Episode #14

John joined ubloquity following a wide and varied career in information technology stretching back 38 years.

He is always learning new technologies having worked in industries like financial services and banking, physical security, and time management systems.

When he first came across ubloquity and considered taking up a new role, what interested him was that we were using blockchains but not for cryptocurrency. It really piqued his interest.

He then learned about what we are doing in the field of provenance, and was impressed that for such an early start up company we already had two major customers under our belt.

He thought: “this company is going places!”. It was also a new technology for him to learn. And learning is what keeps John interested in computers.

“Even though I’ve 38 years experience, I’m currently doing a master’s in crypto security. So I’m always wanting to learn new technologies, and it keeps me young and interested. So it’s not just a mundane, nine to five job, doing the same thing, I’m learning new things all the time.”


Dom Burch, John Breen

Dom Burch  00:07

Welcome back to the ubloquity podcast with me Dom Burch. This is the podcast where we get to speak to the real experts when it comes to blockchain and technology. And we’re changing tack slightly here in season two of the podcast. And we’re actually going to be turning the spotlight onto our own people. And I’m absolutely delighted this week to welcome John Breen, John, welcome to the podcast,

John Breen  00:28

Thanks you very much pleasure being here.

Dom Burch  00:30

Now, tell me a little bit about you. What brings you to ubloquity?

John Breen  00:34

I have over 38 years experience in the IT sector. I’m always learning new technologies. I worked in things like financial, physical security, time management systems. When I was looking at ubloquity as a new role, what interested me was you were using blockchains. But you weren’t using them for cryptocurrency. So that really piqued my interest, because everyone sort of associates blockchains and cryptocurrencies, I was saying, Well, what else could he use it for? And then I learned about that provenance, and for such an early start up company to have two major customers under their belt already. So I said, this company is going places, it’s a new technology for me to learn. That’s what keeps me interested in computers. It’s constantly learning. Like, even though I’ve 38 years experience, I’m currently doing a master’s in crypto security. So I’m always wanting to learn new technologies, and it keeps me young and interested. So it’s not just a mundane, nine to five job, doing the same thing, I’ve been doing last 30 years, I’m learning new things all the time.

Dom Burch  01:37

And as you look back, right, so as you look back at technology from 38 years ago, and the kinds of things that you were building, the kinds of things you’re involved in, like, obviously, a lot has changed, right. But what hasn’t changed? What fundamentally is the same? 

John Breen  01:50

And tell us a little bit then about what you do. Right? So your role, within ubloquity is a solution architect, now, forgive me for being ignorant, what does that mean? Are you looking for problems that you can then find a solution to? Coding is still sort of the same, like, most of the stuff are based on C, which is, you know, 30 odd years plus or more old, so thye’re just variations of that, they are still using the same context. It’s still object orientated programming. So it’s just like a spoken language. It’s just evolving. And so what I learned 30 years ago, is still fairly beneficial to what I do today. The main part of a solution architect job is looking at what the company needs, and how IT can actually be used for, like, IT used to be seen as a disabler to business. But IT isn’t. It’s the enabler, those are the ones that put out there what you need so, it’s literally looking at this requirements, and how best we can use technology to do it. A good example was years ago, I came up with a way are using the serial port to be actually an alarm monitor, to tell you if the electric fence has been touched I had an hour, which is not what serial port is used for serial port is generally used for just data. But I actually was using it for power fluctuations and that. So I was using technology and coming up with how we can use what technologies are there to meet our requirements to get what we want done.

Dom Burch  02:48

And people are, you know, Zuckerberg at Facebook years ago was famous for saying, let’s break things and you know, move quickly. And that sort of, I guess that’s sort of creativity that you need to have in a role like yours, where you’re going, Okay, what’s the what’s the problem that we’re faced with? What are the tools that we have at our disposal? But also, if you approach it from a different angle, or you try and break something and reuse it a different way? Is that the kind of stuff that’s going on in your head all day long? Are you forever like looking around the world and going hang on a minute, why don’t we do this instead?

John Breen  03:52

Yeah, I would constantly be looking at new technologies, new way of doing things. Look, as I said, items out there, how best can we use them to fit our purpose? Like if you want to be leading edge and keep up with development? You have to think of where it’s going, not where it’s been, we can’t be playing catch up. If you look at years ago with mobile companies, those companies going for 3g, when other companies are still trying to get into the 2g market, we’re always tracking what other companies was now. You can’t be, you have to be there, leader of it, you have to come out and say, this is the correct way of doing things. You know, how can we use it? A good example again, was smart cards. How insecure strips were, how can we actually improve that? Well, we use these SIM chips and in mobile phones and other things. Why can’t we use them with smart cards. So it’s, that’s why I said like, to me and probably people I know blockchains was always associated with cyber security or cyber currency, but it doesn’t have to be used for what was designed to be used.

