I was born in England, emigrated to Canada with my family when I was 10, and have lived in the Ottawa region since then, except during Dad’s sabbatical year when we lived outside Boston, and in St. Albans in England. I married Susan, a brave, courageous, and very special woman in 1985. Chris & Jeremy came along in ’86 & ’88 and have grown to become fine young adults.
I graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Carleton University in 1981, worked for a couple of years for a small aerospace company, ‘retired’ to go sailing (which didn’t quite work out), and then went back to university for a Master’s degree in Systems & Computer Engineering (in a flash of insight in 1983 I thought “these computers are going to be everywhere, I’d better go and learn all about them”).
I was hired by Bell Northern Research (BNR) in 1986, where I did ‘telecom’ for about 6 months until our project was cancelled. After that I worked to create a new test automation system for the new FiberWorld internet backbone products. This led to creating, and managing a group responsible for many productivity & SW development tools for the FiberWorld R&D teams. BNR became Nortel, FiberWorld became Optical Networks, and Nortel products became the dominant internet backbone service provider platform. My team’s size and mandate expanded to include all tools for software development and knowledge management, software configuration management/loadbuild services, with helpline and support, for a global Optical Networks R&D teams. It was an exhilarating time leading a world-class company inside a company.
After the telecom tech bubble burst there were tough downsizing times. I became part of the leadership team to create a single corporate IT organization that consolidated all the separate Line of Business tools teams. With this new organization in place, and my previous team well integrated in leadership roles, I left Nortel in 2002 when an opportunity to take a package presented itself, ready for my own sabbatical.
The year off went by all to fast. I got a lot of work done finishing up the renovations at our cottage and generally decompressing. The job market had really cooled as the tech slowdown intensified, so jobs were scarce, and managers were conservative. It was frustrating to see organizations with real problems I could help them solve being unable to make decisions. Although times were tough, as I saw it if you were in business you’d better be in business.
Although the sales engineer role at a mid-life startup might not have seemed the best fit, I took it as a chance to experience what “real” sales was like. I learned a great deal, enjoyed interacting with customers, and felt satisfied that we secured business with a new hands-on one day training course that showed customers how they could refactor complicated software with the company tools. The customer site and professional services visits also let me see plenty of other software systems. It reinforced my experience that without diligent software engineering, code bases got out of control when facing the pressure of multiple releases targeting different platforms. Unfortunately, I was laid off as part of a shakeup following an executive change in the sales department.
I then did some professional contracts for a number of different small enterprises, as the local tech market was still depressed. I helped The Ottawa Network build their weekly networking events with guest speakers, and served on the Board of Directors. I felt strongly that if we were going to “have” a vibrant Tech & Business community in Ottawa we needed to “be” a community, and readily accessible networking & education events were the best way to facilitate this happening.
Things took a big change in 2005. I had wanted more space and a bigger workshop for decades. A 135 acre farm came up for sale near us and we bought it, mainly with the idea of getting out into the country. After moving we decided that the best way to maintain the fields was not to lease them out, but to use them ourselves. At this time I had never been next to a cow in my life, and had only helped stack hay as a teenager. I researched and purchased hay equipment, made my first 1500 bales of hay, and then bought half a dozen calves to start our grass-fed beef business in October 2005. Over the coming years the herd expanded to almost two dozen animals, most born at the farm. We enjoyed the best beef and sold freezer packages. I improved my hay making, and pasture management with rotational grazing. I also raised chickens in free-run pasture enclosures that kept the chickens safe from predators while they had fresh grass underfoot. When I talked about these new experiences most people commented on what a big change it must have been. It never really seemed to dramatic to me, as I was using all the same problem solving, researching, and project management skills I used before, just aimed at a whole new domain. In the end I concluded that the biggest difference was the clothes that I wore!
In 2007 things took another big change when Susan bought the Yellow Canoe Cafe, a small restaurant in Merrickville. Over the next seven years I worked with her as needed to build this business. Another new domain full of interesting problems to solve. We tackled equipment updates, streamlining production, supplier selection, repairs, decor, marketing, promotion, websites, and a myriad of other tasks as the business grew. For the first time in my life I also tried waiting on tables and learned a great deal more about customer interaction, legendary service, and performing under pressure. We used beef from our farm for sandwiches, grew produce and pansies for garnish. I’ve always liked vertical integration and figured that going from a blade of grass to a roast beef sandwich was pretty much owning the whole value chain.
In the summer of 2014 we sold the cafe, and that fall sold the cattle too. It was time to move on to new things. Farming taught me more about the importance of being ready to seize opportunities, and highlighted the costs associated with recovery when you miss execution windows. Restauranteering is the best place to learn the customer intimacy and operational excellence required to repeatedly deliver a superior customer experience.
A full transition was put on hiatus as I was spending more time helping my parents through their final years. Happily both were able to die peacefully at home, well into their 80’s. Dad died in 2014 and Mum in 2017. I cherish the time I was able to spend with them.
Now in the fall of 2017 we’re back to figuring out our next adventures. I’m now actively looking for a “tech job” for the first time in over a decade. So let me know if you could use a high tech leader with a strong track record for building and operating strong teams and organizations.
As an engineer, I’m a proven technical and business problem solver. I’m creative, always looking to build positive experiences and innovative, practical solutions to business and personal challenges. I’m also a keen observer, able to spot trends early and build linkages between events and information that many people miss. A colleague once told me: “… that’s your ability … to be one of the best strategists I know. I could always count on you to look three moves ahead and you always, always, had perspective on situations that I never thought of “.
People who work with and for me have said: “Andrew has the ability to see the big picture, to identify what is important and what is not”, and commented that I can “develop and communicate a vision that inspires people”.