Cybersecurity and the cloud with Paul Tacey-Green

Welcome to the part two of our report of December 2019’s Leaders In Tech, Decoding Cybersecurity. This article is a snapshot of the talk by our second speaker of the evening, Paul Tacey-Green. As Head of Cloud at Amito, which runs Reading’s largest data centre, Paul’s had many years’ exposure to the security elements of cloud services and therefore has a unique perspective of cybersecurity in his field. Paul’s talk looked at how views of cloud have changed over the last ten years and the key security questions that tech leaders need to ask before taking the plunge and picking a provider. 
According to Paul, 95% of today’s Fortune 500 businesses are using cloud. And it doesn’t look as if the popularity of cloud is likely to wane anytime soon. He cites a study that claims 66% of UK-based organisations intend to use more cloud services in the next 12 months – but what proportion are giving serious thought to cybersecurity? For Paul, this is an issue that’s more important than ever. However, as cloud use has grown, it seems complacency has as well. 

Back in 2011, when Paul’s Amito business was just getting started, it was a different story. 
“People’s views of cloud were fairly negative,” says Paul. “They were fearful and cynical. People were comfortable with having physical servers, often on premise. So, when we first launched Amito, we were teachers, educating on the benefits and features of cloud.”
Just under a decade later, and the landscape has transformed. Today, Amito serves 350 clients in countries including Australia, the USA, Germany and Russia. It manages over 20,000 virtual machines and has 650 racks of equipment live (just in Reading). In short, organisations have embraced cloud and continue to do so enthusiastically. There are a number of reasons behind this shift, according to Paul, from the development of more robust technology to herd mentality. “However,” says Paul, “I don’t think that the risks have really changed.” His recommendation? To return to the more wary, questioning mindset of 2011. 
“Cloud is still just servers in a data centre. We still need to be considering all the things we did before.” 
 
The cloud and cybersecurity: the questions you need to ask
To help our tech leaders minimise the risks associated with cloud services, Paul laid out the questions they need to ask in order to keep businesses operations and data safe. Below is a summary of the most important points for on-premise, public and private cloud operations. 
On-premise private cloud
If you plan on keeping cloud operations on-site, have you thought about physical security? Are windows and access points secure? And how are staff vetted? Can you trust the people who access your cloud site – including cleaners and third party contractors? 
Public cloud
When it comes to public cloud, Paul’s questions centre more on data and systems: for instance, how does the provider encrypt data over the network, in storage and on backups? And how long is data retained after a VM is deleted? Crucially, will the answers to such questions change in the future? Businesses need to consider all the above before committing to a provider. 
Private cloud
Paul has a host of questions for would-be private cloud providers too: will hardware be continuously upgraded to mitigate legacy security issues in firmware? And is there enough budget allocated for off-site back up and disaster recovery services?   
By getting the full picture from providers, tech leaders can choose the safest option and minimise risks – which could save an organisation from costly cybersecurity breaches. Finally, Paul gave our tech leaders some tips on getting into a more security-focused mindset. We hope you find his insights as useful and interesting as we did. 

Revisit the questions you would have asked back in 2011. Don’t be afraid to interrogate providers on security the way you would have done in the past.

Support the stakeholders. Make sure they feel comfortable about what they’re agreeing to.

Let the business set its own level of acceptable risk. Every business is different and will be striking different balances between security, budget and ease of use.

Become a secure business. There are frameworks out there to help, such as ISO27001 and Cyber Essentials (an entry level accreditation).

Get confident asking questions and getting answers.

We’re very grateful to our fantastic guest speaker for sharing his wealth of experience. Many thanks to Paul Tacey-Green and to everyone who made it to December’s Leaders In Tech | Reading.
Look out for details of the next event on our social media channels.
 

