Neil Pearson, our Chief Digital Officer, shares with us his inspiring growth journey along with IDP's digital transformation

"Through it all, what I’ve enjoyed most about working at IDP are the opportunities to solve problems that are challenging, being able to be bold in our outlook, and working as a global team."

Neil Pearson, our Chief Digital Officer, shares with us his inspiring growth journey along with IDP's digital transformation

Neil Pearson
27 July 2022

“I’ve been a part of the Hotcourses/IDP family from the year 1999 and there are many things I have learned on my journey I would like to share with you to help you on yours. 

Looking back, my journey began having joined a very small start-up with two entrepreneurs (founders of Hotcourses) – Jan 1999 - coming together over their idea to transform the way education worked. This was the first time I’d ever worked in education. What appealed most to me about working in the sector is helping young people hungry to change the world. It was truly exciting. 

The two entrepreneurs gave me numerous opportunities to work on various projects and markets - from big government contracts, bespoke solutions for transforming adult learning and undergraduate education through Whatuni, to international education with Hotcourses Abroad - our study abroad website. 

As the start-up grew, I began working with our fabulous team in London alongside colleagues such as Simon Emmett, now CEO of IDP Connect.  

Next, I helped set up new digital capability in Chennai, India from scratch - a huge milestone for me personally and for the organisation as a whole. In 2006 – I began to work with Priyatham Rajagopalan, the previous COO of Hotcourses India, and his team in Chennai. That capability is now a 500+ Digital Campus and our tech hub for IDP.   

In 2017, Hotcourses had become a thriving business of 500+ across the world – Australia, Canada, India, the UK, the USA and we were digital transformers in the industry.  

Hotcourses was acquired by IDP Education in 2017 which - like many businesses at the time - was undergoing its own digital transformation. The capability and scale between the two organisations complemented themselves perfectly. And as part of that transformation, I was invited to come over to Melbourne with the digital transformation programs that were going on at the point in time – focusing on Digital Marketing and transforming student and IELTS test taker experiences.  

That covers what I’ve been up to for the last 5 years. Setting up one of the strongest capabilities in education in Melbourne, deepening our digital expertise in our Chennai Digital Campus and working on continuous digital transformation. I am proud of what I have achieved with both teams and feel lucky to work with them – they make it a pleasure to come to work every day. 

We’ve had some monumental business accomplishments over the last few years but from a personal point of view, I’d say that I’m proud of

  • the first ever course search website back in the day on - like a Google Search engine for courses. It was a landmark for the sector -given how data collection and large-scale search weren’t as easy then as they are now. 

  • our suite of education websites – that now covers over 100 markets generating more than 100m visits of students and test takers every year.   

  • placing the student voice on our websites – by gathering student reviews of institutions across the UK. We’d gone on to collect so many student reviews on our platform that it eventually became a whole award ceremony in the UK - the Whatuni Student Choice Awards – another landmark for the sector and personally for me, to have done something that hadn’t been done before. 

  • and most recently, our IDP live app for student placement that is transforming the experience for our customers – by helping them conveniently manage the study abroad process and get an offer from an institution in real time. This is so powerful- and though this is just the beginning of what we can do in this space - certainly something I can take away from my time here and cherish. 

Speaking of accomplishments we’ve celebrated, there have also been difficult times, as with any journey, that we’ve travelled and experienced together as a team.  

When things get rough, I find what helps best, in general, is to keep communicating as a team, treat everyone with respect, knowing that they’re all working hard towards your goal and most importantly to look, with positivity and the right plan, to the future. For example, I recall a whole year being hit by Google algorithm changes – a tricky period. How we worked our way through that is by sticking together, trying to understand the change, testing and then learning.  

Should you find yourself in sticky moments, I encourage you and your team to focus on the future by taking the right next step rather than be focused too much on your present situation.   

In general, what has helped me grow and evolve over the years has been the trust given to me by various leaders - an important part of my journey. They were willing to invest in me to do things I’d never done before - things they’d never done before. We learned a lot on the way and failed at times. When we did, we would try to learn as quickly as we could and not make the same mistake twice. I’ve continuously thrown myself in the deep end and it’s just been an unbelievably enjoyable and rewarding experience doing that. I love the continuous change and different challenges that come day to day while working with digital products and customer experiences.

Through it all, what I’ve enjoyed most about working at IDP are the opportunities to solve problems that are challenging, being able to be bold in our outlook, and working as a global team – meeting people around the world and experiencing different cultures. We truly are a diverse team at IDP. 

For those starting out with your career and seeking growth, my word of advice is - grab hold of opportunities that come to you; and don’t be limited either by what you think you can do or perhaps what you think your role is. In the future of work - creativity, intelligence, and problem-solving are going to become the most valued skills in the job market - you won’t gain these skills if you don’t throw yourself into problems and challenges. So, I encourage you to get your hands dirty with problems and push yourself out of your comfort zone. These are the sure-fire ways for you to learn and skyrocket your growth. 

Overall, what we’ve done and continue to do is something very different in the sector.  Over the past five years, our investment in digital technology has enhanced personal connections, enabling us to deliver global success to students, test-takers and our partners but I feel we’ve just scratched the surface of what we can achieve. I look forward to enabling and deepening our ability to help the customer in real time when they need it. Even in the future, regardless of the technology we use (AI, apps, data, and real time personalisation) – we continue to remember that at the heart of our services is a human being with bold hopes and dreams.  

My job and our job at IDP here are to make it as easy as possible to do that but not use tech to replace it. To help facilitate that journey with a counsellor, or with someone who can help them prepare for the test- but certainly not replace that human connection. Our team of experts, powered by technology, offer an unmatched service, helping local dreams become realities, all over the world. 

The future of IDP to me is always going to be the same as what we have at the heart of everything we do today - our customers, our clients, and our people. 

Interested to build your future with us as we build ours? Here’s where you can start looking.”

Neil Pearson, Chief Digital Officer 


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