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Why Vodafone’s Expert Engineering Community is my Greatest Toolbox

Brian Burton

Principal Technology Architect and Vodafone Distinguished Engineer

I’ve worked for Vodafone for nearly two decades. That might sound like a long time to be in ‘one’ job, but in that time I’ve worked across two operating companies and had three distinct careers.

I’m known for what we call “non-functional architecture”, which means I’m more interested in how something works than what it does. I do a lot of internal consultancy with different teams on how to make their end-to-end solutions high performing, resilient, secure, easy to operate and modern.

Because I’m a broad generalist and can take on different ideas quickly, I’m happy talking about all aspects of a solution and seeing problems and challenges from multiple perspectives. So it’s no surprise that I’ve found great value in being a part of Vodafone’s expert community.

A unique and insightful forum

As part of the community, I benefit in two ways. First, it’s a source of great knowledge and experience – it’s always my first port of call. With such a variety of expertise, I’m confident I can find the answer to any technical question in a matter of hours, and I’m often approached by someone in the community to help them, too. 

Secondly, it’s a forum to share ideas and industry insights. We meet regularly to discuss the future of the industry and of Vodafone’s place in the industry from our own unique viewpoints. For example, we’ve all been key contributors to technologies like Open RAN, 4G/5G evolution and IoT, and to industry vertical solutions like healthcare. Each one has been discussed in depth by our community to ensure we all align and make it work seamlessly.

My current role is to investigate new and emerging technologies and figure out if they’re useful to Vodafone and how. Then we create practical demonstrations to show our senior leaders why they should be in our strategy, and engineering teams why they should be on their radar. I do a mixture of coding, electronics, microcontroller and single-board computer IoT device design, cloud computing and 3D CAD work.

Our team also helps other teams build proof-of-concept demonstrations that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to create themselves, and in collaboration with our R&D teams, we maintain an engineering workshop where we can build pretty much anything we need. 

I love seeing technology in action

There have been plenty of highlights throughout my career with Vodafone, but there are a few things I’m particularly proud of.

One is our journey to cloud, a seed I planted nearly a decade ago, nurtured over time and have since seen flourish in the hands of some great engineers. When I look at where we are today with cloud, I begin to reflect back on 2012, when, as lead architect on a project to create a disaster recovery solution for our UK online platform, I recommended and guided the design of a solution based on Amazon Web Services. That turned out to be the first live production solution for Vodafone on public cloud infrastructure in Europe.

Then I wrote version 1.0 of our global cloud strategy and, at a time when our senior leaders, application owners and operational teams were unsure of the benefits, I demonstrated how it would benefit for us.

I was also instrumental in forming a cloud maturity model for applications on cloud  infrastructure that helped our software engineering teams understand where they were and what they needed to do to get the most from our cloud platform.

In 2015, I introduced containerisation into our Tech2020 strategy and technology roadmap as an evolution of the cloud strategy. Now, containerised and serverless software are becoming the norm.

Today, our cloud strategy for Tech 2025 is mature. It’s evolved beyond anything that I’d recognise as ‘mine’, in the hands of people who are greater experts than I could hope to be. But, I can trace a direct line back from where we sit now, to the path I started Vodafone on all those years ago. What’s more, many of the people who’ve brought our cloud strategy this far were trained on the cloud curriculum that I personally designed for our Learning and Development team.

Man draws on a see-through board.

A legacy I’d like to leave

As well as staying hands-on with technology, I’m even more passionate about seeing engineers progress to new and better things. I strongly believe we need to keep developing our existing engineers while continuing to bring in new, fresh engineers to challenge our ways of thinking.

The early part of my career was all about building my own expertise. Now, I’m in a phase where although I am still learning and progressing, I spend a lot more time enabling other engineers to do their best, using my abilities to help them shortcut some of the learning I had to do, and my position to get them the credit they deserve. 

I believe encouraging people to fulfil their potential is fundamental to our success, and I’d like my legacy in engineering to be that I inspired, encouraged and enabled every person with an engineering aspiration to join us and thrive.

Leading us into the future at Vodafone

A colleague recently pointed out to me that a strong technical expert community and career path for engineers is a signature of good technology companies, and that is certainly true at Vodafone.

Our expert community is an integral part of our tech comms transformation – we’re already driving the changes that we need to make in our culture, in our technology strategy and even in the technical career path itself. As we continue our journey to becoming a tech comms company, these engineers will play an even bigger part in shaping how we deliver great products and services, and shaping and growing our own community to meet technological and engineering needs. 

My expertise as a generalist engineer allows me to solve end-to-end problems with the right technology. I need to know enough about everything to hold a sensible conversation with any engineer and to be able to ask the right questions to get the right solutions. That is both what I enjoy and what challenges me!

I’m always gratified by how easy it is to get someone to share knowledge with me. A big pile of other engineers is the best toolbox you can have!

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