In a global career that has spanned continents Peterken's continuous professional develop has allowed him to work his way up the career ladder from apprenticeship through management to the dizzying heights of becoming head of information systems for the Red Cross. Up for a new challenge, he’s now taking a leap into IT contracting.
Born in Zimbabwe and educated in England, Hugh Peterken has always had a global outlook and a zest for exploring the world, which has led to jobs in both Australia and Switzerland. From the age of 12 he’d loved maths and physics, so it wasn’t a difficult decision to focus his higher education on engineering. At 17 he began an apprenticeship with Marconi Communications Systems.
“I chose this route after seeing the school career counsellor, talking to my parents’ engineering friends and finding out a lot of information about apprenticeships from the IET. It was a standard route towards accreditation, a thick sandwich course that was a year in industry followed by four at university. I worked for the firm during breaks and after completing university, and they even paid a small stipend whilst I was studying,” he says.
With strong mentoring support from a colleague who was also an IET member, Peterken had professional development support from the word go. On his very first day he was told to keep a logbook, and for the last 30 plus years he has continued to do so every single working day. Although he didn’t really see the advantage of the monthly mentoring appointments back then, looking back he believes it really helped him to focus on his aspirations.
The first big leap for Peterken came when he went on a vocational exchange to Australia. He fell in love with the place, applied for residency and took a job at Telstra as a senior engineer. It’s rare to see these days, but Peterken stayed with the same company for almost 20 years.
“I finished up as manager of an engineering section of about 60 people, made up of engineers and technicians, involved in the mobile telephone area for all of North East Australia.
“It was really fascinating job. I had to evolve from focusing on technology to management. It was very much about relationships, so I got to travel to some very remote places in Australia to liaise with communities and planning authorities.”
During his time in Australia, Peterken also worked closely with the IET, volunteering with his Local Network (LN) eventually becoming its chair, then moving on to become chairman of the IET Australia forum for two years.
But after 19 years with Telstra, Peterken wanted to move his career forward and he recognised that having stayed with one organisation his career options were becoming more limited. Wanting to take on a new challenge, he heard about a once in a lifetime opportunity to work as head of the information systems department for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). He believes he wouldn’t have succeeded in gaining the role if it wasn’t for his involvement in the IET and the networking opportunities it offered him.
So then came the move to Switzerland for himself and his family, and a completely different working experience.
“It turned out to be hugely different from my previous roles,” he says. “The work was broad. I was dealing with communities, governments, a range of stakeholders and the internal staff. The workforce is hugely diverse, we cover the whole world and I got to appreciate the different ways that people look at information systems.
“I’ve tried to focus on making sure we deliver value with our IT services. I feel like in the last five years, here at IFRC I’ve possibly learnt more than I ever could have hoped to in my old career. I learnt a lot about IT, about people, and in particular, how organisations work.”
Peterken says that working for a global humanitarian organisation has been a highlight in his career. He proudly enthuses that he transformed the information systems department into a business assets, but the workload has been tough, and the hours long. Meetings are the mainstay of his work here, and so after five years he’s decided to take a career break with a move to more hands on work as an IT contractor back in Australia.
“It’s been an amazingly fulfilling five years, but if there’s one thing I regret so far in my career its not having taken a career break. I feel its something I now need to do, take some time for myself, and I’m now in a good position to do so. I’m going to do some contracting work and see where my next career step will take me,” he says. “I’m also looking forward to having the time to become actively involved with the IET committees on my return,” he adds.