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Q&A: Alastair Brown, RBS

We speak to the CIO of international banking at RBS Markets about his role and involvement with industry charity event Byte Night.

Image removed.Why are you taking part in Byte Night this year and have you participated before?

I got involved in the first place because a former boss was taking part and asked me to join him. I didn't know anything about Action for Children and what they did, but it was a great night. It's difficult to describe what an amazing evening it is. 

You meet all sorts of people - friends, colleagues and those from the broader industry. There's some good communal time and it's a good, fun thing to participate in. 

Then you go out to this cold, damp sleeping pitch and you get to experience just a very small part of what it is actually like not to have a bed for the night and to spend the entire night outside with no protection. 

It's an incredibly humbling and sobering experience. I find the night itself very very moving. 

The colleague who first got me involved ending up working overseas and he suggested I got more involved with the Byte Night board. That was about five years ago. Now, Byte Night has become one of the focal points of my calendar. My organisation is right behind it and I have a huge amount of support - a team of 30 people from RBS are taking part this year. 

Throughout the year we have quizzes and cake sales and other things - all focused on trying to raise money for Byte Night. 

The work that Action for Children does is amazing. Most of its work is around trying to prevent homelessness. Just thinking about that and the fact what we're doing is supporting that is just part of what I do now. It's an annual milestone that's really important to me and us as a firm. 

Do you think it's important for the tech industry/business world to support such good causes?  

I think it's really important that communities come together and help other communities. I look at the IT community and on a day-to-day basis we're working hard together, some of us are competing together. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to collaborate and demonstrate what we can achieve together.

It's the different things that people can bring to Byte Night through their contacts and their experiences that makes the event a success. It's something we should be very proud of as an industry. 

What one gadget will you be taking with you on the night?

My iPhone. Some music and diverting games are helpful. 

Anything else you're bringing along to help wile away the hours?

Its' a terrific opportunity to catch up with people - some of whom I won't have seen for some time. It's a very social occasion (when the weather is tolerable).  

I also spend some time thinking about how fortunate I am. When dawn comes, and we start to disperse, I'm going back to my family and a warm shower and I don't have to sleep out again the next night.

It takes so long to get properly warm the following day. It's almost impossible to understand how cold can penetrate into your bones and how debilitating that can be. It's dangerous to spend one night out but more dangerous to spend a second night etc it's because you're weakened. You're less responsive and able to act to situations. It's a terribly tough thing to do. So I'll be spending some of the night reflecting on that and that's what motivates us as a team.

What else do you hope to take away with you after Byte Night?

People can become homeless for a whole variety of reasons. I've been able to meet a lot of the people who have benefited from the work Action for Children does. What has struck me is just how easy it is for this to happen to people from all warps of life - privileged backgrounds as well as disadvantaged backgrounds. 

There were a couple of occasions growing up when I came really close to not going home. And I was lucky that never actually happened. I built a new life for myself. 

The work Action for Children do is designed to help a variety of people in number of ways. 

What words of encouragement would you give to fellow Byte Nighters?

It's such a great evening. It's both fun and incredibly poignant and realistic in terms of thinking about what it's like to be homeless. It's very moving. We got utterly drenched last year and that was a very good bonding experience.

The next morning everyone on my team had emailed to say they were glad they were now dry and they were absolutely going to do it again this year. The wetter it, is the better almost in terms of the how memorable the event is. Although at the time, when water was coming in to our plastic bivvy bags, I don't think any of us thought it was very funny. 

And what would you say to those unsure about taking part?

It's only a few hours and it's a really good thing to do. Give it a shot. So many people come back and do it again. The experience really outweighs the temporary discomfort. 

There are ways of supporting your team in the fundraising efforts for your sleepers without actually sleeping out. There's some people who can't sleep outside. One of the ladies helping us is pregnant, for example. It would be a bad idea. But there are lots and lots of ways in which people can make a contribution. 

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