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Our Stories • Volume One

Leigh Lefale

Talofa Leigh.

What do you do?

I'm a Counties Energy Product Owner. I've been in the role for about four months now. Basically, I look after a lot of the internal applications. Part of product ownership is building these products to make sure that it's servicing your stakeholders, and really enabling them to do great work. I really enjoy it. It's a challenging role because you work across so many different stakeholders. You have to  map out what they want and make sure that it is really fit for purpose. We do this through different design sprints. Then I also liaise with the team who builds it to make sure that everyone's on the same page and working towards a common goal. 

That's cool! How did you get into tech?

This is going to sound so cliche, but I really like challenges. From an early age, I really liked puzzles. You know,  there’s countless stories of me just being off by myself. I mean, don't get me wrong. I was always around my family but I spent a lot of time just by myself, just nutting out different problems.I think I’m really stubborn that if I can't crack a problem, it really affects my mood. You know, and I'm like oh nah, we're gonna do it again. So I had a lot of that mentality, I think from a young age, and then going through school, tech was such a new thing. 

I saw the number of challenges and stuff that people don't really understand yet around tech and that really drew me in. And I think tech itself is a whole other different language. During school, I found that interesting. But I'd say that, yeah, it came very early on. 

I think the exposure to tech was really important at such a young age. In high school, we would learn how to create our own website, an app interface and a game. I really enjoyed that piece. Like, once I achieve something, I could go on to the next, sort of never ending challenges. A lot of those skills I still use today. 

At uni I got a six month internship with Waka Kotahi. I was working in the innovation team and our focus was building the capability around the agency as well as looking at the new wave of products and systems. That was a really good role and exposure. I was fortunate to have good managers who put me forward for different things.

That’s awesome! What would you explain as the main skills in your kete? 

I think a lot of it is the people. The people factor. I was doing a course through TWOA in Tikanga Māori and we spoke about Whakaiti which is humility. Having good humility and being able to empathise with people, and where they're at with tech is a real skill you need - especially if you're going to be taking them on a journey and translating in a business sense. I think it's a fine balance I have found in the work industry where you don't want to have too much humility in the sense that you don't get recognised and you don't get that growth. But you do want to have humility when it comes to working with people and making sure that they're on the same journey. 

So yeah, I would definitely say part of the kete is having the people skills. You don't need to be  a wiz at things, but I think it’s really important to understand how systems relate to each other, having really good people skills, empathy and really good, clear communication. 

So how did you end up in the role you’re in now?

I worked for a SaAs app and then went into a digital process improvement role for Harrison Grierson. There I was supporting product owners, similar to a coordinator role but looking to make things and processes easier with a digital lens. I told my manager at the time that I was interested in becoming a product owner and felt like a lot of what they do on a daily basis, I could do or aspire to do. And she was really supportive. She put me on projects and I started to get more responsibilities. I got to have conversations with people who were actually in the roles, you know, and understand, their trials and tribulations, and then they would suggest different courses and qualifications that I could go through. 

I struggled with fully understanding what a product owner does. I think a lot of people do from the outset. I got into a product course by Colab and it was like product fundamentals. Colab wanted to get more Pasefika through and with the combination of my interest in product and my cultural background, I put my hand up. We got to build up our own product and go through that whole lifecycle. From there, my old colleague reached out and asked if I was interested in the role I have now, which was really, really lucky. I think connections are everything and it's important to have people in your corner who are supporting and routing for you every step of the way.

Wow! What an incredible journey. Lastly, what’s one piece of advice that you would give to your younger self navigating a technology career? 

It doesn't matter how stupid you may think it sounds, but always have your say and always make sure you're heard. You don't have to be the loudest in the room. But you deserve a seat at the table. 

I'd really love to see more of us in this space and being able to build the future with our lens with our flare into it. 

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