A love affair with technology, which started in childhood – and a desire to use it to connect people together.
A lifelong interest in technology and computing has given me a strong understanding of how networks and the Internet are built – supported by years of hands-on experience in my own ventures and my childhood play which was focused on computing from an early age.
I am not particularly obsessed by getting the latest “gadget” because I’m not much of a consumer, though I might if it were obviously transcendent in some functionality. My interest in technology is broader; I am interested in new ways of doing things, new processes, new inventions, new machines, new science, new thinking. I read several scientific journals, follow several technology news-streams, and I’m also lucky to know many other technologists, designers and developers.
My technology and computing history
My own interest in technology, through the lens of computing at least, came as a small child with the arrival of our Sinclair Spectrum 48k -many weeks of my childhood were spent tapping away at the rubber keys, entering thousands of lines of code to build games (and store them on cassette) from the glorious magazines of the period. This interest continued in to Acorn machines, including their BBC range of computers that dominated classroom computing in the 1980s and were a successful-catalyst for thousands of youngsters to form computing interests. I then bought my first Commodore Amiga, then my second, then my third – on which I also developed an understanding of graphics. I also became the first student at school to attend with a “laptop” – a Psion MC400, cementing a reputation as a geek for sure.
At about the same age I became a citizens band (CB) radio enthusiast, with my own radio and antenna in the loft of our home – that feeling of talking to new people, at a distance, and at no cost – was utterly magical and addictive, I mention this now – because that passion for connecting with people from all over the world would continue to grow.
I then developed an interest in PC architectures. This was about the time that 286/386 CPUs were available (and 486 soon after) – and started building my own PCs and installing early versions of DOS, and then Microsoft Windows. Weeks were sometimes lost to solving IRQ conflicts – the meaning of which is not worth explaining if the term is unfamiliar, but might be fun to remember for those who do. Then I made a breakthrough that was life changing – I got my first modem.
This introduced me to the world of Bulletin Board Systems and Fidonet, a huge interconnected network of other computing enthusiasts sharing information with each other, that existed long before the World Wide Web. This in turn opened up the world of “phreaking” – working out clever ways to make phone-calls without paying for them, something that was particularly useful if, like me at the time, you were spending hours a week connected to other computers using the phone line.
In 1994/1995 I was then introduced to the Internet – which comprised Usenet (discussion forums), Internet Relay Chat (online chat), File Transfer Protocol (a way to send files to each other), SMTP/POP3/IMAP – which were technologies that underpinned, and continue to underpin global email, all this in turn relying upon networking protocols like TCP/IP and systems like DNS. Such a glorious amount of things to learn. At about this time I was also exposed to the Linux operating system for the first time, another whole new world to explore.
The internet was a revelation, and I learned as much as I could about how its underlining technologies worked – playing and experimenting with them day and night. The first web browsers, Mosaic and then Netscape appeared and introduced me to the World Wide Web – and then, by this time completely hooked, I would create companies that would start selling services using those technologies, building software and systems, launching web development companies, internet service providers, telecommunications companies and online retailers. Several of these ventures required substantial infrastructure, which I often helped design, build and maintain across data-centres.
A special note is perhaps needed here about my interest in Internet Relay Chat (IRC) – because no other single technology has transformed my life more. Although it is taken completely for granted now that we can text message and talk to people the world over, this was not the case in the early 1990s, unless that is – you knew about IRC. Internet Relay Chat is very specific way of text-typing and communicating with people all over the world through chat rooms and private messages. It has its own protocols, uses its own software, and existed well before the Web was invented. It still has a huge number of users, with a strong leaning towards people working in technology, and its now more concealed nature draws many hackers as users. I developed long-lasting friendships with many people on IRC and in fact met my wife on IRC in 1996. It still holds a special place in my heart, the magic of talking to new people from all over the world, and talking at no expense (other than the cost of connectivity). I got the same feeling earlier from CB radio, and continue to get that same feeling now – the magic of connecting people – with some of the technologies and products I’ve directly helped develop. It’s also interesting to watch companies like Slack, which is well-packaged clone of IRC principles – go on and create a multi-billion pound valuation. I clearly missed a trick there.
Whilst it’s fair to say I am now less hands on than I used to be, I am still highly informed and knowledgeable in the technology space. Even in our latest venture – Alertacall, which uses cutting edge technologies to power its products and services I still have a role to play in informing technology decisions, and bringing new systems to life.