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Q&A: Paul Clarke, Ocado

We speak to the head of technololgy at Ocado - and a member of the IT Pro Leaderboard - about how IT is shaping the business.

Describe your role in three words

Keeping OcadoTechnology disruptive

Who is your tech hero? And why?

I think it would have to be Sergey and Larry in terms of the impact Google has had on almost every part of our lives and the level of technical vision and daring that they demonstrate.

What does your current role involve?

As director of technology at Ocado, I am responsible for both the day-to-day management of Ocado technology and for driving its future evolution. This is a division with (currently) 350 software engineers and IT specialists, that is set to grow to over 450 during the coming year and which has many challenging development projects on the boil.

How did you arrive at your current role?

When I joined Ocado over seven years ago, I had worked at the CIO level in several companies, some of which were start-ups. The breadth and depth of technology at Ocado, its disruptive vision and its special culture, were sufficiently exciting that I decided to join as a team leader, which also provided a welcome opportunity to get my technical feet wet again!

Since then, I have had responsibility for different parts of the Ocado technology division, before taking on this role in January 2012.

Did you always want to work in IT?

Whilst growing up I had a passion for science and I always thought I was going to become a research scientist. However, when I was 13, my school was given off-peak access to a mainframe computer and so you could come in at the crack of dawn or stay late to run programs written on punch tape.

In 1976, I bought my first serious computer - a Cromemco Z-1. It cost a small fortune and needed a trolley to move it. At university, having found every opportunity to use computers to solve physics problems, it became obvious that this was what I wanted to do with my career.

What do you enjoy most about your role/working in IT?

The term "IT" is not a good description of what we do in Ocado technology because the breadth, depth and complexity of what we do here goes well beyond what most people think of as IT. What I love is the way this technology is woven into every aspect of the business, the never ending stream hard problems we have to solve, the opportunity to automate more and more of what we do, second guessing what the future holds and my division's role in keeping Ocado a disruptive force within online retail.

Outside of work, I still have a passion for writing code, designing PCBs and building crazy stuff as time permits.

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