Fireside Chat with Professor Sue Black, OBE
Best of: Cloudflare Connect London - 2019
Named in the list of top 50 women in tech in Europe, and winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Lovie Awards 2018, Sue is one of the leading tech personalities in the UK today. An award-winning computer scientist, radical thinker, and social entrepreneur Sue is well known for founding the high profile campaign to save Bletchley Park, capitalising upon social media as a fitting continuation of Bletchley’s technological legacy.
The fireside chat is moderated by Cloudflare CTO, John Graham-Cumming.
Mastering Velocity and Scalability to Serve the World's Largest Organizations (2015)
- John Shewchuk - CVP & Technical Fellow, Microsoft
- Moderated by: Michelle Zatlyn, Co-founder and COO, Cloudflare
Music Sue, take a seat.
Thank you. Alright, we get to sit down for this. And they're trapped in here for another three hours, so we've got lots to talk about.
Don't think about leaving, alright?
Alright, so I was just looking at your Twitter. I was going to pull it out.
And you have a pinned tweet at the top of your Twitter, and it says, this is how you describe yourself, I left school at 16, was in a women's refuge at 25 with three small children, went back to education at 26, got a degree in computing in 93, got a PhD in software engineering in 2001, and then a DSC from the University of Kent, and also the OBE.
So I'm kind of intimidated, because you've done a lot of stuff.
No. So Sue and I met because of Bletchley Park. Who knows what Bletchley Park is here?
Alright, we'll briefly say what it is. Do you want to tell us about Bletchley Park, and then we'll work backwards through all this?
Yeah, okay, sure. Well, so Bletchley Park is the place where the Code Breakers worked in the UK during the Second World War.
10,000 people worked there, about 80% were women.
I first got, I don't know if I want to get started on how I first got involved.
No, go on, tell us. I'll talk forever. Go on, tell us. So in 98, I set up the UK's first online network for women in tech.
And then representing that group, got invited up to Bletchley Park in 2003, went for a walk around, and bumped into these guys that were rebuilding Turing's bomb machine.
So all of the machines that were used to industrialise the code -breaking process were destroyed at the end of World War II on Churchill's orders.
Well, that's the official version, but actually, I think two of the machines went to GCHQ, but anyway.
So all the machines were destroyed, and kind of the whole story of Bletchley really was buried, I think.
It wasn't in our public consciousness.
And when I went along, I met these guys that were rebuilding Turing's bomb machine, first rebuild, because they wanted to show everyone what that actually looked like, how it worked, kind of get that story out there.
Chatted to them, talked about the women at Bletchley Park.
They told me about these women, nearly 8,000 women that worked at Bletchley Park.
I went away that time wanting to raise the profile of the women and the 10,000 people that worked there at Bletchley Park.
Organised an oral history project, so to record the memories of the women that worked at Bletchley Park.
Then at the launch of that, found out that Bletchley Park was struggling financially, might have to close, so started a campaign to save it, got on BBC TV and stuff by then.
So I got my degree, my PhD, became a lecturer, then kind of applied for promotion any time I could.
So by this time in 2008, I was head of department at University of Westminster, so emailed all the heads and professors of computing in the country, said we've got to save Bletchley Park, kind of a campaign started out of that.
Found out that the work that was done at Bletchley Park was said to have shortened World War II by two years and at that time 11 million people a year were dying.
So potentially the work that was done there saved 22 million lives and that kind of just spurred me into action really to start a campaign.
So got people to sign a petition, got on BBC News and then there was a lot of interest but then didn't quite know what to do after that because as an academic, for me to get publicity about something, get it on TV, get it on Radio 4 in the UK and get it, TV, radio and newspapers, get it in the Times, so in the press.
And then I was like, what else do I do? That's all the things I can think of and that happened within two weeks of starting the campaign.
So I didn't quite know what to do after that and then about six months after that, towards the end of 2008, started using Twitter and then it all kind of, well gradually but quite quickly really, exploded into being a campaign because just by typing Bletchley Park into the search box in Twitter, you can find everyone who's already talking about Bletchley Park and that's what I did over and over and over and over again.
Then got Stephen Fry involved and it all took off from there.
It's interesting you talk about the Twitter part of it because that seems like an amazing amplifier for what was really one voice, right?
You were sitting there saying, hey, we should save this, save this.
Somehow you found that. When you started using Twitter, were you literally just atting people and saying, hey, you should care about this, you should care about this?
Yeah, I was. It was like going into work every day, typing Bletchley Park into the search box, getting a list of people who were already saying something about Bletchley Park or just putting keywords in, right?
Bletchley Park code breakers, I can't remember what else, Turing maybe.
And then just chatting to people, so looking at what people were saying about Bletchley Park and then responding to them.
Even if they weren't talking to me, I started talking to them.
Usually, but I didn't on people's conversations, but that's fine on Twitter, you can do that.
Saying, did you know Bletchley Park, blah, blah, blah, the code breakers, shortened the war by two years, saving 22 million lives and just started a conversation and just kind of built it up from there and did that probably every day, several times a day for quite a long time.
And at that period, Bletchley was really threatened by the fact that they didn't have any money, so they were actually going to sell part of it off to make a housing estate, right?
Well, they had already sold half the site. Right. So it was 52 acres to start with.
By the time I was involved, it was 26 acres. They had sold off some of it, which everyone said was the right idea because they couldn't maintain 52 acres and so they did need to get some money in.
So I think that happened quite a few years before because when I first got involved properly in 2008, the housing estate had been built there.
Right, right. And there was a sort of threat to knock down what are some pretty ugly buildings, actually.
Yeah, the whole site was going to go at some point and I think the local councillor managed to save it because he got some trees, is it listed?
I don't know, it's not listed. Protected in some way, yeah.
Protected. Yeah, so some of the trees protected and that's how he managed to save it.
