Q: You’re one of the cofounders of Youpal Group. But let’s go way back before you met Karl [Youpal Group co-founder, owner and CEO]. Tell us about your journey, your childhood and how it all began.
R: My journey in the IT industry began when I was 8 years old, when I received my first computer. The only thing I could do back then was play games on my computer. These were the days where we had to load games from cassettes and that took for ever.
Little by little, that’s how I learned how to do small hacks, so that the cassettes would load faster, I could copy them and so on. So that’s how I started.
Then I got bored of playing the same games over and over again. That’s when I became interested in how the computer worked. I had a little manual of basic programming. And so, I self-taught myself coding at about the age of 10.
I also experienced another computer programming language for kids, which was called Logo. It was a turtle to which you had to give instructions. You could teach it to make geometric forms etc, so this was also another entry into programming for me. Basically, I spent a lot of time with computers. My friends were into football and sports. But, I was a typical nerd, spending all day in front of my computer.
While I was growing up, there were so many advances in computer technology. They were bigger and better every day. You could learn a lot of other programming languages and I joined a private institution to do just that. So, by the time I was 16, I could programme in COBOL, Pascal and these types of languages. COBOL is still used in banking, for instance. That’s when I geared myself towards Computer Engineering when it was time to pursue higher studies.
I also have the entrepreneurship fibre in me. I have always kicked around business ideas. I tried to start my own company in Spain twice. Around 2008, I got a good opportunity to move to Sweden to work for Ericsson, building the internet in Drupal 7.
That’s when my life changed completely. Moving to another country, it was a complete 180 for me. And that too to a Nordic country, where the culture and climate were so different from Spain. That’s where I witnessed the innovative entrepreneurial mindset which is so prevalent in this part of the world. They were bringing so many of their ideas to life and have a lot of administrative support to do so. There are so many novel and trendy ideas which come from Scandinavia, whether Spotify, Mine Craft or even Angry Birds. I was quite inspired by all that I was seeing around me at the time.
I moved to one company, Tieto, where I met Karl and James [Baker-Duly, COO, Youpal Group]. Karl is the one who approached me first. He said he really needed someone with technical skills. He said he had the right business experience as he was already running a few companies. As he wanted to expand on a larger scale, he was on the lookout for someone who could technically support him.
I jumped in, because I had not yet given up on the idea of starting my own company. Moreover, having such a strong partner in business as Karl is, that could only be a win-win for both of us. James came in a bit later to bring balance between Karl’s business language and my techie semantics. Prior to that, Karl was focused on the business aspect, while I was focused on the technical aspects. No one had been taking care of the structural needs of the company. James’s role has been to organise what we want to do and how we want to do it.
Q: You have the ultimate technical responsibility of the company as CTO. However, you’re very hands-on and I see you participate in so many things. Your approach seems a lot more holistic to me. So, what is your vision of your role and the company at large?
R: I am the CTO of the company but that responsibility isn’t entirely where I see myself. To be a CTO, I believe you also have to be at the forefront of business development with Karl. However, I am looking in various directions at the same time.
The way I see it, companies exist because of the talents behind them. So, we need a talented pool of people to work with us. That’s what is proving to be more complicated nowadays. Every company wants to hire the best talent. So much so, that there is a lack of consultants, of developers, of project managers or designers. What’s more, there are new roles popping up each day. These can’t even be filled because fitting training programmes or courses don’t even exist yet in educational institutions.
That’s where I am headed to. I want to fill the gap in the learning process. I want to teach people the specific technical, organisational or even creative skills so that they can join the market and start working. That’s what I am transitioning towards. That’s one of the reasons we decided to start a training and innovation centre, here in southern Spain.
The idea is to bring our customers and partners to kick off new projects, ideas or build a prototype in a short space of time. People who come here can focus exclusively on what they want to innovate on. And to boost that creativity and productivity, we are 200 metres away from the beach. That’s where I find it easier for people to open their mind, whether stretching out on a yoga mat or crashing the waves on a surfboard. When you can finally take your eyes away from the screen, this is the ideal spot to refresh the page and get even more ideas flowing in.
I, like so many people around me, am under a lot of stress all the time. So, being able to take a walk around the beach with my dog, or hop on my surfboard are important to me. That’s when I get more productive and creative, if I am able to take those important, restoring breaks.
What’s more, COVID-19 has brought a change in people’s behaviour around the world. This experience of remote working is transforming the workspace. Video conferences are becoming the new normal. More people are embracing technology. Even my parents, who used to prefer phone calls, are now quite used to the video ones. Even though technology is helping a lot, it’s not replacing the human touch or feeling. And spending so much time in front of screens and electronic devices is affecting us one way or the other.
Q: Tell us more about this leaning towards the mentorship and training programmes which you have already started doing.
As I mentioned before, my mission is to create a learning path or a learning experience to bring people with natural talents onboard. We will then help them focus and develop this natural tendency into a career path. For example, there are so many youngsters on Tiktok and Instagram creating small snippets of content that is interesting, is creative and has some complexity in terms of production. It’s thus a question of identifying such natural talent, guiding them and giving them more skills so what naturally occurs to them can lead them to a great career. Within the IT industry itself they can thrive in film, game development, 3D animation etc. So, that’s what we want to do with the mentoring programme. We want to find the skills that match the imminent roles in the IT industry.
We are trying to find people who already have a notion of structure and organisation. For example, whether they are part of the scout and guides movement, part of a local residents’ association or display some other type of leadership qualities. You take that type of organic predisposition to organisation and you can easily translate that as project management in the IT industry. That’s exactly the way we want to go with the mentorship programme.
Q: Will that also follow what Karl mentioned in his interview, a way of moving from formal education to give people a chance to earn a decent living just by having the right natural skills?
Yes, I guess it’s something that a lot of people don’t see. When I was young, for instance, I used to think… I need to study something so that I can get a job. But I didn’t have a lot of options and certainly becoming a computer engineer wasn’t one of them. Throughout my youth, I was doing a lot of coding and things like that. I thought it was so easy that anyone could do it. It was a hobby. I didn’t think of it as something that I could turn into a career. There’s a lot of people in similar situations. They are good at something but don’t see it as something they can make a living out of. We really need to find them, tell them they can… and show them where they will fit in the IT industry.