From saving turtles to managing projects at ClearPeople – Meet Joel

Posted 30 October 2017 12:00 AM by Petula Aardenburg, Sales & Marketing Coordinator @ ClearPeople

Today I am interviewing Joel Aitken. He’s recently joined ClearPeople’s project management team, working in our London office. I’ve heard a lot of positive things about him (he seems to be very funny) so I’m curious to know a bit more about him and what his role at ClearPeople entails.

As I’m based in our Alicante office, I’ve set up a Skype meeting with Joel to chat to him about his experiences – I just love the digital workspace!

It’s 10am (UK time) and I Skype Joel. He has a friendly voice and after some chit-chat we start with the interview. Top of the agenda is understanding what exactly a Project Manager does. His responsibilities include organising teams, making sure to allocate appropriate resources, keeping projects on budget, and reporting and liaising with clients. He jokingly says he also provides his team with biscuits, making sure to keep the sugar level high!

Joel hasn’t always been a Project Manager. “I kind of fell into it,” he explains. “I studied Law at university and following my degree I went travelling for 7 months. I kicked off the trip by volunteering in Costa Rica to keep the turtles safe.”

On his round-the-world trip, I learn that Joel later visited Curacao, LA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. On arriving back in the UK after his adventure of a lifetime, Joel began working at a big insurance company and step by step took on more and more project management related tasks. He always had an analytic approach and doing Law had taught him there’s often more than one solution to a problem. He was happy doing these tasks as well and his managers told him should keep progressing in leading projects.

He then got his PM qualifications; PRINCE2, Agile and Aspire Team Leadership and was ready to start working as a Project Manager.

Joel likes that project management gives you the opportunity to think outside-of-the-box to achieve your goal. 

So, what does a normal day look like for a friendly, well-travelled Project Manager?

“The alarm clock is one of my enemies – I am not a morning person at all! “he muses. “The first thing I do when I arrive at the office is to make a big cup of tea. Then I go through emails, make sure that clients have been responded to and check to see if there are any issues that need action, what projects the developers are working on and see if they have everything they need. This is usually done through what we call “stand-up” calls where the whole project team has a quick pow-wow on what’s what.”

I get the impression that one of the most important things for Joel is putting a smile on the faces of his clients and colleagues.

Joel considers himself to be good at meeting new people. And I must say he is very easy-going. He points out that being too serious can cause friction. It’s important that others know they can speak freely and/or privately if they have issues. For Joel, one of his strengths is thinking differently – how to look at things from a different perspective and trying to find a solution.

One of the challenges of being a Project Manager is to make sure that resources are available. Of course, he needs to share our developers’ and consultants’ time with the other Project Managers in the team, so it is a constant balancing act. Also, managing clients’ budgets, delivering positive outcomes on time and understanding what developers have to do as well as the clients’ requirements are challenges Joel is used to facing regularly.

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“The best thing about working at ClearPeople is the relaxing environment,” says Joel. His previous work environment was a lot more corporate and even though he has the same job role and the same pressure, at ClearPeople he feels more relaxed. Today is Friday, so there’s music playing in the office! It helps Joel to feel focused and motivated.

What also motivates him to go to work each day is because he loves to interact with people. He wouldn’t want to sit at home all day and talk to himself! He just wants to go to work and make things happen, solve problems and have a positive influence on the developers so they’ll be more relaxed and work with more confidence.

Joel’s been part of the CP family for 5 months now and has already worked on a lot of projects. He completed one small project and is busy with other big ongoing projects. His biggest accomplishment so far is proving that he could switch jobs easily. He worked for 6 years at his previous job at a big company – over 5000 employees in the UK alone – and moving to a smaller organisation like ClearPeople was a challenge for him. However, he has received lots of good feedback from clients and colleagues.

When I ask Joel if he has any advice for other Project Managers, he says: “Try to take a step back. If there is a big problem, if a developer says it can’t be done, or someone is stressing you out, just get a cup of tea, get some air or write a constructive email or phone call. Always think about a way forward.”

Joel believes a Project Manager should be a good leader. “Try not to stress as this will make yourself look bad, just try to be calm and try to encourage people to find a solution. This will translate into positive impacts,” he advises.

Further advice he would give to all of his clients is to try seeing things from the other side. Developers try to meet every requirement and sometimes this is hard to accomplish. However, with thinking out-of-the-box and utilising technology better, we are able to deliver. Just keep in mind it takes effort and this will help to get a good perspective of things.

As I find Joel a funny person I also wanted to ask him a couple of fun questions. I would love to know what animal he identifies himself with. His answer is, and I can understand why a wolf. Joel loves dogs and has always had dogs at home. Wolves are part of a pack and they hunt together. My last question for this interview is if he is watching any TV/Netflix series that he can recommend to us. Games of Thrones, Rick and Morty and Stranger Things are some of his favourites.

Thanks for your time Joel, it was great to get to know you a bit better!

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