IT Life: From Video Games To Human Data

Datasift CEO and co-founder Nick Halstead talks about his career in IT and video games

Nick is the CEO and co-founder of DataSift, but has been involved in the IT industry for more than 20 years, taking up roles in video games and social media – including the foundation of the firm which invented the Retweet button.

He still has a lot of love for the gaming industry, and Steve Jobs too, but he’s too nice to have a tech villain, preferring instead to nominate Austin Powers’ nemesis.

Tell us about your company, how long have you been in IT and what are your areas of expertise?

social networkingI’ve always been interested in social media intelligence and how businesses can get value out of this data.  I set-up DataSift in 2010 as result of this interest and the fact that I wanted people to be able to innovate socially, without the heavy lifting being a constant barrier.

DataSift provides state-of-the-art technology that allows you to capture, analyse and act on all types of Human Data, including data from social networks, blogs, news articles, likes and discussions, without compromising consumer trust. The platform enables application developers and agencies to maximise value from human-generated data by transforming it into actionable intelligence.

Prior to DataSift, I founded TweetMeme, a platform delivering social news, which quickly built an audience of millions in 30 countries. TweetMeme also invented the Retweet button, which serves more than 30 billion clicks per month.

I’ve been in the technology industry for more than two decades, joining Argonaut Software – a British video game company – as the sixth employee when I was 18 years old. By this point, I’d been writing games for four years. Following Argonaut Software, I worked for a number of other games studios and publishers, producing the first 3D fighting game (FX Fighter) and first game to use Dolby surround sound.

What’s the favourite IT project that you’ve ever worked on?

I originally worked in the games industry and my first game will always be the most special. The game was called ‘King Arthur’s World’ and it showed what would happen if you mixed Lemmings with Knights and Wizards! It was unique in many ways, including the fact that it was the first ever game to use Dolby surround sound.

What technologies were you involved with ten years ago?

I’ve always been agnostic on technologies. I’ve learnt to program is so many different languages over the years – what is important is the application of them, creativity and understanding future demand.

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

There are now so many different services and tools available to organisations today, the real challenge is understanding which ones are going to make a real impact on the business. For example, today everyone is talking big data. It has become the star of numerous press articles, blog posts conferences and summits, but what people often forget about big data is the fact that it’s key purpose should be to answer business questions.

Organisations need to start connecting the data that’s available to them to the real-world in order to have real-world impact. A key challenge for companies today is structuring the huge pool of unstructured data and finding the hidden gems that can be translated into innovation and used to drive decision-making.

To cloud or nor to cloud?


Who is your tech hero and who is your tech villain?

Dr EvilFor tech hero, it has to be Steve Jobs. It might be a cliché, but his commitment, vision and attention to detail are something I think we can all aspire to. For tech villain, I don’t have a real world one, but my favourite film villain is Dr Evil

What’s your favourite device ever made and what do you use the most?

I don’t have a favourite device as such, but my e-reader is really convenient when I’m on the move.

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

There are a lot of companies that I admire, but I also believe that you have to do things your own way. I learn the most from companies by what they do, not what they say.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

I was programming at the age of nine years old and I can’t actually remember much before then, so I’ve always wanted to program and more importantly always wanted to create.

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