Heroes Work Here: Amir Heidari

ZEDRA’s Head of Infrastructure & Technology, Amir Heidari talks to us about how his love of technology started, why he’s able to stay so calm under pressure and why he feels we all have it within us to be a hero.

 

Our culture wouldn’t be what it is today without our ZEDRA people. What we learn through our own life and career journey gives us experiences, insights and tools that positively impact our life, our work, and the lives of others. To celebrate these positive stories is part of what ZEDRA stands for.

Amir Heidari, ZEDRA’s Head of Infrastructure & Technology was nominated as a ZEDRA Hero for his unfailingly calm and friendly approach to solving problems, and his ability to inspire a real appreciation for technology within our teams. Read his story to learn more about Amir’s love for technology and why he feels ZEDRA’s ‘DO MORE. ACHIEVE MORE.’ motto enables us all to build real value into our roles and the business.

Amir, tell us about your early career. How did your interest in IT start, and where did it take you?

Well it’s a funny story really. When I was young, I lived with my family in Iran, and I was fascinated with becoming an archaeologist. That was my dream because there is so much history there. But when I was 12, my family moved to The Netherlands and I came into contact with technology and fell in love with all the possibilities. I soon got involved in developing, building and designing different technology solutions for myself as a hobby. One memorable one was when I had the idea of turning the college I was attending into a 3D environment where people could play inside. It took me about three months to recreate and build my school in a virtual environment, and that idea of simulating my school into a game got me really excited about the opportunities technology offers. It was proof to me of the level of changes that you could make to people’s experiences and how they see and interact with things. I’d say that’s where my love of IT started.

My career began with an internship at a bank, where I started understanding the financial world and how it works. I did an automation project for them to move paper records into a modern digital system, and that was quite exciting. Then I moved to a role at a health insurance business where I was able to automate my work in the first six months, and the company was so delighted with that result, they agreed I could evolve and do whatever I needed to achieve my own personal goals as well as work. So I self-educated myself in technology while I was there, designing and developing different technologies, and learning all the time.

Then in 2015, I began working in the Corporate Services sector. This was very different, and I had a lot to learn, but I soon became involved in acquisitions. The company I was working for acquired around 50 different companies, and we integrated around 1,800 people in two and a half years. That was something I found very rewarding, getting to know different people who are excited and looking forward to merging with a bigger company, and then understanding different systems – I was learning all the time.

Of course it was very stressful as well, because our work in IT is to make sure that businesses don’t stop operating during the transition, so I did most of my work ‘behind the screen’. There is always a time pressure as well, but it’s very satisfying when the project is completed successfully and all the staff have moved without a hitch! I also enjoyed training people on the new digital tools within their new company, of course you’re dealing with different ages and different personalities, but it’s really rewarding to see them getting the benefits of new technology.

I would say that through my career, from support to systems engineer, senior systems engineer, system architect to head of infrastructure, my roles may have changed, but my core values have always been the same – fixing things and making sure people are satisfied when it comes to IT!

What did you feel you learned about yourself through that career journey?

It developed my personal character, definitely. It helped me to get to know people, and how to communicate with different cultures. I’m naturally quite an open person, I don’t like to have any walls between what I know and what I like to share, and that really helps me to get people on board during integration projects. It can be daunting for some people to move to something new, especially when it comes to IT, but I am lucky in that I am capable of being open, positive and excited, and that really helps in making people feel comfortable being part of a new team.

I also think I cope with stress quite well! There are always challenging times, especially when you are integrating new IT systems with fixed deadlines, and sometimes you need to put in extra time to ensure things are running smoothly. But I would definitely say I’m a solutions person, and by not getting negative or too stressed, we’re always able to sort it out.

Tell us about how you came to join ZEDRA.

Well, the company I was working for had grown to a size where there were no longer going to be any acquisitions, and that meant I couldn’t do what I was really excited about. So I looked around and saw that ZEDRA was a really dynamic and growing business. I was excited by their vision and felt ZEDRA’s journey was going to involve acquisitions, so for me, that was an opportunity to continue to do what I loved.

When I joined the team at ZEDRA, it was at the end of 2016, early 2017 and there was no IT department back then. So together with the Operations Director, we worked really hard on sourcing the IT department and building it up from scratch – the service desk, the development team, the engineering team and the whole technology department. It took over a year, but now, marking my fifth anniversary working with ZEDRA, we have a large and successful team.

What excites me is not only that ZEDRA itself is growing, but also that we have the chance to grow our technology alongside it. One of the things I’m looking forward to achieving is rebuilding our data centre at the end of this year.

