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Waseem Ali, CEO, Rockborne

Describe your career to date

 

My career began with a passion for data and statistics, honed by taking a Master’s in Applied Mathematics and majoring in Statistics at Royal Holloway. 

I combined my university years with a data quality role in the NHS at a London hospital and after graduating became a Junior Data Analyst at a healthcare consultancy. 

Having experienced the exciting potential presented by the harnessing of data in healthcare, I decided to stay in the sector – joining Virgin Care where I climbed the ranks to become Head of Data and Analytics.  

At this point, I wanted an opportunity to test my skills and went out on my own to create a boutique consultancy servicing a range of companies. After successfully developing the consultancy and selling my share three years later, I became Head of Data Strategy at Lloyd’s of London before being promoted to Chief Data Officer.  

As a lover of building systems and with a burning desire to change the makeup of the data industry, I jumped at the opportunity to join Rockborne in May 2021 as Chief Data Officer, before becoming CEO in October 2022. 

Since then, I have been working to develop our unique graduate scheme, taking into account my experiences in the sector. Such as ensuring that hiring processes are not daunting by omitting lengthy maths tests which are not accessible to those from a non-STEM background, and, in my opinion, do not accurately determine who will make a good data professional.  

Over the next five years, I want to change the face of the data industry by recruiting and training a new generation of diverse professionals, who may have never considered a career in data.  

What challenges do you see for data in the year ahead that will have an impact on your clients and on the industry as a whole?  

 

Broadening the diversity of thought flowing in the data industry needs to be a priority this year. Our research found that diversity in entry level data positions, both in terms of gender and ethnicity, significantly regressed in 2023.  

 

Teams lacking a diverse range of perspectives do not lend themselves to strong decision making and quickly lead to the stagnation of ideas and progress. Whie this is not a challenge unique to data, as a sector heavily reliant on innovation, it is paramount that we ensure that data is seen as an appealing career choice for all.  

 

Resolving the ongoing gender pay gap and improving the flexibility offered to junior employees will help, as will removing any barriers to entry. Talent searches, for example, need to be broadened to include non-STEM degrees, and lengthy application processes should be scrutinised to ensure they are not automatically filtering out those who are neurodiverse. 

 

Despite this, our research revealed significant improvements at mid-level positions in 2023 – a sign that change is very much attainable. 

How are you developing the data literacy of a) your own organisation and b) your clients?

 

Our Data Academy has been developed with the intent of setting new standards for excellence in data literacy by pursuing continuous improvement. By fostering a culture of ongoing learning, implementing personalised development paths, and seeking out industry collaboration, we have successfully created a paradigm for clients seeking to cultivate a data-first mind-set. We are not content to just produce data-literate employees; instead, we aim to cultivate data champions. These individuals will emerge as ambassadors for the data-first mind-set, spreading awareness and best practices throughout their placement settings. 

 

Our programme presents us with a unique opportunity to directly influence the data literacy of our clients via the candidates that we place with them. Every organisation’s data has a story to tell, and we teach our diverse cohort of graduates how to read it in a meaningful way that will also cater to the diverse needs of organisations aiming to empower their workforce to navigate this data-driven era. 

How are you preparing your organisation and your clients for AI adoption and change management? 

 

To best prepare for industry developments, organisations need to cultivate an environment of continual learning and exploration. At Rockborne, we achieve this by delivering a comprehensive and evolving curriculum. We keep abreast of the latest industry trends, tools, and techniques, ensuring that candidates skills remain relevant in a rapidly changing landscape. For example, we have added artificial intelligence (AI) and tools such as Snowflake and Databricks to the line-up of exciting modules. 

 

Beyond the traditional classroom setting, our state-of-the-art training centre leverages cutting-edge learning methods to ensure that the Data Academy remains engaging and effective. 

 

While theory is essential, we also recognise the cruciality of practical application, particularly when it comes to demonstrating business value. We therefore incorporate real-world projects into our programme that allow students to apply their knowledge in practical scenarios, enhancing their problem-solving skills and reinforcing their understanding of data principles. All of which will help in the understanding of the real-world implications of advancements such as AI adoption and what support organisations may need with implementing it.

Waseem Ali
has been included in:
  • 100 Enablers 2024 (EMEA)