There's an incredible kind of up and down story for a very long time before I got involved.
Well, also, after you got involved, you say there's the two-week period and then Twitter starts to happen and it's really sort of started to spiral around sort of 2008 period.
What happened next, right?
Because you've written a book about this, saving Bletchley Park and about this whole thing, but a lot more happened after you got moving on it, right?
Yeah, well, so it was like traditional media to start with. We got some way with that.
I probably got about 200 emails from people. A couple of code breakers got in touch that I got to know, like Captain Jerry Roberts and James Lorne and a few other people that actually worked at Bletchley Park, so that was amazing.
Then, yeah, I didn't know what to do for a few months. I was just talking to people that I met and then started using Twitter at the end of 2008.
Found some people on Twitter that were much better at social media than me and kind of really helped Bletchley Park to get onto Twitter.
So to help Bletchley Park themselves move things along.
Got Stephen Fry involved. He tweeted, so I'd set up a Saving Bletchley Park blog and I was getting about 50 hits a day, which I thought was amazing.
You're like, 50 hits, woo!
And then one tweet from Stephen Fry and I got 8,000 that day, so that taught me a lesson.
And that day, I was the most retweeted person in the world on Twitter that day.
So I guess that will never happen again. Maybe if I have a fight with Nicki Minaj and Donald Trump, maybe.
Is that on the cards? Well, you know, I wouldn't mind punching one of them.
Well, after Justin Bieber. Which one?
Yeah, not Nicki Minaj. Just to dial back a little bit though, so what got you initially kind of interested in it was the story of the women in Bletchley Park, because there's a huge number of women and a high percentage.
We often hear about Turing, about Gerry Roberts, of course, who you've met, about Tommy Flowers and all these kind of people.
But what were the women doing? Because many of them were in extremely important positions and they were doing a lot of the day-to-day codebreaking.
Absolutely. Well, so some of them were codebreakers. I mean, it was mainly men that were codebreakers, but some of the women were codebreakers, like Mavis Beattie, who was there as an 18-year -old.
I think she'd just started university and then got pulled out to work at Bletchley Park.
So she was 18 and she made one of the major codebreaking discoveries quite early on, I think, which saved hundreds of lives.
I forgot all the details now. It was the Battle of Cape Matapan.
She did something to do with that. But if you find her on Wikipedia, the whole story's there now.
But most of the women that worked there were sort of 18 to 23 kind of age, probably sort of just left school.
And I guess because most of the guys were away fighting, right, it was mainly women that were left back in the UK.
And so, yeah, lots of them were recommended by their headmaster at school because they liked doing cryptic crosswords and, you know, solving puzzles and stuff.
And so they would just be told to report to Bletchley Station and they didn't know anything else at all.
So they didn't know why they were going there. So they would turn up at Bletchley Station as an 18-year-old, probably first time away from home maybe.
And also one of the veterans, Jean Valentine, who unfortunately has just died, going to her funeral on Friday.
She was an amazing, amazing woman.
I think she's like 97 now. She's from Scotland.
So she got the train down from Scotland, got off at Bletchley Station, didn't know what was going to happen when she got there, first time away from home.
And then I think someone at Bletchley Station just said, oh, you know, you must be going over there to Bletchley Park.
No one locally knew what was going on at all, I don't think.
I've forgotten what they called it, but it was basically something like the loony bin or something.
You know, they thought that everyone there was mad.
They didn't actually realise what was going on at all. And so she went in and then had to go in and sign the Official Secrets Act with a soldier with a gun, you know, kind of like clearly showing the gun.
You know, like basically, if you tell anyone what's happening here, we will shoot you, was kind of the message she got from that.
Signed the Official Secrets Act and then started working there.
They were working eight hours on, like, you know, eight-hour shifts every day, kind of round the clock.
Lots of the women were billeted out at Woburn Abbey down the road.
So lots of women all lived together at Woburn Abbey. And there's some funny stories, actually, that some of the...
Meeting up with the women that worked at Bletchley Park, well, everyone that worked at Bletchley Park, they're all kind of exactly what you would want them to be in that they're really sharp, really kind of dry wit, very down-to-earth, just amazing people.
And so one of my favourite Bletchley Park stories is I was chatting to some of the women that had come together for the reunion maybe about six or eight years ago, and I said, well, so I kind of know what you did at work, but basically, you know, they couldn't talk to anyone about what they were doing at work.
They were just sitting and doing very mundane, lots of them transcribing or, I don't know, listening to Morse code and stuff.
So kind of very detailed, quite boring, monotonous work and unable to talk to anyone else about it.
So I wanted to know, what did you get up to outside of work?
So I asked this table of ladies. So I said, you know, what did you do for fun? What did you do once work was over?
And one of them said, oh, do you remember, to another one, do you remember that time that we nicked the Vickers bicycle to go to a dance?
And I was like, OK, yeah, have you got any more stories like this? You know, like, expand on that.
And one of them said, well, there was this thing where the local RAF station got really worried because the planes were flying low over Woburn Abbey and they couldn't work out why.
And so it turned out that because most of the female, most of the women working at Bletchley Park lived at Woburn Abbey, or lots of them, and in the summer they would go on the roof and sunbathe.
And so the planes were flying low over Woburn Abbey to get a look at the sunbathing women.
So I thought that was quite funny. But it's 10,000 people, 8,000 women, 2,000 men, mainly between 18 and 25.
You just know some kind of hideous... Shenanigans.
Shenanigans is going to happen. And actually, another one of the women said, when I was talking to her, that you had to be really careful because there was blackout all the time in the evening.
So if you're working on a night shift, you'd go over to what's now hut 4 for your meal during the night.
And she said you had to be really careful because there would be bodies on the floor.
She didn't say what people were doing, but we can probably guess.
Because you wouldn't be able to see.
You'd just bump into people on the floor at night, on the grass.
