Chris Mairs

Chief Scientist, Metaswitch

Chris Mairs

1. What do you enjoy about working in STEMM?

I've always got a great buzz from the 'making stuff work' aspect of programming. As a youngster, I took bicycles and typewriters apart, always ending up with the extra couple of widgets that I couldn't work out where they were supposed to go, but I really enjoyed it. For me, there's very little in life more satisfying than really helping other people use technology to make stuff work, whether that be colleagues, graduates starting their first business or primary school kids.

2. What do you do day-to-day in your work?

I am now the very part-time Chief Scientist at Metaswitch. In the past 33 years I have had many technical and business roles in the company, including running a multi-million pound business unit. But most of my roles have been technical leadership, strategy and system architecture, including many years as Chief Technical Officer. The company now employs around 700 people around the globe giving rise to substantial and varied travel. In the early years I was fortunate to meet with Bill gates several times for some hardcore technical debates and more recently I spent 18 months in Palo Alto, living and breathing the Silicon Valley vibe. Aside from working at Metaswitch, I split the rest of my time between early stage investing, mentoring software startups, and working on the successful introduction of the new Computing curriculum in primary and secondary schools in England. I am also Chair of Code Club, a Not For Profit organization providing after school clubs in over 2,000 UK primary schools.

3. What has been your biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?

I have a degenerative eye condition and was registered blind at the age of 18. My career choices were certainly impacted by this sight loss, so international footballer, astronaut and artic explorer always remained what they should firmly be for most people, i.e. the stuff of dreams but with a first class Computer Science degree from Cambridge University and reasonable interpersonal skills, the technology job market was awash with opportunities. Of course my blindness has often made absorbing new technologies difficult and travelling alone is sometimes a little daunting. However, I've invariably found colleagues, customers, suppliers and even competitors incredibly helpful in overcoming my disability without ever patronizing me.

4. What has been the highlight of your career so far and what are you hoping to go on to do in the future?

I feel incredibly privileged to have had the career I have had. The next twenty years will see fantastic changes in what technology can do for us. I'd recommend anyone planning their career to think very seriously about becoming a software developer. It will open up so many possibilities for you. It won't be easy and does require a combination of talent, tenacity and self-discipline, but in return it can be very rewarding, personally and financially. The highlight of my career has been repeated opportunities to meet or converse with many of the most influential technologists in the world, including the likes of Bill Gates and Sir Tim Berners Lee. I am now looking forward to 'giving back' to the community by working with Code Club, introducing hundreds of thousands of school children to the exciting world opened up to everyone by first rate computing skills.