having well-established foundations massively helped here, the building up of the QA community and creating GBG’s centre of excellence wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the incredible QA team.

Since 2010, the team has rapidly expanded and we are currently located in UK, Turkey, Spain, Malaysia, Australia and USA with 40% females – leading the way for women in tech industry.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement during my work with GBG is how I have balanced the establishment between people, process and tools. Identifying and developing talented individuals, designing and implementing Quality protocols, developing tools for quicker deliveries and, above all, establishing the QA centre of excellence in GBG.

Of all, I personally take pride in developing people. I’m proud of the role I played in helping my team build their knowledge base and then go on to achieve internal promotions, or move on to another area of the industry, armed with their experience at GBG.

I’m also proud that I have achieved what I set out to do for GBG. Over the last few years, the company has acquired and integrated a number of acquisitions, and I have been a crucial leader in ensuring their success.

What do you think companies can do to encourage more women into the IT sector?

When it comes to encouraging women into the tech sector, I think we need to reflect on journeys and success stories from all levels of the industry. For example, highlighting the valuable work that a junior role is contributing to business operations shows that you don’t need to be the CEO to make an impact. People should be able to see how the work they do contributes to real life technology solutions – for example, tech used to predict disasters, or to create lifesaving apps for paramedics.

Companies should also reach out to local schools and encourage working in the sector from a young age. While speaking in schools would be a great way to reach out, making videos of women in tech at various levels and having available representatives to answer questions and offer support would also be good. This type of initiative can progress onto senior schools, colleges and local universities to promote graduate programmes and internships. Ultimately, the sector should aim to encourage young women by providing insight into the industry and exploring the opportunities open to them.

There’s often the misconception that working in tech is a very demanding career path. It’s important that we assure women that a career in this sector doesn’t require more hours than any others, and that they can still have a work-life balance. Using employee testimonials and feedback from workers in the field would be a good way to encourage women who are unsure.

What is your top tip for anyone looking to start a career in IT?

Remember, it’s just a field like anything else and there should be no difference between men and women looking to start a role in IT. Working in technology requires a combination or analytical skills, technical skills and problem solving – and there is no difference between men and women when it comes to this. If you have the right skills, you should seize the opportunity and run with it!

If you can do your best, enjoy what you’re doing and understand the value you bring to your work, you will automatically be successful and engaged in your role.

Perseverance when it comes to gaining value from what you do is also key. I always strive to find value in my learning, to add value to the organisation, wherever I am working, and to share valuable insights with my team. If I’ve done these three things, I am both growing my team and contributing to the business, and I see that outcome as automatic success.

Any final advice you’d give to people in the industry?

There is never a full stop on continuous improvement and continuous growth. Whatever you do, you should look at what is next and think about how you can take what you’ve learnt into the future. If you embrace a continually seeking, adventurous, thriving attitude, there will be no hindrance to growth. Growth has to come from your mentality, and adopting the mindset of continuous improvement will be the driving factor for progression in everything you do. It’s important to understand that there is always room to learn and grow as we progress in our careers!

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here

Inspirational Woman: Carol Hamilton | Director of Compliance & Fraud, EMEA, GBG

Carol HamiltonAs Director of Compliance & Fraud, EMEA at GBG, the global identity data specialist, Carol Hamilton is responsible for growing and developing the group’s Fraud business.

Carol Hamilton studied (MMath) Mathematics and progressed rapidly at global technology giants BAE Systems and SAS, and is regarded as an industry expert on the fraud landscape.

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

I grew up in Birmingham and went on to study a Masters in Maths at the University of Bath. After various roles in rotation at HSBC, I joined Detica (which was subsequently acquired by BAE Systems) as a Business Consultant in the ‘Global Financial Service Solutions’ group.

I felt lucky to be in a growing part of the business at the right time and supported by a fantastic manager. I was ‘thrown in at the deep end’, travelling around the world to talk to different customers. I gained a lot of valuable insight and understanding in a short space of time and really enjoyed the richness of that experience.

