Spending much of his life dreaming of becoming a pilot, University of Surrey Department of Computing professor Alan Woodward's entrance into the world of IT was a gradual one. His interest in IT was first sparked during his university studies when he started using computers as an undergraduate.
Since entering the profession, though, Woodward has gone from strength to strength, participating in numerous initiatives designed to increase the number of women in IT and to make computer education exciting for students. Woodward is also an active participant in the wider IT community and has been elected as a Fellow and chartered member of the British Computer Society, Institute of Physics and the Royal Statistical Society.
Eager to see what makes this key player in IT higher education tick, we put Woodward in the V3 Hot Seat. Woodward is one of many big players in the IT industry to take the Hot Seat, following Halfords CIO Anna Barsby and Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College head of IT services Martin King.
V3: What's your favourite part of your current job?
Woodward: In a word, variety. I've always been a bit of an intellectual butterfly and I really enjoy learning new things. In my current roles I can do this not only by working on a range of technology related topics and with a range of organisations, but also by interacting with some very smart people. What's not to like really.
What would be your dream job?
I always wanted to be a pilot.
Which mobile phone and tablet do you currently use?
I use a mixture of technologies: a Nokia Lumia 1020 Windows Phone and an iPad running the latest iOS version.
Which person do you most admire in the IT industry?
Historically Tommy Flowers, who never got the recognition he deserved, and in modern times Bill Gates, who put his money where his mouth was in starting up the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Which technology has had the biggest impact on your working life?
Mobile connectivity. I can work just about anywhere now.
What's been the highlight of your career so far?
When I floated a company which I'd helped start and build on the London Stock Exchange.
What was your first job?
My first job away from university was as an analyst for the UK government.
What's your favourite thing about working in the IT industry?
I just love what you can do with technology and I never tire of getting my hands on new technology and seeing what you can do with it. Especially, making it do things that it wasn't designed to do.
What will be the next big innovation of the coming years?
Quantum computing. Other technologies will continue to evolve – storage will be massive and cheap and so will connectivity – but the next true innovation is likely to be a radically new form of computing.
What do you enjoy doing when you finish work?
I enjoy shooting. I live in the countryside and many of us regularly go clay pigeon shooting at the local club. I like flying small aircraft, but I draw the line at gliding as I prefer having an engine. I also enjoy keeping bees but they tend to look after themselves.
What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing very much other than the dogs jumping on the bed.
What was the last book you read and was it any good?
Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers by Jan Gullberg. I find the history of science fascinating and this was a birthday present a few years ago, which I've only just gone back to finish. It was well worth it, even if it wasn't what you would call "easy reading".
Who is your favourite band or musician?
It changes but at the moment I've gone back to listening a lot to Bad Religion. Their best song is You. Punk reminds me of my youth.
Where's your favourite holiday destination?
I rarely go to the same place twice but I do like eastern Africa, away from the cities. Tassia is a particular favourite.
E-readers or real books?
Real books. I tend to read using a lot of scanning back and forth in a book. I find e-readers awkward for that. I also confess to liking the physical books themselves – I've spent a lot of time in second-hand bookshops, which sadly are dying out.
Twitter, Facebook or Google+?
Twitter every time. I'm a lapsed Facebooker and never really started with Google+.
The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
The Rolling Stones.
I like The Man Who Would Be King with Sean Connery and Michael Caine.
Windows or Mac OS?
Windows. I don't want to start a religious debate, but I prefer being able to fiddle with the system, which is not always a good thing. However, Windows is now increasingly removing that ability so you never know I might flip to Mac OS.
On-premise or cloud?
It very much depends. Some applications I'd never use cloud for and others you'd be bonkers not to. Security is a key concern for me as is the small print in the plethora of terms and conditions.
What's holding back women from entering the IT profession?
I really wish I knew. I have been involved in endless campaigns to try to encourage women into IT, but we actually seem to be going backwards. It's a mystery to me why women have started moving away from engineering in general and IT in particular. I suspect it's a complex set of circumstances but if anyone has a simple answer do let me know as we want to start doing it straight away.
How can we get more school children interested in IT careers?
I think the only way is to present it better. Make it more interesting by making it more relevant. When I do outreach with schools I am constantly surprised at how few of the children realise the variety that can come from a career in IT or that they can make such a difference to the world. Rather than talk bits and bytes I like to tell stories and show how computers have taken me everywhere from the depths of the oceans to outer space. Suddenly they get it.
Did you always grow up wanting to work in IT?
No. When I was at school we didn't have computers – I think a Commodore Pet had arrived by the time I left. I started using computers as an undergraduate (PDP-11/45) and was fascinated by what you could do with them. I then started research in signal processing and I was hooked. When the first IBM PCs came along and I was able to start building all sorts of interesting add-ons the world became my oyster.
What websites do you have bookmarked at work?
Actually I don't have bookmarks. I find that the information I want is often moving around or volatile so I rely much more on search engines and make sure I'm looking at the latest information.
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