Former CIO and CSIO with telco challenger Superloop, Andrew Lawrence has had a rather unconventional journey beating a path to becoming a senior tech leader in Australia today.\nDrawing the line at cleaning toilets and stripping paint on two fraught high-school work experience placements in the 90s, he eventually ended up working at then fledgling Brisbane ISP OnTheNet, providing dial-up customer support.\n\u201cThen I convinced the boss to give me a job, paying $12 an hour. I was loaded,\u201d he says.\nHis final years of high school involved combining late afternoon and evening shifts most days during the week at OnTheNet while he completed his studies.\nAfter graduating high school, Lawrence took a full time job, moving on to data networking and systems admin, as OnTheNet continued to grow.\nFast forward a few years and he had a real baptism of fire working at Flight Centre when 9\/11 struck, noting that it helped shape his understanding of how to deal with major calamities such as we\u2019ve seen with COVID-19 in 2020.\n\u201cThat was a big year,\u201d Lawrence recalls.\nDonning a backpack and bound for Europe, he then ended up working with Japanese telco giant KDDI in Europe, looking after a rolling communications network for Honda F1 racing during the 2007 season.\nAfter winding his way back to Sydney, Lawrence soon settled in for a two-year stint managing network operations in Sydney for Credit Suisse, after which he took a role with Verizon, which saw him seconded with a team to manage security for the Commonwealth Bank (CBA).\nFollowing that, he spent three years at Deutsche Bank overseeing its A\/NZ network, including the roll out of ultra-low latency trading infrastructure before joining superannuation firm OneView ahead of a stint working at Brisbane-based fintech, TSWG (\u2018The System Works Group\u2019).\nTelco versus banking\nThe experience of starting out in telco before moving to financial services gave Lawrence some important insights as to how two of the world\u2019s most data and digitally intense industries operate, and what it means being a tech leader in each.\nBeing given his first real tech roles in telco, Lawrence had the immediate sense of digital innovation being at the core, with his input and participation at the senior level not just encouraged, but demanded as his employers strove to keep up and stay ahead of the game.\nYet in banking, despite the obvious importance of digital systems - and the skills to design and manage them - across all areas of the industry, his feeling was always that it was \u201cmoney\u201d that took precedence.\n\u201cOne thing you realise is their primary business is banking, while technology is seen as an enabler,\u201d Lawrence explains.\n\u201cThe guys that front the big town halls get up and talk about how much money they\u2019re making.\u201d\nIt\u2019s a culture Lawrence feels can actually be limiting \u2013 and at times stifling \u2013 for CIOs and other tech leaders with serious career ambitions.\n\u201cCompliance was often a real nightmare, trying to roll out and ensure security conformance will little budget,\u201d he says. \u201cIf I want to be at the top of my game it won\u2019t be where the leaders are doing something other than tech.\u201d\nIt\u2019s an interesting observation, coming at a time when the Australian banking sector is seeing high rates of churn and attrition at the top echelons of tech leadership.\nLawrence admits, however, that he is far from a conventional CIO.\nWhile it\u2019s becoming more common for tech leaders to have \u2018degrees\u2019 in disciplines other than tech, the fact he didn\u2019t go to university at all, rather learned entirely hands-on, on the job, puts him in a rarer category.\n\u201cI\u2019ve done courses over time,\u201d Lawrence notes. \u201cI\u2019ve often found them informing but ultimately they\u2019re more of a resume filler to get past recruiters and onto the decision makers.\u201d\nHe recalls one of the best interview experiences of his career when the hiring CIO simply slid across pages of highly technical output data and asked: \u201cWhat is this?\u201d Suffice to say, Lawrence knew exactly and got the job.\nAnd he now applies similar techniques when hiring himself.\u00a0\n\u201cBecause I don\u2019t have a degree it\u2019s not something that I prioritise," he notes.\n\u201cIf I had someone with five years\u2019 experience and someone with a degree, nine times out of ten, I\u2019d pick the one with experience.\u201d\nSecure future\nLawrence\u2019s brief foray back into telco as CSIO and then CIO with Brisbane-based carrier, Superloop came to an end recently following a restructure by incoming CEO, former NBN boss, Paul Tyler.\nNow he\u2019s working to develop a consultancy practise focussed on the growing cyber area known as \u2018threat intelligence\u2019, or TI.\nAs more and more organisations \u2013 big and small \u2013 are being forced to develop a better understanding and to act on cyber security, it\u2019s become apparent that the way cyber information is conveyed needs to be addressed and refined to make it more accessible.\n\u201cPeople want to care about cyber security, but there\u2019s no way you\u2019re convincing my butcher to give it much attention,\u201d Lawrence quips. \u201cAnd besides, at the moment, if you speak to five people in the industry you\u2019d get five different types of answers; five descriptive words to explain the same thing.\u201d\nWhat TI strives to do is help make threat reports less confusing by simplifying the language and standardising the whole process.\n\u201cOne thing we struggle with in cyber is having a consistent messaging approach during incident response, which we try to achieve by pairing threat intel data with existing systems.\u201d\nIt\u2019s a key subset of the growing cyber space, Lawrence believes, and certainly one of growing importance to industries like telco and financial services at the coalface of ensuring compliance, preventing breaches and ultimately protecting customers.\nAffirming his enduring affection and preference for telco, Lawrence is working to grow his security consultancy while also, in November, joining Brisbane-based Capitalb, an umbrella group coincidentally run by Superloop-founder Bevan Slattery, which launched the company and other businesses.