Episode 173 – Learn As Much As You Can About A Subject That Interests You with Tom Raftery
Tom Raftery is a well-known IT innovator. He became involved in the industry at a time when computers were still not widely used. Tom set up a business teaching early-adopters how to use the power of computers. Later, his firm moved into software, gaming and web development.
After a while, Tom took that expertise and put it to use by working at CTO level for several businesses and organizations. In the early 2000s, he ran his own Social Media consultancy.
He became SAP’s Global VP. Today, he is their Futurist and Innovation Evangelist. Tom is also an accomplished public speaker, an experienced teacher, and an IT consultant.
(1.17) – You obviously set up your first software company while you’re doing your Ph.D.? First of all, did you complete your Ph.D.? And what was that software company you set up? Tom confirms that he was unable to complete his Ph.D. He got distracted when he realized what an IT career had to offer him.
Interestingly, it all started when his biology professor insisted that everyone hand in their 3rd-year project in a digital format. At the time there was only one computer in the department. It was slow and you had to save everything to 51/4 inch floppy discs. The queue to use it was always a long one.
Around the same time, he got a check from HMRC. He had worked in the UK for a couple of summers and ended up with a tax rebate. Rather than fritter the money away he bought a 2nd hand Mac and a Dummies book called the Mac Bible and learned how to use it.
That was it, he was hooked. At that stage, completing his biology Ph.D. stopped being his priority. Instead, he asked the university if they would like him to provide computer training for the undergraduates. They said yes, and his IT career was born. He dropped his Ph.D. and set up a computer company called Zenith Solutions and worked on that full-time.
At first, he offered training. But, eventually ended up creating bespoke software. They also built websites. In time, they moved into working at the front end with databases. The firm also produced a game written in wml for Nokia. It was the first mobile phone game to be developed in Ireland. His company was always ahead of the curve.
Eventually, they merged with another company. At that point, he gained experience of converting a system on access to one that ran on a sequel server, which they then front-ended.
Later he set up his own social media consultancy. Then set up a data center with a friend, which is still in existence today. Tom is very proud of the fact that it has one of the lowest latency connections from Europe to North America.
In 2008, he moved to Spain and ended up working for Red Monk as an open source industry analyst. A job he clearly enjoyed. Later, he led their energy and sustainability practice, which is called Green Monk.
In 2016, he blogged about the fact he was leaving and said he was interested in starting a new IT adventure. That is when Tesla and SAP both got in touch. He realized SAP was a better fit for him, so joined them. A decision which proved to be the right one for him.
(9.49) – It sounds like your career history hasn’t really been in one focused area you’ve moved about you’ve tried different things. Tom agrees. He gets bored if he stands still. So, is always looking forward and getting involved with new innovations.
(10.44) – Do you travel a lot in your role as an evangelist? Tom agrees that he does. He has visited countries on almost every continent. But, his job has not taken him to central or southern America, yet.
(12.06) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Tom’s advice is not to focus on a particular job or role that you want to do. The world is moving at a blindly fast rate. So, there is a good chance that by the time you have learned what you need to do that job it won’t be there. It may even have been automated away.
Instead, you need to focus on learning as much as you can about a subject that interests you. Doing something you enjoy will keep you engaged, which means you will be better at it. This, in turn, makes it easier to find work.
(13.37) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. In the 2000s, Ton was working for a network engineering company, in Dublin. Unfortunately, he managed to crash the network on a Friday afternoon. Nobody could go home until it was fixed.
Fortunately, he was able to figure it out, but it was a very embarrassing mistake to make. He knows that if he had been better prepared that particular disaster would not have happened. So, he learned the importance of being prepared from that situation.
(14.49) – What was your best career moment? Tom found it hard to choose just one thing. Getting a call from Elon Musk and being asked to become the voice of Tesla was clearly a big moment for him, despite the fact that, eventually he did not take the job. Tom explains in the recording why he ended up saying no to Tesla.
(17.49) – Phil asks Tom what excites him about the IT industry. The fact that everything is being taken over by software means that soon there will not be any jobs that do not have an IT aspect to them. So, it is an exciting time to be involved in the industry. Recently, Tom spoke to two Volkswagen executives, while in Vienna. They said that they were moving away from being a company that makes moving parts to being one that consumes data and makes software.
(20.00) – What drew you to a career in IT? Needing a computer to write his Ph.D. paper on, first got Tom interested in learning how to use a computer. When he realized he enjoyed working with computers and how powerful they were, he immediately started teaching others and switched his career focus to IT.
(20.31) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? Recently, a colleague of Tom’s advised him to get a mentor. Something he is looking into doing. Interestingly, he is also planning to start mentoring others, which he is also going to do.
(21.17) – Conversely, what is the worst career advice you’ve ever received? While he was still at school his dad advised him to study commerce. Tom realized that a job selling things was not really for him, so, fortunately, he followed another route.
(22.09) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Tom says he would be attracted to anything new and shiny. He would probably get involved in AI, IoT or blockchain. Fortunately, his new role means he is able to be involved in all of those things and much more besides.
(22.35) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Tom’s main focus is getting better at what he is already doing and helping others to achieve success. With this objective in mind he has signed up for the SAP mentoring program.
(22.56) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Being a good communicator has helped Tom a lot. To be effective you need to have good communication skills. Being able to dynamically adjust what you are saying to suit your audience is important.
Even when you speak at large events, you can still see the people in the first few rows. So, you know if what you are saying is on the mark or whether you need to change your approach slightly. A good communicator can do this when speaking live.
(24.03) – Presumably, that is a skill that you have ended up developing over time. Tom agrees he actually started getting used to public speaking, at school. There he was a member of the debate team and at college, he did interview varsity debates. His dad was a university professor, a member of the European Parliament and the Irish Senate, so, he jokes that, being a good communicator is probably in his DNA.
(24.36) – What do you do to keep your own IT career energized? Tom makes sure that he keeps learning. His role as an innovation evangelist exposes him to the very latest tech, so there is always plenty of inspiration.
(25.05) – What do you do in your spare time away from technology? Tom does not have many hobbies or interests outside of IT. But, he does enjoy walking his dogs and occasionally watches a Netflix series, particularly if there is a good science fiction one available.
He describes them as being like “mental chewing gum”. It is interesting how a lot of what was featured in early sci-fi movies and shows have now become a reality.
When he is not working, he listens to a lot of podcasts. But, even those are mainly IT related.
(26.30) – Phil asks Tom to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Tom says it is important to follow your passion. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you really want to do something you will always produce good work.
(13.06) TOM – “Don’t concentrate on going for a particular job. That job may not exist, by the time you’re ready for it”
(13.41) TOM – “Do what you enjoy doing.”
(19.16) TOM – “Soon there will be no jobs that won’t have the technical or IT aspect to them.”
(19.47) TOM – “The world is changing, and technology is changing the world enormously for the better.”
(24.12) TOM – “When you’re following your passion, that’s what you will deliver on.”