Employee Spotlight Interview – Jake Bowles

by | Apr 18, 2024

Principal Consultant | Data & AI Practice Lead and Digital Technology Leaders Rising Star Finalist 2023 

A 2023 Digital Technology Leaders Rising Star Finalist, Principal Consultant and AI Practice Lead Jake Bowles talks navigating the tech consulting space, staying ahead of the curve and all things AI. 

  1. You’re a Principal Cloud Consultant and Data & AI Practice Lead at the age of 24. What does your day-to-day look like? 

Expert Thinking very much has a “you get out what you put in” culture. I joined as a Senior Consultant, for example, and then I worked hard and got a promotion to Principal out of it. If you want it, you can get it. It’s very results based. The fact that I was “only 24” didn’t matter. 

Cloud, AI and data, they go hand in hand these days. In a normal week, I’ll spend about 50% of my time on internal practice stuff. Building out Expert Thinking’s AI capabilities, presales, winning new work, and working on AI and data strategy. The other half of the week are typically spent working directly with customers on AI, data and Azure projects. 

But recently, I’ve been more focused on an exciting AI project we’re launching soon. I think everyone wants a bit of AI these days. So it’s important to figure out which AI tool sets us apart from everyone else. And I think we’ve got that one. 

  1. How did you get into tech? 

I left Sixth Form to do a Degree Apprenticeship in Digital & Technology Solutions. This means I completed my degree in one day a week over three years. The other four days I spent at CGI working on cloud computing projects. 

When it comes to the whole degree versus experience debate, I personally think a degree is waste of time. I didn’t learn anything, apart from maybe how to write properly through dissertations and essays, which is a valuable skill to have when putting together Statements of Work and proposals. But in terms of the actual technology, I was learning things that were already out of date when I was going to work at CGI the next day and, in that sense, it was just a waste of time. 

It was a great scheme. I think Degree Apprenticeships are kind of dying out now. But if they were to come back, I’d recommend it to anyone. The real-life experience is invaluable. 

  1. During your Degree Apprenticeship in Digital & Technology Solutions, you focused mainly on cloud. How did you get involved with AI? 

Really, I’ve always found AI and the latest cutting-edge tech incredibly interesting, so I’m self-taught. When AI gained popularity and demand picked up, it was just a case of using it, trying out demos and playing around with it.  

Everyone has to be thinking about AI, especially in the cloud consulting space. It was coming up more and more and that was a role that needed to be filled. So I stepped up to it and started learning and picking things up and went from there. 

I don’t really learn that well from training courses. A hands-on approach as well as reading about it works a lot better for me. AI also moves so fast that I don’t think anyone could really call themselves an expert, because you’ll do something one week and it’ll be out of date the next week.  

  1. What would you advise people that are looking to go into the tech consulting space? 

Find something that you are truly interested in. I found that I just enjoy new tech, so for me the cloud, at the pace it moves, with new and interesting releases all the time, was perfect. Other people might find different aspects of tech more exciting.  

So stick in the lane that interests you and it won’t ever feel like work. 

I wanted to join a company where I could make a difference and have impact. Expert Thinking is like that. I don’t want to just kind of bumble along in a big company. 

  1. As a Data & AI Practice Lead, you also teach and mentor others in the business. What does that entail? 

It’s a mentoring role as much as anything else. The way it works is if you’re more interested in or better at AI or AWS, for example, you get aligned to a practice and then from there, you guide other people in the business on your area of expertise. That could entail looking into what kind of development someone needs, sending someone on a training course, doing a brown bag session, and generally helping others out. 

I enjoy it. I find AI so interesting that it doesn’t really feel like a job, to be honest. It’s just fascinating. Every day there’s something new and exciting that comes out, stuff that could change the world. 

  1. What do you wish people knew about the tech space that they don’t know? 

That it moves so fast! You’ll be on a presales call, for example, and someone will ask something pretty niche and you’re thinking “well, I have no idea what the answer is to that”. So there’s quite a lot of research and reading all the time just to try and stay up-to-date, because every week there’s something new. 

Especially this last year, it’s been crazy! Nothing has ever moved quite as fast as AI.  

  1. What is the most trending topic in cloud and AI at the moment? 

One thing that’s quite popular at the moment is chatbots, your own knowledge base or ChatGPT internally trained and informed by internal documents. When it initially came about, I did a first line sales assistant chatbot for Expert Thinking. Another one I’m doing at the moment is a tech support chatbot for a customer. It prequalifies a lot of questions and just saves huge amounts of time for everyone involved. 

The other thing is the cliche of “data is the new oil”, but it’s now more focused on using that data to feed into AI and other things. Companies are trying to make sure that all their ducks are in a row when it comes to data, and making sure the data is in the right place. 

  1. What’s your AI pet peeve? 

People using AI to post content on LinkedIn just drives me insane. It’s so obviously AI generated, and you see it every time you go on LinkedIn. 

There was a report, actually, and it was saying how last year in academia, the usage of some words has just gone through the roof since ChatGPT was released.  People just didn’t use these words, but now they do. 

  1. In 2023, you were a Digital Technology Leaders Rising Star finalist at the Computing Awards. How did that come about? 

Any technologist under 30 can be nominated for the Digital Technology Leaders Rising Star Award. And Expert Thinking put my name forward. 

I had to go in front of a panel of a couple of highly regarded people in the industry and answer questions about my career, my personal values, my work values, etc. They judged it and went from there. It was a great awards night, with a lot of interesting people in the room. 

  1. Expert Thinking is a remote-first company. What was the transition from onsite to remote work for you? 

I’ve been working remotely for the past 3-odd years. I guess, like for everyone else, pre-Covid, the transition to remote work wasn’t really a choice, was it? But I wouldn’t go back to being onsite. Mostly for personal reasons. I do a lot of running, for example, and I wouldn’t be able to do as much of that if I was in the office.  

My advice to making remote work a success? Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and get as involved as if you were in the office. Use things like Slack, do sessions through screen share, ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

  1. What do you think is key to successfully collaborating remotely?  

Primarily using modern collaboration tools like Slack. But the management style we have at Expert Thinking also makes a huge difference. Jon, Ben and James are so down-to-earth and have created a culture wherein everyone can voice their opinions, and share ideas without being judged. There’s a flat hierarchy where everyone is heard, and you’ll always get input and help from others.  

When it comes to mentoring people, you’re not physically next to people, so you can’t just check in on them like you would in the office. But if anything, I think the remote mentoring sessions are more focused and productive. You put an hour in the calendar, for example, and you take the time to really go over something with that person. 

  1. What’s next for you at Expert Thinking? How do you see yourself and your role evolving? 

I want to build out the internal Data & AI Practice more, so as we hire more people and as we grow, hopefully more people will become part of it and we win more work and get to do more cool things, on an even bigger scale.  

  1. What would you say to someone considering joining Expert Thinking? 

Prepare to be busy! Not in a bad way, but you will get stuck into a project straight away. For me, that was perfect. I joined and I was on a project the next day. Come in ready to work and just embrace it, absorb knowledge and learn. 

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