Lessons from a CISO

Last month we were lucky enough to welcome not one, but two awesome guest speakers to Leaders In Tech. The first was Cath Goulding, CISO at Nominet, and the second was Paul Tacey-Green, co-founder of Amito. Both had plenty of fascinating things to say about that evening’s topic, Decoding Cybersecurity. So, we’ve decided that each talk deserves its own article. First up: Cath Goulding.
If anyone knows the cybersecurity arena, it’s Cath Goulding. She’s spent the last 20 years in the industry; 15 with GCHQ and 7 with the .uk domain registry, Nominet. Cath kindly agreed to share the valuable lessons she’s learned with our tech leader guests. Like them, we were all ears.

Connect with the Board
Cath began by looking at what can be the most frustrating element of a CISO’s job: explaining to a Board why investment in cybersecurity is essential. Her three cast-iron reasons came down to the following: (1) to avoid security incidents and disruption to the business, (2) to meet the ever-growing list of compliance and legislation, and (3) to build trust in the business – to build a reputation as a safe, secure brand. “Some security professionals say that Boards just don’t understand,” says Cath. “But Boards understand risk. You just need to translate it for them. Explain the impact of an incident and how likely it is,” she advises. “It’s an opportunity and should be sold that way.”
Think differently about recruitment
For Cath, the biggest risk to security is lack of qualified professionals: “Ever since I started in this field, we’ve been short of people.” Her solution is a practical one – to hire a broad mix of talent, from techies to business-orientated professionals. “After all,” says Cath, “there’s no such thing as this unicorn, the security professional who knows everything.” She also advises tech leaders to think differently about recruitment by looking at people’s potential. For example, an Auditor could have the skills to make a good CISO.
Do your best to measure
If the biggest risk to cybersecurity is people, the hardest part is measurement. Although Cath doesn’t have all the answers, she suggests a useful tool: the Capability and Maturity model. This helps CEOs understand their organisation’s position. “They can use it to make informed decisions,” says Cath, “and then you’re likely to get more budget!”

Don’t believe the hype
Cath’s next tip? Beware of the cyber hype. Infosec is a huge marketplace – with many snake oil salesmen. If you have to venture into this arena, Cath recommends a sceptical mindset. “Ask what the product or service actually does and get proof of value.”
Be prepared
Cath’s next lesson came from the book of common sense: when it comes to cybersecurity, prevention is better than cure. She highly recommends two-factor authentication, on personal email accounts as well as business systems.
Think about culture
Finally, Cath stressed the importance of workplace culture in cybersecurity. She illustrated her point with a story about how she got her team to switch to more secure working practices through a competition. “If you have a positive culture and environment, it will make you as an organisation much more secure,” says Cath. “Training and the human aspect are massively overlooked.”
In summary…
To finish, Cath gave a list of questions that tech leaders should be asking CISOs:

Do we know what to do if there’s a major breach?
Is our most important data backed up?
Is our infrastructure fit for purpose and future proof?
How confident are we in the security of our products and services?
What are our top three risks and what are we doing about them?
How well do trust our suppliers?
How are we measuring the effectiveness of our cybersecurity?

We hope you’ve found Cath’s lessons as useful and interesting as we did. We’re very grateful to our fantastic guest speaker for sharing her wealth of experience. Many thanks to Cath Goulding and to everyone who made it to December’s Leaders In Tech | Reading.
Look out for details of the next event on our social media channels.

Getting a clearer view of the Cloud at Leaders In Tech | Reading

Cloud computing is revolutionising IT – but making the switch isn’t always as easy as it seems. At our recent Leaders In Tech meet-up, Frans Lytzen got to grips with Cloud transformation with the help of a panel of experts. They included Emma Button, Co-founder of nubeGo; Kamran Shah, Technical Solutions Director at IBM; and Mark Whitehead, Platform Director at digitalML.
These events are always a great opportunity to network and relax with the local tech scene’s leaders. September’s meet-up was no exception, attracting a full house of IT managers, CTOs and CISOs. The setting was Austin Fraser’s relaxed meeting space on the 11th floor of Reading’s Thames Tower. With panoramic views, gourmet nibbles and a spot of wine tasting, guests were in the mood to imbibe some valuable tips.