During this time, I quickly developed a passion for fighting fraud – it is complex, ever increasing, and there are a range of societal issues that underpin it (e.g. terrorism, money laundering, people trafficking). I was really struck by just how devastating the impact of fraud was on victims. I could see how important technology was for organisations, giving them the power to disrupt the bad behaviour, and help people globally.

From there, I wanted to extend my learning and drive greater impact. I joined SAS to further develop my expertise in advanced analytics in fraud and compliance, and within a couple of years I progressed to be the Director of Fraud, leading a cross-functional team of experts in EMEA. This was a transitional point for me, as I started to lead and manage people on an international scale. It was hugely rewarding.

In November 2018, I joined GBG as Director of Compliance & Fraud, EMEA. It’s been a great opportunity to build on my experience and delve deeper into the identity data and verification side of fraud – which is increasingly important in our digital world. I really enjoy taking GBG’s leading technologies out to customers as well as working to drive sustainable growth in this key area, making a serious impact for the business. I am responsible for the overall development and execution of GBG’s fraud business across Europe, Latin America, Middle East and Africa.

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

I think, as many women can attest to, I can sometimes put my own barriers up. I’ve learned that projecting confidence is key, and it’s important to be aware of these learned behaviours and challenge them, so we are not holding ourselves back. For example, in the early days of my career, I didn’t apply for a promotion role as I initially felt, on paper, that I hadn’t sufficient experience. A male colleague strongly recommended I apply and I soon realised I could thrive in the role but I nearly lost out due to lack of self-belief. That experience motivated me to keep being ambitious, which has been important to getting me to where I am today, successfully leading an international team.

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

I think it’s been really important – throughout my roles – to be flexible and always look for opportunities to develop my expertise. For example, it’s been vital to keep up to date with the leading edge technologies to fight fraud and money laundering. As fraudsters continue to become more sophisticated in their methods and technology, both myself and my team actively research and test new technologies, such as machine learning, to continually improve our ability to stop fraudsters.

Another factor for success has been working with diverse teams. It’s so crucial to get a range of views and ideas, and this is something I prioritise within the teams I lead. I am proud to work daily with my global colleagues across the diverse EMEAA team, and our success is partly down to that international, cultural, age and gender diversity we have fostered.

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

I started out as one of few women studying MMath Mathematics at the University of Bath. Since then, it’s been an unavoidable fact throughout my career that I’ve been in predominately male dominated environments, often being the only female in a room - either in my own organisation or a customer’s. I’m rather used to this now but I know it can faze others. These experiences have shaped me as a leader as well as a colleague, so I try to actively mentor young women within the industry to give personal, applicable advice and guidance. I think it is important for women to support women in this way, to help continue improving the representation of women in technology.

On a positive note, during my career I have seen the role of women in our sector evolve and improve. It is important we continue to embrace more diversity in general in leadership to continue to break down any barriers and furthermore better our collective success; statistics show that diverse boards regularly lead to improved company performance.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

In short, no! Following my maths degree, technology and consultancy was a good fit for my skills and interests. Once I had my springboard into consultancy at Detica, I soon found that tackling fraud was something I was incredibly passionate about, and that has propelled me to want to stay in this field and plan a longer career here.

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

Having two young children doesn’t leave as much time as I’d like to join networking groups! It’s a juggle and, where I can, I enjoy listening to the latest podcasts and reading books. Hearing stories of successful women and their journeys is really inspiring - it reminds me that anything’s possible and I can work to make a positive impact on the world.

I’d also recommend keeping an eye out for GBG’s new podcast; Connected Commerce: Business beyond borders. We’ve got some great speakers talking about the key topics and issues within the digital economy. Hopefully it will ignite your passion for this technology, which I have found truly rewarding in my career!

WeAreTechWomen has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Professor Sue Black OBE, Debbie Forster MBE, Jacqueline de Rojas CBE, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here.