OpenUK, the UK's industry organisation and advocacy group for Open Technology. We are a not for profit organisation and our purpose is UK leadership in Open Technology. That's open source software, open hardware and open data. We bring together the UK's Open Technology communities, to give them a single cohesive voice; lobby and undertake advocacy activity to enhance the position of Open Technology in the UK' through new laws etc, helping to make the UK a great place to do Open in and from and support the UK's Open Technology businesses; and finally, we promote Learning in Open Technology to enhance understanding and teach digital skills. Although we are UK focused we are not an inward looking organisation and are globally focused and members of a number of international organisations and work with people across the globe.
I lead the organisation, bringing people together, overseeing our activities and developing the organisation. What do I actually do? All sorts... As we are effectively one year old as an organisation, my role is more hands on than it would be in a more established organisation and a lot of the time I am building something new which is also really varied. I work with my incredible Board on strategy for the long term future of the organisation and do things to build and develop the organisation step by step. That includes the organisations' structuring and governance, managing a team who run the organisation and building awareness and participation in it. Then there's the all sorts... Last year I was the producer of an animated course for kids teaching them digital skills and open source software. It was amazing working with the tech and education people, Drawnalism the animators, my friend Steph who is the voice over artist and somewhat fabulously with Imogen Heap, the double Grammy winning musician, whose technology activities include the MiniMu glove that we used for the course. You can see the course at www.openuk.uk/openkidscamp As the course itself is open and on a creative commons licence you can help yourself to it so long as you comply with the provisions of the licence - which are free and simple. I speak regularly at events and also write articles and speak to the press to help build awareness of what we do. What I actually speak and write about depends on what is going on in the world at the time. So towards the end of last year and at the moment, I am doing a lot around Brexit and the need for collaboration across the innovative tech communities despite that geo political shift. I also oversee the fundraising and finances of the company and our communications and marketing. The bottom line is that I work to further the organisation goals and the cause of Open Technology - open source software, open hardware and open data, across the UK.
I love the variety of what I do and of course the opportunity to collaborate with lots of others in the UK and all over the world. Collaboration is at the heart of open source and it is a great way to develop new technologies, in a diverse and innovative way. It is also a lot of fun as it brings together people from all cultures, and walks of life as technology needs an array of skills to be successful, from engineers to community leaders and marketeers and the best technology has diverse people inputting into it.
These days I like to get up early (although this is much harder in the long dark winter days of this lock down in the UK). My ideal day starts around 6am and I kick off with a bit of writing, a short yoga session and 15 minutes or so of meditation, to prepare me for the day ahead. I do most of my creative thinking and writing in the morning. I write a lot these days whether talks, articles or responding to requests in the morning, then will spend most of my day on calls. This is very different from my pre pandemic life where I spent a lot of time with people. It's hard to interact with the same number of people digitally and we are all having to manage digital burn out. The more I can write and share that way the easier the communication digitally becomes. Despite that my afternoons and evenings are spent on Zoom calls. Pre pandemic I would have spent 3 days a week with people in meetings and also having coffees and lunches with contacts. That kind of interaction and getting to know and like people you work with is really important.
I grew up on the last hill in Scotland before the mountains, in a town called Crieff in the lower Scottish Highlands. I have been watching Outlander over the Christmas break and it starts to get mentioned in Series 2. Nobody in my family had been to University and it was a big deal that I went to University to read law at 18. I had been lucky enough to have an "Assisted Place" which was a scholarship that existed back then to a local private school which was really helpful. My first job was picking potatoes when I was 8 and I did a lot of different jobs on my way to University. My Dad was very close to me and a real inspiration telling me I could be anyone I wanted to be. I have 3 law degrees from Glasgow, New York and Queen Mary. This third one included IP and IT and I studied in the first Internet law class in the UK with Professor Ian Walden. That changed my career as a lawyer and I joined a start up in the dot com world in 2000. I worked across a variety of industries, wrote a book in ebusiness and the law and ended up in a company called Canonical in 2008, setting up and running their legal team. They are now one of the world's biggest open source software companies and are the commercial sponsors of the open source operating system Ubutnu. After 5 years there I worked in a couple of other companies, including a mobile phone company doing fintech in emerging countries like Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Bangladesh. That was amazing, as we were banking the unbanked and improving people's lives. From 2000, I had worked internationally and had the opportunity to do deals and work with people across the globe, based in London for most of that time and in Amsterdam for two years. I travelled extensively. But I had been bitten by the open source bug and wanted to do something more than be a lawyer after 25 years during which I had gained amazing experience, business knowledge and an understanding of technology. When the opportunity to lead OpenUK came up in 2019, I decided to take a big risk and join what is effectively a start up and pursue this change in career becoming a CEO.
I have really enjoyed the transition from being a lawyer to running an organisation and taking part in advocacy, trying to make sure that people are aware of open technology and that the Government policy and new laws are the best for open that they can be. My years of legal experience have been a great basis for that work, as have working in a number of different businesses and really understanding how they work and what they need. As we have all pivoted to meet the demands of the pandemic, I have been writing more and more and will no doubt keep that up and perhaps delve into other areas. Being a leader is fun and whatever I do in the future I expect to develop my skills and keep trying to improve as a CEO.
I have the cutest wee ginger cat, Dundee, who hangs out with me a lot, in particular in the sunshine where he chases bees and butterflies whilst I garden. He's almost a year old, completely nuts and lots of fun. The picture of me used for this interview was taken as part of a lockdown photography project - On The Doorstep Crouch End, by Julie Kim Photography - and Dundee is with me on the doorstep. In a normal world, I love to travel. In 2020 I would have made 20-30 international trips but for the pandemic. Many of those were to speak at Conferences or attend tech industry events, but all allowing the benefit and opportunity of an insight into other places and cultures. I am endlessly fascinated by these. I like to cook and can love to hang out in supermarkets finding local treasures from all over the world. I really enjoy fashion and design and use my travel to explore that. I also love visiting restaurants, theatre and museums, which I do at home in London, on my travels in the UK and abroad. As a bit of a geek, I like to research where I am going and used to write travel reviews. I haven't done those for a while but have always enjoyed researching and writing and have both written and edited books, and academic articles, on law and technology and increasingly write for the tech press. One of the skills I learned as a lawyer was to explain complex topics in an understandable way. In 2021, a book I have edited, Free and Open Source - Law, Policy and Practise will be published by Oxford University Press, with open access sponsored by the Vietsch Foundation. As I said, I enjoy writing and expect to do more in the future.
For me, I have many quotes that inspire me and I learn constantly from other people. That's part of the beauty of life. I currently love a quote I read in the run up to Christmas from Melissa Di Donato, CEO of open source company, SUSE. Her mother told her " Don't be a lady; be a legend." It's a very elegant way to sum up the advice my Dad gave me.