The evening began with Frans Lytzen’s talk: Migrating to the Cloud: Compliance, Pitfalls and Approach. As the owner and CTO of New Orbit, Frans has vast experience of Cloud transformation and was able to offer advice that applied to all kinds of organisations using all kinds of providers.
Frans began by identifying typical Cloud transformation mistakes that cost companies money. One key recommendation was working out how much Cloud capacity you really need. In his experience, people usually need fewer servers than they think. Frans also advised using many small servers rather than fewer larger ones: this way, you get more flexibility but pay the same amount. It’s also a good idea to set scheduled scaling for busy periods and to take the ‘Standard’ option. Most Cloud providers automatically default to ‘Premium’, which costs more but is rarely necessary.
Security is Frans’s bugbear and he was determined to bust a common myth: you can – almost always – put your data in the Cloud. In fact, in terms of security, it’s a better option, as providers have better monitoring and auditing than most companies, and employ thousands of Security experts. Despite this, Frans counsels caution and says you still have responsibilities. It’s up to companies to set clear security policies and use Cloud monitoring tools to spot when defences have been breached.
At this point, it was time to refill glasses before our panel took the stage. They spend the next 30 minutes fielding a host of Cloud-related questions from the floor. Emma Button explained the importance of cultural transformation – educating the workforce about the challenges of Cloud transformation. Mark Whitehead stressed that businesses need the right people and described the ideal Cloud-savvy engineer. With Kamran Shah shedding light on SaaS and choosing a Cloud provider, guests left with a playbook for that all-important Cloud transition.
Look out for further details of the next Leaders in Tech | Reading on 4th December. 

From getting down with the kids to moving up the pay scale read about the last three talks from the latest Djugl get-together

In our two previous blogs, we gave you a rundown of the first seven Lightning talks at our recent Djugl event. Now we’re onto the final three – and like those that went before, they were diverse and fascinating. Our speakers hailed from Amazon, Beamly and our lovely hosts, Potato. Here’s what these very different speakers had to say…

Working less and getting paid more
This talk certainly had the audience paying attention: David Smith, of Amazon Web Services, explained what Coders need to do to break through the salary ceiling. In his opinion, great technical skills are all very well. But when it comes to moving up to higher salary brackets, soft skills are essential. Using a typical unsuccessful project as an example (and some very amusing gifs), David illustrated how lack of communication leads to a rushed product – and an unhappy customer. It’s at this point technical folk need to step up and make things better by talking to the other teams including Sales and Creative. David says this is how Developers increase their impact and access more senior roles. We saw a lot of the audience taking VERY detailed notes…

Getting involved with work experience
Michael Strutt left us with a warm and fuzzy feeling, as he explained how Potato has been giving back to communities by providing work experience. Surprisingly, not all schools now include work experience as part of the curriculum. For those that do, it’s increasingly difficult to find organisations prepared to participate. Michael talked us through Potato’s experience, sharing the two-week programme the business created and the impact it made. Feedback from the children showed that it was a formative – and in some cases, future-defining – experience for them. Michael also showed the audience how their businesses could follow Potato’s example, with a simple guide to running work experience.

Mind the gap…
The last talk of the night was Transitioning from Web Development to Data Engineering, with Beamly’s Dami Onajole. Having worked in both arenas, he was well equipped to compare and contrast the two different professions. Dami described the parallels between NVC and ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) before going on to highlight two key tools he’s been using as a Data Engineer. The first was Airflow, which allows you to schedule tasks and manage dependencies between tasks. The second was Pandas, a Python library, which according to Dami, is to Data Engineering, what Django is to Web Development.
 
If you enjoyed reading about our Lightning talks and would like to come to the next event, follow Austin Fraser – we’ll be posting details online.
 

How Strawberry and Poetry can improve Developers’ lives: Djugl debrief part 2

The story so far: at the latest Djugl community event, we welcomed ten fantastic speakers. We met the first four in our first blog and in this one, we’re focusing on the following three. They are Ahter Sonmez, Patrick Arminio and Daniel Knell. Each had some hugely useful tips for our developer community, which we’ll summarise here…
Back to the future!
For Software Engineer, Ahter Sonmez, there is something more important than code: version history. In his talk ‘Back to the Future: Benefits & Intricacies of Re-writing the History with Interactive Rebase’, he showed the audience how to go back and change a commit history. Why is that necessary? Because you may need to consolidate or re-order commits so they make more sense in the future. Using interactive git rebase as a ‘time machine’ he demonstrated how to go back and re-write history so commits tell a more comprehensible story. Ahter strongly recommended making this a daily task in order to create sustainable and maintainable code base.

