Meet the people who help our clients design and build innovative technology solutions to benefit their businesses as well as their customers: our subject matter experts aka SMEs. In this series, we’ll discover how they came to work in the industry and the changing role of technology in our lives. We’ll also get a glimpse into what makes them tick as people outside of work.
This time, our guest is Matt Cloke. Our London-based Chief Technology Officer has always been excited about computers and tech, ever since he was a child. Today, he helps our teams use all their technical capabilities to develop solutions that truly consider the humans involved … and besides, he’s quite the AI pro.
Hi Matt, fantastic to have you with us. For starters, what has brought you into the tech industry?
From a very young age, I was lucky enough to be exposed to computers. My father was a teacher in a secondary school where one of the teachers was a big proponent of computers and using them in education. So, as an 8-year-old child, I would go and sit up in a computer lab after school, playing on Commodore Pets and BBC Model B computers whilst my dad finished his day job. I really was a child of the 80s and loved using the technology. We couldn’t afford a computer, but every school holiday, my dad would borrow one from school, and I would type in computer programs from the back of magazines and was fascinated by the possibilities.
As I got older and started thinking about my career, I always thought I was going to do something in computing, and computer programming was probably about as specific as I could get. At university, I did something called a ‘thin sandwich’, which was quite unusual in the UK educational system. I’d spend six months at university, then I would go and work in industry for six months. So, I was paid as a professional developer during those thin sandwich experiences, and I got to work with many interesting people and companies – Acorn Computers (a co-investor in Arm) and Nokia among them – writing code. I’ve been very lucky in my career… and I still write code today every now and then.
To summarise, I would basically say good fortune and a little bit of hard work on my part led to various opportunities, which gave me experience and eventually led to where I am today. I’ve worked for some great organisations, some that I thought were brilliant but that sadly no longer exist. It’s been a real journey to today.
What has been the single biggest innovation with the most impact since you have been working in the industry?
Open-source technology. Before it became mainstream, so much code had to be written to do even the simplest of things. Alternatively, you had to pay third parties to get things done. I remember a project in the late 1990s where you had to pay a company for a license for a C++ library to open files and help you do file manipulation. Nowadays, you go to Github or use ChatGPT and just say, ‘How would I do this?’ We now have these things that enable us to do so much in such a short time.
As well as the code, I think the cultural side of open source is equally important. This notion of sharing a solution to a problem, which someone else may benefit from, and furthermore, if I find a solution that is not 100% the way I want it to be, then I can bend it towards my will.
So, I would say the single biggest innovation isn’t a technology per se but the concept of open-source software and what it has allowed people to do.
There’s been a lot of discussion around the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on people as individuals and as communities. In your view, what would be an ideal scenario of how humans and AI work together – the perfect symbiosis if you will?
People are beginning to use the term ‘autonomous agents’ in relation to generative AI and the notion of two or more AI agents interacting. My future vision, and I think it could be incredibly positive, is that there will still be a human being describing how the AI components should interact with one another, with the human both directing and validating what is happening.
Again, I’d use open source as an analogy … you know, I can go off and google “container orchestration” and something will come back, and I can just use it as a black box, and it will do all these amazing things, and I’ll never have to know anything more about it. But if I want to embed that into a system or get it to work alongside something else, I need to make these two things work. And even if an AI is able to kind of integrate two systems, it has to be done at the behest of something. There still has to be a human asking it to do whatever it should do. I don’t see a future where human beings become passive, but one very much with people who direct things.
Does that mean that we won’t need people with less experience or more junior people? No, instead the nature of the problems they’re directing, validating and interacting with will be smaller and add to a bigger piece inside the puzzle. You know, on day one of your career, you’re not going to go off and speak to the board of a company – that’s highly unlikely because you don’t have the experience to have that level of interaction. But as you go through your career, you’re going to build up to the point where you’re confident to be able to have that level of interaction.
I’m quite positive that this will be a step change in terms of what we can do, but it doesn’t remove us, the human, from the need to do things. Just think about all the exciting possibilities, the things we can imagine and leverage when we use technology in this way!