And the interesting thing is that all these women, after the war, they get demobbed, so they're no longer doing this thing, and they've been threatened to keep this thing secret.
And they did. The story only came out in the late 70s at some point, and they had not spoken to their husbands or people they were with after that.
Sometimes they were even people who worked together at Bletchley and never even told each other what they do.
I think that's fascinating also. How did they do that?
It's hard to imagine 10,000 people just said, oh, well, we saved everybody. We'll keep quiet about it now.
I think a lot of them didn't actually know how fundamental their work was.
So I think only six people in the world knew exactly what was going on.
So Churchill was one of them. I guess the guy that was running Bletchley Park is another.
So very, very few people knew actually what was going on across the whole of Bletchley Park.
And I think lots of them, when the stories came out of what had actually been going on in their huts, they didn't actually know.
They just knew their little part that they were doing, and they didn't quite know...
Obviously, if you're translating messages and stuff, you'd have some sort of idea, but I think lots of them really didn't have any idea.
And lots of women were operating the bomb machines and stuff, so they sort of knew, they sort of had an idea, but they didn't really know what was going on.
So I think it's amazing that they kept it all secret, but at the same time, most people did not have a sort of overview of exactly what was going on there.
I want to start with that. A lot of the women worked on actually transcribing Morse, right?
So they were actually just listening to Nazi transmissions and writing down random sequences of letters, and then they would get to know the operator by the way in which they sent Morse.
That was also mostly women doing that work. Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely, yeah.
And I think one of the ways that they managed to break Enigma, you probably know more about this than me, was when one of the messages was sent, and then it was sent again.
And what were the details like, John? So somebody... There was one message that was sent twice, where the operator was sent, and the other end said, oh, I didn't get that, and the person sent it again, and they were feeling lazy, so they sent the same message, but they abbreviated it.
And so because there were abbreviations, suddenly there was a, oh, it's not quite the same, and that gave a guy called Bill Tutte the ability to actually get into the message, which was striking.
I mean, there's so many stories about Bletchley that you could go back through all these kind of things.
So, okay, so you got... You wanted to tell this story about these women.
I want to dial back to something, though, because you and I, when we talked on the phone, you said, you know, you had decided to do a PhD.
And when I decided to do my PhD, it was for an equally bad reason. So you... See, I did mine because I didn't want to leave college, and I thought I could stay for another three years.
Yeah. And I was having a really nice time. All my friends went and became bankers and things like that.
But you said you didn't even know what a PhD was, right?
Yeah. You thought you could just do it anyway. Well, that's kind of it, yeah.
So I, you know, like, I ended up being in a refuge for six months, started life again, got a council flat, got the kids sorted, so my daughter was four, got her into, like, reception at school.
The boys' twin sons were two, so I got them into play group for two hours a day.
And then I thought, what am I going to do?
I wasn't expecting to be a single parent. I wasn't expecting to kind of start life over again, in a way.
So I thought, well, I should go back to work. But then I realised that actually I couldn't go back to work because I had 5.0 levels, I'd left school at 16.
If I tried to go back to work, I wouldn't have earned enough money to pay for childcare for three children, let alone everything else.
So I couldn't go back to work.
So I thought, well, why don't I try and go back into education?
So I went along to the local college. I loved maths at school. It was, like, always my favourite subject from when I was a kid.
So I thought, well, I'll try and get A-level maths and then try and get into university was kind of the plan.
So I went along to the college. They actually, luckily, had a fast-track maths course, which was equivalent to two A-levels in maths and was just one year, six hours a week.
Where was that? Southwark College, just down the road. Right, just down the road.
Yeah, yeah, about a mile away or less. And, yeah, it was a fast-track maths course, two evenings a week and then 20 hours a week private study at home.
So that suited me really well because I just had to get a babysitter two evenings a week, study at home, it was all fine.
And so, yeah, so I did that course.
That got me equivalent qualifications to be able to get into university.
So then I went to Southbank Uni, again down the road. I studied computing.
The first year was really hard because the kids were still so small and I had to drop the kids at nine, get to uni at ten, leave at two, pick them up at three.
I just got through the first year. I think I got like 52% and I had to get 50 % to pass into the second year.
So that was hard. But then things got easier as time went on.
Then in the final year of my degree, I was doing a sort of natural language interface to a database was my final year project.
And which, when I think about it now, is hilarious compared to what we have now.
Right, right. Because it was so naughty.
But anyway. And so I was chatting to my supervisor in our sort of like monthly meeting.
And as part of the conversation, he said to me, so what do you think about doing a PhD?
And I said, oh, I'd love to do a PhD. Well, I didn't tell him I didn't know what a PhD was.
So I had to go away after the meeting and look it up in the library because it's kind of pre everything being on the Internet days.
And then when I saw what it was, it was like doing research. I was like, yeah, well, I love that.
So that's cool. So it's not like I didn't know when I actually did it.
But like when he asked me, I didn't really know what it was. And so you, I mean, I feel like I've done nothing because, you know, you're doing this, juggling three children, partly in a women's refuge and doing this kind of stuff.
And it's like, that must have been an enormous juggling thing to get to that point.
As you went on, presumably it got a little bit easier. Easier, yeah. But, I mean, do you think that made you then when Bletchley Park came along go, well, I can do that.
I've done this. This is trivial, right? This is saving Bletchley Park. Not a big deal, right?
I honestly, I didn't even think, can I do it or not? I just thought I must do this.
I didn't, honestly, it didn't enter my head. Can I do it or not?
It's like, I must do this. I must. And there was nothing else in my head apart from I must do this.
But why? What was it that made you do it? I don't know.
I mean, so kind of like looking back over my life now, I'm like 50 something. You can sort of see patterns of behaviour.
I think because my, like my mum died when I was 12.
Everything in my family messed up. I was very unhappy from 13 to 16. My dad remarried, possibly to the wrong person.
