MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Chi Onwurah is one of a select few politicians in power with a background in the technology industry. Since graduating with a degree in Electrical Engineering from Imperial College London in 1987, she held multiple roles within the tech industry, including head of telecoms technology at Ofcom, before entering the world of politics.
So it's unsurprising that education and skills have been a big focus for her politically, with Onwurah having been a constant voice calling for the government to address the current cyber skills gap and lack of women in IT during her time as shadow minister for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Chi's V3 Hot Seat follows those from Steve Watt, St Andrews University chief information officer, and General Electric global technology director William Ruh.
V3: What's your favourite part of your current job?
Chi: The privilege of speaking for Newcastle Central in parliament, and speaking with and being able to help constituents in Newcastle.
What would be your dream job (apart from your current role, of course)?
This is my dream job, though obviously I would prefer it if Labour was in power and able to implement positive policy alternatives. Outside politics, my dream job would be chief engineering officer for a responsible high-tech company, which invests in innovation and pays its taxes. There are still a few left. Outside reality it would be chief engineer on the USS Enterprise.
Which mobile phone and tablet do you currently use?
My personal phone is a Palm Pre, my official phone is a BlackBerry and I have a BlackBerry PlayBook.
Which person do you most admire in the IT industry?
I think people who work in IT can make a fantastic contribution to society and the economy but I particularly admire women working successfully in IT as I know how lonely it can be.
Which technology has had the biggest impact on your working life?
Definitely mobile technology, which enables me to do large parts of my job whether I'm in the office, at home, on a train or on a beach. It can extend the potential working time to 24/7/365.
What's been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight of my tech career was probably helping build Nigeria's first global system for mobile (GSM) network for MTN in the early 2000s. Fixed-line penetration stood at just one percent, so the coming of available mobile technology made a big difference. And there were particular engineering and technology challenges to be overcome working in such a large country, which had almost no fibre availability and a highly unreliable electricity supply.
What was your first job?
My first job was serving baked potatoes in a fast food shop in Newcastle. My first professional job was as a graduate hardware engineer for Nortel.
What's your favourite thing about working in the IT industry?
For me it's the satisfaction of solving problems which then go on to work forever, or at least for a good few years, making people's lives easier and better.
What will be the next big innovation of the coming years?
I think the combination of cloud and big data is going to lead to many innovations in different fields and change society and potentially the balance of power between different interests. It's up to us to make sure that's in the interests of the many not the few.
What do you do enjoy doing when you finish work?
I like going to the cinema, reading, listening to jazz and playing the piano.
What was the last book you read and was it any good?
The last book I read was Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier. It's very interesting and I recommend it but don't think they've thought through the social implications.
Who is your favourite band or musician?
For me it's either Echo and the Bunnymen or John Coltrane.
Where's your favourite place for escape?
I like to go to Holy Island off the Northumbrian coast for its peace and beauty.
Twitter, Facebook or Google+?
I mainly use Twitter.
It's a Wonderful Life.
Windows or Mac OS?
It's still the Sun SparcStation I had in the early nineties, which scores top with me so I guess I'm unix at heart, but if forced to choose it would have to be Windows. I don't like walled gardens.
On premise or cloud?
I would have to say on premise until security is sorted.
What's holding back women from entering the IT profession?
That's a huge and hugely important topic, and one I have spoken about in parliament. But if forced to summarise I would say more women will go into IT – and stay there – when we really want them to.
How can we get more school children interested in IT careers?
Raise the status of IT and IT teachers, target better IT at children, get IT professionals into schools.
Did you always grow up wanting to work in IT?
Yes – at least I knew I wanted to work in science or engineering when I was seven.
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