I’m currently at the beginning of a few incredibly interesting weeks of travel, and they’re all thanks to the thoughts and efforts of those around me within Experian. I know most of my posts are about Code and Alexa (they’re not going anywhere!) but I can’t experience these trips without writing a little about them – so excuse my indulgence in talking about my actual day job for a little while.
For those of you who don’t know me through my social media accounts, I work for Experian – a UK company and credit bureau with global interests in finance and data, http://www.experian.co.uk can be used to find out the details. I work with the websites we use to give financial information and help directly to members of the public in one of the UK offices, unsurprisingly in their tech department.
Now it’s easy for someone who’s specifically blogging about trips they’re taking to just say the company that made it happen are really great but gloss over the detail. A cynical reader (such as myself) will then assume that the person writing is upper management or maybe in a team that have to travel as part of their job and this is someone’s great idea of PR. But I think this is actually a big part of why I’m writing these posts – that Experian genuinely believe in promoting the achievements of their people and in investing in both them and the tools and technologies around them, and they do it without anywhere near the fanfare you’d expect because that’s not why they do it.
So for full disclosure and to ensure that I try and negate as much of the immediate cynicism as possible, I wanted to pop a few details down about me, my situation and the part of the business I work in.
• Important one first – these blog posts are mine, and are from a conversation my wife and I had while I was on the first trip. Sure – I want people to know I work for a great company – but only because in my professional career I’ve found it rare that a company says that they believe in investing in people AND actually do it! Experian have no part in their creation, haven’t asked or suggested that I write them, and the content and thoughts are only my own.
• Yes, Experian is a big company – but as I’ve already said I work in the tech department in a UK office. My team’s focus is specifically the UK & Ireland, we’ve not got a global remit, I have colleagues in the US but my work and my results are entirely based on what UK&I are able to achieve.
• Our part of the business has a pretty flat structure, but even so I’m not in any way management. My official title is “Solutions Architect” and I have no team or direct reports. I report to the Head of Engineering, and I work closely with our developers to ensure the work we produce day to day is moving along the right path, and I work with our teams to help identify areas where that might not be the case or could be improved.
Long story short – if you were looking around the company, nothing about my role or position or team would give you any particular reason to single me out or make you think that I was someone for whom these kind of events would be made to happen.
I think I’ve been about as clear as I can be on this one. Yeah? Yeah.
So with all this in mind my first stop on my journey being Japan may be kind of a shock!
I can assure you no matter how surprised you might be, it’s nothing to how surprised I was when I found out I was going! But I did…am…I’m writing this on the Bullet Train between Tokyo and Kyoto. I’ve been surrounded by skyscrapers and technology and now I’m whizzing past countryside with mountain ranges in the distance and a little while ago I saw the distant majesty of Mt. Fuji
Anyway – I’m getting ahead of myself. These posts aren’t just about the trip itself, but how they happened. So this one needs a little disclaimer (I know – Mr. Cynic – but it’s not what you think!). I previously stated that my role at Experian was one of Solutions Architect, and it is. But it wasn’t when I was awarded this trip. Nope – I was “Senior Engineer”. Since I found out this trip was happening back in March 2018, I’ve been given a promotion to the role I’m in currently – and I wanted to make this clear because although your role at Experian is obviously important, what they pay attention to is how you take on the role and how you make it your own – not just the title.
So what we have at Experian is award schemes. We can nominate people for “spot awards” where someone wants to recognise they really helped out in a particular situation, then if we think someone has really shown themselves to step up in regard to our core values and put in the extra effort – then we have awards where other people at Experian are able to nominate an individual or team for the work they’ve done. Each quarter we celebrate those people who have been nominated – and out of those nominations management agree who deserves the award. Those that are given the award (I think it’s still a plaque) also get a financial sign of appreciation (think it’s still vouchers).
We then have half year awards, which are a slightly more prestigious symbol for those who management believe have earned it, and a slightly larger sign of appreciation.
Both quarterly and half year awards are important, and we handle them within our department. There is then the third level of award, performed toward the end of the financial year, the “Elite” awards represent those people who management believe have gone above what was expected of them and performed exceptionally. These awards are held at an offsite black tie event toward the end of the financial year, and form part of a two day sales conference for sales staff.
Although primarily aimed at sales staff, there are “Contribution to Sales” categories which allow those not directly involved to still be recognised appropriately. It’s this category I fall into. I’d done some work on integrating our new platform in ways others hadn’t, and I’d done what I could to ensure Experian was a voice within the local tech community. This had, unbeknownst to me, meant that I was put forward for the elite awards – and I was one of the winners!
I was informed, thankfully, with just enough time to get myself an outfit and get myself to the awards venue. The night is incredible, with the venue decked out to represent the venue of the awards prize. Previous years had seen people in the US, Iceland and other fantastic places – this year the venue was Japan and we had cherry blossom trees between the tables and after dinner we had karaoke and dance machines – it was an incredible evening.