Did you have to battle any limiting beliefs to get to where you are today?

Absolutely. I had never imagined that I could work in an international company, speaking English, and ZEDRA was the first opportunity for me to do that. During my first few months, I worked directly with colleagues from the UK, and I was quite nervous about how I was going to cope with the language.

When I saw how the management and the team presented themselves, and the confidence and positive energy they brought across, I really doubted that I would be able to do that too. But learning and experiencing everything I have through my years with ZEDRA, I think I’ve managed to pass through that and gain a positive relationship with colleagues and stakeholders.

Now I find it really exciting to engage with new people and cultures all across the world. Of course every country has a different way of collaborating, but it’s exciting to learn about those different cultures, learn to communicate with them effectively and really get them on board with what ZEDRA focuses on.

What would you say got you through some of the more stressful times?

The team. We pull each other forward. I am thankful to my entire department, as I would never be able to progress successfully alone. It’s wonderful to have the team in place, the international trust and our colleagues in different time zones, which means we’re very close to being able to service our business 24/7, which to me is a fantastic achievement.

Do you have a personality attribute that you use to help others?

I’d say friendliness is probably my main attribute. And being calm, especially around issues. In my kind of work, people come to me and my team when there are problems, or when something needs to be fixed or saved. Being calm, friendly and able to come up with a solution rather than obstacles is something I feel I’m able to do well. I would say I’m definitely a yes man, and luckily at ZEDRA we have really nice people to deal with!

Is there a time that you did something that someone might consider ‘heroic’?

To me, it’s not really being a hero, but often when I’m dealing with my colleagues, it involves doing something to save their work. When it’s late at night and they urgently need some support to fix things, then those are the times they consider my help extra appreciated!

If you had to name some qualities that you think a hero would display, what would they be?

Leadership is definitely one important factor – regardless of your position in the business, really taking responsibility for what you’re doing rather than viewing it as a task. And also being able to work with a team, being collaborative rather than just working on your own. If you put people’s values on the same level as yours and ensure your colleagues are able to deliver what they need to, then that means our company as a whole can successfully deliver.

Another important quality is empathy. Whether it’s work-related or not, try to appreciate the situation other people are in. We can all have difficult times, and your colleagues can sometimes be having a tough time, but you shouldn’t take it personally. Just have empathy and understand that the person may be experiencing a tremendous amount of stress – either because of their deadlines, or their family situation. I think this is something that we all appreciated more during Covid, seeing people trying to balance their day to day work with children at home, or having to self-isolate and not being able to go out and socialise, so I feel we’ve all learned more empathy, and that’s a good thing.

What words of wisdom would you like to pass on to colleagues who are just starting out on their own journey with ZEDRA?

I can’t do better than the words of our slogan – ‘DO MORE. ACHIEVE MORE.’ which I took to heart at the beginning when I joined ZEDRA. What it means to me is around putting in that extra effort to self-educate, as well as to build value into the business. We all have our normal day-to-day activities, and what’s important is to always question yourself – is what I am doing valuable? Does it help the business?

Those words ‘DO MORE. ACHIEVE MORE.’ mean to me that by being able to do more and being more efficient at what you’re doing, it will help you boost your career as well as add value to the company. It’s a really helpful sentence that I have always kept in mind to this day.

Do you have a personal motto?

Yes. I like the words from Jimi Hendrix, who said: ‘When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace’. To me it’s all about putting love into your day-to-day habits rather than trying to gain things just for yourself.

What do you feel most proud of in your career at ZEDRA?

Well it’s not our sole purpose, but I feel proud to be playing my part in ‘keeping the lights on’ for the company and making sure the operations of our teams can continue smoothly and efficiently. Of course, there are many layers of technology involved that we need to maintain and keep aligned, but that’s one of the main factors for me.

What are four words that describe the approach you bring to your role at ZEDRA?

The first one is technology, that’s a no-brainer! Then efficiency, automation and finally, simplicity.

What do you see as your legacy at ZEDRA?

It’s not only the team that we have built, it’s also the way it’s laid out, the flat structure we have as a team. This ‘flat structure’ is one of the fundamentals of ZEDRA, and involves not setting differences around your job title and your role within the department, but ensuring that everyone is free to communicate and share knowledge. I’m very proud to have that structure in our team.

Then the second part is education. For my colleagues, I’ve set up an option to request training courses that they can use out of working hours. If people are willing to participate, I spend a few hours a day, out of work, and introduce them to different technologies that I have learned, and how they can be used. To me it’s about giving back what I’ve learned and igniting other people’s enthusiasm for technology by helping them to explore the things that interest them.