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.

What was your first IT job?

After studying Physics at Oxford, I joined a computer consultancy called Scicon in 1980 that was a wholly owned subsidiary of BP. It spawned many other such consultancies during the 1980s; there I worked on a number of mathematical simulation and military projects.

I believe in being able to cherry pick the best on offer from multiple vendors and stitch them together. Better still, write your own systems end-to-end like we do at Ocado.

How has the world of IT changed since you first started in the sector?

In far too many ways to list here but examples would include:

Compiling applications in seconds rather than hours; Interactive debugging versus hours spent statically analysing code printouts to find bugs before you could justify the time and cost of a recompilation; The birth of mobile phones, tablets, laptops and PCs, and the "effectively free" computing power and storage that comes with them; Writing code in languages such as Java rather than C or assembler; Broadband connections replacing chirping modems; Email, online collaboration, the internet, the web, the cloud; The concept of open source tools and components; Software engineering as an undergraduate discipline; The death of old style QA functions - hallelujah!

What do you think the most important skills people wanting to enter the IT job market need to have nowadays?

Being adaptable and a fast learner - much of what you know now will soon be obsolete; Meta skills such as time management, communication and collaboration; Understanding the principles of good design, architecture, algorithms and how to use middleware; Being able to type and read fast - if you can eat at the same time, so much the better!

What advice would you give someone thinking of entering the IT jobs market/your younger self?

Learn to programme young, very young! Get your feet wet by building apps and getting people using them so that you can learn from their feedback - writing mobile apps and involvement in open source initiatives can provide great opportunities.

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Also, invest serious time learning and perfecting your craft. Being able to programme is a fantastic life skill even if you don't end up in the software industry.

What is the biggest challenge facing IT professionals at the moment?

Staying abreast of new technologies/ solutions given the rate of change and balancing developing deep areas of specialism with the need to future proof your skill set.

What technologies/trends are you currently watching and why?

I am very excited about the opportunities around areas such as machine-to-machine communication, the Internet of Things, wearable computing and so on. This is because of the opportunities I believe they offer in terms of being "always on, always connected."

Conversely, what current technology/trend are you not interested in and why?

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Big monolithic software solutions that offer to solve all your needs. I believe in being able to cherry pick the best on offer from multiple vendors and stitch them together. Better still, write your own systems end-to-end like we do at Ocado.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Only that if you are bright talented software engineer or IT specialist who loves working on hard challenging problems across a wide breadth of technologies within an exciting and disruptive organisation, we would love to hear from you @ocadotechnology.com.

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