Looking at your experiences at Endava so far, what is a project or situation that you’ve been particularly proud of?
That was when I was working with Maersk. We were in an initial architecture engagement, and I was there as a technical enterprise architect. I came out of a meeting with a senior stakeholder, the programme manager at the time, and he took me to the side and encouraged me to fully speak my mind and openly share my opinions when he sensed that I was holding back. It was a great team that worked on Maersk, I was one part of that great team, and it was a liberating experience to learn that people do value my opinion. They could see that I operate in a particular way, which allows me to deliver a good outcome for the client. It was a transformative moment in my career.
On the flip side, what is a project or technology that challenged you? And most importantly, what did you learn from this?
I was working with a client in the US, and it was a difficult engagement on several levels. There was a partner who proposed a very siloed approach – us focusing on technology only, they on other parts – and that’s not my philosophy of how you solve a problem for our clients. I believe you have to work as a team if you want to deliver big transformations. It was also a difficult work environment because we were working in the US, which involved a lot of travel and being a very long way from home for long periods of time for many people from across the organisation. Also, many people were trying to make all this work and develop something that we thought could work for the client, but the client themselves weren’t even structured to deliver the transformation that they were asking for. At some point, there was an executive meeting where all this effort was just met with a dismissive attitude, which was quite disappointing, seeing as so many people had given up so much for this.
What did I learn from that? Really listen to the people who work on the projects and take them seriously. There was also a part of me that reminded me to look to the horizon because one of the things about Endava’s business is this: you can be attached to easy or challenging clients, for short or long pieces of work, but there’ll always be a change. The sun will come out at some point in the future … to get a bit philosophical.
Now, we’d like to switch to a few more personal questions. What topic could you give a 20-minute presentation on without any preparation?
Who would be your five famous dinner party guests – real or fictional?
I’ve thought about this so many times, and I’ve changed my mind on so many occasions, but here we go:
- Barack Obama
- Steve Jobs
- Ada Lovelace
- Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, the test pilot who holds the record for flying the most types of aircraft ever – I read his autobiography, and he just sounded like the world’s most fascinating individual. Humble, articulate and smart.
- Steven Fry – because I think you should always have humour at a dinner party.
- (And can I cheat and ask for Taylor Swift to play some songs?)
What was something you thought would be easy until you tried it?
If you could go back in time and visit any historic period, where – or rather when – would you go?
I would have loved to be involved in the space race of the 1960s. The combination of so many people, in different roles, galvanised behind a compelling objective delivering an outcome. I’ve read several biographies of people in and around the space race at this time, and the sheer rate of change and fortitude of the individuals involved was remarkable. I am also fascinated by people like Margaret Hamilton – lead programmer of the Apollo guidance programs – and how they had such a largely unsung impact on what was done but certainly prevented the loss of life on the Apollo 11 mission.
Would you be brave enough to share one of your guilty pleasures with us?
Ha ha, I’ve got lots of guilty pleasures! If it’s food, I like liquorice. Also, in terms of music and hobbies, I like lots of stuff that would make most people go, ‘What the heck!?’
Finally, would you share a favourite quote with us to send our readers off with some inspiration?
“There’s lots of ways to be, as a person. And some people express their deep appreciation in different ways. But one of the ways that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity is to make something wonderful and put it out there.
And you never meet the people. You never shake their hands. You never hear their story or tell yours. But somehow, in the act of making something with a great deal of care and love, something’s transmitted there. And it’s a way of expressing to the rest of our species our deep appreciation. So, we need to be true to who we are and remember what’s really important to us.” – Steve Jobs, 2007
It’s been great, thank you for sharing your perspective and experience, Matt! Stay tuned for more insights into the work and life of Endavans in the next parts of our Meet the SME series.
Chief Technology OfficerMatt leads the technology organisation in Endava with responsibility for the Catalyst Consulting & Advisory team, Close to Client Delivery, Internal Technology, Innovation and Endava’s suite of capabilities utilised to deliver to our clients. Matt has worked with Endava since 2014 and has over 30 years of experience as a technologist across a broad set of industry sectors. Matt is passionate about the positive impact that technology can have on people’s lives.
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