Why Patrick loves Strawberry
Next up, was Patrick Arminio, a Backend Engineer with @OnVerve. He’s a big fan of Strawberry, a GraphQL tool library for Python. Having found that REST simply didn’t scale as his team built increasingly complex apps, he turned to Strawberry – and has been using it ever since. “Strawberry uses modern Python features to build APIs,” explained Patrick. He then went on to demonstrate some of these features including ‘type hints’, ‘data classes’ and the fact that with Strawberry, you have a single end point. If Djugl developers didn’t have a taste for Strawberry before, they certainly will now.

Poetry in motion
Our seventh speaker was Daniel Knell, Chief Artisan at Artisan of Code Ltd. He proposed a tongue twister of a talk, ‘A Poetic Posture for Python Positively Perplexing Packaging Predicament’. In short, it was all about the virtues of the build tool, Poetry. This uses the pyproject .toml, a file defined in PEP516. “It defines a file where can find some special stuff around how to hammer a package and define stuff for tools,” Daniel clarified. And helpfully, it’s a file that’s being used by more and more tools. So, what can Poetry actually do? “Poetry finds all the metadata and dependencies. It’s all in one file and it’s a sensible format. The other thing that makes it powerful is PEP517,” Daniel explained. With a quick demo to illustrate these points, Daniel successfully showed the audience Poetry in motion.

Seven speakers done and three to go – look out for the final installment of the Djugl debrief, coming soon!
 

Djugl Lightning Talks: From nailing 121s to winging it as a CTO

The scene: Potato’s offices in central London. The crowd: curious developers with a hunger for industry knowledge. The refreshments? A sizzling summer barbecue – but that’s another blog. This one is all about the ten amazing speakers who made the evening such a success. We can’t cover them all today, so we’re going to focus on our first four amazing guests.  
Testing times
First up was Chris Beecham of @ThomsonReuters, whose topic was Unit Testing. This was among our techier talks, but Chris made sure that everyone was on the same page by drawing on a scene from classic sci-fi adventure, The Matrix. Using the famous red pill-blue pill quandary, he demonstrated a high level testing process. It was a great way to illustrate what to do when you have an object method which uses a resource that isn’t available in the local development environment.

Too many hats?
Chris passed the baton on to Leah Cohen of @DigitalGlacier. She tackled a very different subject: What Makes Managing Engineers so Difficult? Drawing on her own experiences, Leah explained how organisations often expect line managers to be hands-on senior developers too. The result? Someone who’s too distracted and burnt out by different tasks to be dedicated to their team. Shockingly, only 58% of managers have actual management training, according to Leah. Her solution is simple: distinct career pathways for Engineers and Managers.
121 101s
Our hosts, @potatolondon, also had some expert advice for the audience. Agile Coach, Laxmi Kerai (likes: owls, cat gifs and reading) took the stage to discuss the basics of 121s. She gave some hugely useful and practical tips to make 121s productive and less intimidating, from changing the setting by heading outdoors, to designing the agenda together. Laxmi also talked about the importance of clear, two-way communication and listening to feedback. And watch out for those ‘door handle moments’ – casually making hugely significant comments just as you usher the employee out the door!

A crash course for CTOs
Coming up to the half-way point, we met freelance developer, Richard Kirsch. Except he wasn’t always a developer – in the past, he was also a CTO. Having never performed the role before, he had a serious learning curve. And that formed the basis for his talk: How to Blag Being a CTO. The self-deprecating title concealed a wealth of guidance that was relevant for both experienced and wannabe CTOs, from getting the critical stuff right, to seeking advice and fighting for your time.
Phew – so much to think about and we’re only four speakers in! Stay tuned for part 2 of our latest Djugl debrief.

