Jon Stace has been employed by Software Solved for almost 24 years. He joined the business a couple of years after graduating from the University of York. He attended the same University, shared the same tutor group and completed the same course as our Chairman Thomas Coles. We asked Jon about his career path beyond university and the expertise he demonstrates within his role.
From computer science degree to Director of Technology
Jon revealed how his career has taken a fairly traditional path: “I did my A levels and then went straight to the University of York to do a Computer Science degree.” He regretted not doing a sandwich placement in favour of just wanting to get through the degree, however, he does recognise the real value of placements and suggests it would have offered so much more on his CV.
After graduating, Jon got a job in the Southwest in Salcombe: “I had visited Devon on holidays, but despite no other direct connection, I just moved down for the job at a company called Kudos Software, who produced software products for the marine trade. I filled a role in software development for about 13 or 14 months.” Having met at university, Jon and Thomas stayed in contact for the following three years, until Thomas posted a job advert on the university notice board and was instrumental in Jon getting that job! Thomas was working in the office next door for a different company until he left to start an MSM (Management Systems Modelling) as it was called back then at Totnes with his father George. Jon adds: “They had been going for a few months when I reached out to see if there was a job opportunity for myself. Following an interview with Thomas and George, I got a job as a developer.”
Jon shares his first project at Software Solved: “The first project I worked on was Prosper, training and enterprise Council (Devon and Cornwall) creating a business system for the back-end system to manage. It was called New Deal, which was a government initiative to get more apprentices into work placements. I was brought on to take over the development of it.” Jon continued to explain his career progression within the company: “From Developer, I progressed to Lead Developer, Senior Developer, also covering the IT side of things. Then onto Technical Consultant, Principal Technical Consultant for over thirteen years before the job title changed to Director of Technology, the position I have held for nearly three years to date. My job responsibilities have morphed over the time, and it has been very much a case of doing the job and looking at ways to sell my abilities and skill set to prospects and clients”.
With the benefit of starting with a small company, Jon has taken all the opportunities available to him and as the company has grown, he has, through this journey, effectively developed and progressed his own career improving his skill sets along with everything else.
You can’t work in a vacuum
Jon emphasises the importance of communication within leadership: “It’s kind of expected that you have to be technically capable of transferring those business requirements into a working system of high quality. So much focus is on communication whether it’s communicating within your project team to update status to get details of a particular bit of functionality or requirement through expressing those ideas to the rest of the team. When you’re leading the project, communicating with customers efficiently is vital.”
Jon believes, being able to present yourself and represent the company for example at conference talks and things like that mean you have to work at every level and absolutely have to be able to communicate in order to progress.
Early in his career, Jon reveals: “We would be asked things like ‘will this system be able to change the values in the dropdown lists?’ and we would reply, ‘well, of course, you will because it’s the system that will write for you and we’ll do it’, but that whole concept of ‘well, of course, you will’, as an answer just isn’t enough. The proactive communication should be ‘yes, and this will enable your business to do this and you will be able to manage your workflow and adapt this system to your changing business’. Everything needs to be explicitly declared, it’s not implicit, in other words, not clearly explained or understood.
Right from the start of his career, Jon began to understand and show an aptitude towards the critical parts to be played within the role of a lead developer and certainly more now as a director. He was very much more focused on the technical aspects at university but over the years has met people with different levels of experience and expectations regarding project delivery. He describes how people can feel threatened because they’ve got this technical person in the room telling them all this clever stuff when actually they just need reassurance and not to be patronized.
Jon emphasised: “You can’t work in a vacuum as a developer, it just can’t be done because you need interaction and connection.” He reiterates an emphasis on a two-way understanding and communication.
Improving things and making a difference
Jon continues by explaining how he measures success: “I think it’s a combination of things. Day-to-day, it’s achieving specific goals and actually getting stuff done. But also making a difference by improving things within the business such as processes and tool, and part of measuring success is intertwined with how well the business is doing, winning new clients projects and that everything I’ve been involved in is progressing successfully.”
Who continues to inspire you?
Jon explained how he is inspired by four key people: “Most recently, there’s a couple of people that stick out in my mind in terms of presenting a mixture of not only technical content and technical leadership skills, but also educational pieces and clarity of communication.”
Jon describes and compliments both Scott Hanselman and Julie Lerman as; “fully rounded human beings and especially because of how they use their platforms online and skills as excellent communicators.”
Jon has also found inspiration from Grady Booch, a pioneer of software architecture who he describes. Also, another person in Jon’s admiration headlights is Kelsey Hightower who is involved in some very modern tech at the moment. Jon respects his ability to educate, while still maintaining and presenting himself as multi-faceted, instead of being just one dimensional.
How do you continue to develop and learn in your current role?
“I use a diverse source of information. You can’t just stick to one thing and I am constantly learning. You never know everything, and there are always new processes, new technologies and approaches that will come out. I follow a variety of people on Twitter and keep up-to-date with websites such as Hacker News, a spread of different technical news articles and discussions. I did a course on product management a few years ago with a company called Product Focus. They have an amazing level of material that’s available for free and produce a number of webinars full of guidance on all aspects of product management. This for me has been quite transformative in terms of moving away from just thinking about the technology but thinking about the context of those systems within a wider business context.”
Encourage and bring everyone together
Jon believes that to “lead by example” is definitely part of it, but it’s not the only thing because you can go striding off, leading by example and turn around and find that nobody is following you. He continued: “I spend a lot of my working day speaking to other people, supporting them, helping them to move things forward. You know you can set that example. You can set that agenda, but a team culture comes from all members of the team. It is important to encourage them to interact and come together.”
A real buzz from helping others
Jon explains that delegation is one of the hardest things as a leader and said: “The best I can do at the moment is clearly communicate expectations, time scales and the reason why something needs to be done. That’s the motivation side of it, and that’s the understanding of why something has to be done. I did a lot of work a couple of years ago within Software Solved to outline a framework for making technical decisions. This enables the team to make choices without there having to be a dictator approving every decision. To me, the importance is a strong work culture, where everyone does things that fit their abilities, strengths and interests.”
Jon concludes: “I get a real buzz from helping others which is ultimately where I get my job satisfaction from, imparting what I believe is useful, including guidance and insight. I’ve rarely been bored in the years that I’ve been with Software Solved. I came in at the right time and I feel lucky and fortunate to have been able to progress my career and develop my experience and understanding. I continue to strive to support the team around me.”
Find out more about the people at the forefront of what we do on the Meet the Team page