Just a personal opinion. There's no one here.
Don't worry. You can tell me. There's literally nobody here. And so my life went from just like an average bobbing along life to, you know, like lots of emotional cruelty, a bit of physical cruelty.
So I didn't have a great time 13 to 16.
As soon as I was 16, I left home to get away from all of that. And then there's been sort of lots of getting myself out of situations, I think.
And so there was that.
Then I lived with my friend's family for a year, then moved to London.
So I was kind of getting, I just wanted a different life. I was right out in the wilds of Essex.
So I wanted. It's a good place. I'm from Essex, okay. It's okay.
You can say anything. Essex is great. I'm an Essex girl. And moved to London.
And then I don't know, then, then like getting married. And then all of that kind of going a bit.
And having to escape from that. So I think maybe having to getting or ending up in difficult situations and having to get myself out of it, maybe that gave me something which helps me to then not worry about so much about what's going to happen.
I'll just throw myself in and see what happens.
But I mean, I don't know if that's actually true. That's just kind of me guessing, really.
I know that when I first met you at Bletchley, it was like this whirlwind of like, this is what's going to happen.
This is what's going on. You know, you were just like, I'm just doing this stuff.
It was, who is that? You know, what's going on?
And I felt kind of like, wow, you know, there's somebody who's really driving it.
It's very interesting to see where those kind of impulses come from.
It's like, I'm just going to do this thing. So since then, obviously you wrote the book.
You're on your world tour of talking about this. Yeah.
But now you're actually in Durham, right? Yeah. So tell us about Durham. So I've now got my dream job.
So I'm Professor of Computer Science and Technology Evangelist at Durham, which means that it's actually my job to sit on Twitter.
I'm actually getting paid to do that. So, well, you know, so I was head of department at Westminster.
I was there for four years. Then I kind of, there was a redundancy round.
The vice-chancellor of University of Westminster was great, but he thought that computing wasn't really going anywhere, so we needed to cut staffing computing by 50%.
And I just thought, I don't really want to be head of department with 50% of the staff teaching the same amount of students.
So I was like, okay, I'm out of here.
So then I kind of took a bit of a break, thought, well, what do I want to do?
I wrote the book, started my social enterprise Tech Mums, teaching tech skills to mums and various other bits and pieces.
One of which was run to be London Mayor, right?
One of the bits and pieces on the side, right?
Yeah, so that's kind of come later on. So I've been running Tech Mums, writing the book, getting stuff out there with the book.
And then actually loads of people have asked me to come and talk at things like this.
So that's kind of become part of my career as well, which I wasn't particularly expecting, but it's great, I love it.
And about a year ago, Durham University got in touch and said, we'd really like to do something with you.
We're not quite sure what. We love the women in tech staff, we love the Bletchley Park staff.
You know, I've got a kind of research and academic career as well, kind of behind me.
Can we have a chat? So we had like a one-year chat, and that turned into becoming a professor of computer science and technology evangelist at Durham University.
So I've been there since November, having a great time, really.
Part of what I'm doing is trying to up the numbers of women students that we've got, because it's about 15%, which is pretty standard across most universities in the UK anyway, try and get it up a bit higher towards 50%.
I've been out to the States to chat to Harvey Mudd College, who've actually done that, who've gone through the process from, I think they said 7% up to 50% and kept it there, looking at kind of diversity, technology, all that kind of stuff, along with getting funding from the Institute of Coding to run a programme to retrain 100 women, particularly from underrepresented backgrounds, into technology careers.
So we're working... Well, we've just had... It's really great, actually.
We've just had all the submissions in from about 200 women from the Midlands and the North who've applied to come on the programme, and we got them all to send us one-minute videos.
So I've been watching videos this morning of women applying.
So that's really cool. We're going to train them into data science, developer, agile project manager, and business analyst roles.
So that's kind of like a pilot project, which is about to start. The Women's Equality Party recently asked me to put myself forward to be their candidate for London Mayor, and I just thought, why not?
Why not? Why not try to be the Mayor of London as well?
That's a theme, isn't it? I'll just do that then. You know, what's the worst thing that can happen?
I'll look like an idiot. Well, you might get elected.
If you got elected, you'd have to do something. Yeah, no, that's true.
Well, it's funny because I talked to my boss at Durham, like the head of department.
I said, Women's Equality Party have asked me to put myself forward to be London Mayor candidate.
What do you think? And he was like, go for it. So he obviously doesn't think that I'll be London Mayor.
Or he does. So that's kind of good and bad.
Oh, he's trying to get rid of me already. Yeah. I don't know. So, all right.
So it's hard to know from this sort of long career of things that have happened to you.
But what are you going to do next? I mean, Mayor of London, obviously.
Yeah. But after that, after that's got out of the way, do you have a sort of sense of this is the thing that's driving me for the next five years?
Is there something which you really want to do?
Yeah, so with TechMum. So when I stepped out of my job at University of Westminster, I was writing the book and stuff, but I was like, I've kind of got a sort of change the world thing in me.
Yes, you do, don't you?
Yeah. So I was thinking about, well, so, you know, what do I want to do next?
Like Bletchley Park campaigns work, that's all okay. What am I going to do?
And I thought about, I don't know if you know, the Little Britain sketch, computer says no.
So I was kind of thinking, I really want people to understand that technology is a great thing.
Like particularly in the media, it's always negative stories, you know, like computers taking jobs away and robots killing people.
And that's what everyone thinks technology is. And it's just like, that's just so wrong.
Of course, there's a few negative things, but in general, it's doing amazing things in so many amazing ways.
I don't have to tell you guys that. So I love technology and I love what it can do.
I love what it's done for me and my family.
Along with education, it's empowered me, which has changed my family and changed my life.
And so I thought I want to try and do something in that area. I don't know what to help everyone understand the benefits of technology.
