Born in Lisbon in January 1961, a first child to Portuguese parents, the first six years of my life, I was looked after by my paternal grandmother and various aunts. I had plenty of trips to other relatives too, in the way that Portuguese families do. My parents emigrated from the Salazar dictatorship and travelled around Europe, working for short periods in France, Germany and Jersey, before finally settling in a little place in the Midlands called Rugby.
My first school was in Wood Street, here I learnt English along with my fellow refugees from Pakistan. I remember my first work quite clearly – “tap” – since these were the initials of the Portuguese airline which had brought me to London on its 727. Being six I was one year, and one language, behind everybody else, but I quickly made friends and enemies and within two years the school moved me up to the correct class. This was a school where you progressed despite the school rather than because of it. I thought I had gone forward in time, we had ink wells in the desks – an improvement on using slates and chalk in Portugal – fortunately we didn’t have to make our own quills.
When I was nine my parents moved to a house in a different catchment area, this meant me moving schools and making new friends, and enemies. At this school I met one of the teachers who would prove to be the most influential in my schooling, Mrs Gay. In three years I had caught up and in some cases surpassed my peers. At the time the schooling system was selective and I took the 11+ in the last year of primary school, by this point I was more than ready for it, but I did not want to pass! I thought that my best friend, Keith, would not pass the test and we would be separated going to different secondary schools. It was against my competitive nature not to do well in the test, so when the results arrived I had indeed been selected for Dunsmore Grammar School for Boys. I was distraught – Keith would be going to Fareham Comprehensive! But I was wrong, he too had passed and we both entered the Grammar school system in September and were no longer friends by Christmas, new friends were made (and new enemies). Grammar school was as tough as you might expect, but it did teach you how to learn and useful life skills too, here I learnt woodworking and metalworking.
In April 1974 the Carnation Revolution in Portugal overthrew the dictatorship, the family decided to move back to Portugal, so in the summer of 1975 we headed back. The new political system was very unstable, and teetered on the edge of democracy, after a right wing dictatorship, the hard left came to prominence with dozens of communist parties vying for position. My parents opened a business, a restaurant in Carcavelos, and sent me to the English school, St Julian’s. This school was a real eye opener with 60 or so nationalities represented, many of my friends had wealthy parents, with fabulous houses, swimming pools, motorbikes, boats and so forth so I had a great time even though our family had barely two escudos to rub together. The only unfortunate thing about this school is that it did not have a sixth form, which was a problem as by this time I knew I wanted to go to university in the UK – something for which “A” levels were required – even back then.
At the age of sixteen with 8 “O” Levels I left home. My parents paid for my plane ticket back to London and gave me some money. I settled back in Rugby, territory I was familiar with and got myself a job in the Three Horseshoes Hotel, a very high class establishment at the time. The important thing about working here were the staff quarters. Even though I was only “part-time” they gave me a room in the staff house, it was of course the smallest room, which I shared with the hot water tank. And so a new chapter in my life began – time to make more friends and lovers (I was done with enemies).
As a kitchen porter not only did I get the smallest room in the house I also got paid £15 a week. For this I worked 4 nights a week and all weekend, this left me with the weekdays free to study for “A” levels at the local college. I elected to do Pure Maths, Physics, Biology and Applied Maths, my intention was to become an aeronautical engineer so the heavy maths/science essential to the choice of subjects. It turned out that because I had been out of the country for an extended period I was treated as a foreigner again and also had to find money to pay for the tuition fees. Now the hard slog began, I thought I could both work and study, but I found it difficult to apply myself to my studies, I started work at 6:30pm washing pans in the kitchen, I looked up to the glassware and crockery washer, Monica, the end of shift would vary depending on how busy we had been but I would frequently finish after 10:30pm, except for Sunday when the kitchen closed early. I found it difficult to rouse myself for lectures the next day and frequently missed the early ones. Soon I had progressed to helping the kitchen staff, becoming a sous-sous-chef, helping the pastry chef and the sous-chef with the preparations and developing a love of cooking and food into the bargain. I was always motivated and keen to move on and when the opportunity presented itself for a job as a silver-service waiter, I immediately volunteered. Without a doubt it was much better than washing pans – but now I would finish at 11:30pm on a good night, Saturday nights we had dinner-dances and these would go on until 2am. Still Sunday evenings were still always quiet and early.
