Alison Vincent, UK and Ireland CTO for Cisco, explains her career in IT, her love of coding and her early desire to be in a West End musical
Tell us about your current role, how long you have been in IT and what are your areas of expertise?
I’ve been in IT for about 25 years now, with experience in international leadership of software projects. Throughout my career I’ve specialised in introducing agile methodologies to a range of organisations so as to transform software engineering to focus on customer value and improved time to market.
Currently, Chief Technology Officer for Cisco UK&I, my experience also spans research and development, strategy execution, product management, business development and mergers and acquisitions. I’m highly passionate about people and technology, which is why I’m also an ambassador for women in STEM. I also hold a PhD in Cryptography and BSc in Maths and Computer Science from the London University.
What has been your favourite project so far?
My favourite project so far would have to be delivering a Global Developers Conference. While most companies invest heavily in bringing the sales force together, for me, I saw huge benefits in uniting the global engineering teams, in order to share best practice and innovate collaboratively.
For me it took a great deal of lobbying and securing the agreement from CFOs to fund and invest in it, as well as bringing an excellent group of ‘techies’ together to define the agenda for the event. Ultimately the return on investment was brilliant and it was a very satisfying project in terms of the outcomes and the motivation that it provided the engineers themselves, globally.
What tech were you using ten years ago?
Ten years ago I was director of development for broadcasting head-end products, which included 24×7 server based products written in C and C++. It was the start of the time when Linux was just coming on board and being taken seriously by the enterprise. I spent a lot of time persuading stakeholders to move from unix platforms into the world of Linux, and embrace the benefits provided by that platform.
What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
It’s incredibly hard to predict the future; however that said, machine learning will be everywhere and robotics will certainly be part of our day-to-day lives. We’re already seeing examples of such technology, such as the hotel in Japan that is run entirely on robotics. As this concept is already here now, we can most certainly expect it to evolve and advance significantly in ten years’ time.
Who’s your tech hero?
My tech hero is definitely Grace Hopper, one of the first computer programmers. I love her upheld belief that programming should be as easy to read as English, and it’s thanks to her that we write in ‘Ifs and Thens’ as opposed to in 1s and 0s. Grace was a pioneer of the COBOL language, and I spent part of my early career working for a company whose business was based on COBOL. Although this language is quite ‘ancient’ it still drives most of the major banks and financial transactions that are around today.
Who’s your tech villain?
I would have to say Elon Musk, because how dare he invent a powerful electric car and ruin the lovely noise of the exhaust of a V8. I drove a Tesla the other day, and it was lovely, but I was thinking to myself, ‘but it doesn’t make a sound!’
What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
My favourite piece of technology and one that I use the most is my iPad. Not only is it convenient for browsing and performing digital tasks, but it’s intuitive and fits in my handbag – what more could you need? I’m also beginning to love the Sonos system in my house, particularly as you can simply decide which music to play in which zone.
What is your budget outlook going forward?
At the moment for Cisco in the UK I’d say that we are in a small flat zone, on the verge of an increase.
Apart from your own, which company to you admire most and why?
After having joked about Elon Musk, quite frankly I admire Tesla, as it is really challenging an industry and pushing the boundaries for what’s possible with new technology. That car itself is a great example of dev-ops in reality, which is another passion of mine, especially in terms of software development methodologies. With Tesla, people can now dynamically upload software onto their cars overnight, which demonstrates a company doing dev-ops effectively.
What is the challenge for an IT company/department today?
The concept of shadow IT in regards to employees is a key challenge for IT teams today. At the moment it’s so easy for employees to choose their own mobile applications and find a cloud service without consulting or using the IT department at all. Additionally, the technologies and applications that employees use at home significantly impacts their expectations about what they want while at work, which is something proving to be a challenge for IT to respond to and keep up with.
To cloud or not to cloud?
Definitely to cloud! Cloud is such an obvious business decision, in terms of getting services delivered on demand at a particular level of service and cost that’s required. While cloud makes perfect business sense, the only way for it to be effective is when it is secure.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I always wanted to perform on the West End stage. I’ve done quite a bit of singing and acting actually, and the favourite part that I’ve ever played would have to be Sally Bowles, from Cabaret.
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