Part of the IT Leaders 100 - a list of the most influential IT leaders in the UK in 2023.
Dean has years of experience in IT, starting in the database space before branching out into more general areas. Never afraid to grasp an opportunity, he entered IT by recommending himself for a job: a confidence that has paid dividends over the course of his career.
How did you get into IT?
I caught the IT bug early. At school, a BBC Micro complete with an Acorn Electron provided my first interactions with a computer, after which I began programming my own games into a Commodore VC64 at home. I was about ten years old. This was simply fun, a side hobby that continued into my teenage years. It was only at university, where I got some brief respite from a degree in pharmaceuticals by way of an elective computing module, that it became clear computers, not prescribed medication, was where I saw my future career heading.
After university, I got a 9-5 job at a recruitment agency, where I also did a bit of IT work for the firm at the weekend. Tasked with finding an ambitious, passionate and skilled IT technician for a company, I was actually able to recommend myself for the job, recognising that I myself held all of the required attributes. I then moved to a small consultancy as a database manager and realised the possibilities the IT sector held for me.
How do you ensure diversity is taken into account in your IT recruitment?
We have some really great initiatives that everyone at GFT is always proud to discuss. We're a global business, so sourcing talent with a whole variety of backgrounds allows us to collaborate effectively, strategise from different viewpoints, and also have a really interesting group of people in the room. We're certified by the 'Great Place to Work' scheme, which is a testament to our focus on recruiting and retaining diverse teams.
In terms of specific initiatives, one of our main areas of focus is attracting more women into the IT sector and inside GFT. We offer internship programmes, a female-dedicated forum called 'Women@GFT', as well as regularly contributing to external Women in Tech events, including where one of our female tech leaders was shortlisted at a 2022 awards ceremony. We're also involved in several corporate and social responsibility (CSR) programmes, enabling us to give back to local communities and empower our people to do the same.
As part of our diversity and inclusion strategy, we take a proactive approach in understanding the diversity within our global workforce, as well as continuously monitoring external dynamics such as the gender pay gap and other diversity initiatives. There is still a long way to go for workplace equality, but I'm pleased to say that GFT is spearheading inclusivity and will continue to do so.
Which technology are you currently most excited by?
At the moment, I would have to say it's the Universal Digital Payments Network (UDPN). GFT is a founding member of the project. UDPN is essentially a decentralised payments messaging backbone connecting digital currency systems, including regulated stablecoins, and in the future Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs). I'm excited to see how UDPN can and will evolve the banking sector in the near future.
I found the whole process of working with UDPN to be fascinating and the eventual rollout was incredibly exciting. The system allows the transference and swapping of digital currencies across borders, currencies and systems in a low-cost and convenient manner. Given the current economic and financial pressures that surround us, any technology that is able to facilitate a productive and cost-effective means of working is incredibly valuable.
Outside of my professional projects, digital asset tokenisation is really interesting. First, it is still in its infancy, so I'm excited to see the direction in which the technology evolves. I think if we start with the digitised ownership of, say, the Mona Lisa, excitement may spread far beyond the tech sector!
In all seriousness, digital asset tokenisation has the power to improve the efficiency of the insurance and investment sectors, as well as making investments far more acceptable for laymen. I think it can be an important tool in removing the accessibility barriers around investing, creating a fairer financial playing field for all. However, this does need to be conducted in a secure manner, providing safeguards where necessary so that people are protected at all costs.
What would an outsider find the most surprising part of your job?
That's an interesting one because I think it's fair to say that the role of CTO differs on a company-by-company basis. I think a common misconception is that I spend my work life glued to a computer screen, knee-deep in complex code. Sure, I've had my moments, but I think what always comes as a surprise is just how much face time I get with our clients. From strategising, to pitching new services, I enjoy the human side of our business and my job requires the development of such relationships. People skills and computers are always seen as an unlikely mix but without them, I'd never be able to provide the full breadth of my expertise to our clients.
What's your secret talent?
I fancy myself as a top-grade tech tester! I'm always downloading new apps, programmes and software just to test them out. After I think I've got a piece of tech sussed, I'll move on to its competitor. I really should start a blog one of these days! While we're on the subject of secrets, I was once a part of the direct line of communication should King Charles pass away unexpectedly, but that's all I can say about that!
What makes you laugh?
Something that always provides a kick is when we meet with large-scale enterprises that have been thriving for decades, with seamless and slick operations and impressive profit margins, only to go behind the scenes and witness the antique servers and legacy technology they are still somehow running on. I know they're not sentient, but it makes me feel a bit sorry for the machines! Some of these systems look like they are still run by coal and steam. It always gives me a chuckle - especially when the business thinks its infrastructure is still up to scratch!