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The V3 Hot Seat: Canonical chief executive Jane Silber

11 Sep 2012

silber-2010-colourJane Silber is chief executive at software and services firm Canonical, developers of Ubuntu Linux, where she took over from the company founder Mark Shuttleworth in 2010.

Prior to this, Jane had many years' experience working for various high-tech companies, including General Dynamics subsidiary C4 Systems. She joined Canonical in 2004, serving as chief operating officer of several of the company's business units before becoming chief executive.

Jane follows other IT industry luminaries in the Hot Seat, including Kaspersky Labs chief executive Eugene Kaspersky and Raspberry Pi Foundation executive director Eben Upton.

V3: How did you first get involved in the IT industry?

Jane Silber: I started my career as a developer at a start-up, writing software to analyse health risk data and to model an individual's risk of getting different diseases over time. I studied mathematics and computer science at university and worked in the start-up as a summer job. I then returned there for two more years between university and graduate school.

You've had some interesting roles in your career so far, what would you say has been the highlight?

Every role I've had has been interesting in some way, and I have learned from them all. However, a role that I really gained a lot from was in a software R&D group in a large Japanese company in Yokohama.

It was interesting for a number of reasons: the technical work, which centred on machine learning, was challenging; the cultural dynamics of being the only foreigner and one of the few women in the group were fascinating. The things that I learned during that time - about myself, about management, about communication, about living in another country, about almost everything - are still influencing me more than a decade later.

If you weren't working for Canonical, What would be your dream job?

I don't have a specific "dream job" in mind, but in anything I do I need to feel passionate about the product or proposition, respect the people I work with, and find enjoyment on a daily basis.

Ages ago someone advised me that the best roles were ones in which you could do good work, have fun and make money. That still seems like a reasonable guiding principle.

What's your favourite thing about working in the IT industry?

The transformative effect that IT can have on people's lives, both at a personal level and a work level. The IT industry is changing not only the way we work but also generally how we live our lives. The communication, collaboration and accountability that it enables is changing the social and commercial dynamics between companies and individuals, and it's exciting to be involved in that.

Which technology do you think has had the biggest impact on your working life?

It's difficult for me to imagine a working life without email. While we all know the pitfalls of email, there is still nothing that compares to it in terms of rich, asynchronous, global communication.

More broadly, the impact of open source technology has been larger than most realise - not just in open source companies like Canonical but in nearly every company, every website, and every computer.

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Daniel Robinson

Daniel Robinson is technology editor at V3, and has been working as a technology journalist for over two decades. Dan has served on a number of publications including PC Direct and enterprise news publication IT Week. Areas of coverage include desktops, laptops, smartphones, enterprise mobility, storage, networks, servers, microprocessors, virtualisation and cloud computing.

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