IET Fellow brings in big changes to TalkTalk's software

9 February 2018
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Philip Clayson MBA CEng CMgr FIET, Technology Director at TalkTalk

Over the past 18 months, Philip Clayson, Technology Director at TalkTalk, has been 'turning the company upside down' in an effort to progress its technologies and its people. He's leading a transformation envied and awarded by industry, and he's doing it using his experience as a professional engineer and IET Fellow.

Philip runs a team of around 600 people, spread across London, Manchester and India. His team, mostly made up of software and data engineers, delivers software for TalkTalk’s operational business and its services such as broadband and telephony.


Over the last 15 years, like many telecoms businesses, TalkTalk has accumulated technical debt. Its software is working, but ageing. Philip’s job is to clear this debt; no small task given that TalkTalk’s software includes approximately 1,000 pieces of software functionality and 84 million lines of code.


A leadership challenge


It was obvious to Philip from the start that this challenge was more than just a technical one; it involved getting the support of his team.


“There are people in my team who have been with TalkTalk for over 20 years,” Philip says. “They’ve been part of developing some of the software that we are now trying to switch off, so there’s an emotional attachment to it.”


To get his team in the right mindset, Philip asked for their ideas: “I gave them the opportunity to say where they felt the direction of the software should go. If they brought an idea forward and it was a workable one, I made sure it got funded.


“Junior staff, who at first didn’t say too much about what they thought the answers were, started to speak up. Now everyone’s contributing to getting this finished.”


Informed by industry and the IET


Philip’s success in leading his team is partly down to his management experience, partly his involvement in the IET.


In his mid-thirties, he became an IET Fellow and this inspired him to take on influential roles in the Institution. He volunteered for the Multi Media Communications Network, first as a Committee Member, then as Chair.


“There were other technologists on the Committee, from different industries and different backgrounds,” he says. “You end up working through problems with people who have completely different perspectives.


“The beauty of my experience was I was able to take those different perspectives back to the workplace, where you can often get stuck in similar ways of thinking or ‘groupthink’. It’s also helped me develop insight into others’ needs, wishes and worries. I can apply this when coaching and mentoring people within the business.”


Recognition for TalkTalk and the team


Philip’s leadership, coupled with his team’s hard work, is starting to pay off. They’ve removed almost half of TalkTalk’s technical debt, clearing the way for updating software and introducing new methodologies. The ultimate goal is to improve TalkTalk’s customer reputation, but in the meantime, the work is making an impression within industry.


“When I talk to my industry peers about what we’re doing, they’re both surprised and jealous,” says Philip. “They haven’t been able to unlock this much of their technical debt - it’s still sat in their organisations, slowing them down.”


Already, a major US software supplier has recognised Philip’s team with a ‘Breaking Digital Barriers’ award. It’s been a win for TalkTalk and the individuals involved.


“It’s an example of one of my team members coming out of the shadows,” says Philip. “He went out to Las Vegas, presented to an audience of 400 people having never spoken publicly before, and brought back the award for us. All the team will go on to do great things in their careers as engineers.”


As for his own development, Philip is aware that Fellowship and volunteering has helped shape it. But, he stresses, Fellowship is also a means for engineers and technologists to gain recognition for their work.


“More than ever, the impact of engineers is phenomenal. We’re required to be more innovative and provide a greater user experience, at a cost point that seems to decrease by the day,” he says.


“And yet engineers are often reluctant to shout about what they do. I think it’s a characteristic of the people in our industry and we need to be a bit more bullish, going after recognition where it’s due.”


Through IET Fellowship, you can gain recognition for your work and access further professional development opportunities. Find out more on the IET Fellows web page.