So I started by running app design and Python programming on Raspberry Pi workshops with seven-year-old kids.
Because at that time, this was about eight or nine years ago, Michael Gove was the education minister.
And he was saying... Yeah. And he was saying that computing is too difficult for anyone under 14.
And I thought, what a load of bollocks, that's not true.
That really isn't true. Yeah. And so I want to do something about it.
So teaching that kind of stuff to seven-year-old kids. My mic keeps going off.
We're going to get you a new mic. Okay. Maybe we've run out of time.
Is it because I swore? I'm really sorry. No, you can swear as much as you like, honestly.
You can say whatever you like. I didn't even notice. So teaching that stuff to seven-year-old kids went really well.
We'd get the parents in at the end of the day and get them to have a go.
And what I noticed was, in general, the dads would step in and have a go at coding on a Raspberry Pi.
And the mums would be a bit more like, oh, no, please don't ask me to do that.
So it just started me thinking, if I can get mums to be tech-savvy, then we not only get mums on board, but we get the kids on board, too.
So we'll get more kids going into tech.
You know, I want more kids studying technology. I want everyone to understand how amazing it is and what it can do.
So that kind of made me think, well, why don't I put together a program to teach mums tech skills?
So that's what I did. So I put together a program, started running it in the east end of London, in Tower Hamlets, and had great success straightaway, really.
It worked really well.
We've had funding issues over the years. Techmums is a social enterprise that's been running since 2012, I think, or 2013.
And we've had great successes with mums, but we've had issues with funding.
So to start with, schools and colleges were paying us, but then with the austerity cuts in the UK, all that funding went.
So we had to rethink our business model. Started doing stuff online. That kind of worked quite well.
Won some awards. Just recently, it seems like libraries and housing associations now have funding to run our program.
So we've just started working with Leeds Libraries in Leeds, CodeClan in Scotland, various organizations around the UK.
We've extended out the program from two hours a week for five weeks to two hours a week for ten weeks.
And it's incredible, really.
What I love now is I've set this thing up, and I can just go along to the mums' graduations, and we get mums giving speeches about how it's changed their life.
And it's just amazing. I just absolutely love it. I've forgotten what the question was you asked me.
If you get me talking about Techmums, I'll talk forever.
Just go. Just keep going. No, I was asking about the next. Oh, the next thing.
So what I really want now. So we're kind of taking Techmums up to the next level.
We just got our first proper corporate sponsor, which means we've been able to get a CEO, like a really good CEO, who's come in.
And we are kind of focusing on getting to a million mums by 2020, which I started saying that three years ago, and it seemed like, OK, but now that's next year.
I'm like... But, you know, we will do it.
And then it will be five million mums by 2025 or something. So is there an opportunity to shake down the audience here for money?
Yeah, I don't know.
If there are people, if there are organizations that are interested in getting involved.
Yeah, absolutely. Get in touch with me. Sue at Techmums.co. Tweet me, add DrBlack.
We're looking for more corporate sponsors, because we really are changing not just the women's lives, but whole families' lives in deprived areas around the UK.
And we want to go global. So we need money to make that happen too. All right.
Well, you heard it from her directly. I have to ask you one more thing.
What is on your dress? Because it's clearly code. It's Python. It's Python code.
So I thought, oh, I've got to have that.
I've got to have a dress with code on it. So I sent my money in.
I was tweeting it, and the people that make the dress were saying, oh, can we use your photos?
I was like, yeah, of course.
Promote what you're doing. And they've got loads of STEM dresses, so all different types of science and technology.
Couldn't you have a Python dress? So I was like, yeah, a Python dress, that would be a great, that's a great idea.
So I just, at Svaha USA, which is their company, and said, you know, like, this guy sent a Python dress.
I think that's a good idea.
And they were like, okay, we'll make one. So they did. So they got a designer and designed a Python dress, and here it is.
So the story behind this is, if you at someone, they better do it, right?
That's really, that seems to be really the message.
That'll be a big trouble. Sometimes they say, you better do it, so just watch out, you know, if you see at doctor underscore black, you're in trouble.
So what does that clock over there say? Does it say we've run out of time?
Four minutes. All right, good. Brilliant, brilliant. Because I can't quite see it from here.
I actually think it might be nice to let the audience ask a question or two, because, you know, I've talked to you before, and it's a bit cheeky of me just to chat with you in front of a bunch of people.
So there is a question right there.
Ta-da. Hi, thanks for that. It was great. Sorry, I'm not facing this way.
That's all right. IT and tech is stereotypically men. I mean, look at this room.
It's an obvious sausage fest in here. There are professions that seem to be inherently this way, like most males and mechanics, or mechanics and males, rather, and there probably aren't that many men in wedding cake making, for example.
Do you see tech as inherently, or IT in that way, inherently sort of male, or do you think it's a conditioning problem or something?
I think it's kind of our society.
I think it seems, you know, like if we look back a few decades, I think there were just as many women in tech as there were men.
So it's not that women don't want to do it.
I think it's kind of like a long, deep problem. It's not like one simple thing, but I think that as technology became more a thing that people could make money out of, then kind of big business came in, and big business was guys in general.
And so it's kind of ended up being sort of showcased as a male profession.
If you look at stuff from the, like adverts from the 70s, it's all guys on computers.
There aren't any women. And then we've sort of got the whole, you know, I think our society is a bit messed up, I suppose.
And, you know, male and female roles, as we kind of think of them, maybe 1,000 years ago or 2,000 years ago, completely made sense.
But I think now we don't have to kind of stick to those roles anymore.
And we know that, you know, not all men are like this and not all women are like that.
And I think we're sort of going through a transition time now, particularly because of social media, where we can all see what's happening to everybody all the time is kind of how it feels.
So we can see so much more of what it's like to be a woman in tech or what it's like to be, I don't know, a male nurse or what, you know, like we can see all of this stuff now.
