Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

There was a time when it seemed like this was a staple of every interview anyone attended. It seems to have, thankfully, gone out of style now but once upon a time it was the go-to question.

My standard answer back then was that I wanted to be Head of Web/Online/Digital for a major university. That was my ambition for the longest time – despite never actually having worked for an actual university web team. These days I just vicariously live through the work of Ross and his team at Bath Uni!

Five years ago I was coming to the end of my second spell at JISC and combined with a short but disastrous spell at Becta immediately previously it was a pretty bleak time for me work wise. My confidence was shot to pieces and felt that my career had permanently stalled.

Fast forward five years and things couldn’t be more different.

I have benefited significantly from the change of approach in Government digital thanks primarily to GDS and it was very much a case of right place, right time when I joined ONS. The last couple of years have really stretched me but for the first time since my early days at JISC I can actually see myself staying somewhere for five plus years…and this scares me.

I truly believe that despite the ups and downs my decision to seek out new challenges at new employers at regular intervals rather than settle for getting comfortable in one place forced me to constantly improve my skills and provided a much wider pool of contacts who could provide support and advice. It was all the chopping and changing, blogging and tweeting, meetups and barcamps that meant I was prepared when Martha called for revolution. Much as I loved my first spell at JISC I would never have learned as much if I had stayed put.

I’ve been at ONS more than two years and usually I’d be scanning job ads and looking for my next opportunity. Instead I am focused on delivering the new website, already planning the longer term roadmap for post launch, intrigued by the possibilities of a digital first Census in 2021, fascinated by the opportunities the Bean Review might create for genuine digital transformation and just enjoying being a part of the changes already happening at the organisation.

This is what worries me. I understand why people stay at ONS so long. There is always a new challenge on the horizon if you want to grasp it but I need the stimulation of that major change in circumstances to shock me out of the complacency that comes from staying somewhere too long. I fear I’d become less and less effective the longer I stay somewhere. Not that I often hang around to test this hypothesis – so I guess this will be the experiment.

Maybe the shocks I need can be provided in a controlled environment? Statisticians at the ONS often get secondment opportunities and maybe that is what I need to consider when I start to get itchy feet. I imagine a couple of months at somewhere like the ODI would send me scrambling back to ONS with my tail between my legs🙂

My big ambition for years has been to work abroad for a bit – not as a long term lifestyle choice but just because I feel I’ve missed out a bit by not doing it – and given my general distaste for leaving Bristol that should be a significant shock and maybe our friends in NZ or Oz will extend an invitation some time. We’ll see.

So to get back to the question.

Where do I see myself in 5 years?

Today at least I see myself still at ONS, benefiting from all the technology changes that will have taken place over the preceding five years, leading a team that is prototyping new approaches to publishing Census data, working remotely so I don’t have to commute because video conference and collaborative working technology has finally met expectations (well a man can dream can’t he!)