As I wasn’t a sales person I didn’t really know many of the other winners, a few at most, so I have to say I had no idea what to expect from the whole thing – but when I got back to my room that night I found a congratulations package telling me that myself and a guest were flying out in November. I couldn’t wait!
Although an incredible event and experience, there is obviously a big gap between the end of the financial year and November. That said – never did I feel like things weren’t happening. My wife is a teacher so we were very concerned initially that she wouldn’t be able to attend due to the term time – our events team put forward an incredible letter to her school explaining the importance of our families in our work, and that we couldn’t celebrate ourselves without including those that help us achieve these awards at home. They explained this was truly a once in a lifetime experience and helped put forward a case for special circumstances in this instance.
Every month or so we’d get updates – flight information, event details, ensuring we’d filled out paperwork as required or sent over passport details. No question was too small and despite the volume of other events they deal with every year there was always a helpful and prompt reply.
Then a couple of weeks before we left a parcel arrived at the house, containing a pack of branded items to help us on our journey – neck pillows, water bottles, eye masks, guides to Tokyo and Kyoto and a full published itinerary. We’re very organised people but this just made it seem real and imminent and was just such a lovely touch.
I’m not going to ramble about every part of every event – because quite frankly I’m not sure I could do enough of it justice, here’s some pictures of what we experienced and a few of the activities we attended between Tokyo and Kyoto.
• Rickshaw ride
• Visited golden pavillion and bamboo groves
• Ninja Training
• Rode the bullet train!
• Experienced the Tokyo SkyTree
• Had lunch at a Sumo restaurant
• Visited the inspiration for the Crazy 88s scene of Kill Bill
I’ve said already, it’s a sales conference – and on the first night we’re told “This is a trip, not a networking event”. But you’re still spending most of a week with these same people – so I was a little concerned my introvert nature would mean I didn’t enjoy the trip as there was the expected shop talk about targets and figures and I was surrounded by people with alpha character traits.
I couldn’t have been more wrong! Turns out that Experian hires well across the board, because every winner and their guest were so incredibly easy to talk to and so interesting too! There was _very_ little shop talk throughout the whole week – normally as people introduced each other and we tried to figure out where everyone came from, but it was mostly just shooting the breeze or talking about back home and thoroughly enjoying the events. The conversation wasn’t constant but nor was it forced, and although we had some set groups, the evening events were laid out (when there was a seating plan) so I got to speak to senior management and sales people alike – and I enjoyed every conversation.
I came away appreciating Experian so much more and just understanding the range of people and work that we do so much more than when I turned up – it was great.
I can’t express how incredible these people are. Have you ever tried to get family through a busy department store when they’re looking at things on the shelves or wanting to just grab a gift for so and so? It can make you lose your mind!
Now imagine instead of family, it’s a bunch of co-workers, and instead of a small group, its 70, and instead of a department store – it’s the middle of Tokyo! The amount they have to handle every single day to ensure that we barely noticed what was going on – I can’t quite explain it. Everyone was so happy to help, but at the same time totally on the ball with exactly what was going on, every event was a smooth experience where we just sat down or walked around and enjoyed what was happening around us – every dietary requirement was completely customised at every meal, every destination was happy and ready for our arrival, the guides – my word the local guides! For everything I experienced it was deepened by the knowledge and obvious emotion of our guide who was so proud to share the world where he grew up. I learnt so much between the areas we travelled the quiet times weren’t boring – they were spent really taking in everything we saw.
I couldn’t believe you could fit so much into six days and yet the team did just that. Each night there was a letter waiting for us in our room explaining what was happening the next day, a memento of what we’d experienced to go with it. They’re truly remarkable and they helped make the trip so much better than I could have ever hoped for.
We don’t shout about the way we recognise our people at Experian, but we do – and we do it well. If it’s a spot award for that person who worked late to get the release out when we knew they had other plans, or an elite award for the person who smashed their yearly target by 700%, we make sure they know that as a colleague of ours we see the effort they put in and we know as a company that we couldn’t do what we do without people like them.
In tech we talk a lot about imposter syndrome – and we normally relate it to feeling like we’re not good enough. Well recognition can be part of it too; being put into a spotlight for something (in my case) you enjoy can all of a sudden feel very uncomfortable – and it’s a credit to those who organise our events and those managers that shine that light on their staff that they do it in a way that shows not just their colleagues, but themselves, that they’re appreciated and worthy of note.
As someone who is very used to keeping to themselves this whole experience has been intense, but I can’t explain how incredible it’s been. To have an employer give so much, without a catch or an expectation, as a thank you. To think of other places I’ve worked, where it has been all take without a second thought. What a sign of recognition!