We talked to Nabila Salem of Revolent about the cloud talent creation and COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Nabila Salem: “We’re all well, thankfully. My family is based around the world, so it’s been difficult adjusting to not seeing most of them this year due to travel restrictions, but I’m grateful that they are all OK, and I’m optimistic that we will see better times ahead. In some respects, I’ve probably communicated with them more during lockdown than I perhaps would normally have, even if this has been virtual.
“I think despite the anxiety that this situation has caused for most people, it’s been an important year of reflection. We have all been forced to stop, reflect and reassess our lives, including what is important to us and our wellbeing. The circumstances we’ve found ourselves in this year will fast forward future of work discussions and transform them into a reality, in many cases for the better.”
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Revolent.
Nabila Salem: “Prior to joining Revolent, I worked at a FTSE 250 firm, in both the UK and the USA, for 12 years. I worked alongside the founders as the organization grew from 300 to 4,000 people and went from being a family-run business to an international company with a market cap of over £1bn. That was an amazing journey that has had a big effect on my professional life. I learned a lot from working with the business’s founders, seeing their passion and drive to grow and expand. It’s definitely rubbed off on me, as I see myself being quite a determined person who constantly wants to break down barriers that are put in front of me.
“I joined Revolent nine months ago because I believe in the mission and could see the potential of the business model – one I am very familiar with. I was given the opportunity to transform the business and it’s been an exciting as well as challenging year, for obvious reasons. I’m incredibly passionate about diversity in tech, so joining an ambitious company that would allow that to become a cornerstone of our business has been incredible. Not only am I able to help a new generation of cloud professionals thrive within ecosystems that are in desperate need of new talent, but it allows me to play my part in trying to make them a more inclusive place to work.”
How does Revolent innovate?
Nabila Salem: “Our business model is based on innovation, and this is the key to our success. I think we’re certainly unique as a tech talent creator in that we’re very conscious of our commitment to the wider world. So that means using the skills we’ve learned to contribute back to society, and as a business, doing as much as we can to make sure the industry is a truly inclusive sector where diverse workforces can flourish. At the moment, 50% of our leadership team is female, which I think is pretty unique for any tech organization. Also, 63% of our employees identify as Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic, and we celebrate the fact that great minds think differently rather than looking for a ‘culture fit.’
“I’m genuinely proud that we’re able to offer industry-leading training programs while also being such a positive, inclusive place to work. We launched a Revols For Good initiative for non-profit organizations that need help with their projects, and we always have an abundance of volunteers who want to get involved. We’ve created a positive culture and that has trickled beyond just our own walls and into assisting others across the world that need our help.”
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Nabila Salem: “The demand for cloud talent has continued throughout the pandemic, it’s one of the handfuls of sectors that has gone into overdrive as businesses require an effective way to support their remote workforce as well as rebuild their digital infrastructure at speed. So it’s been very much business as usual for us as we try and help supply organizations with the tech talent they need.
“We have had to adapt to the new normal quickly and have done so quite effectively by being as flexible as possible to our client needs. We’re a global organization, with a leadership team based across three different continents. We’re used to communication being done over the phone or online, so we’ve been very fortunate in that the disruption to the way we work has been minimal in comparison to other businesses.”
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Nabila Salem: “I’ve been very fortunate to be leading a business that hasn’t been too negatively impacted by this. Our decisions were almost entirely practical – how do we overcome having a classroom of 20 adults together in one place? The answer was pretty easy as we moved these online, which has proven to be just as effective and actually shown us that we can continue that going forward to increase our reach even further geographically.
“The one thing I’ve been conscious of is how we treat our employees throughout this. Everyone is different and has been impacted differently. With so many in our leadership team being working parents, for example, they’re suddenly combining their job with being teachers and caregivers simultaneously – as well as working. Meetings can be interrupted by pets or children demanding snacks, but we’ve had a real spirit of togetherness and just got on with it.
“This will only be a temporary situation, and our employees will be with us long beyond that, remembering how we’ve handled this. I’d like to think that going forward, employers everywhere understand just how important your workforce are and how their life isn’t just the time spent in the office with us. We’ve been respectful of people’s commitments and allowed them as much flexibility as possible to fit everything in.”
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Revolent in the future?
Nabila Salem: “I’m quite a logical person, so I’m able to compartmentalize things quite easily and be pragmatic. My immediate response is to assess a situation calmly and find a solution, rather than worrying about the problem itself. Things go wrong, the unexpected happens, but how you overcome it is what truly matters. Obviously, this is an incredibly trying time in that regard, but my immediate thoughts are, or were, is everyone safe? Are we doing all we can to support our staff? Okay, then what do we do next? Our people are our most important asset, and without them, we cannot survive, so they will always come first.
“Fortunately, we’re in a great position. The demand for cloud professionals was already huge, and now that digital transformation has jumped the line in terms of importance, that’s only going to increase. And for us, we offer a very cost-effective, low-risk solution to that problem, which is something that almost every business on the planet wants right now. I am confident that we will continue to thrive.”
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Nabila Salem: “I don’t think the demand for what we offer is going to go down. The cloud is an area of tech that sees a real explosion as companies shift away from on-premise solutions. As well as needing people who can help with migration and implementation, these platforms will still need to be maintained throughout their lifecycle. So the demand for cloud professionals is going to be in increasing for the foreseeable future. We are currently the world’s leading cloud talent creators. However, the market is vast, and there is plenty of space for competitors who wish to join in our footsteps.
“For me, that means we have to be the best at what we’re offering, which I believe we are. Our training program is industry-leading, and we’ve been able to attract some of the brightest tech talent to help us really stand out. Not only that, but we’ve helped to create a vibrant and inclusive place to work, meaning the professionals that we are creating can make a real difference when they go to work with our clients. People like what we stand for and want to be part of our culture. It’s as much about how we do things as well as what we do. In turn, our customers receive an incredibly high standard of candidate at their desks, who are truly engaged and happy to be working.”
Your final thoughts?
Nabila Salem: “As challenging as this period is, it’s a great way to be able to look at your business from a completely different angle. Are you able to pivot to meet a new demand? Have you got the right personnel in-house who are prepared to take challenges like that head-on? It’s an incredibly anxious time for people around the workplace, but this is a great moment to make sure you’re looking after your employees and doing as much as possible to support them.
“Moments like this will really engender loyalty in the future, as people will remember the way you treat them now more than any other time. As the battle for talent becomes more intense, keeping your retention levels high will become critical to your success. This is the perfect time to get that right.”