‘Your job or career should be in service of the life you want to live’

Speaker’s Corner: Tim Hynes, Chief Innovation Officer, AIB, tells us about his career path.

What did you want to be growing up?
Honestly I'm not sure how clear I was. My dad worked in car repair and most of my uncles were carpenters. Mums worked at home and didn't go out to work. The guys in the family were all hardworking tradesmen.

There was a teacher in Drimnagh Castle, where I went to school. He set up a little electronics club and he got us some printed circuit board kits. When I was 15 or 16 the school got some computers, old things but I thought they were brilliant and I started coding. I used to work for my uncles during the school holidays and I saved up the money I made and bought my first home computer. I think it was a Sinclair - it had 1K of memory. I thought this was magical - if I'd known who Harry Potter was I'd have thought I was Harry Potter. The men in my family worked creating things with their hands but to create something when there wasn't a physical thing was, to me, magical.

I started coding on the home computer. The very first game I wrote was a higher and lower number game. I wrote a game where you were chased around by a block that grew. I sort of invented Snake but I didn’t copyright it.

How did you get onto the career path that took you to where you are now?
I finished my Leaving Cert on a Wednesday in 1985 and the last exam was physics. My father gave me the Thursday off and then sent me into town on the Friday to sign on the labour exchange because I'd nothing lined up. He was trying to force me to get into the work force. An aunt of mine had done a one-year computing course in Rathmines College, the first in the family to do any study after the Leaving. She was working in a software house in Ballast House. She asked the marketing director would he have a word with me, 'that I was a smart kid'.

That Friday I signed on the labour exchange walked down Dame Street, into this office and talked to this fella for about 20 minutes. He introduced me to finance director and then they went and chatted to the managing director and then they asked me start on Monday. I said ‘Are you offering me a job?’ The three of them were laughing at me but they must have thought there was a spark there. I went out that weekend with my mum to buy a couple of jackets and some ties and trousers. I think I might have been the first guy in my family to wear a tie to work. I fell in love with it. They had computers the size of a room and I would have worked there for nothing.

Taken delivery of a system called an IBM 36. It arrived in their office wrapped in cellophane and I'd to go in and unwrap it and install it. When I was 20 going on 21 I was sent to Switzerland to work for Union Carbide by that same software house. I was living in a hotel in Switzerland for six months and that taught me an awful lot.

You've had a lot of different roles abroad how did that help your career?
It depends what you want. I wouldn't knock anyone who wants to stay next to home. It depends what you want from life. I was 22 when I went to the UK to work for British American Tobacco. One of the reasons I went was I had this sense of wanting scale - I didn't think I could get the scale in Ireland at that time. I felt if I went to the UK I could work for a bigger company that would give me the chance for bigger things. I was in the UK for six years and then went to Russia as Head of IT and then two years in marketing. I got a lot of opportunities for professional development.

I came back to Ireland when we wanted our children to go to school here. I worked for Microsoft in an EMEA role and global roles.

Your job or career should be in service of the life you want to live. If you have a real desire to travel the world then your career can help you to do that if that is what you choose. Decide what sacrifices you’re willing to make to achieve the life you want to have and how do you make sure your career is in service of that.

How important is it to plan your career?
The only thing in my career that happened by accident was getting my first job. Everything else has been more or less planned. I have always run a 10-year plan since my thirties. If you don't know what job you want - think about what kind of life you want to have in 10 years and think what do I need to do now that will move me onto that path. That might help guide you on to the next job or a change in career.

Tell me about the importance of building skills to open opportunities in a business career.
If you are interested in things and not sitting on your hands waiting for something to come to you you're moving forward. It's like you're putting more tools in your toolbox and when you come across a job that needs doing you think, I have a tool for that. Think about learning and growing your capabilities and your skill set. Opportunities will often emerge for you then because you have built your skills to fit that opportunity. Don't be impatient and build a broad base of skills.

Is there a piece of advice you got in your career that you found useful and would share?
'My perspective is not the only perspective'. You can't work with other people effectively unless you can look at things from someone else's perspective. My motto if I had one would be a quote from a Terry Pratchett book:

“The company of those seeking the truth is infinitely preferable to those who think they’ve found it.”

Tim Hynes is a speaker at the 2021 Higher Options expo. For more information go to: higheroptions.vfairs.com