We sat down with Tom Hallam, Jade's new Director of Techonlogy for a good old Q&A. Here are his answers.
What do you think are the three greatest tech achievements in the world?
The Linux project is marvelous. It shows that a team of 10,000+ people can work in completely different time zones, largely self-guided, generally for free, on one of the most complex pieces of software ever written – all by following a similar belief that operating systems should be available to everyone and run everywhere.
The N-nanometre process that allows for minute transistors to be arranged in modern processors in ever increasing ways has enabled mobile phones, smart watches and personal computers not the size of a room and has created the world we live in today.
The mRNA vaccine technology, recently perfected as a response to the COVID pandemic, is fascinating and worthy of a Nobel prize, in my opinion. Such vaccines teach our cells to make a protein that triggers the same response as introducing a real virus into the body. In the future, these vaccines could be used to protect against multiple diseases – amazing!
Android or iOS?
I like to make apps in my spare time and the Android stack has a lower barrier to entry for the indie developer! I have used both in my time but prefer the extensibility of Android. I don’t think it’s a conversation about aesthetics anymore – Android apps are as pretty as iOS ones. Don’t @ me!
Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a Director of Technology?
I’ve been interested in computers as long as I can remember. From a young age, I was tinkering and playing with them to see what they could do. In school, I used to make simple computer games involving my classmates – they loved seeing themselves as the characters on screen. I started going on message boards online to find out how to make my games better, and really saw the value of collaborative working from that early age. Time on message boards turned into running my own message boards, this really gave me an understanding for web programming and how cloud technologies could really change the world.
As my career progressed, I worked in web agencies, with worldwide enterprises and with one-man bands, dealing with teams across the world, working on wildly different problems. During that time, I have seen the industry shift from bare metal servers all the way through to Serverless and the shift to a DevOps culture, experienced at least a hundred flavours of Agile and built a 15ft robotic car crushing hand – though not all at the same place!
I am fascinated by bringing a technology-focused approach to businesses in all industries, enabling them to take advantage of the latest and greatest ways of doing things, but doing so in a safe and considered way. When the opportunity to work at Jade came along, I was extremely excited as it felt like a great opportunity to evangelise this approach to a whole new set of customers and learn from them along the way. It’s a privilege to work here with this team and I can’t wait to see what we create together.
Bitcoin or Ethereum?
Out of the two, it’s Ethereum for me. It really brought the idea of Smart Contracts into sharp relief for me. I’m still yet to see the killer use case on the platform but it’s a super interesting technology that I am following closely. Both Bitcoin and Ethereum require ever-increasing computation to “mine”, which is causing a sustained global surge in power consumption – I think the industry and analysts need to wake up to the environmental impact these cryptocurrencies are having and look at proof-of-stake alternatives like Algorand.
Where can technology make the biggest difference in highly regulated industries?
It enables the fast delivery of value through the adoption of DevOps and modern application engineering principles. Companies that learn to automate their paths to production through things like automated testing, governance as a service and the reframing of more conservative processes can reap the benefits of responding quickly to customer change and getting ahead of the market.
Chrome or Edge?
They’re the same now! They both use Chromium under the hood.
What technology trends are you most excited about in 2021?
The somewhat enforced shift to remote working due to the Coronavirus pandemic has make companies sit up and explore what digital-first experiences mean inside their own businesses. This means that our customers are now exploring areas that previously would have perhaps felt out-of-reach or irrelevant for their industry.
I’m really interested in the value of streaming data analysis (such as anomaly detection) in Regulated markets. Being able to sustainably master ever-growing torrents of data and really driving some actionable insights from that is going to start to separate businesses from one another.
1984 or Brave New World?
TBC – I haven’t read Brave New World 🙁
What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on in your career so far?
There have been lots, but my favourite has to be the 15-foot robotic car crushing robot I worked on during my time as a creative technologist in the UK. We were engaged by a price comparison website who wanted a literal interpretation of “crush my quote”.
We allowed users to log on to a Facebook app where they could be selected to control the hand to crush a real car and have the resulting carnage filmed and sent to them!
I worked with an extremely talented team of designers, engineers, marketers and more to make it a reality. In terms of tech, it was a custom Node.js and Socket.io server to enable thousands of connections. So much fun!
And yes, there’s a video... The Car Insurance Epic Car Crusher for MoneySuperMarket - Splendid Communications
Open-source or closed source?
Open source all the way! It’s important for companies in all industries to understand how they work with open-source software to build on strong foundations and encourage reuse and the adoption of open standards.
It’s also our duty as organisations to understand how we give back to the community, whether that be through sponsorship or allowing company time to contribute to the open-source projects we use, so that everyone can benefit.
What do you hope to achieve in your first year at Jade?
Ensure that we’re using technology to our advantage internally and when we go to the market.
Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars, my favourite is.
What was your first computer?
My father somehow managed to save an Acorn R260 from the bin at his work. As far as I can remember, it used to accept those funky 5” floppy disks and was my first computer at home. A few years later I went with my uncle to a car boot sale and found the parts to build a computer with him that sported a HUGE 812MB hard drive with Windows 95 on it. No internet. Good times!