Real life at Austin Fraser (part two)

Ever walked into an office and felt at ease straight away? Although it’s hard to pin down, we think that vibe is incredibly important. At Austin Fraser, we’ve gone to great lengths to make sure our people feel happy and enjoy working here. We’re honest about our culture – which is one of the reasons we’ve won ‘OpenCompany’ status from recruitment website, Glassdoor.
There’s no getting around it – succeeding here takes drive. But if you’re motivated and up for a challenge, we’ll do all we can to help you achieve. It starts with a positive culture where there’s a sense of camaraderie and colleagues supporting each other. If people have a problem, they don’t moan – they speak up. In fact, there’s a lot of emphasis on communication, not just with team mates, but with clients and communities too. We’re not about hard sell. We’re about taking the time to build connections.
It’s all part of our company vision, which has been established by our leaders – Pete Hart and Derek Simpson. They started the business in a garage, back in 2007 and they haven’t forgotten their roots or the importance of staying humble.
Having said that, our leaders encourage ambition and have plenty themselves. Which is why our list of international offices keeps on growing. The people who thrive here are equally determined and have an affinity with our values: Earn it, Own it, Love it. In other words, striving for goals, doing things the Austin Fraser way and being passionate about what you do. We appreciate our team’s hard work and talent enormously, which is why we don’t skimp on incentives. You’ll find they’re always worth the effort, whether it’s a night at an amazing restaurant or a trip somewhere exotic.

So what about daily life in the office? What can you expect? Although everyone works hard, we’re also sociable and love getting together. There are always events such as quiz nights, birthday parties, sports days, team building and of course, the Annual Sales Meeting – aka, an epic Christmas party! And then there’s our All Hands Live – a global business meeting that’s streamed live to every office around the world. It’s a chance for every employee to hear from our leaders and pose questions in real time. And underpinning all this is a culture that’s based on fairness, respect and equal opportunities. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, you’ll be welcomed here. We are committed to recruiting the best talent, regardless of background.
Want to know more about our team and what it takes to join us? Take a look at /en/join-us/

Real life at Austin Fraser (part one)

A lot of organisations talk the talk. But, at Austin Fraser, we also walk the walk. In other words, when we say life’s good at our business, it’s not just sales blurb – we’ve got facts and figures to prove it – and that’s why we’ve won ‘OpenCompany’ status from recruitment website, Glassdoor. We’re sharing this in a two-part blog, so you can get an insight about what life is like at Austin Fraser.
Let’s start with something fairly basic and fundamental: your pay.
If you compare us to similar businesses, you’ll find our salaries are pretty competitive. We keep an eye on the rest of the industry and review them regularly. What’s more, they come with a range of benefits that are the equivalent of up to 35% extra value on top of your pay.
And speaking of our international offices, there are seven in total – which you could transfer to thanks to our relocation package. You’ll find us in Reading, UK; Hamburg, Munich and Berlin, Germany; and Austin, Denver and Dallas in the USA. Excitingly, there are two more sites coming soon: San Diego (October 2019) and LA (2020). Each site is in a great location in the heart of the city. Go inside, and you’ll find an attractive, modern environment, with great facilities. We’re talking open spaces for collaboration and state of the art tech with dedicated break-out zones. Everything you need to excel and achieve on your terms.

Working remotely is also a reality, thanks to our hi-spec technology. Everyone has a MacBook, whatever their level of seniority. We’re always looking at ways to improve the kit we provide too. As tech evolves, we’re investing in new developments that benefit our staff. 
However, there’s no point in helping people perform at their best if there’s no way for them to progress. We take your development as seriously as you do and make sure you know how you can advance. That’s why our career paths are as clear-cut and transparent as they get. You can see how your role can evolve – and how much you can earn – right from your very first day. Plus, we’ll make sure you have the Learning & Development to build your skills so you can get yourself promoted. This is an aspect of life at Austin Fraser that stands out in the industry. We believe in giving people the support to get where they want along with the freedom to plan their journey. Our end to end training includes modules for new starters, managers and senior managers. What’s more, learning is simply a part of our culture, so it’s considered perfectly normal to take time out for training.
So that’s the important, practical stuff. But life here is about so much more than that. Stay tuned for the second part of this blog, where we’ll tell you why people like working here so much – the warm and fuzzy stuff!

