Spotlight Interview – Jon Pratt

by | Jul 4, 2024

Principal Consultant and Azure Practice Lead Jon Pratt joined Expert Thinking at the backend of 2023. He talks about his role at Expert Thinking, and reflects on career-defining moments, figuring out what really matters and pet peeves. 

Tell us a little bit more about your dual role at Expert Thinking. 

As the Azure Practice Lead, I manage the Azure community within the business, taking the lead in terms of knowledge transfers, best practice, pre-sales, and working together with Sales & Marketing on how we present ourselves in the market: what we want to do, how we do it, and where we want to go. Always keeping abreast of the latest Azure developments.  

You’ll find a lot of consultancies sell the same thing over and over again. They’ll have three things they do well and that’s what they’ll always do. Expert Thinking works very much more along the lines of: What else can we do? What’s new? Where should we take that with our customer base? Is it something we want to jump on, like AI? What’s worth while pursuing, what’s not, what’s meaningful to our customers? We’re dynamic and fast moving. It’s a very entrepreneurial environment. 

My role as a Principal Cloud Consultant is very customer-facing. Driving the conversation with a customer, I help them figure out what success looks like for their organisation, and how to achieve their goals. Whether the objective is a stable system or more sales, for example, often they don’t know how to get from A to B. So, part of my role is consulting with them and steering them along the right path. 

Most clients are different. So, whilst we do repeat work, it’s always a very different conversation, and it’s dynamic work. It’s really good for someone like me that likes to be involved in a lot of different things. 

Why made you join Expert Thinking? 

The fully remote aspect is crucial. I laugh, but I must admit that I say to my wife all the time that lockdown was probably the best thing that ever happened to us as a family unit. Because life certainly changed from having to be in the office all the time, to working from home and then joining a remote-first company that allows me to have that work-life-balance that is so important to me. I have two boys under 7, so I like to spend time with them rather than sit on a delayed train that’s coming out of London every day. 

The other draw was the people. Both being able to work with some of my former colleagues again, and joining people like Ben, John, Alex and James with their aspirations for the business. Professionally, it felt it was a good time to join a company that is growing the way Expert Thinking is. I wanted to be part of that growth. And they wanted me to contribute and be part of the growth plan. That was really important. To feel trusted and to feel valued. 

Joining a smaller company also meant that I’ve got a voice back. For a few years, I was simply a number and I lost my voice. My ability to give my opinion. That also drew me to Expert Thinking. To get my voice back and have my thoughts taken on board or considered and not just be overlooked. I feel like I’m much more impactful here than I have been for a few years. 

I find it quite frustrating when I don’t feel like I’m adding real value. When I’m just doing the same simple task over and over and over again. That’s why I love this job; I get to do all sorts of different things. And I can almost dictate what I want to do, certainly within my practice. 

To give you an example of how dynamic Expert Thinking is: a few months ago, I really wanted to pick up some new skills that weren’t necessarily within my usual area of expertise and help implement those for our customers. The business’ response? “Go off and do that.” It was amazing that I could pivot like that. They allowed me to determine what I wanted to do, within reason of course. You don’t get that very often in a lot of other places. 

You’ve worked in the tech industry for 20+ years now. Looking back, what defined your career the most? 

Up until March 2020, when lockdown kicked in, I felt – when I look back at it – that I hadn’t progressed myself as far as I could have done. And I was probably guilty of taking the easy option. At the time I was working at a company that was 10 miles from home. It was easy for me to get there. The kids were young. It was all right. Working with cloud tech, interesting, but not that well paid and not a huge amount of career progression opportunities. I remember thinking at the time: “what does the future hold for me?”  

I knew I could do the job and add value. But I looked at what I could prove externally to people that might want to employ me and realised I look pretty light in terms of provable experience. It was sort of just down to my word to convince an employer that I was good.  

From there onwards, I made a point of always learning. Up until that point, I’d not really exposed myself to too many new technologies and certainly had not gotten to the point where I’d take an exam to pass a certification. Now, I do understand a badge doesn’t prove competence, but since 2020, I’ve picked up a lot of industry certifications in various areas. Heavily in the Azure space, but also the security space, FinOps, Cloud Native, etc.  

And whilst these certifications don’t show that I can do the job – it’s theoretical knowledge – it did build up the evidence that I could show to the next job, the next hop, the next person that wanted to talk to me, and it has opened so many more doors for me. That really defined my career, in terms of the quality of job, my trajectory, and to be honest, also my earning capacity. 

With this in mind, what would you advise other tech professionals looking to advance their career? 

Don’t devalue taking exams. Don’t look at learning as a barrier or a waste of time. It’s not a replacement for doing the actual job, but theoretical (and provable) knowledge goes a long way and opens doors. It shows people that you’ve got a body of experience, and you can prove it. Both are valuable. 

And don’t think you need to know everything to be a good engineer. You can’t always know the answer to everything. Tech is moving so fast. Pick something you love and immerse yourself in it. And learn from others: your peers in the company, trusted resources, formal training, etc. People sometimes think they’re expected to know it all already. We don’t. But we are good at research, experimentation and problem solving. That’s what’s important to progress and be a strong engineer. 

What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to the tech industry? 

One of my biggest pet peeves is that some people can be very rigid in their thinking. To elaborate on that, there are usually about five, six, seven or eight different ways of solving a problem. But you will find there are a lot of people, rightly or wrongly, whom you can’t have a conversation or debate with over what the best solution is. It’s a yes or no for them. It’s binary and I find people that have that binary view quite hard to work with. Because more often than not, there is at least an alternative to consider, if not a better alternative. 

My other pet peeve in the industry is the agile methodology. I think it often does more bad than good. The agile manifesto is like any framework, a suggestion for a way of working. But some people believe it’s gospel and that you must follow it religiously all the time. Instead of approaching it as recommendations, that should be tailored to your needs. You need to consider what it means to you as an organisation. 

But some organisations, certainly big ones, don’t do that. Agile doesn’t work if it’s done badly, and certainly bureaucratically. It’s that blind adherence to a standard that you don’t quite understand, and also doesn’t always work. It just doesn’t make sense in certain disciplines. It works great in software development, for example, but infrastructure type projects in an agile fashion, just generally don’t.  

And last but not least, what makes you get up in the morning? 

The honest answer is a 7-year-old at 6:45 every morning! That’s my alarm clock. 

But what drives me, is that there’s always something new to get stuck in here. A new challenge to overcome together. Not just on my own, but with the team! 

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