IT Life: The Glamour Of Model Management
Madhushan Gokool rubs shoulders with the famous, working for the agency representing Kate Moss and more
Unlike many in the IT industry, Madhushan Gokool occasionally rubs shoulders with some gloriously glamorous people. He works as IT manager for Storm Model Management. Storm represents some fashion megastars such as Kate Moss, as well as younger, less well-known models, and also arranges bookings for major celebrities like Emma Watson and Lily Allen.
Storm has been going since 1987 and manages up to 500 models. Madhushan studied in South Africa, came to Britain ten years ago, and has been Storm’s IT manager for six and half years.
Unfortunately, IT is always a back office function, away from the glamour and the glitz. I stick to my IT and make sure the systems are up and running. But when I meet the celebrities, they are surprisingly down to earth. It’s a small office, and I am a department of one, supporting 28 users. That makes a very good work environment.
It is not a heavy use environment, but it is a high-demanding organisation. I manage to support the entire infrastructure, but we do use external support companies for some functions.
What has been your favourite project in your career so far?
As part of my role I get involved in social media or our website, so in 2008, just before the recession, we ventured into online publishing, starting our own magazine/social network called StormStyle.com. I really enjoyed that, as I felt I was in the forefront of social media. It gave me a chance to properly interact with the models, giving them tools to help launch their careers.
I got involved in the design, the layout, and proofreading the text the models wrote. That gave me an insight into the users’ point of view. Although we stopped updating StormStyle, what we learnt has gone forward into Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
I’m part of an internal group, including PR and the bookers, which discuss what content to put up. We have 10,000 likes on Facebook and 33,000 followers on Twitter.
What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
When I was studying in South Africa, I used Windows 95, and got onto the Internet with a 28k dialup modem. I don’t think I ever had Windows 2000, I went to Windows XP. Now as a home user, I’m a Mac man.
Even now, computers are expensive in South Africa compared with the UK, but my dad did a lot of business in the UK, and every couple of years, he would bring something back to us. When something new was launched he would buy it and take it back to us. I remember having the Atari ST, with cartridges to play games from. We also had the Commodore 64 and the Amiga 500, then after that the 286 and 386 PCs.
When I got to Storm, everyone was scared of IT. I’ve been training them to deal with basic support problems, even if it is just turning off their PC, and turning it on again. They can do a bit of troubleshooting.
What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
My hope is that technology won’t be that intrusive. I would like tech to go a little bit more down the artificial intelligence route, and the Minority Report style of interface. It might just be the office I work in, but users expect a lot more out of technology, thanks to the media hype.
The iPad is great – I can’t put mine down – but it is still only 2D, not a 3D interface. Users are still used to flipping a magazine or a portfolio, so many people use magazines and books to showcase models. It is down to the 3D effect. The whole virtual reality and Xbox Kinect gesture interface would be good
It is human input and human error that makes things go wrong, and maybe more intelligent gadgets could help here.
One thing I would like to see is an intelligent fridge, so when you are low on milk or bread, it automatically asks if you want to order it. You have the option of saying yes or no.
Wikipiedia and WikiLeaks have shown us what an open community is all about. We use Wikipedia a lot for work. The information may not be correct, but that is the nature of it, and unless you get an authoritative source, information is never going to be 100 percent perfect. I do like the way they have made information open source so anyone can add or edit it.
Evil people can go in and edit for negative reasons, which is something the security industry needs to get around.
Who’s your tech villain?
I am going to say Mark Zuckerberg. I am not a Facebook fan. It can be a big waste of time. I have found myself scrolling through endlesss updates from friends – “I’m on the toilet, I’ve seen this movie” – when I could be doing more constructive things. There are lot of people out there who can get locked into Facebook and not get anything constructive out of it.
As a platform and as a technologist, what Mark Zuckerberg has done is good, but I do think that he has slightly conned the world along the way. Everybody can keep in touch, but I don’t see it as enriching people’s lives, and it can even harm people’s lives.
From a company point of view we have constant discussions with Faceook. We get a lot of Facebook profiles impersonating models such as Kate Moss or criminals perverts and paedophiles who create Facebook profiles and get boys and girls to connect with them offline.
We have made contact with Facebook directly and asked them what we can do about it, but they are not very proactive. From a business point of view this is a major thing. I don’t have any kids as yet, but if they go on a social media site and aren’t aware, I hate to think what might happen.
I also think Mark Zuckerberg has moved away from the core platform that Facebook used to be. Every company has to make money, but he is now pushing business and advertsing a lot. That is definitely pushing me away from Facebook as a user.
Last but not least is the whole privacy issue - having the default as share all, rather than block all and share what you want. That is wrong. In the IT world it should be possible to shut things down and then share what you want. I’ve started using Google+ because that is closer to sharing what I want to share.
What’s your favourite technology ever made?
The Apple Master apple peeler. My wife bought this and we use it on a daily basis. It is also one of Stephen Fry’s favourite gadgets.
I am a convert to the iPhone. I just wanted to make and receive calls and texts. In December, I upgraded to an iPhone and I am able to sync my life on any system, whether it be a Blackberry, or Microsoft Outlook. It has started to revolutionise how I work. Plus the great thing about the iPhone and the iPad is the apps. Without the apps those devices wouldn’t be anything.
What is your budget outlook going forward? Flat or growing?
The outlook is good. It has been good through the recession – we have done a few major upgrades. Storm has a positive attitude to tech: when there is enough money in the bank account, if there is a business need for it, I get the opportunity to get some cool and funky tech in. This year we had a massive office refurbishment, flattening the office and starting from scratch.
Virgin Group, as a whole. I think what Sir Richard Branson has done with it has been good – and my favourite colour is red. In my final year of university, just before moving to London, I read Richard Branson’s autobiography, Losing My Virginity. That was when I decided to come to the UK. I admired how he went about starting the company and how he progressed.
I’ve kept an eye on Virgin since then, including broadband and Virgin Galactic. If it wasn’t for Virgin, companies like Sky and BT would still be dragging their tail when it comes to getting fibre to the public.
In fact, Richard Branson was a shareholder in Storm when it started. I always wanted to work for a Virgin company and I ended up here!
What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
Personnel, training and budgets. There is a lot wrong with the training companies out there. We are a small organisation and , if you look at some of the course prices, what you think would be simple and straightforward is made more complicated.
To cloud or not to cloud?
We did a major upgrade of our servers. We went down the virtualisation route and I was heavily investigating the cloud, but for us it was not right. We use a lot of HD videos and hi-res images. that makes big demands on throughput and storage.
Cloud providers tell you how good they are at their end, and they don’t worry about what is happening on your end. No cloud provider asked me what my bandwidth was coming out of my office. If I was still on that 28k modem, then the cloud would definintely not be a solution.
Having said that, we have moved one of our business processes to the cloud – a back end to our website,which is our main way of communicating with clients. So we have got a foot in the cloud already. As for the rest of the body, it might take a while.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be a cowboy, purely because I loved guns. Thankfully I have outgrown that. Hence I am in IT.
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