I joined Nominet just as the UK entered coronavirus lockdown so time with the business so far has been spent in my spare room at home, in various meetings and trying to get to know the team as best as possible online. Fortunately, Nominet has good digital communication infrastructure and first impressions have been of incredibly friendly, supportive people who are acutely driven towards shared goals and determined to succeed.
My role is as Managing Director of Nominet’s NTX Cyber, a tool we used to run the Protective DNS (PDNS) service for UK Government, that keeps their networks secure and free from cyber threats. This product is a real winner and I believe there is just nothing else like it – it’s a formidable blocking service and the value it generates is quite incredible. When I was researching this job, once I understood the power and potential of PDNS, I knew I needed to be part of that story. For instance, in 2018 Nominet’s PDNS was protecting approximately 1.4 million employees across the public sector and answered 68.7 billion queries. Now being in a position to develop NTX Cyber over the coming years and follow up on the interest of other international governments is extremely satisfying. With this product, we are reducing the losses incurred by nations due to cyber criminality – this feels like playing at Wembley when it comes to working in cyber security.
This industry is fascinating – cyber security is as much about influence as infrastructure, about information warfare and international foes as it is about technical tools. The geopolitics of it all is a real interest and my spare time is spent reading more about it, if that doesn’t sound too geeky. That said, it’s taken me some time to find my way into this career. My dad was an engineer and pretty much insisted I follow in his footsteps. I’d mentioned wanting to be an archaeologist or may be study history, but he told me that would never put food on the table. After studying engineering at university – and discovering I hated it – I joined the army to buy some time and decide what to do. It was a transformative experience: tough yes, but it left me with confidence and a sense of perspective. When you’ve been cold, wet, tired and hungry, you can remind yourself that the bad times always pass and that you can keep going.
Part of my role is to build, manage and inspire a team of people. When recruiting it is all about the right balance of aptitude and attitude. A person’s attitude towards life and work is crucial as many skills can be taught and learnt – that flicker of excitement matters. Of course, we also need some impressive technologists with the deeper technical skills to deploy and develop software. I find working alongside people with those skills hugely rewarding because there is a real opportunity to build solutions to problems and push the boundaries of what is possible. My skills are more broad than deep, so people with the serious expertise that comes from years of fixation on one area of technology are intriguing.
Working in this sector can be quite intense, especially because we are operating systems that protect governments – perhaps the ultimate responsibility – and of course cyber incidents don’t always happen during normal working hours. Finding time to switch off is always important and my family and I are quite outdoorsy. We live incredibly close to the North Sea near Newcastle so sea swimming is on the agenda, as well as long cycles or taking the boys for hikes in my beloved Northumberland. Trying to tire the two youngsters out is also part of the strategy.
Although it’s early days for me here, Nominet as a business feels dynamic and the leadership team is keen to remain agile and flexible through the changing digital times ahead. It’s a solid company with a great market position, operating part of critical national infrastructure and working closely with Government, which all makes it pretty unique. Evident in only a few months, and intensified by lockdown, it’s clear that the leaders have fostered a brilliant working environment and culture for the staff, which counts for a lot. It feels like a good place to be – at home or in the office.