I'm from Devon, on the coast. Secondary school was dull and boring. We didn't have teachers, we had masters. That says it all. I can't remember much about it. As for "school will set you up for the rest of your live"... nonsense. It's a Victorian conveyor belt that (still) primarily creates the modern-day equivalent of (compliant) workers. The current move away from teaching the arts and humanities (that encourage thinking, analysis and debate) reinforces that point. I did get a few O-levels and CSE woodwork. I still have the bookshelves, pencil box and chessboard... my parents have the coffee table (now used for tea).
1974 - 1980
At 16, I left school for the real world. I spent six years working for Post Office Telephones (now called BT). A few months after it was privatised, I left. I was given 200 shares (along with all other employees at the time). I think I still have them... they're worth about the same today as they were forty years ago. The only people who make money are the people who already have money. A lesson learnt early.
That six years included a really good three-year apprenticeship. (Not some work-for-free, or dead cheap "work experience scheme"). I left with City & Guilds telecom engineer certificates and A-levels in maths, physics, and economics (that I studied myself in evening classes) but not after spending two of those years down manholes, up telephone poles, and on customer premises. A proper apprenticeship. Thanks to my willingness to do jobs that others did not want to do, I benefitted from accelerated promotion, doubling my take-home (which allowed my to spend more on rebuilding A-series (Mini) engines).
1980 - 1984
So off to college to do a degree in the new-and-upcoming field of computer science. (My mother liked to tell her friends: "my son is studying computers!"). College was really enjoyable. I was getting paid for studying my hobby. We had student grants back then. Government (and society) viewed it as an investment in young people. Not like today where government(s) see young people as a way for their private-sector mates (and party donors) to make money. The "human battery" of the Matrix comes to mind.
As the thick sandwich industrial year placement of my degree, I spent a year in the City of London working for a pioneering financial database company. My principal project was the Eurocharts Customised Plotting Service which I developed for numerous financial services companies. I like London (sometimes). It's fast-paced but cut-throat. It teaches you what to appreciate but also the costs to people's lives and the environment.
1985 - 1986
I did quite well in college (mainly because the teachers were brilliant (mostly) and loved their field and teaching it). A first got me a full scholarship to do a PhD in artificial intelligence. I spent a year getting thoroughly disillusioned with the ivory-tower attitudes of the university Computer Science department. When they rejected an exciting collaborative project with Jaguar Cars (Browns Lane, Coventry), two-thirds of the postgraduate research students quit. Thatcherism was in full swing, and boy, did it screw with university funding and attitudes. But the student union was fun; especially as a post-grad. I joined the Hockey club (I was lousy at rugby). That got me the sports jersey, which seemed to carry weight with the opposite sex.
1986 - 1987
I moved up the road to teach business information systems. I like teaching... helping talented young people push ahead, and equally importantly, supporting those who are struggling.
Ended up marrying one of my students... a story for another time :)
After a while, I co-founded a company that provided education services to the teaching staff of other colleges, principally computing-related.
Then I was pulled into a corporation that specialised in transaction processing systems for large business system. They wanted to build upon that customer base with the integration of AI-based systems into traditional data processing applications. I was tempted away from teaching to focus on the knowledge engineering side; working with London-based financial services organisations such as Commercial Union, Natwest Bank, and Morgan Stanley.
That company was absorbed by a larger company that saw the money that we making and wanted some. Enter the bean counters. They destroyed it.
1988 - 1994
The end of the eighties saw the explosive growth of cheaper hardware. At a fraction of the cost of traditional mainframe and mid-range systems, all global hardware companies (IBM, ICL, Fujitsu, Prime, Sequent, Sun Microsystems, ...) and database companies (Oracle, Ingres, Informix, ...) saw the threat, and the opportunity. I co-founded another company that specialised in the automated conversion of software applications from legacy platforms to the new platforms.
At its height we had clients across thirty countries using our product and services. It was exciting to go into our offices and see a rolled-up fax message on the floor and guess which country it was from. Hey, this one's from Argentina, this one's Morocco, and this one's Indonesia! Happy days. That inevitably led to, what would become, 25 years in Singapore.
1994 - 1997
My first company in Singapore specialised in the roll-out of Windows networks and the growth in Microsoft Office installations across the island state. Asia was ten years behind the west in the use of technology (hence the opportunity)... they are now ahead. We also engaged in education for larger organisations looking to move onto open systems platforms. This would lead to the development foundation of the first Asian online ERP system. We were contracted to build an accounting backend for the Singapore/Malaysia fast-food giant, A&W
1997 - 2017
Then the internet happened. And the world changed forever. A complete rewrite of our software onto an Internet server-based platform followed. The led to Y2K and the growth of the Singapore tiger economy saw the development of the million lines of code that became known as ZaraStar.