Leaders in Tech comes to town: how did our first-ever London meet-up go?

Leaders in Tech is a well-established community in Berlin, Denver and many other major cities. However, London wasn’t one of them – until last week. On Wednesday 10th July, we held the inaugural Leaders in Tech meet-up in the capital, kicking off with a red-hot topic: AI and the Future of Business.
The first meet-up took place on a fantastic river cruise that left from Westminster Pier. On board were a mix of London’s brightest CTOs, CIOs, VPs and senior tech figures, along with three influential speakers. Once guests had had a chance to tuck into the more-ish BBQ food on board, it was time for our first speaker to take the floor. 

Imtiaz Adam is Director of Data Science at DLS. He spoke about the The Impact of 5G – and why it will be “a completely different world.” According to Imtiaz, 5G will make machine to machine communication possible and reduce latency, allowing billions of devices to connect with each other as well as human users. Though it will take the technology some time to filter through, Imtiaz predicts that by 2025, the market will be huge.

Next up, was Dr Janet Bastiman, CSO of StoryStream and AI VP at MMC Ventures. Her topic was The Strategy of AI and the practical steps you need to take to apply AI to key areas. Dr. Bastiman talked us through identifying the problem, assessing your data, attracting talent, development, productionisation, and regulation and ethics, providing a very useful guide for any would-be AI implementers.
The last expert was  Daniel Hulme, CEO of Satalia and a serial speaker for the likes of Google and TEDx. In his talk, he explained how AI can only really solve problems when it’s able to adapt. He went on to describe how AI has the power to help companies make the right decisions – and help society to make the right ones too. His vision of dystopian AI future was certainly thought-provoking.

Afterwards, guests relaxed and networked as the boat sailed past some of London’s most iconic landmarks. 
If you’re a senior level technology leader, why not join us for our next meet-up? It’s a chance to connect with fellow technology leaders from both new and established innovative businesses. You can share best practice, discuss up-and-coming advances and generally connect with like-minded individuals. Find out more on our website: /en/communities/meet-ups/
 

Magento Summer Boat Meet-up: a debrief

Despite the dismal weather, our recent Magento Summer Boat meet-up was a big success! Nearly 100 people came to hear fantastic guest speakers discuss the nuts and bolts of this popular open source e-commerce platform as we chugged slowly up the Thames. 
First up, was Joseph McDemott, a senior solutions architect at Klevu (https://www.klevu.com). He talked us through the Modern Search Requirements of an e-commerce website and why a good search function is vital (hint: you have just eight seconds to interest the average site visitor!) Joseph covered personalisation, non-product search and natural language processing, explaining what they mean in practice, why they’re important in search and how a Magento developer can implement them.

Next, we heard from Jonathan Chikly, a Director and Full Stack Developer at YYT development studios (https://yyt.dev/). His subject was building Progressive Web Applications (PWA) with Magento 2. Jonathan began by defining a PWA as a website that’s fast, reliable and engaging – one that feels like a natural app on the device. He went on to present the main PWA frameworks open to developers and a relevant case study, which brought to life the challenges of building a static PWA with Magento 2.
Our third speaker was Arron Moss of Zero 1 (https://www.zero1.co.uk/). His topic? The Industry-Ops Revolution. Drawing on his work with partner company, Steamhaus (https://www.steamhaus.co.uk/), Arron discussed how the businesses had grown along with Magento and how the opportunities had evolved with the transition from Magento 1 to Magento 2.

