AT&T’s Network Disaster Recovery Director tells us about the challenges of running a potentially life-saving institution
Justin Williams is the director of AT&T’s Network Disaster Recovery group, heading up the company unit responsible for helping get disaster-struck areas back on their feet.
He has been with the company for 17 years, and says he still enjoys the challenges and constant change that comes with his job title, which can often include jetting off to remote locations at a moment’s notice. But what does this aspiring musician think is his favourite piece of kit, and what does he think makes a good leader?
Tell us something about your IT career
I started my career as a network engineer and technical project manager while also studying for my degree on the side. When I finally graduated with a BA in Business Studies majoring in HR from Bournemouth University, I joined IBM and subsequently moved to AT&T as a technical project manager, managing large complex IT projects, process development and large parts of Y2K programs.
This role eventually led to me establishing a regional, and now global, AT&T Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery team. The division covers all aspects of non-domestic US business areas developing network disaster recovery (DR), work centre continuity and DR planning, systems recovery as well as customer consultancy and liaison. I now manage the global disaster recovery planning, development and operations function for AT&T with responsibilities for EMEA, Central and Latin America as well as Asia-Pacific and some broader business continuity functions.
What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
Ten years ago… so many things have changed since then. If I recall correctly I was working with first generation IP networking kit at much lower speeds and capacity. We are now installing boxes with ten times the throughput.
What tech do you expect to be involved with in ten years’ time?
Teleportation and time machines?…Back to reality, I would expect to see more commodity-based hardware with functionality provided by software in the cloud.
Who is your tech hero (and why)?
Télécoms Sans Frontières – I have a great affinity towards this organisation. They are always one of the first respondents in disaster situations, providing vital emergency communications for the authorities, but also for the individuals who have been affected by the disaster, allowing them to call loved ones and let them know they are safe and sound.
Another personal tech hero of mine is Jim Marshall – he’s the guitar amp innovator. I can’t even begin to imagine how music would have developed without this incredible product!
Who is your tech villain (and why)?
My tech villains are anyone who creates a really poor and unusable website that sends you round in circles. It drives me mad and there is no excuse for poor websites nowadays with so many tools available on the market.
What’s your favourite technology ever made? And which do you use most?
I am extremely lucky to work with truly stunning kit at the AT&T Network Disaster Recovery warehouses (yes I’m like a big kid at the toy store sometimes!). Out of all the items, my favourite gadget would be my Sat Phone. The Sat Phone is essential in a disaster area where all terrestrial and cellular networks are down – without this device it would be impossible to make a call!
What is your budget outlook? Flat? Growing?
It’s shifting towards developing new network platforms, cloud technologies and mobile solutions – all of which AT&T aims to deliver with an effortless customer experience.
Apart from your own, which company do you admire most, and why?
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) – they provide an outstanding service and are constantly developing their products and capabilities as well as investing in training and education. All of this great work is done in a not-for-profit structure!
What is the greatest challenge for an IT company or department today?
I would have to say it’s the speed of change and ensuring that we are able to keep skills current in order to ensure we really are leading and not following industry trends. AT&T’s senior leadership team recently had a conversation about how long they would need to be away from AT&T in order not to recognise the technology when they returned. The results revealed that they would only need to be away for six months – this goes to show how quickly things are changing and, more importantly, that we need to remain ahead of the curve.
We are pushing hard to lead this charge, investing heavily in our teams’ skills and knowledge as well as the technology itself (there’s my HR background creeping in).
To Cloud or not to Cloud?
Cloud, definitely, as an enabler to power the network and speed up delivery as well as increase reliability, resilience and quality. In this remit, cloud is also able to provide a large variation of services, bringing us closer to our customers.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A musician – I tried for a while (I even recorded a few songs) but it now pains me to say that, like many other musicians in their forties, I have my guitar laying around the office patiently waiting for me to dust it off and start playing again.
What are the attributes you admire, and/or like to see in leadership figures?
It would have to be plain, straight to the point, eloquent speakers. I believe that this is a real differentiating factor between good and bad leaders and a critical skill that everyone should master, myself included, if we are all going to moving forward in our careers.
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