IT Life: Fly Like An Eagle

data centre, big data

Euan Robertson, CTO of big data company Aquila Insight, tells TechWeekEurope why finding the right people is the key to success

Tell us something about your IT career:

After university I went into academic research, studying what was the forerunner to big data machine learning. Later I worked for a Swiss elevator company where I applied artificial intelligence techniques to elevators, which was on the cutting edge so much so that I patented some of the work.

I completed an MBA and benefited from being experienced in IT but with a strong business focus. I built a reputation for successfully bridging the gap between business and IT and worked in due diligence for a private equity firm, assessing the technology companies they were considering making investments into.

Later, during my time at RBS working in risk system strategy, I identified growth in the opportunities and use of data to drive business forward and, ultimately, this led to me joining Aquila Insight as I was keen to get back to working for a high growth company.

aquila insightsWhat tech were you involved with ten years ago?

Enterprise java deployment and the birth of service orientated architectures. I took part in a management buyout and formed Spektra, one of the first companies in the UK involved in this area. It was the fastest growing IT company in Scotland, working with the likes of Tesco Personal Finance, RBS and Standard Life, and featured highly in the Sunday Times Tech Track.

What tech do you expect to be involved with in ten years’ time?

I expect tech to be much more focussed on the integration of services that are available, and my role to be that of an integrator of tech products rather than a builder of them. IT capital expenditure will have been largely replaced by line-of-business operational expenditure and the biggest cost outlay will be on staff. From an economic standpoint, bandwidth, processing and storage will be free or trending towards that.

Who is your tech hero (and why)?

I have two. The first is Steve Jobs. Admittedly that’s a cliché nowadays, but he is my hero because of his vision and ability to understand IT and business in the one brain.

The second is much more well known today than he was a few months ago as a result of the recent film about his work – Alan Turing. He was the founder of IT and he was also my first boss’s PhD supervisor, so I feel a tenuous connection there!

Who is your tech villain (and why)?

Any company that sells a customer a licence for a piece of software before the customer gets any benefit from it. You know who they are…

What’s your favourite technology ever made? And which do you use most?

Broadband coupled with Wi-Fi totally liberated me from having to do my work from an office. I remember the first time I used the two technologies together – sitting in a Starbucks just outside Regents Park – and I was blown away by the speed of web access.

The technology I most use is streaming services for music and videos.

What is your budget outlook? Flat? Growing?

Aquila’s budget is growing. It is growing in the search for great people, and decreasing in terms of technology expenditure. Our people are the most important asset in our company. Finding the right people allows me to realise the valuable services on offer and then combine them to make the best use of the skills out there.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire most, and why?

Amazon because they do the basics fantastically well. Nine times out of ten they have what I want, at a price that is reasonable, and deliver when they say they will. I also like Apple, though didn’t always. After reading Jobs’ biography I have new-found admiration for a company that made it to the biggest in the world despite having the fewest number of products. That is a clever business model.

What is the greatest challenge for an IT company or department today?

Most definitely, finding the right people. There is a real disconnect between what is being taught in schools and the technology that kids today are actually using. I also understand that, unlike in England, it is not mandatory to teach computer science as part of the curriculum in Scotland today, which is crazy. There is generally a difference in the availability of skill sets on the West Coast of the USA and Scotland, and a huge salary differential to match.

To Cloud or not to Cloud?

There are different cloud models depending on your requirement, and the most important thing is the economics of the cloud, not the technology. The cloud economic model allows you to benefit from all others using the service, as exemplified by Amazon Web Services, and the elastic compute model means that you don’t typically buy the services you need you rent them as and when you need them.

Although there is a great deal of fear generated around security in the cloud, I think a lot of this is based on ill-informed comment and will disappear in time.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

First a pilot, then a control engineer, because I grew up in the oil industry. I eventually went on to study electrical engineering where for my dissertation, I studied underwater robots in the North Sea, letting the control engineer inside me take over just a bit.

What else should we have asked you about?

Why isn’t every company run by an engineer, like in Germany?!!

Take our Big Data quiz here!