How I Got Here

Many people have meticulously planned lives. They have a goal, a direction of travel, a way of getting from A to B and the drive and ambition to reach that goal. Others wander aimlessly through life without knowing whether they have achieved any goal through dint of not having ever set one. Others find that luck guides them.

Then there is me. I had a direction of travel that I was more than happy with. I had a goal that I had set myself years before and had achieved but as is so often the case when you reach the top the view is not as great as expected. Like climbing Everest, expending a great deal of effort to get to the top, but having the whole experience somewhat spoilt by not being able to see anything due to the low cloud and the thought of having to trudge all the way back down again.

I had wanted a career in IT since seeing my first computer when I was 11. It was 1976 and our school had installed what amounted to little more than a printer attached to a telephone line, which talked to a “real” computer at Harwell 10 miles down the road. I was absolutely transfixed by the prospect of being able to type a command and get a response back. Of course I had no way of validating that there was really a computer at the other end or just some bored Harwell employee simply typing something in response, it didn’t matter it had caught the imagination of this 11 year old and my life was changed because of it.

Doing something with computers immediately became my goal in life, replacing my previous ambition of becoming a Harrier Jump-jet pilot which, quite frankly, never seemed terribly realistic due to my fear of heights.

So I set about achieving that goal through the parallel paths of ‘O’ and ‘A’ level computer science along with an over active interest in the Sinclair Spectrum. This finally paid dividends when I graduated in 1988 with a degree in Computer Science and my first job as a programmer in COBOL.

In my experience there are two types of programmer. There are those that can program to some degree but have little or no interpersonal skills and shouldn’t be allowed out without being accompanied by a grown-up and those that can transcend this stereotypical view and escape with their morals in tact. I am in the latter group and have neither beard nor sandals.

I was, even if I say so myself, a fantastic programmer but aspired to so much more and quickly took on other areas including management of those less fortunate than myself. All of this led me to finally be installed as Head of IT at a small software company tucked away in the Oxfordshire town of Wallingford. I had finally achieved my goal and reached the top. The view was lovely on a clear day but it was a long way down and I felt dizzy.

What I didn’t aspire to was running my own business. If I had wanted to do that I could have chosen to do so when the IT contracting marketplace was buoyant and founded my own software development house hiring out developers, but I didn’t. I felt much safer in the corporate environment where someone else got to worry about trivial things such as money. I never once in my working life up to that point had to worry about where the money was going to come from to pay the employees at the end of the month. That might have been a worry for those working in the business I was employed in but I never knew and I always got paid.

Then, somehow, I got involved in something where I regularly got to worry about employees being paid, was out of my comfort zone and for which I am still receiving threatening letters from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs some years after it all began. I metamorphosed from an employee into something that my friends no longer recognised and my family worried more about.

It is also the point at which I effectively made myself completely unemployable and found that I could never go back to a corporate environment – I had been tainted for life – I’d joined a startup.

More on that at a later date.