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Sarah Zhang

Sarah is passionate about the use of digital approaches to enable faster, better and greener programme delivery. A natural innovator, Sarah sees challenges as exciting opportunities to test her problem-solving abilities and to create a sustainable, effective and practical solution which delights customers.

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Digital Consultant

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Digital technology

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Artificial intelligence and machine learning

About Sarah

Drawing on her background in software engineering, Sarah is accomplished at identifying the best technical solutions to meet customer challenges. Sarah is a passionate believer in the importance of establishing cultures which allow innovative digital approaches to flourish. A key part of Sarah’s toolkit is the understanding that mindset and skillset are equally important as technical know-how in establishing a much-needed digital culture.

Sarah on her role

I’ve worked at Costain since July 2016. My current role as Digital Consultant focuses on helping our customers to achieve their desired outcomes by bringing together creative digital capabilities, deep specialist knowledge and systems thinking.


What led Sarah to her career

Growing up, I originally wanted to be a psychologist. I ended up studying Software Engineering at Northeastern University in China by chance. I have to say it took me some time to grow into programming. When I was at university, I stumbled across a book in the library ‘On Intelligence’ by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee. It blew my mind and I fell in love with the concept of Artificial Intelligence, so I came to the University of Bristol for my Master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

I’ve been working in technology for over 15 years now. First, as an Embedded Software Engineer involved in every stage of the software development lifecycle for National Highways. Since joining Costain in 2016, I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work closely with colleagues across all sectors to cross-pollinate digital solutions and innovations.

After climbing the technical ladder, I have recently moved into my new role as Digital Consultant. Working closely with our customers, we tailor digital solutions to the challenges they face. Our task is to work out the root causes of these issues and how to best overcome them. I love the process of problem-solving with the joy and (even) frustration that come with it.


What's the most common misunderstanding of Sarah's role?

When a flatmate first came to me with her IT issues, I can still remember the shock on her face when I googled in front of her and tried but failed miserably to fix the problem. I felt the urge to go to such lengths to explain the difference between Software Engineers and IT professionals, just to show I wasn’t terrible at my job. That was about 12 years ago. I don’t have to do it very often these days but still get the occasional IT request. Part of the problem, I think, is that we don’t talk enough about how the digital tools some of us use every day are made and who has done what to make it happen, so it’s natural for people to associate what they can see and touch (devices) with everyone working in software and technology.

In short, software developers and engineers create new software-based services and products, while IT professionals focus on making sure that devices, systems and software work together correctly and efficiently.


Sarah on the biggest challenge for digital transformation

Digital transformation has a bad rep these days – people often think it’s going to be ‘expensive’ or ‘waste of resources’ the minute it’s brought up. Yet while there are many famous case studies out there to show this frustration is evidenced-based, McKinsey’s seminal survey on the topic revealed that culture and behaviours are the most significant barrier to achieving digital effectiveness. This is why we think mindset and skillset are equally important in establishing a much-needed digital culture.  

It is the people who adopt, maintain and improve the system that will make the most difference. As a result, it’s critical to embed a digital approach and growth mindset with customers and our supply chain. Assessing organisational digital maturity and providing tailored training to improve digital skillsets and digital literacy is pivotal to the success of digital transformation.  


Three things you might not know about Sarah

  1. I haven’t mastered the skill of whistling yet.
  2. I learned to swim at the age of 31.
  3. I was in various school choirs from the age of 8 until I was 22.

Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn or alternatively send her an email.

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