Whereas before, if you, you know, you would chat to people as individuals, but in general, you couldn't see what was happening to all of these other people.
It's kind of, it's an interesting time.
I just love the fact that through one word, like one hashtag, like Black Lives Matter or Me Too, suddenly we can see what's happening to a whole kind of section of society that we couldn't see before.
And now I've forgotten your question.
I think you just about answered it, don't worry. You did a good job, thanks.
All right, we get kicked off stage. More questions. There's a question over here.
How do you get a highly intelligent 15 -year-old girl who spends all the day on Snapchat and all the rest of it into IT?
My daughter. When she says it's just a job for geeks and nerds, look at you, Dad.
How do you actually... There's a perception in that age group, even if they use all the social media, et cetera, that it is for geeks and nerds, and that's their attitude.
That's what society's telling them.
That's what the media's telling them. I mean, it is changing because you do see more women working in tech.
You know, there are big kind of campaigns to try and change the way we see all of this, but it just takes time.
It takes time, and it takes all of us to kind of keep thinking even about what we're saying.
You know, like I try my hardest bringing up...
I've got two sons and two daughters, and actually two grandsons and two granddaughters now.
So it's great that it's 50-50.
I love that. But... So I tried hard to bring my kids up the same way, but I'm sure there's things in my head, because of the way I was brought up, which where I've, you know, unconscious bias, I've done some things which, you know, I've done some stuff with the girls, and, you know, like both my daughters do knitting and crochet.
Both my sons don't do knitting and crochet. You know, that's probably down to me, but I wouldn't consciously do that.
So there's all this kind of stuff going on, all that stuff out in the media.
We can only do what we can do.
I would say in general, if you're trying to get people to get excited about technology, is link it in some way into what they care about already.
So something to do with Snapchat, I don't know what.
Or, you know, just stuff that she enjoys doing.
Link it into technology. And like, you know, it's hard as a parent, but don't go on about things.
You know, like trying to get them to do it. Just kind of more lay things in front of them so they can almost discover it themselves.
Well, no one's kicking us off stage, so why don't we ask another question.
Here we go, there's a question right here.
Thank you very much for having me, and what a fascinating speech.
I don't know that I've seen the book by Bill Gates, The Road Ahead, the official biography of Bill Gates.
I mean, he never set out in life to go into computing at all.
And his parents, when he was one, Paul Allen, the parents organized, the ladies actually organized something over the summer, long summers, with AT&T for them to learn a little bit of computing.
And that's how he went into BASIC, programming in BASIC.
Then the rest is history. The point I'm trying to make is the contributions women make to the development of child.
His father particularly didn't like technology anyway, and thought it was just a toy, you know, just a matter of phase.
But like you've seen now, the rest is history. And congratulations on what you're doing.
Thank you. Thank you. Is there another question somewhere?
I think I saw another hand right back over there. Thank you, Valtteri Koela.
I'm a PhD researcher in the University of Oulu, back in Finland.
And I just wanted to ask you, Sue, that now you see children, millennials, they mostly communicate by using video.
They use Snapchat, Instagram stories, and so on.
But still like mostly PhDs are made in a written form. So you have to write still the PhD.
Do you think like in the future there could be another ways doing research and making your PhD maybe using video or some new forms of media?
Yeah, that's a really good idea. Yeah, good question. It's not going to happen anytime soon, I don't think.
But yeah, I'm sure it will happen at some point, because you're right.
Once that generation of kids get to be professors at university, they're going to want to do things in the way that works for them, I guess.
So yeah, video PhDs. Thank you. One more question? No? We're out of time. Someone's told me if I ask another question, I'll be in trouble.
Listen, I realize that the country thanked you by giving you an OBE, but I wanted to thank you because when I came back to the UK, you were about a year into the Bletchley campaign, and I came back and I'd obviously known about it from years before, and it's a striking thing that one person can just drive that forward and really save that location, and now we're here to tell that story.
So thank you from me personally.
Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Okay, so John and I stand between you and this beautiful evening. So we are wrapping up today's awesome Internet summit, so I'm very honoured to be sitting here.
For those who don't know, this is John Shuchuk. He told me that, think about it as throwing a shoe at somebody, Chuck, so that actually really helped, who, if you go to his LinkedIn profile, probably has the best LinkedIn profile I've ever seen.
It actually inspired me to update mine. And the very first sentence is, I'm lucky to have what I think is the coolest job on the planet.
I mean, how cool is that?
Well, in the software industry. Okay, okay. Now he's adding, he's, he's, he's, exactly.
What is that, what do you do at Microsoft? I mean, what is your coolest job on the planet?
So Microsoft, I don't know how I landed this gig, but they gave me the job of leading a team of about over 600 software engineers whose only job it is to go out and partner with people all across the planet and do really cool stuff.
And it's this kind of bizarre pay it forward model. We don't charge anything to do this.
We work on any crazy kind of technology. And the hope is that in the process of doing these things and solving those hard problems, it's going to ultimately benefit Microsoft.
Wow. That is pretty cool. And so give us some examples of some of these companies you've partnered with and some of the sorts of things you get to work on.
Well, so the, at the kind of the really big scale, folks like General Electric have these massive industrial Internet systems, Siemens, Rockwell, they have oil rigs and they're situated all over the world.
We help them aggregate that data, do machine learning over it, that kind of stuff.
But it goes all the way down to the startups.
We partner with Sam Altman's Y Combinator here down in the valley.
Just right nearby is Mesosphere. And I've had a young rockstar dev who's been embedded down here, coding away, checking in code into the kernel to help Mesosphere have the Mesos algorithm be able to schedule both Linux and Windows workloads.
So kind of the first time there's been cluster management for their product, not for a Microsoft product.
That's great. So basically working with all of these, through working with all these different partners, you really get to see what's coming on the next horizon at both large organizations and small organizations.