There was plenty of time for pizza and beer before the fourth speaker of the evening: Boyan Grigorov of The Sofa & Chair Company (https://www.thesofaandchair.co.uk/). Having recently built a new e-commerce website for his company, Boyan provided a unique insight into the challenges of digital transformation for a furniture retail business. As the guests took in brilliant views of London on their trip, Boyan discussed the journey his company had taken to choose a platform and how he’d convinced managers that Magento was the right choice.
The final speaker was Max Pronko, founder of Pronko Consulting (https://www.pronkoconsulting.com/). With 15 years of experience, he was well qualified to talk about Applying Service Oriented Architecture for Magento 2 Development. Max began by explaining how the Magento 2 platform has been moving into a decoupled state where each module is responsible for an individual operation. This allows higher performance, looser coupling and improved code quality. Max then dived into Service Oriented Architecture, showing how it could be applied using an effective example.
As the boat drew into the splendid Victoria Embankment, the Magento community on board had plenty of food for thought. Look out for more exclusive meet-ups on our website: /en/communities/meet-ups/.
 

Klaas Bollhoefer on AI: “It’s a 360°change in how we build software”

In April, Klaas Bollhoefer of Birds on Mars spoke at our Leaders in Tech event in Berlin. His talk, AI Thinking, explored how organisations can learn to stop being afraid of artificial intelligence, and lean into the paradigm shifts necessary to implement AI tools creatively and valuably.
 
We spoke with Klaas to learn about how he came to found Birds on Mars, and what the biggest challenges are for the companies he works, like Deutsche Bahn, Commerzbank, and Lufthansa.
 
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company, Birds on Mars.
 
I’m founder and managing director of a company called Birds on Mars in Berlin. My cofounder and I, we built Birds on Mars at the beginning of last year. The idea is to help companies develop strategies, structures, teams, and applications at the interconnections of human organisations and artificial intelligence. We want companies to get off their asses and do everything that’s data and AI themselves.
 
It’s not something that you can outsource, so you have to develop new capabilities, create a new understanding – a new foundation – to really get into this topic. In the end, ideally, you might create new value or new business out of it.
 
What made you interested in the intersection of human business organizations and artificial intelligence?
 
We found out that companies really need support, they need guidance, they need a company that doing strategy in this kind of field, bottom-up. The difference is always that we’re not just talking about AI: we know how to do it, as well as strategic work.
 
We know how it needs to be done and that it’s more than technology. You need technology, you need skills, you need to routines, you need new spaces where this new stuff can happen. You might need new processes in your organization, you might need new organisational structures. You might need new partners.
 
What are the major challenges are right now in the work that you’re doing with customers?
 
there are so many paradigms that change or will change with big data and AI. The biggest challenge is always to create the understanding and awareness on the client side that it’s really time to think over existing stuff and time to dig deeper into data and AI.
 
If management and decision-makers are ready, and have the initial understanding, if they say “OK, we got it. Data and AI are the kind of thing we have to care about. We have to understand and find out how can data can help us in our organisation” –  then that’s 80%.
 
I think the biggest threat to AI at the moment is that people feel lost and have this feeling that they just won’t get it. Everybody talks about AI and a lot of people think, “OK, I don’t get it. It’s too difficult, I need a PhD in mathematics to actually get a grip on that.” But that’s just wrong
 
If you really help companies to translate what AI really is and what kind of paradigms are behind AI or behind data and behind cloud (because all of these things are very intertwined and very well connected), then they feel able to decide again. They are capable of taking the next step.
They don’t feel lost and behind. That, I think, is the biggest task.
 
After that, with these changes in paradigms there are a lot of new things that need to be learned. There are things that need to be unlearned, which is normal when you have a kind of paradigm shift.
 
What are some of the things that people need to unlearn once they’ve made the paradigm shift  into thinking correctly about the role of AI and big data in their organizations?
 
One of the biggest shifts is the way we design, build, and operate software. In general, AI is software, but software of a new kind. The way we create this kind of software, the way we develop, but mostly the way we run software that integrates any kind of machine learning, deep learning (we call it AI) piece, that’s the biggest change.
 
At the moment, software gets developed explicitly, so it’s rule-based. If, then — else. You have data, and I take that data, I write a piece of logic and the output is pretty straightforward. I know what the output will be. It’s easy to measure. With machine learning, we turn a lot of stuff upside down. We train software based on data that we know. We train the logic and put that logic on unknown data from the real world. Ideally if what the software and the logic is trained on is similar to what the actual data in the real world looks like, it behaves the way we want.
 
