After attending Orwell Park and Gresham’s boarding schools, followed by Thurston sixth form college, I completed a BA degree in Philosophy from Heythrop philosophy and theology college of University College London. For my degree I specialised in the philosophy of language, phenomenology, and 19th century German philosophy.
Having ended formal ICT study at 13, whilst at sixth form college I taught myself computer system building and diagnostic skills, and started my first company selling custom built PCs and ICT consultation. At the age of 17 I was building a few custom computers to order each week, varying from competitively priced low-end machines to high power studio machines in specific small form factor cases. I also provided services for small businesses such as office network configuration, operating system migration, and offsite backup provision and support. I designed marketing materials, and hired students to distribute them.
This business experience led me to realise the anti-competitive nature of parts of the consumer electronics industry, particularly in relation to software. I was shocked by what I learned of the business practices of established manufacturers, software publishers, and hardware vendors, and frustrated by my inability to meet my customer’s needs without charging them for extensive extra software which compromised their rights.
By the time I left to go to University in London I was encouraging customers to use GNU/Linux, and shipping all the machines that I built with a CD containing a full suite of Free Software applications of my own making, which was a precursor to projects which now exist such as the FSWIN CD and the Valo CD.
Working with PCLinuxOS
I took advantage of extra time that I had whilst studying at University to get much more familiar with GNU/Linux, and become a pillar of the support community of one particular distribution. I became heavily involved with PCLinuxOS which became the world’s most popular desktop GNU/Linux distribution during this time, according to distrowatch. With several thousand posts and an established presence in the PCLinuxOS IRC chat support channel, I learned a great deal about technical aspects of GNU/Linux, became familiar with administrating from the command line, and debugging hardware problems. I was also a leader of the distribution’s marketing efforts, producing themes, stands, and promotional materials, and winning a competition for designing a new desktop wallpaper in 2008 (my prize was a computer shipped from the USA).
Software development in Norwich
Immediately after graduating I worked for National Express as cabin crew on the Stansted Express line. This was a challenging job which carried great responsibility, and during this time I taught myself web development skills, including PHP, and built my first eCommerce website based on Drupal 6. Six months after starting my work on the train line I changed jobs and began working as lead developer for an Internet marketing company in Norwich. During this time my knowledge and skils grew dramatically as I built and managed a wide variety of websites, from custom built property lettings, to large scale eCommerce, to fashion showcasing, to international affiliate management, to complex geotracking. As the company specialised in marketing I also became knowledgeable on the subject of search engine optimisation, and learned to manage internet marketing campaigns.
Don’t Travel Empty
One of the clients that I worked with in Norwich was start-up company Don’t Travel Empty. Eventually I was head-hunted by this group and started working for them full time as head of development. The company’s primary product is a route matching system which tracks the location of hundreds of commercial coaches, and notifies the coach operators when coach jobs can be shared between organisations, thereby reducing the cost to the operator, the number of vehicles on the road, and global carbon emissions. Over the next 18 months I improved every aspect of the company’s technical operations and communications, implemented a complete site re-write, deployed instances throughout Europe and in South Africa, and added countless new features such as a vehicle sale and advertising platform, Britain’s largest business directory of industry related services, and a complete online quote and booking management system.
The Free Software Foundation Europe
My original motive for learning programming skills was to be able to contribute to Free Software projects. Therefore when I saw an opportunity to work full time for the benefit of Free Software in May 2010, I took it. In June of that year I relocated to Berlin, and worked from the Berlin office of the Free Software Foundation Europe. I stayed there for six months, during which time I led the design and implementation of a new organisation website (which had been planned for more than a year), organised a series of talks at the prestigious Free Society Conference in Gothenburg Sweden, and wrote and edited public communications as coordinator of the editorial team.
In February 2011 I accepted the position of UK Team Coordinator, and moved to Manchester in order to build a strong presence for the organisation in the British Isles, and work closely with policy-makers, companies, and the community to make greater use of Free Software and its benefits.
Freedom in the cloud has been a particular interest of mine since “cloud computing” started to become a mainstream concept. I had been advocating ownCloud since its initial project announcement, and running it on my own Freedom Box since 2010. ownCloud is a Free Software cloud platform providing personal cloud space and hosting for cloud applications. In March 2012 I applied to work for ownCloud Inc.: the recently formed startup run by the project’s founder and ex Managing Director of Suse Linux. In May I started work as a part time developer, first adding backup and versioning to user files for ownCloud 4, then writing a new asymmetric encryption backend for ownCloud 5, including flexible sharing to users and groups and password reset.
Having just written an innovative cryptography system, my next move was to promote an existing one. GnuPG is one of the world’s most important applications – Edward Snowden used it to communicate leaked NSA documents, and we now know it’s one of the few remaining tools that has not been infiltrated or broken by state surveillance professionals. Project Founder Werner Koch hired me to promote GnuPG and create a campaign to raise funds for a new website, infrastructure, and GnuPG release. Within 26 hours of launch we had met the 24.000 EUR goal by crowdfunding. In little over a week €36.700 had been raised from more than one thousand supporters.