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  • Awatif Yahya

My Path from IT to HR

Updated: Jul 22, 2019


In this month’s blog, I am sharing a personal story of my transition from working with technology to working with people. It was a paradigm shift in my career. Moving from computers, networks and software to dealing with human relationships, emotions and fears. I can tell you; the latter is much harder.


My first degree was a BSc in Information Technology. I had 12 years tech experience under my belt before transitioning into HR. Seven of those tech years were with a multinational company, British American Tobacco (BAT), before I was approached by the Regional HR Director (Richard) with an interesting proposition. Richard asked me, as HR Directors do, “Awatif, where do you see your career five years down the line?” He proceeded to ask if I had considered a career in Human Resources!


Now, when a big shot in your organization pops a question like that, you should take it seriously. But considering this question was asked during a friendly chit-chat around the bar during our year end party, I was skeptical.


I did not know anything about HR, apart from what was in the employee handbook, so I did not understand why he would contemplate such a thought unless:

1. He was joking,

2. He was being sarcastic, or

3. He was “under the influence”!

Since I knew, sarcasm was not in his blood, and considering all the amazing cocktails being floated around, I concluded it was a combination of possibilities 1 and 3.


Richard smiled, he asked me to think about it and have a discussion with him next week. I did as he said, I kept the thought in my subconscious mind and carried on with the party celebrations. The following week, I knocked on his open office door and asked him if he recalled the conversation we had. He said he did and invited me in.


Richard started telling me about the characteristics of a good HR Manager. Our recruitment process at BAT was not solely based on technical knowledge, we put greater value on attitude, mindset and human skill set. He said the technical gaps can always be filled, but the soft-skills I possessed made me a good caliber for the HR function. And, if I was willing, he would support me in closing those gaps with appropriate training.


We then proceeded to talk about the best path for me to make this transition a success. Since, I had tech and data analysis background, he thought a good way forward would be for me to undertake the position of a Reward and Compensation Analyst, analyzing pay and compensation reports from Hay Group, Towers Watson and Mercer, benchmark our pay, make recommendations to the Board of Compensation Committee (BCC) for the best pay strategy to keep us among the top payers in the market, then communicate this strategy to employees across the geographical area, answer their questions and get their buy-in. Talk about a deep dive into the HR function!


I loved my new role and the learning curve that came with it. Not only did I get comfortable with complicated formulas but it also kept me in touch with market pay conditions, and put me on the spot light for executives in the BCC. Furthermore, through the communication piece, I earned credibility and trust among my colleagues in different department across BAT Offices in the area.


One year into my new HR role, I found myself bored, data got the better of me. Luckily, the culture at BAT created a safe environment for me to approach the Regional HR Director at that point, a different person, expressing I was bored in my job. Imagine having the flexibility and safety to do that in your current work environment. He said he would look into it.


Few conversations after and one succession planning cycle, I was offered the role of Head of HR for an emerging market for us in North Africa – BAT Algeria. And just like that, with an open mind, some bravely and love for a challenge, my career shifted drastically from IT to HR.


So why am I sharing this story? My career transition did not happen by chance, it took deliberate and strategic measures to put things into play. I strongly believe my path to HR was due to three leadership factors from BAT Management:

1. Company Vision

2. Recognizing Potential

3. Creating Opportunities


Because of these leadership skills, I was able to achieve higher goals for myself while fulfilling my organization’s needs.


Consider what leadership skills can do for your organization, how much potential would be unlocked? How much talent would be unveiled? Imagine working for an organization that has embraced leadership skills, how engaged would you be? How far within your organization can your career go?


I hope my story has inspired you to see the unseen and explore possibilities.


For more information on leadership skills, read my June 2018 Blog, and reach out to me to learn more. Please share your thoughts below, I would love to hear from you!

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