Q. Where were you born?
A. Scotland (grew up in New Zealand)
Q. How many people work in your IT department?
A. Fifty full-time heads with up to an additional half-dozen or so contractors in at any given time.
Q. What is the size of your annual IT budget?
A. £2.5m, which excludes staff salaries/contractors.
Q. What is the basic structure of your IT department?
A. The team is divided into groups of multi-discipline engineers, each organised around a specific product. In this structure each team has embedded within it all the resources needed to deliver their products without being constrained by the pace of any centralised dependency. There are a few exceptions to this, being service delivery and governance (architecture and PMO) type roles.
Q. Who are your key suppliers?
A. Microsoft, Oracle, Sun, Platform, F5 Networks, VMware, Cisco, NetApp.
Q. Who has/have been the most influential people in your career?
A. I believe that you can learn something from everyone, and as I study successful people – management author Peter Drucker, former GE CEO Jack Welch, Richard Branson, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos — I realise that these guys all have very different approaches and techniques. There are many paths to success and the secret isn’t trying to emulate what they’ve done but to take it all in and blend together the aggregate experience that’s out there and try to distil that down to something that works for your style – you’ll never be great by trying approaches that don’t come naturally to you.
Q. Do you believe in mentoring?
A. I do and I think it becomes even more important as an executive. Once you reach the point in your career where you don’t have a boss in the traditional ‘daily direction’ sense of the word, it’s easy to stop reflecting and learning because no one will sit down with you and make you do it, yet isn’t this the stage in your career when you need to be your sharpest and the organisation is the most dependent on your ability to learn and stay relevant? In my career I have been lucky enough to have a great executive coach and the value of having someone to bounce things off and force you to question yourself is huge.
Q. Which tools or tactics have given you most success in communicating?
A. I think transparency is the key here, making all the facts and data available to the business, but on top of this you always have to know your audience. That means not only taking the time to know what the message is that you want to get across but also who you’re dealing. Levels of technical sophistication (often underappreciated in IT/business communications), time available, and level of detail required all plays a part in how you’ll structure your message and even the medium to use.
Q. What has been your biggest mistake?
A. There are too many good candidates to choose from here! I think the only real mistakes are the ones that don’t improve the future. The other thing I get disappointed about is when something doesn’t go to plan and people don’t ask themselves what they could have done differently. No matter who is involved and where root cause was found, there is always something you can do differently to affect the outcome and ‘starting at your own desk’ is a valuable practice.
Q. And your greatest success?
A. Equally tough as I have had the pleasure of working with many, many great teams who have managed to make me look good! There is no substitute for shipping, and I am always immensely proud when my team gets something valuable out to our customers.
Q. How do you keep up to date with the march of technology?
A. I’m fairly active in the technical community and I think you get the most balanced perspectives on practices and technologies by simply using your network – listening to the experiences of your peers with an open mind. If you participate in the right meetings, mailing lists, blogs etc, then you’ll develop pretty good filters for what comes at you through salesmen and vendors.
Q. How do you deal with stress?
A. By getting back to nature. I live very close to some great countryside and ‘unplugging’ with a hike or mountain bike ride is just the ticket.
Q. What profession would you most/least like to attempt?
A. Least, politics. Doing the right thing for the whole country — with its almost infinitely diverse opinions on policy and priorities — with dwindling budgets and spiralling debts must often put you in no-win situations. I have a huge amount of sympathy for how tricky that balancing act must be. Most, if I wasn’t in IT then I’d like to do something with my hands, a craftsman of some kind – perhaps a boat builder – which would give me the satisfaction of putting something meaningful together for someone, tailored specifically for them. I did build a brick BBQ once but that stayed up for about 90 seconds…
Q. Which word or phrase do you most use/overuse?
A. I guess I am as guilty as anyone else in IT of getting carried away with buzzwords and TLAs so all I’ll say here is that, as technology leaders, we have to keep in mind that just labelling something with a fashionable word does not fundamentally change its ROI so we should stay objective and not get swept along with it (“cloud” and “virtual” spring to mind).
Q. Which business (or other) books have been influential in your career?
A. Difficult one as I read a lot. I’ve already confessed to being a Drucker fan, and also near the top of the list I’d put a few staples such as [Andrew Hunt and David Thomas’s] The Pragmatic Programmer and The Mythical Man Month [by Frederick P. Brooks], as well as Jim Collins’ books. In my early career I got through a lot of O’Reilly books (which are typically very good technical guides) and, as my roles progressed more towards leadership, I get more out of authors like Lawrence Lessig and Chester Karass and a handful of annually-released compilations such as The CTO Handbook.
Q. Do you have a sport you practise or sportsperson/team that you follow?
A. I follow Dunfermline Athletic mostly because they are my home town team – and it keeps my expectations low. Apart from the mountain biking mentioned above I like snowboarding and sailing (neither of which I get to do often enough).
Q. What else do you do outside of work?
A. As I said I am fairly active in the technical community and I do the odd talk at industry events. I run an entrepreneurial group which advises bootstrap-phase web startups — I like to see new ideas developing. Outside of the tech world I enjoy film, travel, restaurants, and theatre, and I try to maximise the time I can spend with family.