So tell us a little bit about what are some trends you're seeing emerging that you're personally really excited about?
Well, there's just so many kind of patterns that we end up seeing.
You have to kind of break it into a couple of different areas.
Like there's patterns in big data, there's patterns around IoT, there's patterns around what's happening with machine learning.
You know, those, I would say, those are actually areas where we see the most projects.
Often together. Like one of the most interesting things that I come across is just this huge influx of projects from these top industrial companies who have massive amounts of data, they're trying to stream it up to the cloud, put it into big data stores, and then do analytics over that.
And that analytics might be things like anomaly detection or predictive maintenance, but then they want to really take action on those things.
So those are some of the kinds of things that we're seeing a lot of.
That's great. So within Internet of Things, what are some of the trends your team is seeing?
Because that's such a topic that we hear all the time, but what are some tangible real life examples of what you are seeing that the audience and those online may be interested in hearing about?
Just yesterday, I had a little company from the valley up, Richard McNiff's company, I forget the name of it.
They're trying to understand how to go change the world around advertising.
If you think about advertising in this day and age, broadcast advertising has become very ineffective.
And so what they've done is they've switched to this mode of almost flipboard-like storytelling in their app.
And all of these great stories are starting to show up on their platform.
So we're having that conversation, and we're talking about how they want to get that content out to any platform, including on Windows.
So that was that conversation. Meanwhile, I had the top industrial and electronic signage company from Germany in.
And they have more Internet points of presence across that whole region of Europe than Google or anyone else, because they've got these signs around.
But they've done broadcast.
And that broadcast just isn't being effective. So I said, hey, we should get you two together.
So the two CEOs got together, the CTO and CEO got together, and they're excited about a deal.
And that was yesterday. But I think it's indicative of this world of IoT.
It's not just about... Sometimes people think about it as Nest and smart things.
Some people think about the kind of world of drones and things like that.
The place, I think, the largest amount of data is in these existing businesses, like the Rockwells, the GEs, the oil and gas, the pharmaceuticals, where all this stuff is flowing around.
Mm-hmm. That's great. That's great.
So changing gears a little bit, you've been at Microsoft for 22 years.
You guys rode a huge wave up. Yep. And then you've kind of stayed steady for a little bit.
But then now you're kind of have a new revolution going on at Microsoft.
And I know Andy McAfee just described you as potentially getting kneecaps.
But tell us what... No, it's fine. Yeah, yeah. Tell us what it's like...
What's it been like seeing all the different leadership changes? And how has that impacted Microsoft in setting you up for the future?
Well, as you know, early on, Microsoft was one of the companies that helped pioneer the use of personal computing.
Absolutely. And I had the opportunity to work really closely with Bill.
And that was a very energetic time, lots happening. I got to help build the version of Internet Explorer that was the version before people got mad at us.
And I got to do this crazy thing called Visual Studio and .NET.
So those were super fun times.
After Bill kind of stepped back, Balmer came in and the focus of the company was very much on bringing those technologies into the enterprise.
And I think if there was a reason that the company kind of started to lose its way is that the world was changing around us in terms of mobile and Internet.
And so we have a new CTO in Satya.
This is a guy who grew up doing mobile, Internet, very comfortable in that world.
I kind of think of him as an Internet citizen. Whereas Bill and Steve, they loved Windows.
And so I think it was a little hard for them to think about things like what we're doing now with bringing all of our apps across iOS and Android.
In fact, I would say most of the kind of work that my team does just kind of wouldn't have been possible even back then.
And I think he mentioned the evil empire.
The Mesosphere guys actually told us this. They thought of Microsoft as the crazy evil empire and now we're sitting there checking in code together and they're having a great time working with us.
Lots of partnership. Just like with Cloudflare.
Well, we love working with you. So it sounds like there has been a big change.
So the perception in the media and you feel it internally as well. Even little simple things like open source.
My team primarily works on open source.
What did that conversation sound like when you had open source conversations internally five years ago?
Well, you heard Bomber, right? It was, you know, that was anti-capitalist.
It was the end of the world. We had swarms of lawyers who would descend on anybody who even thought about doing it.
Not anymore. Like I said, almost all the work my team does is out on GitHub.
We do it in partnership with lots of other people.
That's great. That's amazing. It's amazing to hear that a 100,000 person organization can change so drastically under certain leadership.
That's pretty, that's an incredible business school study.
So for the developers in the room or who are online or companies who are all of a sudden are saying to myself, oh wow, we want to start working with Microsoft.
This is cool. John is really cool.
How do we start working? How do other companies think about engaging with Microsoft?
I mean, you guys are a massive organization, lots of different verticals.
What do you say to those who say, who want to get started? Well, there's a lot of documentation and other kinds of things out there.
It really depends on kind of where you're coming from and where you want to get to.
A lot of companies we work with, for example, are trying to create solutions that have very broad reach.
And so they're often looking at the Windows platform. We're seeing increased excitement around what we've done recently with Windows 10.
So we're getting a lot of conversations around that.
But I would say really right now the energy for many companies is around partnering with Microsoft in the enterprise space.
We've got an incredible number of assets in terms of Windows Server and Active Directory, what we're doing with Azure.
The Office suite is very, very popular among large organizations.
And so what people are doing is they're writing applications that connect to all those APIs.
And they're leveraging Microsoft Salesforce to actually go be effective.
It's probably the number one thing startups come and talk to us about.
Cool. Great. Good. Does that help?
Yeah. Definitely. Absolutely. So if you're an entrepreneur sitting in this room or watching online or the next Y Combinator batch, what advice would you give them in terms of areas to focus on for the next five years, looking at emerging trends?
What aren't people thinking about that they should be? What aren't they thinking about?
Well, there's a couple of areas where I think people may underestimate how rapidly change is going to occur.
