Simon – Principal Enterprise Architect
Simon’s passion for technology started way back whilst at school when he was given his first computer; a ‘ZX Spectrum’. ‘Pretty much since watching the film, War Games a fictional take on a computer becoming intelligent, I’ve been fascinated by what computers can do’ says Simon.
Although a keen photographer, he chose to study computer science at A-level and then continue on to study a Computer Science degree. During his year out he worked for a company writing training software and learnt a lot about coding during that time, helping build an engine that could write code across multiple platforms. During his final year of University he worked on a project that simulated a car driving around autonomously, little did he know back then he was well ahead of his years!
On completion of his degree he went back for a brief spell to the training software company he’d spent his year out at before hearing of a job at Virgin Atlantic. ‘I knew someone who was working for the company who suggested I apply for an analyst role that was being advertised and that was it, I applied and joined the company as an Analyst Programmer and back then I reported through to a superb Head of Development who was a female so quite a rarity’.
Analyst Programmer to Principal Architect
That was 22 years ago and Simon is still as passionate about technology today as he was back then. From involvement in the commercial website, sales channels, crew solutions, automated airport kiosks, Cargo systems, technology choices including MQ, Biztalk, .Net and Azure cloud services implementation through to potential acquisitions around whether we should purchase assets like BMI and the Joint Venture with Delta, Simon has had a range of roles over the years which have given him great exposure across the business.
‘I’ve been very privileged to have been involved in most of the projects across the company at some level or another throughout my career, be it in the early stages of planning or implementation stages’.
Moving into an Innovation role he was involved in the first demo of the automated ticketing process at Virgin Atlantic which up until that point had been a manual process. He created the integration of the word documents with the ticketing so that the two systems spoke to each other, improving efficiencies significantly. Once the team had proved it was possible, this got rolled out.
Much of his work was spent looking at how to automate systems which led him on to a role within Enterprise Application Integration where he was a Team Leader looking at the core integration across all systems. From here he moved on to a Lead Architect role. ‘I had a lot of opportunity to move things forward for the company in this role from the initial Request for Proposals from suppliers through to looking at the selection processes and contracts for new technology’.
From here he moved in to a Chief Application Architect position and had a team of 18 direct reports. It seems a lot of team members to be accountable for however Simon reassures us that it was actually a lot easier that you’d think. ‘The team are skilled in what they do so I didn’t have to manage them day to day, it was more a case of ensuring they were aligned and knew what needed to be done. I would ensure that the business asked the right questions so we weren’t duplicating work. When you kick off on a project no one knows everything they need upfront so it was my job to ensure there was space in between to make any changes that might come up as the project evolved.’
Moving on to the IT Strategy team, he drew on all of his previous experience to look at how the business and technology could be better aligned and looked at the value of what was being done.
The business then set up an Enterprise Architecture team where he moved into a role as an Enterprise Architect for Applications before being promoted to his current role of Principal Enterprise Architect.
What’s kept him at Virgin Atlantic for 22 years?
‘Virgin Atlantic actually cares about the customers, says Simon, ‘we might not always get it right but we want to and that’s the feeling from the Executive Board right the way down. Whatever idea we come up with we always ask, how does it affect our customer? Obviously budget comes into account but if it isn’t beneficial to our customers then however low cost it may be we wouldn’t look at implementing it. Take the recent crew app that we launched for example, crew haven’t had access to the same level of technology as the rest of company and yet they are the largest part of our workforce. We’ve now created an app that makes their working lives easier. I think we differ from other companies in that our ultimate aim is not just about making things automated, here at Virgin Atlantic we employ the technology to support people in their jobs.
I’m also very lucky to have switched jobs almost every 3 years and have been involved in a huge number of projects and processes which keeps it exciting. I like to understand how things happen and working in Technology gives you exposure to do that.
We are a passionate bunch here at Virgin Atlantic and love what we do so we like people that don’t accept things as the ‘norm’. They can’t be afraid of questioning things to fully understand what is going on so if you’re not the inquisitive type or someone who questions why things are being done in a certain way you probably wouldn’t work as well here. You’ll get lots of ideas thrown at you so you need to be able to take these and work out what would and wouldn’t work and offer up alternative suggestions if you think something won’t work as well.’
Despite living in the Welsh valleys and working out of the head office in Crawley, Simon makes the job work for him. ‘We moved to Blackwood about 16 years ago and I’ve been commuting back and forth ever since so it can be done!’ I get up at 3am on a Monday to drive down and then I stay in Crawley during the week heading back to Blackwood on a Thursday. Virgin Atlantic is great in that I can work from home which has really helped take the ease out of the commute.
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