Simon Field, CTO of cloud data platform Snowflake, reveals the tech that has shaped his life, from the BBC Model B computer to today’s wearable technology.
BBC MODEL B COMPUTER
One of the earliest pieces of technology that I remember having an impact on me was the BBC Model B computer that resulted from a collaboration between BBC and Acorn. It was the first real home computer that children had access to within schools and was really amazing for its time. We could play games on it, and develop programs on it in Basic and Assembler. I attended after school classes on it and got bitten by the bug. This was the starting point for my career within computing and where my passion grew, as I took an O-Level in Computer Studies. Using the BBC Model B, I designed and built an electronic weather station, and then wrote a program to read and analyse the data.
When I started my first job at BT in 1991, I got my first portable computer – a Compaq laptop! So much for being portable, these were big clunky systems which looked more like a briefcase. It only had a 20MB hard-drive, but at this time that seemed like an amazing amount of storage, and was hard to fathom how you could ever fill-up all that space. The device also originated at a time where office productivity tools were still standalone and in their infancy. We used Lotus 123 for spreadsheets, and WordPerfect for word-processing.
The next technology I remember that had a big productivity impact on me was the advent of Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and I was an early adopter with Psion 3 and 5. These were small (at that time) and nifty devices that you could fit into your pocket. It was really useful for managing your calendar, note taking during meetings, and catching up on email and even had its own touch-screen stylus and keyboard. While it was popular for a couple of years, its popularity was short-lived as mobile phone technology quickly evolved and made it legacy. Despite powerful hardware, its main undoing was its inability to integrate with other apps or devices, which would often make it difficult to synchronise items, limiting its effectiveness.
In 2003, whilst working at IBM, I was assigned to an international project and was travelling abroad extensively on several transatlantic trips. My wife bought me a set of BOSE’s noise cancelling headphones for Christmas that year to help me travel in peace. They were a revelation and helped block out external sounds if I was trying to work, or otherwise get some sleep on planes. I continued to use them heavily up until last year when they finally broke. The headphones had been with me throughout all my travels which is amazing, thinking how quickly headphones often break or stop functioning today. I even got a trade-in when I replaced them!
I do love wearables, in particular the Fitbit, and I’m on my third one now. I wear it all the time, whether I’m in the gym or cycling, and it keeps track of all my daily activity. When you’re so busy at work, and life in general, it’s good to make sure that you’re staying active and sleeping well. One of the nice things about Fitbit is the inclusion of a Rest API that enables me to extract the data, to analyse activity levels and heart rate during a busy week, and whether and why am I sleeping badly. The latter is often the result of a busy travel week or delivering a big event presentation. It will be interesting to see how the technology develops now that Google is acquiring them. I’m hoping nothing too significant changes, although being able to get a more detailed and granular feed of my data would be great.
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