Because of the workload I extended my “A” levels to three years and found it extremely hard to maintain my motivation, particularly once I discovered girls. By 18 I was engaged to Sharon, a divorcee 9 years older than me – and a proper woman. Re-evaluating my life, I decided I could no longer go to university and instead decided to make a career out of hospitality, moving up to be assistant manager at the Three Horse Shoes so I could begin to save for a house with my fiancé. Being the assistant manager in a hotel of this size meant you had all the crap jobs which the manager and the other staff didn’t want to do. I had to cover for members of staff on their days off or illness, and I would also cover the night porter once a week which meant an all night stint! Can’t say I enjoyed that at all, however, my relationship with Sharon soured so in many ways it was fortunate it did not last long, as I was able to pick up my studies where I left off. I finished with appalling grades and none of the universities would accept me onto their Aeronautical Engineering courses as they were highly competitive. I had to re-think, looking around I found a course at Lanchester Polytechnic for Computer Science, they would accept me with my grades so long as I could pass the IBM programmer test. Not many people knew what a computer was at the time and they were finding it hard to fill the courses. I passed the test and was enrolled onto a course of about 60 people – nearly half of whom were women, sadly computing has gone backwards in this regard and the number of women computer specialists is much lower than it should be. The course was a “thin sandwich” course, which meant it was a three year course with two six month industry placements.
On graduating I went to work for a small company in London with 6-7 people in the office. We were building a software system to computerise the blood transfusion service, the fact the job was in London, appealed to me. In order to build the system we were using Fortran (a computer language) and a little known relational database from Sweden called MIMER and thus the next seed of my career was sown. Working in Bloomsbury Square was brilliant, an excellent location and the people I worked with were all young graduates. However, the company was not a great place to work and after six months, I began looking elsewhere. My manger had left to work at an American software company who were starting up in London and I started to make enquiries – getting myself an interview…I was wowed by the mugs (easily pleased) and soon I was working for Relational Technology Inc. At RTI. I was the very first technical support person in the UK, support which was offered over the phone and via fax (the interweb didn’t exist then), again I quickly made my way up to technical support manager, growing a wonderfully talented team around me. At this point in the story, computing relational databases were the big thing, a group of small, mostly American, companies were making big waves and growing at a phenomenal rate: Oracle, RTI, Informix, Rapport and later Sybase. In the database wars, Oracle was the winner. Still we didn’t know it at the time and because of the speed of growth and money, we had outrageous parties and the best times I can remember. I learnt to ski and sail yachts during my time with RTI (which renamed itself Ingres) and went to the USA for the first time to work for 3 months in Alameda in the San Francisco Bay Area. During my time at Ingres not only did I run technical support, but I also trained, provided consultancy, spoke at user group events and created a brand new 24×7 support service called strategic support. I enjoyed new challenges and because the company was growing rapidly, so too were new opportunities. My next move was into marketing, I had not been impressed with the technical marketing people I had met so far and felt I could do a much better job – hence I became a product marketing manager. This turned out to be a tough job because although our competitors, Oracle, were about the same size they decided that they would heavily fund marketing – so at one point I was competing with a staff of 15 product marketing managers at Oracle. Our growth rate meant that we out-grew our bijou software boutique just behind the King’s Road on Britten Street, so the managing director decided to move us all to a new building in Winnersh Triangle.
I was living in a flat in Battersea which I had bought with my partner Judith, and I found the walk to the King’s Road every morning just right as far as commuting goes. Judith worked in the city and had a slightly longer commute, but it still worked. The move to Winnersh Triangle now meant that I had an hours drive each way, every day. something had to change.
Together with a colleague and good friend, Paul Irwin-Crookes, we decided to setup our own company. We had seen that people were having problems developing and administering good applications with RDBMS and 4GLs, so we felt that there was an opportunity to create a consulting and training company based around the Ingres database. So in 1990 we set-up Perfect Recall, it was the time of Norman Tebbit’s “get on your bike comment” and so we did. It was not easy building a customer base, but our courses soon became popular – we were amongst the first to use a liquid crystal display over a slide projector to display our courseware. The display was a blurry purplish-grey, but it did its job, connected to our Mac we were able to create animations in PowerPoint even before there was such a thing by creating a new slide for every frame of the animation – time consuming work.
In 1992 our first child Joanna turned up unexpectedly, well we had some warning. Jo was a beautiful and adorable blond girl with bright blue eyes who had a very friendly nature, but severe colic for her first nine months, a cause for sleepless nights. We she was just six months old we took Jo on a trip around Australia, to visit Judith’s brother and his wife in Perth. Jo was very well behaved even on the long-haul trips, as a little blue-eyed, blonde doll, she was a hit with the Asian communities. We had did all the sights, visited Brisbane, Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef.
At Perfect Recall we became successful – hired more people – bought some sports cars, yet had our ups and downs. We finally became a company of eight people and had plans to diversify to other databases, particularly Oracle, but we were too late. ASK/Ingres was bought by Computer Associates and all sales stopped and the bottom fell out of our business. In January 1994 we folded.
To be continued…