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Employee Spotlight on Simon Johnson: From Football Coaching to Consulting, Managing & Public Speaking

Simon Johnson, Head of Business Intelligence, on how football coaching helped him to be a better consultant, manager, and public speaker.

I grew up in a small Northumberland village so there weren’t many kids to socialise with. I also didn’t get my first computer until I was sixteen. My dad’s a mechanic, and engineering was what I wanted to do originally. Then in university, my degree was multimedia – computer graphics, visualisations, and lots of maths… I didn’t really like it.

So, it’s quite surprising that I ended up in a maths-heavy consulting role for data analytics and visualisation software.

Career Beginnings as an Analyst

After university, I worked for a housing organisation as a Management Information Analyst to build reports using Excel. They had 80,000 different properties with up to 8 gas boilers each, and I had to analyse data and find the most cost-effective contractor. I worked there for 4-5 years and gave me a grounding in reports and how to solve problems logically.

The reason I left there was that I’d done everything we could – the only thing was, I moved to the other housing association at the wrong time. I was only there for 6 months before our team was restructured out of the business. I was doing Crystal Reports and BusinessObjects and SQL based reports, so when we talk about the 1st generation of BI reports, that was it.

Then one Friday night I found out I was being made redundant. I had a telephone interview with Perfect Image on Monday morning and the next day I got a call asking me to come in for my second interview. That afternoon, I was offered a job at Perfect Image.

Job Title Changes and Progression at Perfect Image

I started April 2013 as a Level 1 Business Intelligence Consultant and I had to learn everything from scratch. I’d worked there for two weeks when my manager, Rob Hankin (now CEO) took me to see a client. I had to meet with the clients then get a proof of concept ready for the next day. Rob checked what I’d done, and demonstrated it back to the client, and we won the deal.

One of my biggest achievements is about a year after I started, I was sent down south for a few months to cover a developer for one of the big 4 accounting firms on their Qlik analytics solution. Those few months turned into two and a half years. While I was there, I moved from a Level 1 Consultant to Level 2, and not long after I was promoted to Level 3 – all in three years.

I’ve had a few job title changes since then, too. From BI Consultant, to Principal BI Consultant, to Solution Architect, to now being Head of Business Intelligence.

Balancing Football Coaching, Consulting and Managing

I used to be painfully shy but football coaching taught me how to deal with a wide range of people. It changed me a lot. My dad saw me coaching for the first time and said he liked the way I interact with the kids because I don’t dumb it down. And I explained they’re smart, I don’t need to dumb it down, they just need to be shown.

I’ve done coaching for about 10 years. I’m currently coaching an under 14’s team and one of the kids I used to coach in the under 8s is now coaching with me. I’m mentoring him through coaching, he’s doing his coaching badges.

I couldn’t do the job I’ve got if it wasn’t for football coaching. I’ve learned the difference between managing and coaching, and which kids to have a quiet word with or the ones you can talk to on the pitch etc. There is something very similar about working at Perfect Image – you have to know how the right way to treat different members of staff.

As a coach I also need to keep people positive. When we play against the team who’s top of the league, it’s my job to get them out of negative thinking. That happens with the BI team, too. It’s amazing how much it lends itself to work.

I got a Mr Happy mug from my stepsister. It’s weird because the project management team think it’s ironic, the sales team would tell me it depends on what I’ve got on, and my team thinks it fits. I try to be very happy with the people in my team; I’m generally positive.

The Life of a Business Intelligence Consultant

One downside of the job is that sometimes I don’t see projects out from start to finish. But that’s because the BI team are good at enabling people and training them on analytics tools. Then they build everything themselves, and we might just help them with a few things. I get proud of my clients.

We also get to know lots of interesting information about companies. I was working with another client and I found a bug in their system where one person was repeatedly taking 2 hours off a day and it wasn’t getting subtracted as holidays. Another company understated their profit and loss by £50,000 because their Excel sheet was wrong.

Public Speaking About Analytics Solutions and Perfect Image

Last year I presented at Qlik Meetups and at Newcastle university for DataJam. It was terrifying to stand in front of 150 people including analysts and lecturers and data scientists. My talk was about how to choose the right software.

As consultants, it’s what we do for customers, but in a lot of cases people are just given a product to work with and they don’t know the pros and cons of it. I also talked about the projects we’ve done, for example, Nexus using Qlik for sentiment analysis on Twitter.

When I got to the end of my talk and asked if there were any questions… there was nothing. Silence. And I thought well, either I’m good or incredibly bad. Then a customer of ours asked a question and from there I got a whole load more.

Then the very next day I was giving a keynote presentation at the Qlik Analytics Tour. It was about Qlik Sense and its use of Augmented Intelligence, and a lunchtime session on NPrinting. That was with 60 people, but it was Qlik’s script, not my material, so I had to learn all of that. It all went very well.

Being Head of Business Intelligence feels like a natural progression of how long I’ve been here and what I’ve been doing. Now that I’ve got it, it’s an achievement but my future plans are to really make it my own. For me personally, I want to apply for the Qlik Luminary program this year. I just need time to work on my BI blog. I also want to get us in front of even more people to promote Perfect Image.

I see our grads, and I think back to when I was in their position compared to where I’m at now, and it makes me want to help them through. I’ve enjoyed working with different people and mentoring them, like Andrew Dinning who’s now a Senior Solutions Architect. The graduates coming through now, the work they do is phenomenal, and I want to develop them and give them a chance.

Going back to the best manager I ever had – it was because they gave me the opportunity to grow, and that’s what I want to give.

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