We just heard from the guy from Qualcomm, who we work closely with, I think the ability to have high bandwidth, low latency connectivity, just make the assumption that it's going to be ubiquitous.
And what will that change? And he talked about some great examples of real-time control of devices.
I think deep learning, which I think a lot of people are pretty familiar with, is just going to sweep through the industry.
It's already profoundly changing many of the products that existing older line industries have in place.
The example I might use is, again, back to the General Electrics, the Rockwells, the Siemens of the world.
They've got petabytes of data going back 30 years on motors that are sitting out in the middle of oil fields.
And they just don't.
They don't know what to do with it. The ability to bring that in, do anomaly detection on it with deep learning, and then do the predictive maintenance, the amount of money that that can save an organization, because when one of those oil wells goes down, it's a big deal.
So the thing I would suggest to people is just think about kind of those technologies that, in the Moore's Law kind of way, will continue to advance, and look for the interstitials on them.
I have one more question.
So if people have questions, start thinking about them now, because I'm going to turn to the audience, because I definitely want to give people an opportunity to chat with you.
So you've been at Microsoft for 22 years. You may be there another 22 years, but I won't, who knows.
But let's say, you know, if you could write your ideal job for the next five years, what would be some of the characteristics?
What would it say? For you. There's kind of two things that I've been, I'm actually kind of thinking about that.
I love the current job. So I don't see any reason to go change the ability to go work with all these awesome companies, help them solve problems.
That's been fun. The one thing I worry about in the role is there's so much that we're doing, and the consequences, I have to, I only really get the opportunity to participate in these projects on relatively short duration sprints.
And as a technical person, I love to be able to just kind of close the door and disappear for a month or two and play with a new piece of technology, and I just don't get the opportunity to do that in this kind of role.
So there's a, one of the projects that I launched when I was on the Windows Server team was around the REST APIs for Microsoft Office.
We call it the Office Graph. And we've just been releasing that.
If you've ever used the Facebook APIs or any of those kind of social network APIs, we've got that now for enterprises.
It's pretty cool. You can navigate through things like an organization down to your files, to the owners, to their boss, or whatever it happens to be, and get easy access to that.
I'd love to take that technology and really push it, add the machine learning in, and a bunch of other fun things.
Another thing I'm thinking about. Nice. That's great.
Are there any questions in the audience? Okay.
Great. Well, I have other questions. Oh, there is one. Here, we'll let the audience.
It is me. One of the speakers earlier today was the president of Estonia, who was talking about their digital stuff and their digital identity stuff for their citizens.
And some of the most advanced in the world.
And I know Microsoft, and you were part of leading this, was working on information cards.
Yeah. We used to work on that together.
Yes. So I'm curious, that didn't succeed in the market, which is what markets do.
They tell you. They make these choices. But what is Microsoft doing now in that space?
And where is that going since we're on the next five years theme?
So in terms of what we're doing, we've made a pretty significant investment in trying to bring together the public identities that people might associate with a Microsoft account.
But also the identities that people have in schools and in businesses.
And we're trying to make that much more seamless.
The thing that information cards did, this project that we had worked on a while ago, was it was specifically looking at the challenges that people face being phished, being...
How do you really know the reputation of the folks on the other side of the communication?
And we still struggle with this ability to get spoofed inside of browsers and so on.
So I'd love to see the world move increasingly away from passwords.
In a lot of ways, I think that the app developers have the opportunity to go do this.
Now that we have mobile devices that have biometrics on them, they're typically something that we don't lose.
You combine that with a PIN, and I think you've got a very solid foundation for the upside for the clients to go identify to the servers.
And then, because they've already established those connections, we can use that to keep things running well.
So we've built some new technologies into Windows 10, Windows Hello and so on, that you may have seen, that's intended to do just that.
For example, in the Windows Hello demos that we've been doing, we use an Intel camera that looks at the 3D person, looks at iris, other things like that, and makes a determination about whether that's you, and lets you log into the device.
Do the early beta customers of that, do they like that, or does it scare them?
I think it's the same reaction people have with the fingerprint readers.
It's pretty common now that everybody uses them.
You have to be a little sensitive about where that information gets transmitted.
As long as it's maintained locally on the machine, and not transmitted up to the cloud where it could inadvertently be used for nefarious purposes, or leaked, or whatever, I think people are okay with it.
Great, that's great.
This comes back to what the President of Estonia mentioned, data integrity.
Yes, exactly. Do you guys spend a lot of time thinking about data integrity at Microsoft within your team?
I would say one of the very interesting trends I've seen over the years is if I were to roll back the clock five years, and I would go talk to large companies about using the cloud to do computing, the assumption that they made was, wow, we will never release our secret data up to the cloud.
It all has to be locked in on -premises, because that's the safest place for it.
What most companies have since discovered is that they are incredibly at risk.
I've worked with major oil and gas companies who are compromised all over the place.
Their directories, their identities, have been essentially penetrated and sold to third parties.
What those companies have come to us and said is, hey, companies like you, or Amazon, or Google, where you're running these things at scale, you're under attack every single day.
Even though we may not be perfect, we spend an enormous amount of time looking at those systems.
I think people know that Windows ends up being the most attacked operating system simply because of the large numbers.
As the other OSs have grown in numbers, they see those same kind of attacks hitting them.
Companies that make those products ultimately have to step up to do the security and prevent the problems.
That's one of the reasons that we love working with the Cloudflare guys.
One of the best things about technology is the rate of change.
Things that were really popular five or ten years ago come out of fashion and new companies emerge, which is why it's so great to be an entrepreneur in the tech industry.
I love that Microsoft is having a new chapter open up. It was great having you here today.
Very excited for everything that you and your team, the organization, are looking forward to in the future.
I think that we're going to see a lot more from Microsoft going forward, which I think is great.
Thanks. Thank you, John.