What was your first job? Teaching IT to drop-in groups.
Did you always want to work in IT? No originally, I wanted to be a sound engineer.
What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a degree in Computer Science/Artificial intelligence (AI) from Edinburgh University when very few people knew about AI and there were only two places in the UK where you could study. I have a number of professional qualifications including Microsoft, CA and ITIL, and I am a qualified assessor for BTECs.
Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. Yes. As a teenager I wanted to be a sound engineer and used to build electronic devices, radios, amplifiers. I thought a career in electronics would be a good fall back if my sound engineer career didn’t quite take off.
I started a degree and realised that was not my vocation so dropped out and began training people in Information Technology. A few years later, my sister bought me a book called ‘Artificial Intelligence and Natural Man’ by Professor Margaret Boden – I was hooked! I started to work on how I could study this subject even more then.
Once my degree was finished, opportunities to take up a profession in AI in the UK were very limited at that time so I had a choice between a PhD and going into a more generic IT role – and chose the latter. From here, my position progressed from support into more of the consultancy side of things where I’d provide technical assurance in enterprise management software and service management software.
My last few roles have been as a hands-on architect for data centre migration and migration of an estate to the cloud. And following a Head of Technology post, I moved to Solutionize Global – a technical solutions and services provider – as its chief technology officer.
What type of CTO are you? Evangelistic. I’m very much a hands-on employee who wants to continue learning new technology and absorb knowledge from my peers. I have a strong desire to understand how a technology works – even if it is at the conceptual level – so I can make informed decisions.
Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? I like innovative thinking that goes against convention. Software Defined Networking is an excellent example of this where generic X86 based fabric is abstracted from the network function – allowing the latter to be replaced without the need for the former.
Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? I’m not sure any technology is overhyped but I did learn a long time ago that one size does not fit all. It is about finding the right solution for a business – and tech is usually only one part of this. Recently there has been a big push for public cloud which does have lots of applicable use cases, but it is not a universal solution. The key to any technological fit is understanding the technological landscape and selecting the right solution.
What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? It’s not necessarily unique but I’m applying all I’ve learned during my IT career to build in a greenfield IT estate solution. This tries to address many of the problems I experienced in my consultancy such as deviation from best practice design, workarounds, multi-mastered data models, managing legacy and a lack of the use of automation.
Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Yes. I’m in a rapidly growing organisation that needs services to support our growth and provide an outstanding experience for customers, alongside enabling my colleagues to flourish. Generally, you inherit technological debt, but we are fortunate to have little – our challenge now is to balance the need to scale systems while maintaining operational efficiency.
What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? Making the correct, informed decisions about their technology roadmap and how it fits in with their business needs.
How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? Technology by itself can’t meet business needs alone, it is a combination of people, process and technology working together. In isolation, tech rarely solves a goal – although many organisations believe it can.
Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? No. I originally come from a support background and try to consider both adoption of product and service elements as part of the technological strategy. If you don’t, these become after-thoughts and rarely tie in with the overall tech strategy.
What makes an effective tech strategy? An adaptable strategy that is business-driven and does flex alongside the business. Technical innovation runs at a very high speed, so to have a strategy plan that is mapped out for years is not practical.
What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? Evangelising more about technology and how it can support business innovation. It is about helping to expand our technical solutions portfolio with innovative technologies such as AI, digital twinning and augmented reality.
What has been your greatest career achievement? There is not a single standout achievement because I’m lucky enough to say there have been many satisfying accomplishments. Migrating over a data centre during a weekend and the business coming back in on a Monday morning thinking we had aborted this – as everything was working as before – is definitely up there.
And, consolidating a global organisation’s 32 service desks into a single desk and resolving a solution problem for a global credit card provider that the vendor wasn’t able to, are also strong contenders.
Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I won’t have done anything different. With hindsight, you can come to different conclusions but as long as – at the time of the decision – you weigh up and consider carefully what you propose, then that will always be the right choice for me. Our life experience makes us who we are so changing the track would result in a different outcome.
|What are you reading now? As my day job involves exploring a large number of technical publications, I rarely get to read for pleasure. However, I am working my way through the Philip Pullman ‘Book of Dust’ series.
Most people don’t know that I… Have made millefiori enamel.
In my spare time, I like to…Tend to an allotment, ride my bike and drive classic cars. The allotment provides a complete escape and contrast to my day job, and as old cars are purely mechanical, they have no technology at their hearts, so it gives me a chance to ‘switch off’.
Ask me to do anything but… Nothing is really off-limits.
This article was published on IDG Connect.