Career Profile - Elizabeth McDonald, senior manager of corporate ICT at Glasgow City Council

We profile the journey of Elizabeth MacDonald, once typist now senior manager of corporate ICT at Glasgow City Council

Working your way up from being a typist definitely has its advantages, believes Elizabeth MacDonald, who is now senior manager of corporate ICT at Glasgow City Council.


Not only does it give you a more universal view of the organisation that you’re working for, but if you’ve already worked in departments ranging from housing to building and financial services, “when they come to ICT with their particular challenges, you have a good understanding of their business, which helps”.


MacDonald started at the Council in 1977 as a shorthand typist in a typing pool for Housing Services. Ten years or so later, she had become a supervisor and it was then that she had her first brush with ICT. MacDonald was asked to evaluate the suitability of various word processing packages and jumped at the chance.


“It was all new and exciting and different, but if it hadn’t worked out, that would have been OK too. My view was that you have to take the opportunities that are presented to you and you never find out if it’s right for you or not if you don’t try,” she says.


After choosing a suitable package, she didn’t look back, however, but continued to take time off from her usual duties in order to implement and run the training programme. This led her to go for a permanent job as a word processor trainer and systems developer, before manning the office systems helpdesk. And the rest, as they say, is history.


“I grabbed all of the opportunities that presented themselves and took them on board. When someone said to me ‘do you think you might want to do this’, I said ‘yes’”, MacDonald explains. “It’s about looking for niches and places where your skills are needed and then instead of waiting for opportunities to come to you, going after and developing them yourself.”


But several key characteristics are needed to take this route, which, while not unheard of in local authorities, is still not unduly common. The first useful trait is determination and “not being afraid of getting knocked back”. The second is flexibility and a willingness to throw yourself into different activities beyond the tight confines of your job spec.


“It’s not unusual for ICT staff to take on board roles and functions that they’re not re-numerated for in their day-to-day work. But it puts you in a good position to apply for interesting posts because it can help you demonstrate that you’ve done something appropriate already, that you can do it and that you’re competent,” MacDonald says.


The third characteristic for successfully working your way up is energy. This is particularly necessary in MacDonald’s current job, where she has a team of 50 staff reporting into her and is responsible for the ICT infrastructure that supports the Council’s 36,000 staff located across 220 networked sites.


Such work is divided into two quite different areas, however. One is concerned with end-user support, which involves problem-solving and fixing issues that affect the smooth running of systems in a reactive way. The other focuses on ongoing development and introducing new infrastructure to support the current and future requirements of the business.

“My job satisfaction derives from understanding the bigger picture and where myself and my teams fit into the broader view. I like the variety that’s involved in working with a number of different teams, and find it enjoyable to stay abreast of the technical issues and different areas of responsibility. But although I like that bit best, I also find it the most challenging,” MacDonald says.


For example, the jargon used by the network team and the issues that affect them are often quite dissimilar to the problems faced and the language used by the contact centre system team. As a result, it can be tricky to negotiate such diverse requirements.


The secret, however, MacDonald believes, is to “keep on top of it by having good people under me”. This requires not only a sound hiring policy, but also paying close attention to staff development matters to ensure they are motivated and happy.


But she concludes: “Sometimes you simply have to do things that perhaps frighten and challenge you to determine whether you can take on board any more. It can be much easier to go for a position you’ve had experience of than to push yourself, but it’s not as rewarding.”


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