A partnership with Sun Microsystems saw us with the largest sales of thin-clients in Singapore, and the development of OpenSolaris and the Linux-based operating system, Singanix, for the Singapore market.
On top of that, we were the largest recipient of funding for the Singapore government's Wired with Wireless mobile development program (in partnership with Palm and Nokia). ZaraStar comprised: customer and supplier management, sales processing, purchase processing, inventory management, webstore cataloging, business intelligence, MRP, and general ledger accounting. Data Migration services evolved as a speciality.
That sounds all very technical but the differences between the countries of east Asia and the UK were stunning. In the UK, I would try to set up a business meeting and I would hear: "well, my diary is full for next week but how about the week after". In Singapore it was: "well, I'm busy for the next few days but how about this evening in the Hilton lounge bar?'
You have to frequent karaoke bars. I can't sing (except when under the influence, when, to my ear, it becomes surprisingly good).
2010 - 2015
As the Internet evolved and spread its tentacles into broader commercial and non-commercial organisations, I saw an opportunity in sports management and marketing. At the time, Google was developing various platforms for user interaction; one of which was Google Wave. This was a real-time conversational collaborative platform that was subsequently used as a technical foundation for Google Docs. Working with Google San Francisco, I created the iotaWave platform to integrate with numerous sports marketing platforms and APIs that were pushing into the consumer market at the time. The upshot was the development of a series of Android and iOS apps. In the event, app development overtook online real-time platforms but for us, the future foundation for app development, and integration with backend API services had been laid.
I didn't enjoy being searched going through US customs. Hardly the welcome received in east Asia. The food in the sports bars was good though. I put on weight... and the silicon valley mindset is invigorating.
2016 - 2017
Inevitably, as websites and apps move into an area traditionally served by print media, interesting conversations take place regarding what can be learnt from print, if anything. In 2016, I embarked on the creation, and marketing, of a print football magazine for the Singapore market. Working with the Football Association of Singapore, the objective was to ascertain how sports marketing could benefit from the entire range of print through to apps. At the time, I was already deeply embedded across the football community (as an Asia-wide accredited photographer for a range of sports). A useful by-product was gaining experience of how the print business worked.
A close relationship with Singapore's oldest football club, including two years as Team Manager for the Women's team, as well as the digital marketing for tournaments over south, and south-east, Asia producing 5,000 photographs and 120 videos. Digital marketing was integrated over social media channels, websites, and apps. The objective being community building, involving players, management, fans, and local charitable organisations.
I love Singapore: the people, the food, the climate. But at the end of 2017 the time was right (lots of reasons) to return to the UK. For my family (who had never experienced temperatures below 24 degrees celcius (and that was at night), it was, and is, a shock. But life is full of challenges, and opportunities. If there are no opportunities, then make one. I know, sometimes that's easier said than done, but hey, stay positive. Illegitimi non carborundum.
To re-acclimatise to UK working, I consulted for a fascinating project that integrated apps with cloud computing; in effect building support networks for the elderly people.
The past few years have been a rollercoaster. Covid has thrust a lot into the limelight. I engaged with local community groups, charities, political organisations, and local government.
How could I use my experience and skills to make a difference?
Fundamentally, I'm all sorts of engineer. I create things. I fix things. I solve problems. From machines (computer scientists still call computers 'machines'), to systems that comprise people and processes.
Several things are clear: We have broken politics. Not only central government but also local government. There is self-interest, little (if any) trust, and, yes, corruption of all types). Whilst there are some good hardworking people in public service, there is also a load of incompetence and poor-quality leadership (if you can call it that).
It's just not acceptable. With the climate emergency, that of course, is a ridiculous understatement. All people alive today need to ask themselves: "Am I proud of what my generation (and me personally) are doing for future generations?"
If the answer isn't good, then step aside, or be moved aside... the young generation is on the move. And, in my heart and mind, at least, I am one.
If an organisation doesn't fully utilise digital technology, it's dead... not just in the long-term but in the short-term. Many large and small organisations don't understand this. Their leadership thinks it's ok if they have a Facebook page. It isn't. You're dead.
Dramatic? Yes. But, it has the great advantage of being true.
Community groups need the quality functionality to leverage digital technology that major corporations have had for some time (actually, decades).
Oh, and I'm learning to play the electric guitar. If Gary R****m hadn't squashed one of my fingers in the canteen gate in junior school, I'd have been a great rock 'n' roll guitarist :)
For you techies out there... Over the decades I've built up quite a lot of expertise in loads of technical stuff. This list is not intended as boy scout badges but to illustrate what happens to your skills as technology changes under you feet. Here's some pretty images for: ERP Systems, Programming, DataBases, Web Frameworks, Development, Deployment, APIs and Communications.