In the dire economic climate of the late 1970s, after selling encyclopaedias to American soldiers in Germany, I started looking for the type of work that college graduates are supposed to do. The conversations went like this:
Me: “I got a 2.1 in History from Oxford”
Employer (stifling a yawn): “Yes, what else have you done?”
Me: “I sold encyclopaedias successfully for 9 months”
Employer: “You can sell! Well that is interesting. Let me tell you about what we do…”
I was typecast. The shy nerd had become a salesman. Oh well, it paid the bills and as I loved to ski, my bills were not small. Luckily, I stumbled upon the software business, initially selling ad space for a publisher that became a pioneer of online publishing using Prestel (like the Internet today, at least in it’s ambitions). I was then hired by a software start-up that had a mission to sell the Prestel videotex technology globally. We had some successes before that market collapsed. The company had a really good fast, scalable platform and superb developers and I was given the mission to find tough problems to solve. That led me to the City of London, during it’s Big Bang deregulation and we found lots of solvable problems around real time event driven technology (what became known later as Information Bus and Publish/Subscribe).
This is what led me to a kind man who was in charge of technology at a leading City of London firm. After a brief explanation of of our technology I asked him to describe any tough problems he wanted to solve. I was frantically scribbling notes as I knew nothing about how the City of London worked. He saw me writing Gilt (UK Government Bond) as Guilt and asked me “would it help if I explained the basics?” I gratefully accepted and we ended up delivering a customised solution that was a real win/win.