Bullhorn’s Vice President of Global Enterprise Strategy & Operations, Leah McKelvey, recently sat down with Zaidy Ramirez, Chief Technology Officer at K2 Partnering Solutions, for a conversation on how Zaidy’s journey to K2’s C-suite started with a passion she found for coding at age 13 in Peru.
Could you tell us about your background before getting into recruitment?
I attended the Santa Rosa grade school in the Northern part of Peru and was very fortunate to have free tuition, as I didn’t come from a very wealthy background. This school provided me with a chance in life and allowed me to enroll in an afterschool program that offered three specialties for students to choose from: IT, accounting, and knitting. I began coding at the age of 13, just as IT was really growing as a profession. I have always had a passion for the logic of coding and within three years, I completed the IT program. I spent my afternoons, weekends, and school holidays finishing the program and enjoyed it enough to pursue IT as a career.
I also attended Brunel University in London for both undergrad and graduate school, earning a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in computer science, before beginning my professional career in London. Out of the 300 students in my class, only 10 were women, and within three years that number had been reduced even more. Fortunately, I didn’t pay much attention to the lack of diversity. I was also lucky enough to have three female mentors at the company I was working at, all who sought interest in teaching me. I learned not only about my profession and how to solve algorithms, but they also motivated me to rise to the challenge and never give up. My mentors inspired me to continue despite my role changes and working with men who didn’t welcome my female presence, as they thought I would slow them down with my “non-programming skills.” In reality, I could program Java faster than they could!
At my second job, the team leader didn’t want me on the team because he thought I couldn’t keep up. He felt I wasn’t loud enough and couldn’t stand on my own feet enough; but I actually was loud and confident enough to face the challenges without fear of falling down, even though I was a woman and English is not my native language. I didn’t feel bad about being different. In fact, I felt really proud of every difference.
How has your experience been since joining the executive team at K2?
Before joining K2 in November of 2013, I had been living in the UK for 13 years and over that time, I learned to build efficient technology teams and deliver great technology solutions. When I became a part of K2, we decided to move the IT operations to Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Since the date I joined K2, I have seen K2 transform from being a single owned company to being a Private Equity backed firm; the opportunities are endless and the learning curve has been steep. From running the internal IT team to helping the Executive Board to make strategic decisions regarding the purchase of IT systems that can be measured with a very specific return, help us to support a growing and profitable business.
How has the team grown since starting at K2?
We now have 32 people on the team, including six women on the tech side. Most of them can code to a certain degree, and I’m currently working with an intern to get her involved in the IT world, and she’s only 16 years old!
It’s about bringing all of our staff to a level of confidence, that they can work in a business environment and not feel that they are different. You have to feel in your mind that you can seek out ideas, and can come up with solutions to problems. And it doesn’t end there. We strive to make them feel important on the solutions they present—it’s not just about the code they write—it’s about building their confidence and security that they will be heard. We believe in a culture of respect for everyone and it’s how we build trust at K2.
Digital transformation is such a buzz word these days. What does it mean to you and how are you approaching it within your own business?
Digital transformation is the reinvention of existing businesses process where technology plays a role of facilitator. Our Digital transformation is one of the main drivers to streamline our processes across the company, it has been a major challenge but we are working towards one ultimate goal, “To empower our clients to meet the talent demands of their technology needs while enabling strategies in the workforce ecosystem through education and human cloud communities”.
What trends are you most excited about? What’s real and what’s hype?
There are a lot of repetitive tasks in every department. It could be in Recruitment, Finance, Compliance, HR, or even IT itself.
I have a particular interest in robotic process automation (RPA) and machine learning to make key processes more efficient and allow our people to focus on what they’re best at, building great relationships.
Secondly, the development of human cloud technologies. The landscape of employment is changing fast, and not least within the technology space. The pace of technological advance is increasing and it is essential that enterprises have the right skills on board to remain competitive. The most flexible, scalable and cost-effective way for them to do that is to tap into a highly skilled contingent workforce. This is an area that has always been at the heart of what K2 does but for several years now we have been heavily focused on harnessing technology to provide cutting-edge human cloud solutions to our clients and talent.
What are the top three descriptors of yourself as a leader?
- People gave me an opportunity. I want to give back and do the same. We have a Foreign Exchange Program, where we encourage professionals to move to different departments and offices around the globe, even different countries. If they are coming from the finance team but want to do IT, we can make that happen. In addition, we have K2 University which also helps to develop our internal talent.
- I hire for hungry eyes. People that want to learn and want to get better; that’s the way I was and it’s what I look for. People’s attitudes to certain questions can tell you a lot. What is the biggest challenge or obstacle you had in your previous job? Those types of people are more interesting than those that didn’t see that they had any challenges or solutions. Those are the people that have a hunger for learning.
- I think in a different solution and don’t say no to things. Don’t tell me you can’t do it, tell me you will find out and deliver in stages.
How do you bring others along to your vision for technology change within the organization?
Luckily, K2 is a rather young-minded company, which embraces changes. We understand change as a constant evolution, rather than a threat. To align our leadership we ensure that with every project there are clear outcomes to consider, explain and earn trust. Another key piece to align our leaders is to identify the passionate champions behind the technical initiative, not only within the IT team but more importantly within the business, that coercive blend would make the vision a successful project.
Any lessons learned as it relates to change management in the context of digital transformation?
I’ve learned plenty. In particular, releasing a new technical solution that affects a small team of people is not the same as undergoing an enterprise digital transformation that affects all 14 countries and 21 offices.
We have technical associates and great technology partners, the rollout process is a creature of its own. To make the process smoother, we ensure that our management is involved during the implementation and UAT, therefore these “super user” or “champions” will drive adoption, suddenly this is not just the task for IT or Learning & Development or Marketing, our leadership team drives the internal engagement and change management naturally.
What’s next for you?
I am still not sure what is next for myself, as I am focusing on the present, there is still a lot more to learn on AI, bots, machine learning and extended intelligence and how to make recruitment processes smarter and faster.
Technology changes to such a pace that doesn’t allow me to think much about the future, I call it the present.
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