If the data changes in the outside world, our logic will work on that changed data and the output, the result, of what the logic is doing, can be anything. We don’t really know, so we have to monitor all that. We have to monitor what kind of data flows into our machine learning system. We have to monitor the output. We have to apply new metrics. At that point in time, it’s not just the software we have to take care of, this piece of software we are responsible for, but the whole process that changes – the whole environment that this software actually operates in. That’s quite complicated and it is a 360 degree change in how we actually think and build software. That’s the biggest shift, I think.

Developers are now expected to do everything by themselves

For the February edition of Leaders in Tech | Berlin, Austin Fraser invited Andrew Holway, founder of Otter Networks, to speak about the current state of DevOps, the impact of new platforms like Kubernetes, and how technology leaders should think about both infrastructure and knowledge management in their organizations.
 
Andrew’s presentation (which was recorded and will be available subsequently) started with a review of the “old world” and the “new world” of software engineering, from when engineers needed to take care of hardware, networking, and all sorts of complicated operational issues in order to run software online. In an in-between phase, Amazon Web Services has abstracted away many of the annoying and frustrating parts. However, Holway posits that the main user that Amazon creates its tools and services for is a DevOps engineer, and that it’s not reasonable to expect developers to directly consume AWS’ APIs. In the new world, Kubernetes and other automated platforms like it have dramatically reduced the complexity of operational work that DevOps engineers used to handle, virtually eliminating the need for DevOps as a discipline.
 
DevOps is FSCKed by Andrew Holway slides:
https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/e/2PACX-1vRV4B7JSfyukZRFosukMNwQu7rt8KH1nor44CswGF6zBrdkuwueBJvDg6ZPGoqXHH8AbeA7kYx5AD2v/pub
 
The talk sparked many questions and discussions among the 50+ attendees, who ranged from CTOs to team leads to startup founders. For example, one question from the audience concerned how databases are handled. Andrew’s response revealed the larger trends within software engineering: “Even if you’re consuming your database from the cloud provider, you still have to have some knowledge of databases as a developer – most full stack developers have a good understanding of the databases. The role of DBA disappeared some years ago, I haven’t seen one in ages. The role of DevOps engineer is going the same direction as DBA, and these roles are just being pushed into the development team. Developers are expected to do literally everything by themselves.”
 
Dmitry Galkin, a cloud solutions architect at Cloudification.io attended the Leaders in Tech event because he had checked Otter Networks website in advance and was curious to see what the talk would be about. In the end, he had a different perspective than the speaker. Even though he thought it might work for smaller teams, for bigger and more complex organizations, Dimitry said, “I wouldn’t be so sure that DevOps will disappear in the next five years.”
 
Nicholas Wittstruck was also in the audience at the Leaders in Tech event in Berlin, he has been at several Leaders in Tech meetups. Nicholas is the Head of Shop and IT at Bringmeister.de, and his take on Holway’s presentation was that, “It’s important on a strategic level – when it comes to the next project that you work on, you have these things in mind. In this specific case, when it comes to deploying your  infrastructure next, maybe it makes sense to have a look at Kubernetes and do it on GCP [Google Cloud Platform], even though you’re using AWS right now.”
 
As a returning participant to Austin Fraser’s Leaders in Tech event series, Nicholas Wittstruck has some advice for people who are on the fence: “There are two things that I really like about these meetups. The first one is that there are really interesting talks. It’s also about meeting people that are in the tech scene in Berlin. I’m meeting some people again at each meetup, which is nice for networking. You get to know people who have similar problems.”
 
Many thanks to Secret Escapes for hosting this edition of Leaders in Tech | Berlin in their office in Mitte. Don’t miss the next Leaders in Tech event, become a member of our Meetup group. Leaders in Tech brings together CTOs, CIOs, VPs, Heads of IT, and other senior technology leaders to discuss current tech trends and build lasting relationships.