Hey Hackers! I’m Mathias Hellquist, and I’m the Chief Geek of Ideas That Work.
First of all, a huge thank you to the HackerNoon community and staff for nominating me for a 2021 Noonies award! I’ve been nominated in the following categories; please do check out these award pages and vote:
As someone in the Innovation/Infosec/Architecture industry, I believe that the most exciting technology of the present is Decentralization and Privacy related topics because of the challenges they pose when trying to meet both scalability and business goals. Learn more about my thoughts and opinions on Decentralization, Privacy, and Infosec and my journey in the tech industry via the interview below.
I’ve had an international multi-award winning IT career going since 1994 where I’ve worked my way up the ranks of various digital/strategy/innovation agencies to finally reach the equivalent roles of what I normally call “Chief Geek” (i.e., Tech Director, Creative Technology Director, Tech Manager, etc.). I’ve never been too fuzzed about titles, though I’ve learned over the years titles can be important to others, if nothing else, as my title can give me access to boardrooms, where “The Wallet” often sits.
In those roles, I often got to solve the “what?” (“launch iTunes,” or “global release of Xbox,” to name a few that you might have heard of) and also the “how?” (Architecture, or “what language will we use?” or “full/no/mixed cloud?” or “do we really need a database?” etc.) of various technical challenges that, up until then, often hadn’t been seen or done previously.
In the last 10 years, I’ve switched gears a bit and am more often called in to help out on the “why?” (strategy, innovation, end-user understanding) parts of digital solutions/services and their challenges. It has felt like a natural progression, as I, due to my background, also can have proper discussions on the how and the what after we’ve nailed down the why.
I really like the variation of being able to change what I am contributing from project to project, as it keeps my days interesting. The last couple of years have been very varied in that I’ve participated in things like building a B2B banking system (as a manager), I’ve been part of building an IoT platform for the largest telecom in northern Europe (as an architect) or consolidating the blogs of 30 different TV-shows (as a manager/engineer), or assessing if we should purchase a certain company (as a technology strategist).
My upcoming assignment, as a parachuted-in consultant, will be to do Infrastructure Architecture for a huge Infosec solution of the highest security classification grade. Due to the nature of the assignment, I am not at liberty to talk more specifically about it. It will be cool, though. I will learn a lot too, whilst being able to contribute with my knowledge/experience.
Well, firstly, there is a difference between “professional me” and “private me.” The thing is that the more theoretical my professional role is, the more technical I am in my private projects, and vice versa. It is sort of like scales with weights on either side, and I gravitate naturally towards keeping things in balance, to ensure I don’t lose grip of either side of theory/”doing” regardless of my current professional assignment.
Due to the nature of my career, I have always been running a bunch of websites (currently 15-ish) for various things (small company websites, some blogs, websites for my friends, rock bands, etc., most of which are massively over-engineered compared to what they actually need) where I can experiment with different technologies and solutions (“how can I ensure this site can handle 15M daily visitors?” or “ooh, that is a new shiny language, let’s give it a spin!”), to keep a finger on the proverbial pulse, or to fail in silence (I do that quite a bit, it’s great), learn from it, and ensure I figure out what works and what doesn’t when doing paid work.
Both “pro me” and “private me” generate learnings and thoughts, which I at times (not as often as I could/should) write down, and sometimes they become articles and/or newsletter posts. I normally post things firstly on my private blog and then re-blog/re-publish that content elsewhere. This is to ensure that my content isn’t locked into any particular platform, which in theory, could deny me access to my own content. Therefore I have a multitude of publishing outlets, of which, for example, the excellent service Hackernoon is one. Others are Medium, Substack, Quora, and various social media solutions, apart from my own blog(s).
Hah, right. Well, back in 1993, two things happened:
The band I was in (groove/thrash metal à la Pantera/Metallica) won a major national music competition
I discovered the Internet
I was already a “geek” and had been doing programming for a couple of years, along with my great interest in doing graphics. The Internet seemed like a great place to combine both those skills (“I just need to learn another thing or two…”, which is still true to this day), and also get access to a worldwide network, perfectly suitable for promoting a band, so that is basically how I started: doing a web site for our band. Turned out not many were actually developing websites at the time, so I became the guy people and companies went to to get an online presence, and thus in 1994, I started my first company.
That was in my small Swedish hometown. After a couple of years, I started working for the Swedish digital agencies, which at the time were “the coolest” on a global scale. That led to me working a brief stint in Hamburg, Germany, which in turn led to being headhunted over to London, UK, where I stayed for 11 years before moving back home to Sweden, where I am now.
