Metaverse, women in software – Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast

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Cliff Saran joins Clare and Brian, in Caroline’s absence, to discuss the metaverse, Windows 11, the Makers Women in Software Power List, and how CIOs do technology in 2022

In this episode, Clare McDonald and Brian McKenna are joined, in the temporary absence of Caroline Donnelly, by Cliff Saran to discuss the metaverse, the Makers Women in Software Power List, and how CIOs should relate to the details of enterprise technology.

(Nominations for the Makers Women in Software Power List, as well as its ChangeMakers list, as discussed by Clare on the pod, can be made here.)

Clare opens the episode up to get the ball rolling with Cliff on the metaverse. What is it? And why should enterprise IT professionals care about it? (Cliff was on the podcast in June 2020 to discuss the likely shape of enterprise IT after the Covid-19 pandemic, so this was not his first rodeo as a prognosticator.)

Cliff invokes Second Life, which many IT professionals of a certain age will recall with nostalgia. The metaverse is Second Life 2.0, but with improved headsets, and with the context of an even more mature games culture than in the early 2000s, as well as the ubiquity of social media, which barely existed 15-20 years ago.

He says the metaverse has the potential to be a new internet, and who wants to be disrupted by the equivalent of Amazon? Or indeed Facebook, now called Meta, and not for nothing.

To what extent will we leave the physical world behind? Cliff talks on the pod about his blog, on the importance of digital assets, such as downloads from a streaming service or applets within a video game – or, indeed, digital art. “While one can only fit in so many ‘best ever’ purchases of 4K TVs, sofas, beds, or make over your garden, kitchen, bedroom or bathroom, digital assets are limitless,” he writes.

This pod discussion took place on World Earth Day, Friday 22 April, which Cliff used to emphasise the point that it is less damaging to the environment to dress up your avatar in many and varied outfits than to be amassing fast fashion in the real world. The same goes for owning a virtual sports car.

Cliff has also recently written a piece about a Forrester report about the state of the metaverse, which the analyst firm defines as “an immersive experience of interoperable and interlinked environments that will be delivered via a variety of devices”.

And while it is still years off, the report recommends that “CIOs plan to bolster the foundation underpinning metaverse initiatives, which means building up skills and talent in key metaverse building-block technologies and 3D modelling”.

There could also be a reverse consumerisation of technology impact. As Cliff says on the podcast: “Many employees wouldn’t necessarily spend the money to go out and buy an Oculus. But if it’s given to them for purposes of work and they’re allowed to take it home, that opens up opportunities to explore and use it.”

The discussion then moves on to the state of play with the adoption of Windows 11, and through that to a wider chat about laptops, tablets and smartphones. At a time when we should be moving towards a virtual world of software and services, why should we still have to contend with hardware with obsolescence built it?

“Again, it’s Earth Day,” says Cliff, “and we are thinking about the need to not buy things all the time. Why should you need to buy a new PC to run a new operating system? Intel, Microsoft and the rest of the PC industry really want you to upgrade to the latest hardware. Nice pieces of hardware, but there’s nothing wrong with the old hardware.”

Clare, who is a gamer, unlike Brian and Cliff, posits the console model as way of realising the alternative that Cliff is suggesting to the current way the PC makers operate. The big picture, says Cliff, is buying digital assets, so maybe PC-as-a-service is the way forward?

There are also some top tips on phone battery management in the pod, and a paean of praise for Linux from Cliff. And much else besides. Give it a listen!

Makers Women in Software Power List

While the metaverse may already be here, but unevenly distributed, and while it might become more important in five years’ time or so, back in the world as it is now, people are learning to be software developers.

Clare moves the discussion on to the Makers Women in Software Power List, which is now in its fourth year. There is also a related ChangeMakers list, which is more oriented towards teams and organisations that are advancing diversity.

There is a link here to a story about the 2021 Women in Software Power List. Makers is currently making a final call for nominations for women in the software development sector to enter the annual Women in Software Awards.

Makers is a software development bootcamp, and the main list highlights 20 women software developers who can be seen as role models. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” reiterates Clare – a point she has made on the podcast previously.

The deadline for nominations for both Women in Software Awards categories is 2 May, with the winners being announced at a special event in June 2022.

On the podcast, Clare opens up a discussion about the value of role models across the genders. Cliff talks, in response, about the importance of highlighting women developers in the open source community, and how organisers of events there are making efforts to support diversity. The discussion brings to the fore that there are lots of things to think about on this topic. Putting up code into the open source world is a challenging endeavour, for one thing.

Yiannis Levantis, group CIO, Unipart

Brian then recounts his visit, on the week of recording, to Unipart in Oxford to interview group CIO Yiannis Levantis. As it happens, Yiannis has a strong personal interest in the metaverse, blockchain, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and machine learning.

He has also had a long career in corporate IT, working for multinational companies such as Unilever, GSK and Rolls-Royce – firms where you need to be aware of the diversity of national cultures. He also has master’s degrees in mechanical engineering and financial management and control, so both sides of the CIO métier, as well as deep experience as an SAP customer. He has been group CIO at Unipart since March 2021.

Unipart is a UK logistics company whose origins lie in the car industry. It has recently chosen the Rise with SAP S/4 Hana-based service as it seeks to enhance and develop the IT systems integration side of its business. It is both an SAP customer and a business transformation services provider that uses, in part, SAP technology to deliver that.

So, it is an example of a user organisation turning its IT capability into a business – a topic that Cliff has written about, for example in the case of Centrica. Yiannis Levantis is seeking to develop Unipart’s business in this respect with IT more to the fore than it has been under the rubric of logistics.

The company has a heritage summed up in the phrase “the Unipart Way”, consciously modelled on the Toyota Way continuous improvement and respect for people, and so putting a big emphasis on quality, lean manufacturing, the elimination of waste, and so on.

On the podcast, the group discusses Levantis’ interesting and almost-contrarian thesis that some in a generation of senior IT professionals have taken their eye off the technology ball, as the pendulum has swung away from a certain indifference to business more typical of the late 1990s/early 2000s.

As IT pros have cast aside their headphones and hoodies to learn more about the business of the companies and organisations that pay their salaries, some might have gone too far, and allowed their tech knowledge to rust to the extent that they are at a disadvantage when negotiating with smart and sophisticated suppliers, with their deeply expert technical staff and their lawyers.

Brian’s full profile of Yiannis Levantis, as group CIO of Unipart, is a work in progress and forthcoming.

Podcast music courtesy of Joseph McDade

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