Diversity in tech: Q&A with Andrei Nita of McKenzie Intelligence Services
Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are incredibly important to us here at Barclay Simpson, and we’re always keen to hear from industry leaders about what they think can be done to improve diversity within their field.
That’s why we were delighted to sit down recently with Andrei Nita, Head of Technology at McKenzie Intelligence Services, to discuss some of the benefits and challenges of building more diverse and inclusive tech teams.
Barclay Simpson: Hi Andrei, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Could you start by telling us a bit about your background?
Andrei: I studied Electronics & Telecommunications and started off my professional career at Renault. The automotive sector was interesting, but it was a bit slow-paced for my liking. That’s when I decided to dive into the IT world.
I’m all about learning as I go. I’ve worked across technical support, system administration, server administration, and networking. From there, I worked in technical consultancy and full-stack development. But you know what really clicked for me? Data Engineering!
I found my groove there and ended up becoming a Lead Data Engineer and later a Director of Data and Analytics. Now I am the Head of Technology at McKenzie Intelligence Services.
It has been a long and arduous journey, but I have to say, I loved every step of it!
Barclay Simpson: That’s quite the resume! What originally inspired you to go into the tech industry?
Andrei: Great question. My father was an engineer, and we would often spend time together, trying to fix the things I had broken. That is what initially got me interested in Engineering.
He managed a furniture manufacturing business, and while I found the world of timber processing and furniture manufacturing fascinating, I chose electronics because it seemed more future proof to me.
Barclay Simpson: Why are diversity and inclusion so important to you?
Andrei: Having greater diversity in teams and companies is crucial.
When everyone thinks and acts the same, it becomes a recipe for making repetitive decisions. There’s no room for growth or change. You’ll keep following the same path from point A to point B, oblivious to the existence of potentially better alternatives like points C or D.
Innovation and creativity flourish when you bring in a diverse mix of people. It is about welcoming original approaches to decision-making, instead of relying on a single opinion reinforced by the echo chamber around you.
Embracing diversity opens doors to fresh ideas and better outcomes.
Barclay Simpson: What diversity and inclusion challenges does the tech industry face?
Andrei: Historically, tech has not been great at diversity. It has long been perceived as a boys’ club. In my university, out of 100 students, only six were women, and that was considered above average by the professors.
However, gender diversity is just one facet of the issue. A couple of years ago, when I was hiring for a Senior Data Engineer, I found an abundance of candidates, but the majority were white males. Diversity was lacking, especially at the senior level.
I then altered the role to a junior level, opening the door for anyone aspiring to break into Data. This change allowed me to prioritise diversity and focus on training our own Senior Engineers to serve as excellent mentors for potential new hires.
By making a slight tweak to our recruitment approach, we achieved a solution that benefited everyone involved. It served as a powerful reminder that diversity should remain at the top of our minds, enabling progress and embracing inclusivity.
Barclay Simpson: What other diversity and inclusion challenges do you see in tech?
Andrei: There seems to be a lack of business buy-in. Many businesses do not care about it enough. Some organisations believe that by doing the minimum and telling everyone they’ve done something, that it will be enough. And yet improving diversity is very achievable. You really do not need to invest that much to hire more diverse tech talent.
Barclay Simpson: How do you solve the leadership buy-in problem?
Andrei: That is a tough question. It is a multifaceted problem with multifaceted solutions. It would be ideal if everyone came together and tackled the issue from every angle.
Government-led policies can play a significant role. Take Iceland, for example, where organizations with over 50 employees must have a 40-60 gender split on their board of directors. That ensures a fair distribution of power and fosters diversity.
Private companies also need to step up and act. Senior leaders must actively prioritise diversity, making it a top priority within their organisations.
The more we openly discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion, the bigger impact we can have. It is all about reaching more people and creating a positive and inclusive environment for everyone involved.
Barclay Simpson: Could you describe your recruitment process and how you have adapted it to help with diversity and inclusion?
Andrei: For me, recruiting is a hands-on process. I invest a lot of time collaborating with in-house talent teams and recruitment agencies to ensure a clear understanding of our needs.
I make a point to stress the significance of diversity and elaborate on what it means to us. I highlight the current team composition and emphasise that adding anyone different from the existing members would be an asset.
Diversity is not limited to gender or race; it encompasses a wide spectrum. We welcome candidates from different regions or countries, with varied academic backgrounds – like someone with an arts degree in a team of computer science graduates.
It’s important to be clear with what you are trying to achieve and spend time doing follow-ups with whomever oversees the sourcing process.
Barclay Simpson: What can employers do if they are struggling to find diverse candidates?
Andrei: If you do not have a good pipeline of candidates, you can reach out to organisations that help with diversity, such as Women in Data, CodeVerse or Girls Who Code. You can also go to networking events, explain that you have certain roles and encourage people to apply.
More broadly, what we are beginning to see in tech is that you do not need a Computer Science degree anymore. A growing number of people are now either self-studying or doing skills bootcamps, and that is how they are getting into the industry. Companies should be open to this change.
This is a much better way to increase diversity within the industry because formal education still suffers from a lack of diversity in the classroom. The gender split, for example, has not changed a huge amount from when I attended university.
Barclay Simpson: Do you believe mentorship is an effective way to improve diversity?
Andrei: Absolutely. Last year, I started a project aimed at mentoring juniors to break into the Data field. The process involved a 30-minute consultation via Zoom, where they would share their long-term goals and aspirations.
Together, we reviewed their profiles, and I offered guidance on how to present themselves and the skills they should focus on for the best shot at landing a role. I asked them questions to assess their technical knowledge and recommended topics to study if they were applying for positions.
The results were positive. I received messages from people who secured roles, to extend thanks for the guidance provided. Others shared that while they did not land a role immediately, the experience boosted their confidence to continue learning and applying.
As a mentor, witnessing the success of my mentees is a fantastic motivator, making the journey more rewarding.
Barclay Simpson: Speaking of education, how do you get more people from diverse backgrounds to be excited about a career in tech at a younger age?
Andrei: We need a different approach that understands what it really takes to succeed in the industry, and then use that information to help people over the finish line.
Seeing more diversity within teaching staff would also help. But to have more diverse teachers, you need to have more diverse students who want to go into teaching!
Barclay Simpson: Are there any books you have read that have helped you in your approach to diversity – or leadership in general – that you would recommend to others?
Andrei: The books you read should be diverse so that you can think diversity first.
I’m an avid reader, who is particularly drawn to books about decision-making and leadership. Steven Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ and Daniel Goleman’s ‘Emotional Intelligence’ are phenomenal reads. Goleman’s ‘Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence’ is equally compelling, delving into enhancing attention span for improved performance.
However, my reading interests also extend to books covering the human body, not only the mind. I find value in learning about the significance of adequate sleep and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. These topics contribute to a well-rounded approach to personal growth.
Barclay Simpson: Lastly, do you have any advice for other senior tech leaders who are trying to improve diversity and inclusion within their organisation?
Andrei: People should strive for a diversity-first mindset, but any step is a good step if it’s in the right direction. We’re all responsible for diversity and inclusion, and it is important we all pitch in.
It may not move the needle today, but it could move the needle tomorrow.