IT Life: Big Pictures

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Peter Brookes-Smith from big data specialists Objectivity tells us about his IT Life

As the world around us becomes ever-more connected, businesses are increasingly looking for ways to solve their issues using big data. As more and more devices get connected to the Internet of Things and begin to generate information, big data becomes a crucial resource for many companies.

But what goes into making a successful big data company? We spoke to Peter Brookes-Smith from Objectivity to find our his motivations.

Tell us about your company and your areas of expertise?

data centre technologyObjectivity helps our enterprise clients build and maintain big systems to solve their business problems. We’re values driven and personally, I’m not too bad at helping our people remember that and then be consistent in our approach through thick and thin. It’s easy to be values driven when the sun is shining. The real test comes when it’s dark and cold.

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

There’s a lot to choose from and my favourite is usually the latest thing we’re involved in! I’ve a personal soft spot for hardware so a recent one on the shortlist is visualising huge volumes of data from sensors on extremely complex and expensive (but very good value!) large industrial engineering units. But when we get to the heart of it, I’m first and foremost, a family guy so it has to be the project I did with my 13 year old daughter to blink morse code messages on an Arduino. I know she humours me but it was still a great feeling when we sent our first SOS to the bemused labradors and high fived!

What technologies were you involved with 10 years ago?

About 10 years ago, I was dragging a startup out of the ground and learning everything that was needed to make it happen. Whilst I spent the first 10 years or so of my career as a developer (Mainframe Assembler), I’d moved away from IT completely and suddenly found myself with some time and the luxury of being able to try something new. I chose an open source stack and taught myself how to write transactional web systems. Some people said that my code was structured like S370 Mainframe Assembler (I took that as a compliment!). I wanted to run my own business so with three others we conceived a wizard scheme that would guarantee our future wealth. At first, it worked well and we generated over £1m revenue in our first 12 months but the recession hit us hard and we all found new and interesting things to do.

What do you expect to be using in 10 years’ time?

Goodness only knows! I think Bill Gates said that we overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. I think electric cars will be a massive thing. I think that we’ll all still be anxiously waiting for the technology to get just a bit better so that our lives will be perfectly organised with minimum effort. I don’t think that mankind will be in imminent danger of annihilation by an army of T‐1000s. I do think we’ll be a little bit closer to being optimised out of existence by a network of autonomous algorithms that can collaborate, mutate and reproduce. Their original objective will have been to produce paperclips and they will have devised extraordinary and dangerously unforeseen ways to achieve that ;‐)

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

How to capitalise on the huge benefits that an agile philosophy can deliver. There are many barriers to this. For large enterprises, I think it’s really difficult to design and implement a good process for project approval and release of spend that stops projects falling back into waterfall deliveries.

To cloud or not to cloud?

I guess we’ll all have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous vendors (sorry, I couldn’t resist it!). Of course cloud is hot at the moment and a really great solution for certain problems. In the normal way, I suspect that vendors who favour “on premise” solutions will be forced to innovate or die. Some will die and some will create a paradigm shift that will inject new life into that model. It’s part of the ebb and flow of centralisation / decentralisation that seems to have been going on for ever.

Who is your tech hero?

It’s a group rather than an individual. Their tenacity, intellect and vision helped them achieve remarkable things. They represent a tragedy of wasted opportunity and short sightedness. They occupied Bletchley Park during the Second World war and were responsible (with the help of some brilliant Polish mathematicians) for cracking the coding devices of the time. Such a collection of people could surely have gone on to deliver so much more during peacetime but somehow we thought it would be better to break them up, destroy the evidence, forbid anyone to discuss it and pretend that it never happened.

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

This is a tough one. It could be the PET Computer that was wheeled into the classroom c1978. It seemed just like Star Trek and my love of programming began on that day. But it was a long time ago! Favourite device now is probably the Arduino microcontroller. They don’t have much application in the large enterprise systems that we look after but I still love them. They make it possible for everyone to write simple or sophisticated systems that interact with the real world. LEDs can flash, motors can move and speakers make noise. They give inspiration to millions of people who use them to do strange and wonderful things.

Peter Brookes-Smith 1Apart from your own, which company do your admire the most and why?

It’s not really a company that exists now (or at least not in the way that gives me inspiration). But Dame Steve Shirley created a company in the early 60s called Freelancer International. Her original name (alright, adopted in her youth!) was Stephanie but she found the male dominated business world at that time responded better when her letters were signed Steve. She created a data processing and programming bureau that employed nearly all women with children. The company was a massive success and she created more than 70 millionaires amongst her employees. From humble beginnings, she built something extraordinary, became quite wealthy and gave about £70m to charity. Amazing!

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

I grew up on a farm and I always loved machinery and making things. I lose count of how many motorbikes and cars I had for use in the fields. For sheer, unadulterated joy, not much compares with riding a scrambler over the ridge and furrow with your friends on a sunny afternoon. I just wanted to do it for ever. I still do!

Peter Brookes-Smith is group managing director at Objectivity.

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