Betfair IT chief rings in the changes

Head of 600 looks for ways to attract talent, grow careers

Tony McAlister, who took up the reins as online gambling group Betfair's chief technology officer ten months ago, was interviewed by technical media this week and gave his thoughts on the direction in which Betfair's sophisticated IT must go.

McAlister has been a busy man, spearheading radical changes in how the online gambling firm recruits for and manages its 600-strong international IT team.

After conducting an in-depth review of the IT skills needed by the business, McAlister came to the conclusion that the strong gaming exchange development skills on which the company depends so much were mainly found in London.

"I can’t find these skills of this standard anywhere else. But unfortunately, I am having to look around the globe for skills in areas such as web development,” McAlister told the publication Computing. “Some of the best web talent is in California. I plan to bring some of these staff back to London but also build a development centre there,” he said.

He added that web development was an area where he was struggling to find talent, and urged any suitably experienced and qualified readers to contact him if they were interested.

McAlister revealed that Betfair is also looking at the United States for web user experience skills, Asia for mobile-based technology and China for quality assurance. The firm is also expanding its offshore centre in Romania and will look into India for “commodity” IT, he said.

As CTO, McAlister now has eight senior executives reporting directly to him, and is looking to improve succession planning.

Given the reliance of the business on IT, it is crucial that staff keep up with technology changes, so the company provides computer-based tuition for certain skills as well as formal training with key suppliers such as Microsoft, Oracle, HP and Dell. Close links with suppliers are especially important given that Betfair is often an early adopter of new platforms.

The IT exec's industry experience has made him familiar with the need for technical employees to follow a business path to progress their careers, and he has therefore introduced a "dual ladder" system of career development for his staff.

“If you take a technician who wants to enhance his career, typically the only way to do it is by moving into management," McAlister explained. "But what I have seen often is a great technician who moves into management, doesn’t like it, gets discouraged and leaves. Or they fail and the company lets them go, losing a really good employee as a result.

“Under our dual ladder scheme, you can come in as a developer, for example, build on your traditional skill, then at a certain point make a choice based on what you are good at and want to pursue and then move in one direction or the other,” he said.

McAlister adds that within certain areas of the company, such as its research arm, senior IT professionals can work on high-level activities, use their technical competence and “not worry about being a person manager”.

The gender balance within the business is another area McAlister is looking to address. Currently, men represent 85 percent of Betfair’s IT team, and to address the imbalance McAlister is positioning female employees in jobs with authority and visibility and promoting the possibilities for female staff within the company.

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