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Poss Apostolou: from History to Chief Operating Officer at a digital agency

Social media handle(s): @I_am_poss (Twitter)


A few words about me:

I’m a Chief Operating Officer at dxw, a leading digital agency that designs, builds and hosts digital public services and, as of recently, an Employee Ownership Trust. I’ve been at dxw for 5 years now and have seen it grow from 25 people to 100+ people.


I have a generalist background and used to be a civil servant within the government.


In my free time, I’m quite sporty. Many of my hobbies centre around sports, but I’m also a history nerd that loves to travel. I’m married to an artist, have two kids and a puppy!


Are there any professional experiences you've had that are quite unexpected compared to what you do nowadays?

Yes!


→ Selling expensive women’s shoes on Bond Street (central London’s retail hub). This was a really good experience and taught me patience, how to understand people’s needs and the ability to upsell

→ Spent a couple of years whilst at university working as a marketing assistant for the national digital radio broadcaster. I helped work on promotional material, talking to retailers and writing content. I also had the pleasure of testing the battery length for DAB radios over a quite noisy 2 week period one summer 🙂


Is your background more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) or non-STEM related?


non-STEM


Where did your professional journey start?


I did my degree in History at UCL, specialising in Politics and Eastern European studies, so my educational background is far from technology related.


Following my university studies, I worked at the national radio broadcaster where I was focusing on a variety of marketing activities. After this experience, I put myself forward to join an agency which placed me to work within the government. In that role, I focused on managing the (waterfall) plan for the launch of the Directgov website. Directgov (now gov.uk) was the UK government's digital service portal aiming to provide access to public sector information and services across different areas.


How did you get into tech and what motivated you?


While working on the Directgov website project, I got exposed to working in digital within the government setting. During this time, I found myself effectively translating between the tech and non-tech teams, for example writing parliamentary correspondence and Freedom of Information requests on matters related to government’s digital agenda. I got to meet many interesting people and when the Government Digital Services (GDS) was being formed, I was one of a small number that were brought over to help establish the GDS.


I took my experience of facilitating communication between the tech and non-tech experts to GDS where fundamentally, I would use it to explain / justify the return on investment of the newly created GDS. Over the years, I progressed to a more senior role and helped scale up GDS to 800+ people.


Later on, after a change in leadership and after not getting the promotion I was hoping for, I decided it was time to explore alternative career options. I wanted to continue to work across public services, and found myself drawn to dxw which I joined 5 years ago as the Head of Commercial Operations, and now as its COO.


Have you experienced any 'career in tech' challenges / stereotypes?


I’ve been quite lucky to have created a position for myself in between the ‘tech’ and ‘non-tech’ which became my niche. I’m a generalist which is very valuable for teams, but it can also sometimes be challenging to have a generalist background within tech environments.


Because of that, I’ve had to learn to reinforce my confidence in tech environments when working with really (and quite annoyingly) smart technology experts. Especially when I have to make business decisions that affect the daily work of those specialists. This is an interesting dynamic to navigate!


"Even without a tech background, you can be successful within the tech industry... Be yourself and be unique in tech."

What you wish you knew before getting started in tech...


I have quite a good level of empathy and emotional intelligence, but I wish I had trusted in those skills earlier on. When working within the tech industry, you often interact with a variety of both tech and non-tech people.


By extension, I would have liked to have had a better insight into the psychology of different people as it would have helped when navigating both the ‘tech’ and ‘non-tech’ professionals.


What has been your biggest 'wow!' moment related to working in tech so far?


When I was working in the government and the Chancellor of the day revealed in Parliament that GDS would be getting £450 million of investment to transform the government’s digital products and services. The reason why this was so important to me is that this decision recognised the value of very early stage work that I got to be part of.


What do you like / not like about working in tech?


I like how inclusive the tech industry can be at some companies like at dxw. I also really like the self-improvement element which is a big part of the work - trying to constantly learn and improve what we’re doing.


What I don’t like is that the mainstream conversations are often about the large tech companies and their products which distracts from the important and positive impact tech can have for the world. I’m not a fan of talking about technology for the sake of technology. I’d prefer us to instead focus on the benefits technology can have for the wider social good.


"I’m a generalist which is very valuable for teams, but it can also sometimes be challenging to have a generalist background within tech environments."

What's been your favourite / most memorable / funniest 'career in tech' moment so far?


My favourite moment has been working on the valuation of dxw as a company which was a key part of the process to transition dxw into an Employee Ownership Trust.


The memorable moments for me are also every time dxw finishes a project that delivers valuable work to our customers with a huge impact on the lives of the public.


And to wrap up, is there any advice you'd like to give to others interested in a career in tech?


My advice would be not to underestimate your non-STEM background or let yourself be put off by that. Even without a tech background, you can be successful within the tech industry. For example, it’s a very valuable role if you can be in between the tech and non-tech, enabling or leading the translation between the two. Be yourself and be unique in tech.


Also, don’t hesitate to reach out and talk to people within the tech industry. Many people are willing to help and want to give back. Just ask for help and be brave.

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