by Mike Mackay

The CIO Questionnaire: Mike Mackay, CIO of the Youth Justice Board of England and Wales

Sep 03, 2009
CareersGovernmentIT Leadership

Mike Mackay is climbing the mountain that is public sector IT, he reveals his inspirations and ethics in our questionnaire just weeks after being savaged by poor quality journalism in the Daily Mail regarding his CIO salary. Q. Which business (or other) books have been influential in your career? A.Developing Information Systems Strategies by John Ward of Cranfield School of Management in my early years. And since joining the public sector Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards by Chait, Ryan and Taylor. Q. Who has been the most influential person in your career? A. Dr Robert Beyster, founder and president of [critical services provider] SAIC, for his belief in the power of technologies to benefit society and for his personal approach to engaging people to own their own futures (and indeed their own companies). Q. What is your approach to training and mentoring? A. Lead by example because as a leader people will emulate you. Invest in developing and rewarding people’s risk appetite because its only through well managed risk taking that breakthroughs are made. Offer early and many opportunities to experiment and innovate because without ideas and innovations there is no way to differentiate. Q. Which tools and tactics have given you most success in communicating? A. The most valuable tools are personal relationships and actual, real, non-feigned empathy, without which nearly all other communications tools and tactics are hollow. Q. What has been your biggest mistake? A. I remember thinking that moving into my first general management position was just a promotion. That took a while to recover from. Q. And your greatest success? A. A lot of different threads from many different places and many different experiences have come together on the Wiring Up Youth Justice programme and that seems to have been quite successful on an amazingly broad front. It’s certainly the contribution I’m most proud of. In fact it feels like a privilege to serve here. Q. What is your greatest strength? A. I’m not scared of these technologies and I can conceive in my head just how many human problems they can solve. I build talented teams. Q. What is your greatest weakness? A. Impatience and so I can be cranky. Q. How do you keep up to date with the march of technology? A. Hire the smartest people I can find, give them their head, watch and learn from them. Q. How do you deal with stress? A. I don’t short-change myself on holidays. Stress exists: isn’t it just a question of that being a cost of participating at this level? Q. What profession most/least like to attempt? A. Most: architect (buildings, not IT). Least: salesman. Q. Which word or phrase do I overuse? A. Appetite. Q. Which technology companies and people do you most admire? A. I love the open and community source movement. The people I most admire are the young software engineers who are crafting fantastic tools for their customers, working collaboratively, partnering online, existing outside of corporations, re-using each other’s code libraries, disrespectful of how the old lags (like me) did it, and working to their own global codes of behaviour. Many technology corporations still limit themselves to the knowledge that exists within their own domain and they make hay out of IPR ownership. These young engineers consider that their knowledge pool is the online world: a vastly larger knowledge pool. They give away their IPR and they make hay out of producing better software tools, quicker, faster and cheaper because they have access to this vast pool of knowledge and software and that gives them a disruptive edge. It’s fantastic what can be done for very little money if you take this route. This isn’t just the case for true open source: you can build applications on top of a proprietary technology stack very, very cheaply and very quickly this way. Try it. Q. And which do you find most frustrating? A. I won’t name names. But if it isn’t agile and if its all about lock-in, I’m going to be frustrated. Q. Do you have a sport that you practise or a sportsperson or team that you follow? A. I don’t really follow a sport. I am currently active in paragliding, kayaking and a bit of low-grade mountaineering.