Sarah Lucas FCCA appears on the Zoom screen cheerful, brisk and ready to talk technology transformation. For a woman surrounded by three small dogs, she’s surprisingly calm. But for the Leeds-based leader of betmaker William Hill’s cloud transformation unit, a tangle of puppies is the least of it, because Lucas is a woman in a man’s world – a technology expert in an industry largely run by men. She has also just won a Women in Tech Excellence award for leadership.
Lucas is practical from the off. ‘Attitude is the most important thing when you’re working in tech,’ she says. ‘Everything moves so fast that even experts aren’t experts for long.’ It’s an outlook that has taken her to the top of a £1.3bn company, where she is head of platforms and infrastructure.
‘Very few people actually know how the journey to the cloud works,’ she explains, ‘so being able to ask a daft question – to be curious, and admit you don’t know how it works or what it does – is really valuable.’
Lucas is doing herself a disservice here. She clearly knows how it all works, but it seems that self-deprecation is just her way of stressing the importance of whole-team delivery.
‘Everything moves so fast that even experts aren’t experts for long’
Head of cloud and infrastructure, then head of platforms and infrastructure, William Hill
Head of core technology and cloud services delivery, William Hill
Group programme manager, William Hill
Senior IT project manager, William Hill
IT projects and governance manager, CallCredit Information Group
IT infrastructure project manager, Equifax
Financial accountant, West Yorkshire Ambulance Service
Over the past two years, William Hill has run one of the biggest hybrid cloud platform transformations ever, built a cloud centre of excellence, and delivered stable and resilient cloud services to the business. Lucas stresses again that the team makes the project, but in doing so, reveals how her astute leadership was a defining factor for the company’s successful transformation.
‘You have to start by demystifying cloud technology,’ she says. ‘It’s important that you begin training teams well in advance of any migration.’ William Hill implemented both hybrid and native platforms in parallel and that gave the teams breathing space to learn.
Lucas doesn’t believe that putting extreme pressure on teams leads to good results. ‘You need open communication, peer-to-peer training, and if possible you should train teams together, so that the communication carries on after the project.’
She has always been drawn towards difficult jobs. Before she got interested in tech, Lucas held a number of positions, working her way up from traditional bookkeeping and ending up at West Yorkshire Ambulance Service, where her job was made all the more tricky by having to contend with brutal budgeting cycles.
Her journey to becoming a technology infrastructure expert started at Equifax when, she says, the internet was just starting to take off. At this time, she explains, businesses were just starting to get the hang of how much money could be saved using internet-enabled technologies.
‘I was in a team looking after technology as a function, so it was either jump in or get out. I jumped. We ran a billing portal trial, and it saved so much money – and the IT director was so impressed – that I decided to stick around in tech.’
Lucas’s mix of happy-go-lucky approach and willingness to learn seems to have shaped her career. ‘I’m a prolific learner,’ she says. ‘I need to know how things work. The only really necessary quality for success is the ability to just get involved.’
Lucas doesn’t shy away from discussing some of the difficulties she has faced. ‘There have definitely been times where I’ve felt like an imposter,’ she admits.
In fact, one of the critical roles that cemented her reputation as a technology pro would have passed her by had it not been for the encouragement of a colleague.
‘I don’t mean to say that had it not been for a man I’d never be here, but I do believe that mentoring of women – either formally or informally – is really important for success. It’s a fact that we often talk ourselves out of things. Sometimes you just need a little push.’
The senior colleague’s push was simply to say he hoped Lucas would apply for an open spot. ‘That support changed how I viewed myself,’ she says. She got the job.
And Lucas believes in passing it on too. ‘I didn’t have a mentor in my early career, but I do now, and I act as a mentor for women in our business.’
She instigated a mentorship programme with the vendor partners at William Hill, pairing managers with someone outside the business. ‘It means you have advice and space to talk that isn’t linked to your line management.’
Women in tech
Lucas is also a member of gender diversity campaign group the 30% Club and a judge for Amazon Web Services’ GetIT technology programme for girls. ‘It’s just awesome,’ she says. ‘The girls’ ideas for tech solutions were phenomenal – for any age group – and the enthusiasm was sky-high.
‘Right now, women working in tech are a little bit better at asking the fundamental questions and risking looking foolish because people presume they don’t know anyway.’
Lucas is looking forward to a pipeline of young women who feel more empowered to work in technology: ‘From what I’ve seen, the future can definitely be more female,’ she says.