Jamie is a seasoned IT Director and consultant who has worked in both the private and public sectors, spending nearly a decade with the Human Tissue Authority where he set up national licensing and reporting platforms. Now working as a freelance consultant offering strategy, project management and documentation services. Currently helping the CovidGraph Project with governance, issue tracking and general documentation. He also actively supports The Aurora Project and The Clean Earth Trust charities.
What is your professional background?
I grew up in Zimbabwe and my first job was with a small family run computer company where I fixed PCs, fax machines and photocopiers in an age when keyboards were worth repairing and toner needed to be weighed. When I moved to London I had a few different IT jobs including driving around the country doing a Y2K audit for the Prudential. Clearly time well spent. For the last twenty or so years I have been looking after IT departments of various sizes, but generally for small to medium size organisations. I have worked in the private sector for market research, foreign currency and event management companies. For nearly ten years I also worked in the public sector for the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) overseeing their IT functions, including strategy, support as well as the development of a licence management and national adverse event/reaction reporting system. For a short period I was seconded to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority looking at their records management and defining a roadmap to the cloud. In most places I also looked after business continuity/DR plus facilities/building management and I have lost count of the number of office moves I have coordinated. Information governance and risk management are also areas that I have been heavily involved in and in which I still have a keen interest. I have been the data protection officer for a residential care home for the last three years using Jira and Confluence to manage their high risk processes, impact assessments and information assets.
In all of my roles I have always looked to open source software wherever possible, not just for the free-as-in-beer bit but also because there are some amazing and versatile projects around. I’ve repurposed Mantis several times and used MediaWiki and the semantic extensions to create comprehensive sets of system documentation.
At the same time, and mainly because I couldn’t afford the overseas student fees, I started going to Birkbeck College in the evenings and thoroughly enjoyed it so I kept going back. I ended up doing undergraduate degrees in IT and English Literature and a Masters degree in IT where I built a prototype ontology to classify serious adverse events and reactions.
For the last three years I have been a Trustee for the Aurora Project, a South London charity.
What are you currently doing, what experience do you bring along?
In 2017 I set up my own consultancy as a side venture, but continued in more or less permanent roles - most recently as IT Director for a market research firm, where I was aligning their IT across London, Oxford, Paris and Sofia. The firm was bought out by a larger company in February this year. Since May I’ve been on furlough, and I was made redundant from the role at the end of October. This has meant more time at home with my wife and our eight month old son, and it has been a privilege being able to watch him grow. It has also meant that I have had more time to support not only CovidGraph but also my brother’s growing charity, The Clean Earth Trust as well as building up my consultancy into a full time enterprise. The work I do is largely around documentation and implementation design, at the moment, mostly using SharePoint and Teams. SharePoint has improved enormously over the last few years and the integration with Teams make it an interesting proposition but it needs some degree of planning to avoid a confusing morass. I find it interesting working in different environments and using a different range of platforms to manage and present information to different audiences. Often, selecting the right platform at the outset is the biggest challenge to get things right.
My IT background is varied so it is not surprising that I bring a mixed bag of skills with me. Mostly around documentation, project management but also helping to bring things together. I also join the weekly steering group meetings where we discuss everything from “Weinschorle” to the future of the project.
Do you have a special hobby/passion - what do you like to do most in your free time?
We used to travel quite a lot but Covid and a new baby have limited how far we’re able to go, so these days we explore our local area a lot more. In terms of hobbies there are lots of different things that interest me and I tend to hobby-hop a fair bit. I enjoy casual cycling and am very pleased with my new carbon fibre belt drive, which doesn’t need cleaning - which is always a bonus. Often I spend time exploring anything technical that takes my fancy and CovidGraph has opened up more avenues of exploration than I am able to keep up with at the moment: Docker containers, Docusaurus, Mkdocs, Sphinx, Jupyter Notebooks and that’s not including Neo4j itself… I’ve written a few tutorials for Linux Format and sometimes write the occasional short story, although I have never tried to get anything published. I also enjoy painting and drawing but it’s like anything in life that demands time, practice and patience. It’s probably the one thing that I keep coming back to as it can be relaxing and it’s rewarding to see improvements. I haven’t had a lot of free time to dedicate to it recently but I post the odd picture on https://www.squareradicals.com.
Why did you join the project - what motivated you and still inspires you today?
There are several reasons I volunteered. Firstly, the obvious desire to help do something positive. Secondly, I have been interested in graph databases for several years so this was an ideal opportunity to learn more about them and to get more involved in the community. And finally, I had worked with Martin on a previous project and was happy to work with him again, and indeed I have been happy to meet and work with the other members of the project. It’s always a pleasure to discuss ideas and solutions with people with such diverse experience and skill sets.
Have there been any “uh-huh moments” or surprises during the last months (since the project started)?
It’s been interesting to see a start-up open source project evolve. From the initial flurry of offers of support to the distillation of a core group of dedicated (but still voluntary) contributors. It’s encouraging to see the calibre of contributors the project attracts. As a non-developer I was initially unsure of what I could bring to the table but it is clear that there is so much more than pure development that is needed to make an open-source project successful. We have a long way to go but we have a solid foundation and a group of very talented, dedicated people involved.
What are the challenges of the project for you?
For me, there are two key challenges we face: We need to increase the reach and awareness of what we do in order to engage with new users and interested developers. And we need to build a sustainable source of funding that can help us to achieve our ambitious vision of what CovidGraph has the potential to become.