IT Life: From Mainframes To Startups
Calum McLeod started on mainframes, and came to startups… via a bit of tape-to-tape copying
Calum McLeod is EMEA vice president of security firm Lieberman Software, but he started in the days of mainframes. He may have set off with a holy ambition but was quickly seduced to piracy… by Alan Sugar.
What were your first steps in tech?
My first taste of IT came in school when I spent two years trying to learn how to program. It seemed that if you were doing maths, then IT was a must. Eventually in 1974 I started working in a data centre in London that did all of the IT for four London Boroughs. Outsourcing before it was even invented! IBM mainframes, punched cards? Ah yes, we had all the wonders of technology. I even worked on VM before VM was a twinkle in its inventor’s eyes!!
Lecturing the intellectuals
What has been your favourite project so far?
Probably the year I spent at the European Commission. Not because it was the most challenging project, but because it was interesting to discover the machinations of the organization. It was also a source of satisfaction, that someone who didn’t have the educational qualifications to be employed by that illustrious organisation, was employed on a contract basis because none of the “intellectuals” could do it themselves. Mind you, lecturing postgraduates for a year on IT security on the condition that they never discovered I was a drop-out was also a lot of fun. Especially knowing that none of my protégés would give me the time of day if I applied for a job!!
What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
I was leading the charge of bringing SSL VPN technology to the UK and Europe. Everyone was using Checkpoint and Cisco IPSEC VPNs and trying to convince people to use SSL was great fun. The last 15 years of my professional life has been sent evangelising. Love the challenge!
What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
Probably a solar powered Zimmer frame which will be steered by my Google glasses as I hopefully enjoy my retirement and tell the grandkids about how you used to have copper wire to connect computers
Who’s your tech hero?
Probably all the unsung geniuses out there who keep realising brilliant things with technology, which I can’t even imagine. Although Bill Gates has to be very high on the list since without Microsoft I would probably still be sitting behind a mainframe console, or worse trying to write programs!
Who’s your tech villain?
All consultants and analysts. They always remind me of the saying, “Those who can do, those who can’t teach (most of my college lecturers), and those who can’t teach give advice!”,
What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
Probably my all-time favourite was Amstrad’s first cassette to cassette recorder. It was piracy in the good old days [and Terry Venables said it was "magic" - Editor]. Then of course you had Radio Luxembourg when they would play the top 20 and you could record the songs to cassette. I hated Tony Blackburn because he would never shut up and always ruined the start and end of songs! And today I’ve become a tablet addict. Thought I’d never go “techno” on books.
What is your budget outlook going forward? Flat? Growing?
Lots of changes going on in the industry, and it seems that people want to spend again so budgets are growing.
Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?
I don’t have a particular favourite. I’ve worked for a great many startups and the energy and “flying by the seat of your pants” just gives you an adrenaline rush. I just wish VCs would stop spoiling them all!!
Watch out for commoditising
What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
IT is becoming commoditised, and as a result many of the roles that have been taken for granted are under threat. Additionally the dependence on the Internet, and the easy availability of technology has meant that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to show that IT brings return on ionvestment (ROI). The result is going to reduce the career opportunities that IT offered.
To Cloud or not to Cloud?
To cloud definitely. Whether it be for economies of scale, speed of adoption, agility; cloud is simply going to be pervasive. IT will be to the 21st century what electricity was to the 20th; a utility used by everyone!
What did you want to be when you were a child?
A vicar. When I was growing up there were three jobs that offered real prospects, a doctor (but I hated blood), a teacher (but I hated school), and a vicar (my dad was one). All three jobs meant that you had a nice house, a car and a telephone. Best of all the vicar only worked one day a week, so seemed the best option. I used to preach to my grandmother and great aunt on Sunday mornings when everyone else was at church, and in spite of the fact that I just stood up and spouted forth, they would always tell the rest of the family what a great sermon they had – I was a natural!
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