At an early stage of my career, I had a vision that I would be working in London, New York, San Fransisco, Tokyo, pretty much in that order, but I ditched those plans because moving countries is a lot different to just “travel to countries”; the process of becoming a legal citizen that is allowed to work is really quite time/energy-consuming. Also, with the Internet working as it does, one doesn’t really have to physically move to the jobs, and thus London, being just a few hours away from friends and family in Sweden, was quite convenient, and still with access to the largest companies/projects in the world.
We, as a family with a wife and kids, moved back to Sweden when my wife was expecting our second child. I have kept working with global/international clients, though, which means “travel” a bit, but as stated above, it is quite different from “moving to.”
Anything related to decentralization, federation, etc. I guess this means “communication/data protocols and how they work,” though I am more interested in utilizing what already is, and I leave the “add functionality to protocols” to others. Also, I’ve gone back to the beginnings of things, as I am interested in “standard formats” (compared to new custom formats) due to portability and to avoid lock-in.
Also, over the last year, I’ve felt a need to “up my skills” to be more factual (and not only theoretical) regarding Infosec/Cybersec. I have completely nerded down on “ethical hacking,” “penetration testing,” etc. I need to know the what and the how of those things so I can counter them, or at least take them into account, in my work for clients.
Strangely (to some), the things that most others are the most excited about: AI, bots, (bad) IoT, deep fakes, centralization, advertising-driven algorithms in social media services. I’m worried about all those things not because I don’t know them but because I know them all too well, and I understand how they can be used and abused. All of them can be combined in so many bad ways that they, without some type of regulation, will make it possible to erode democracy.
I am not known as a huge Musk fan (I’m not the opposite either), but I think he is completely correct when saying, “Unregulated AI is a much larger threat to humanity than nukes ever was.”
What I am most worried about, though, is not actually tech. It is “people.” Not only bad actors but regular not-thinking-for-themselves people, as they are the ones that allow the tech things I am worried about to go on and expand infinitely without caring about regulations, privacy, etc.
Regular people fail to see the overall picture of possible bad combinations. They are the ones that will re-share the deep fakes, or misinformation, as facts, without scrutinizing it. They are the ones that say, “I don’t care about Privacy, I have nothing to hide,” without realizing they are signing away something else on a much larger scale. I say this because I have worked with/for the companies that use these things, and those people, to their advantage.
Promising green/sustainable energy innovation projects. It quite simply is the future.
Back when I was 12 years old, I decided to “learn at least one new thing every day.” I have kept at it ever since. Constantly learning things and keep being curious has been one of the key drivers of my career. Never stop learning. Be honest with what you are really good at, but also what you perhaps are not as good at, and train/practice those things until you are good at them.
I keep a (private and unordered) list of things that I consider I should learn more about and where I can check things off. It has both big things and small things on it.
For me, this means over the last year, I have been learning lots about Infosec/Cybersec, and I do daily activities/lessons/CTF’s on those topics. Also, I have lately been brushing up my older skills on various IT Architecture frameworks (like ITIL and TOGAF) to ensure I haven’t forgotten too much about them when going into my next role where they’ll likely be used, and I wish to keep the “umm…”’s and the “eerrr…”’s to a minimum.
Otherwise, my learning right now is mostly about Personal Knowledge Management (Zettelkasten, P.A.R.A, etc.) and setting up a system that works for me, and which will help me in learning anything/everything else regardless of the topic.
-”You probably shouldn’t drink that…”
On a more serious note, that would be for others to answer. I give lots of advice, most often on request, both in my professional roles but also as a friend/private person or as a mentor (which can be either professional/private). To say which advice given that has been the best I shouldn’t really be the judge of, though. Some have generated money. Some have changed people’s lives (hopefully for the better).
I guess “build complexity if you must, but do so by combining simple and easily editable building blocks” is not bad advice.
Also, I often find myself saying, “cut it in half,” whether it is for business ideas, de-bugging, strategy, or feature considerations. Too often, people try to do too much. This is a pay-it-forward advice that I was given myself, but these days I give it to others as I find it to be both true and very useful.
-”If you’re going to skimp on something, quality isn’t going to be one of those things. Remove features until you have a delivery that you confidently can deliver with quality within the time given. I’ll handle the client expectations.” This is another that always have proven to be both true and useful.
Oh, and -”If you are not having fun doing whatever you are doing, you are doing it wrongly.”
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