Thursday, July 11, 2013

Let's Talk About Me!

Digging around some old emails I came across an interview I did a few years ago for Hi-Tech Scotland Magazine (now defunct apparently -- hope it wasn't my interview that killed them!) Thought I'd post it here, with a few editorial updates where needed. It's in the typical question and answer format.

HTS: Describe your current role.
TK: I'm the overall manager of Verilab. For the UK parent, that's the Managing Director. For our German subsidiary, Verilab GmbH, I'm the awesome-sounding Geschäftsführer. And I'm CEO for the US subsidiary, Verilab Inc. In fact though, all three company entities form one team and I run that from Austin, TX. [Ed: we now also have Canadian teams in Ottawa and Montreal, under the fourth in the group, Verilab Canada Inc.] In theory, the most important part of my role is really, at the risk of sounding pompous, "Keeper of the Vision". My team work on very tough technical problems across Europe and the US, in projects that are often rapidly approaching key market windows and so are short on time and high on pressure. My job is, in the midst of all that stramash[1], to keep in all our minds what we formed Verilab for - to be the "McKinsey of VLSI engineering".

In practice though, I do what all small-firm CEOs do - anything and everything that needs done. Because we're a services firm, we bump into lots of government rules and regulations. I deal with those. I plan and monitor financial performance. I am constantly building and developing the operational infrastructure - HR, Engineering, IT, and so on - to allow us to continue to grow. And so on. It's busy!

HTS: When did you first become interested in technology as a career?
TK: Well, when I was three, I'm told I was hauled off a chair while trying to "fix" the Christmas tree lights with a screwdriver. And in primary five [Ed: US 4th grade] I announced that my ideal career was "Quantum Mechanic". Basically, I've always been interested in technology. I did hover between pure science and engineering for a while, and still harbour a secret desire to do physics. But as soon as I discovered microelectronics, I was so fascinated by those wee black packages on green circuit boards, I decided that's what I'd be working on.

HTS: Broadly speaking, from your own perspective, what sorts of technologies are likely to prove important over the next 10 years?
TK: Anything to do with communication - hardware and software. Every time I fly, I'm frustrated that I can't use my cellphone or connect to the internet. That's going to change. [Ed: Done!] I now have GPS in my cars, but it's annoying that they aren't linked to something like Google maps, or updated in real time. That's going to change. [Ed: Done!] My company has people at clients from California, through Texas, to Edinburgh, and on to Dresden. Despite all the current technology, I still can't get easy-to-setup, high def video conferencing with my teams, from& wherever each person is. That's going to change too. [Ed: Still not done :-( Come on video people: I have pain, I have budget, I am the decision-maker. Give me a call!] I believe that the difference between what I knew as IT as a kid (the build-it-yourself ZX-81), and what I see today, is just a small fraction of the difference between what the kids of today are seeing and what they will see in thirty years. Even the next ten is going to be awesome. And a huge part of that difference will be not from increased computationper se, but from increased communication.

HTS: Was it always your ambition to work overseas?
TK: Overseas in general? Not really. But I've always been a fan specifically of the USA and always wanted to spend some time there. Before moving, I really bought the message of their Lockean philosophy of respect for life and liberty and private property (the "pursuit of happiness" bit always struck me as a bit superfluous when you have the others, but that may just be my inner Scot speaking). And I also believed that precisely because of that philosophy, they were a much more productive nation in business than most of the rest of the world. Now that I have direct experience of the differences between Europe and the US, I think I can confirm that US folks are indeed often more productive in general [Ed: they certainly take fewer vacation days]. But, unfortunately, I've realized that on the philosophy of freedom side of things, there is a bit of a gap between the ideal of their Constitution and what's happening day to day. Sometimes I try to remind them of that :-)

HTS: Has being Scottish ever been an advantage (or disadvantage) to you elsewhere in the world?
TK: It's been both. In general, being Scottish - or, more precisely, having a Scottish accent - is a big plus. People often go all sentimental when they hear my accent and say something like "Ye know,ah'm from Sca'lun' too. Ye ken?" Which typically means, their great-great-great-granny came from Dumbarton via Ellis Island. Also, Scotland is one of those places that everyone would just love to visit. So being a native Scot carries a lot of kudos.

The downside though is, as a thoroughbred Scot, having been born and brought up just outside Paisley, I think I carry some of what Carol Craig described in "The Scots' Crisis of Confidence". There's something about having lived and breathed the cauld rainy air for 40 some years, and having absorbed a culture that sees any display of wealth as ostentatious, that runs deep in a person and is hard to shake. Even today, having grown Verilab to an elite international consultancy of increasingly high reputation, there's still sometimes a wee voice inside that can say, "Here you, don't get too big heided".

HTS: Do you have any remaining ambitions?
TK: To really understand Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

[1] stramash [strəˈmæʃ] Scot
                   an upoar; tumult; brawl