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Connector Spotlight: Thomas Aston



October 14, 2022

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

illustration of random shapes and patterns in Thoughtworks brand colors.

Meet Thomas, Head of Product at Connected. Beyond his core responsibilities of leading our Product team, driving service delivery, and building cross-functional systems – he is known by most (and admired by many) for his coaching, mentorship, and guidance. Thomas embodies our ‘Teachers’ and ‘Learners’ value to the nth degree, and inspires so many others at Connected to do the same. It’s no wonder why his mantra in life is so optimistic. 

Check out his Connector Spotlight to learn about his gold-medal work with the Olympics, his love for agro-tech, and the product he really loves.

Tell us a bit about the projects you’re working on?

I lead Connected’s Product practice in a role that roughly divides into 3 related parts, including: 

  1. Leading the Product team’s people, programs, and processes. This means building best-in-class product development practitioners, methodologies and employee experience. 
  2. Driving service delivery through mentorship and consultation across Connected’s Discovery, Delivery, and Enablement offerings, with a focus on supporting engagement escalations and scoping client solutions for new opportunities.
  3. Building systems internally across departments to foster our teaching and learning programs, and externally with the broader Product development community to promote Connected’s leading market position (soon to be Thoughtwork’s!)

What’s the most interesting challenge about the project?

I’m very grateful to be in a position where I get to solve hard problems with smart people on a regular basis! The two spaces I’m most passionate about are coaching and mentoring of our Product practitioners and developing value-producing client solutions that map Connected’s unique strengths to a prospective client’s unique needs and opportunities. 

Coaching/mentorship: As a talent-driven business, recruiting, developing and retaining the best-in-class Product talent is the heart of our value proposition; and unlike the more established practice domains of Engineering and Design, there’s no linear path into a role in Product. There are few things more rewarding than enabling the growth of practitioners by coaching them along their professional journey and providing contextual mentorship to bridge skills gaps, enabling our practitioners to grow continuously in their craft.

Client solutions: Especially within enterprise settings, the digital product landscape is full of examples of poorly-considered solutions in search of superficially-validated problems. Connected’s interdisciplinary approach to product development, and our breadth of capabilities across the product lifecyle, enables us to develop engagement solutions for target clients that yield meaningful value for their business and their customers.

Where did you work before Connected?

Prior to Connected, I worked as a ‘mercenary’ independent consultant in digital Product development for approximately 10 years, engaging in contract work across Product strategy and delivery, for clients ranging from seed-funded startups to the Fortune 500. Prior to that, directly out of university, I worked in finance, building structured derivative products.

Notable past clients include several of Canada’s Chartered banks, new media outfits like RedBull Music, Mutek and Nuit Blanche, public sector organizations such as Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, and even the Olympics!

While I enjoyed the autonomy and selectivity in contract work, I was drawn to Connected by its collective sense of cultural purpose through its mission to “Build Better Products”, as well as its extraordinarily impactful work across clients whose apps are surely on your phone right now; the very same things that keep me passionately engaged at present!

What achievement are you most proud of in your career to date?

I’m most proud of work I’ve done that positively impacts individuals, organizations and social culture at large. About five years ago I might have referenced my work associated with the broadest viewership or engagement volume, such as partnering with a global consumer electronics company to prove out its scaled IoT messaging functionality. More recently, I’m most proud of the impact I’ve had on the capabilities development and career growth of practitioners within Product and across Connected more broadly. Sharing hard-won learnings through years of trial and error in Product-building which can be applied immediately on the client work is deeply fulfilling as a mentor, and a highly effective accelerator for talent development!

Do you have a mantra you live by?

I don’t, but if I did it would be something like Google’s now deprecated motto of “Don’t be evil”. But hopefully framed more optimistically, like “Do good things” 😉 

Or maybe, “He who has a why to live, can bear almost any how” – Nietzsche 

What do you love to do outside of work?

Outside of my work at Connected, I love my role as parent of two extraordinary children, aged 3 years, and 6 months. Their boundless curiosity and shameless authenticity keeps me firmly grounded in the present and gives me a fresh perspective through which to see the world!

Before becoming a parent, it would have been a close contest between off-grid travel in S.E. Asia, sailing our creaky, old Catalina monohull through Georgian Bay or backcountry camping in Canada’s beautiful national and provincial parks.

If you were stuck on a deserted island, what album, movie, and book would you take with you?

Album – Either Jose Gonzalez’s Veneer or Mr. Oizo’s Analog Worms Attack

Movie – Cast Away with Tom Hanks

Book – The SAS Survival Handbook

Describe yourself in three words. 

Integrity, curiosity, resourcefulness.

And finally, what’s your favourite product and why? 

Obviously, John Deere’s vertically integrated product ecosystem! If you’re curious to learn more, check out a previous post on this topic here.

a collage of three images of Thomas and his family.

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