CXO blog series: My career in technology – Karl Hoods, CIO, Save the Children UK


There is nothing worse than a middle-aged guy that has been in IT for 20 years thinking their way is the only way of doing things. This is the advantage of bringing in the next generation of young people, to gain from their experience and learn from it.

Karl Hoods is Chief Information Officer at Save the Children UK, a non-governmental organisation that promotes children's rights, provides relief and helps support children in developing countries. An experienced CIO, who has successfully led and transformed technology and digital functions in a number of high profile and challenging environments, Karl has a particular interest in emerging technology and its application within organisations to support transformation. We sat down with Karl to find out more about his career in technology and why he has a passion for computing…

Have you always had a keen interest in technology?

It started when I got my first, very old, computer as a child – I think it was a ZX81? From playing around with computers I decided to study for a degree in information systems management in the early nineties.

I spent 12 months working at Siemens during my sandwich year, in a building that was literally next door. It was while working with them that I first got into doing more and experimenting with the internet. 21 years later and I am still working in technology!

Did you stay with Siemens after university?

I had a short stint with them when I graduated but quickly joined a technology start-up that focused on immersive sports technology. We were tasked with creating a website and a game and race management system for an around the world yacht race. Might not sound too technically difficult but in 1997 most people were still on dial ups - so it was a little trickier than it is now!

Looking at your twenty year career in technology, what has been a highlight for you?

Working in technology is not always about delivering the bottom line. I’ve been lucky enough to work in really interesting roles at opposite ends of the spectrum. Working for that technology start-up in the late nineties gave me the opportunity to work in a genuinely innovative and disruptive company. We were using so many different types of emerging technology so I picked up a good set of skills very quickly, all of which have stayed with me and driven my interest in new and technologies today.

I have also really enjoyed my time at Save the Children UK. Being part of some of the incredible things the organisation does and seeing how technology can support an organisation in delivering its mission is a real thrill.

Why do you think it is important for companies to continue to invest in technology?

It is all about businesses keeping pace. If everything around you is changing at breakneck speed, you need to make a decision to respond or risk falling behind. That kind of organisation agility is really important for companies to consider.

With a lot of organisations you will see a spike in investment when they are trying to solve a particular technical problem. Then once a company thinks they have solved that problem, investment in technology dips again. Fast forward three, four even five years and suddenly; ‘Oh, we need to re-invest again’. This type of investment lifecycle is definitely changing. If companies don’t continually invest in digital transformation, their ability to catch up in the future will be almost impossible.

Do you have any predictions for future technologies?

Blockchain is a really interesting one. With the emergence of digital wealth, and the new start-ups that are being developed to manage digital money, I’m reminded of the late nineties/early noughties. There is a similar buzz and hype in the air!

It is going to be very interesting to see how enterprises adopt Blockchain technology and integrate it into what they do. It is something that’s hard to predict because there is so much going on in the space and so many different avenues of research. For CIOs I think it is important to not only focus on what your own company is delivering but to look at outside experience to bring new ideas in. As a charity should we be dreaming up the next big thing to disrupt the charity sector, or should we be keeping a close eye on what is disrupting other sectors and bringing that learning into what we do? This is something more CIOs should be considering.

Have you seen evidence of the digital skills gap in the UK?

At Save the Children, we have seen the skills gap in DevOps and a number of digital technologies. Part of the reason for this is because those industries are moving at such a rapid pace. If you think of the lifecycle of a university degree – or any education in the traditional sense – it takes a long time to change a curriculum and syllabus. This is why organisations like Sparta have a bit of an advantage. They are able to take people with core critical thinking skills and augment them with current technology training. The question organisations should themselves is whether they should try to nurture a workforce like this themselves, or tap into organisations like Sparta.

What do you think of the Sparta Global model?

I think it is great. Going back to my earlier point, it takes a long time for a university degree to change, but it still gives a basic understanding. What the Sparta academy model does is supplement that degree with the skills that are in demand. Skills that we have struggled to secure in large volumes.

When we need to push things out the door quite quickly, we need several people to do that. Yet approaching the market place and trying to recruit six senior Java developers can be quite difficult. While I might be able to get two or three, Sparta Global’s model allows you to supplement developers with some more junior resources and continue delivering. I think it is a model that is here to stay and one we are definitely taking advantage of.

Have you seen the value of young people teaching new skills to experienced employees?

There is nothing worse than a middle-aged guy that has been in IT for 20 years thinking this is the only way of doing things when you have a different mind-set altogether. It helps that there are a range of different skills and experiences within organisations, but I think companies need to be taking into account new sets of skills and different ways of working.

I remember somebody recently talking about whether skilled people want jobs or if they wanted a piece of work. Does anyone have a job for life anymore? Should organisations be approaching what they do with HR and what they do with talent management in the age-old way, or do we need to think about that slightly differently? This is the advantage of bringing in the next generation of young people, to gain from their experience and learn from it.