What do Britain’s top tech entrepreneurs do in offline time?

31 May, 2016

By Jonathan Wells

For all of its obvious benefits, the digital revolution has done little to upgrade office life.

Rather than rewiring the workplace to make it more social, scores of coders, consultants and content managers now arrive at work in the morning, sit down, plug in and move nothing but their digits all day.

With £1.3 billion invested in the UK tech sector in 2015, and the number of start-ups growing year on year, more workers than ever are stuck behind screens for the majority of their days. So, how do these high-tech high-flyers switch off? What do Britain’s best tech entrepreneurs do in their offline time?

Neil Alldritt, CEO of dynamic marketing company Crimtan

Alldritt

“I’m surrounded by digital thinking all day, from highly technical and accomplished developers through to ever-online media men,” says Neil Alldritt, a digital CEO who, in his spare time, is an avid racer of vintage motorcars.

“My offline interest, as it were, has been fed and nurtured by living reasonably near the incredible sweet shop of motoring that is Goodwood,” explains Alldritt. “It is a Mecca for anybody interested in motor racing, and Lord March has created something quite unique there.

“As a result, I’ve been fortunate enough to drive some very unique cars at Goodwood, and this passion has even led to me driving at Le Mans.

“However, even though driving competitively obviously requires a certain degree of concentration, there’s definitely an element of being able to ‘switch off’ from the day job when I get behind the wheel.

“The tech industry is very fast-moving, and highly competitive,” says Alldritt. “So, even though I enjoy it, and think of my work as ‘constructive stress’, it’s nice to escape to the track now and then!”

A frequent visitor to Goodwood, Alldritt frequently disconnects from his day job to drive at Goodwood’s Members’ Meetings, the Festival of Speed, and the tech-free Goodwood Revival.

“Despite being at the forefront of technology, I love the old as well, and many of my friends and business contacts were made through a mutual love of old cars.

“I often think that my teenage children – who, like most youngsters, are glued to their various digital devices – should take five minutes out and actually do something real,” Alldritt opines. “My company,Crimtan, thrives in the digital world, and we help our clients navigate it, but the world outside that and all the potential activities it holds is just as, if not more, important.”

Dr Michael Green, chief analytical officer at Blackwood Seven, AI media platform

“My background in data science began around the same time I first got involved in martial arts,” says Michael Green, an investment analyst and partner at media company Blackwood Seven. “It was the 1980s and I was about 6 or 7 years old.”

Unlike Alldritt, Green doesn’t view his online and offline lives separately and, since discovering his IBM 8086 and karate white belt at the same time several decades ago, both pastimes remain important features of his life.

“I have been actively practising Karate for more than 22 years now,” says Green. “And I still practice everyday – both mentally and physically.

“I love that it takes you back to basics, and allows you to keep focus on what really matters in life. I practice every morning for 10 to 30 minutes, and that focuses me for my day ahead. It is a great stress reliever, and I do believe that tech people really need to get away from their screens sometime.

“But my interest in data science has progressed alongside by martial arts,” continues Green. “My two passions even crossed over during my PhD when I gave a seminar of the physics and dynamics of karate, using my scientific skills to construct a physical model for why and how the style works.

“Martial arts, of course, is not magic – it is just a series of clever applications of momentum via rotation – and it also utilises gravity.”

However, although Green sees his two pastimes as inextricably linked and informative of each other, he still believes that ‘switching off’ should be a key part of any tech worker’s day.

“When you sit in front of a screen for between 15 to 18 hours a day, you need to make the effort to experience the world through senses other than your eyes,” Green warns. “Martial arts allow me to experience the world from within it, rather than from watching it from the outside. Karate forces you to be alert, aware and live in the moment.

“Others may run or cook, but whatever we digital workforce do to switch off, I believe it is imperative to disconnect from our devices every now and then.”

Jason Kingsley, CEO and founder of games developer Rebellion

“Knights in armour, castles and horses have always been with me – from as far back as I can remember,” says Jason Kingsley, games developer and part-time medieval jouster.

“I competed on horses for both Oxford University and Britain when I was a student, discovering polo and eventually jousting. I learned to wear armour and have since  been booked for around 10 weekends a year to joust at lovely historic locations around the country.”

But Kingsley, who has a farm with seven horses, also heads a team of talented technical staff at Rebellion – a company he founded with his brother, Chris.

“I do find my business stressful,” says Kingsley, “but it’s a good type of stress – it’s energising!

“Jousting and riding my superb stallions is purely for the experience, however, and it forces my mind into a different place. It’s hard to think of anything else when you’re riding in combat – encased in four stone of steel armour and with someone racing towards you at speed with a 12 foot pole of wood aimed at you!”

But, just as Neil Alldritt finds comfort in the antiquity of his vintage cars, Kingsley believes sometimes that it is the oldest games, ones that can’t be contained in a screen, that are the most fun.

“I do think that when we’re dealing daily with the speed of the modern information world that it is important to remember the old skills and the old way of doing things.

“People who work in the progressive world of tech should definitely look and work towards an exciting future, but we shouldn’t forget some of the old essential skills, traditions and simple pleasures of the past.”

 
This article appeared in The Daily Telegraph on May 28, 2016