Dom Burch  04:52

I think that’s a great point, when I was joining ubloquity 18 months ago, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what a ledger was let alone a distributed ledger. So this notion that blockchain was something that you could use to either go back in history and be able to prove where a product or item had come from and where it was heading, but also of looking at how you can move goods across borders and how you can so sort of, as you start to sort of look at what’s coming over the horizon and some of the projects that we’re working on, you know, what is it? What if you were down the pub, and you’re having to explain to a friend of yours that didn’t really understand what blockchain was? How would you describe what it is that we’re doing in a way that makes sense to people?

John Breen  05:38

We’re literally bookkeepers for the whole movement of goods from the time they are loaded into a truck filled until they’re unloaded at the far end, and we’re auditing that whole journey. The same way in the old days, a bookkeeper would be doing his debit ledgers. Like a boy would come in and audit these accounts, to make sure that everything was okay. So that’s what we’re doing. Whether it be bookkeepers or auditors for the transport of goods.

Dom Burch  06:01

And as you look then around the corner, John, what is it that excites you? Right? So you’re sat here thinking, I need to keep learning, I’m always, you know, something around around there that I don’t yet know about to such an extent that you now are doing your master’s degree. Tell me a bit about that. What is it that gets you out of bed, you know, puts a spring in your step every morning,

John Breen  06:21

When I started off, the first computer had 64k memory, you know, I actually started off with punch cards, which was even worse again. It was like a big typewriter, no screen. But technology is always changing. And it’s so powerful. Now, as I said, smartphones, who would believe when the first mobile phones came out, you know, you were able to make a call send a text, and that was it. Now, that smartphone is as powerful as a mini computer. Actually, smartphones, now are probably even powerful as a three eight six, which was the top end computer back in the 90s. You know. So, technology is always moving forward. And it’s, it’s not, as I said, a mundane job, but you’re doing the same thing day in day out, things are changing at a rapid rate, like smartphones, what will come up next. Yeah, you know, what is going to be the next technology that’s going to come out there that makes our lives easier. Sky now have their Sky Glass TV, which is your TV, your Skybox, all built into one, and it’s all wireless, Wi Fi, no more dishes or anything else in your house. Constantly looking at better ways of improving things.

Dom Burch  07:28

Whenever you’re in sort of one of these moments in time. And I guess as humans, we all think we’re at the cusp of the next revolution, and you go back 100 years, 200 years, and you look back at what happened before. But it does feel like that at the moment that there’s sort of real fundamental shifts in how industries are going to function, how goods are going to be moved around the world, how banking is going to be done, and actually been able to get to the truth at the touch of a button because it is held in an immutable way on a distributed ledger or blockchain. I mean, that’s incredibly exciting to be in the midst of one of these of revolutions, isn’t it? 

John Breen  08:04

It is yeah, that said, like, if you look at now, how many online banks is there now there. You know, people are not wanting red brick building banks anymore. You know, they’re quite happy to use online banking, I don’t know when the last time I was actually in a branch. It must be years, I have no need to go near one anymore. So technologies are making our jobs easier. Years ago you had to go to a bank from nine to three if you wanted to do any business, you don’t now, you just get your phone any time of the day. And it makes our life a lot easier. That’s why technology is constantly changing. And it will always change. Like what we’re doing now, two years time, we’ll be doing something different again, because we’ll be saying, well, we can now use blockchains to this. There’s like carbon emissions and everything else can be all done and monitored and audited by our blockchain.

Dom Burch  08:53

And also, I guess this the future work has shifted considerably and we’ve obviously come through the pandemic, and that forced everybody to work remotely. But But I guess you’ll be sat there, won’t you remotely, whereas 10, 20, 30 years ago, you’d be in a big, you know, office building like the rest of us, in big departments, all that costs. What’s it like working for a company that is agile and remote by design, because ubloquity is forever only been a remote and agile company?

John Breen  09:19

That again, technologies like 20 years ago, if you had people working remotely, trying to set up a video conference call, you know, was a nightmare. You know, we had to book time, so we had the bandwidth and everything else for it. Working from home, it’s hard not to miss the camaraderie in the office. But you know, we have Zoom now. We have Teams, so many products out there that do video conferencing, there’s Slack for keeping messages. It’s like working in your own private office in a building, I wake up from my own office. That’s literally what it’s like. Everyone has their own office so you don’t have to be a senior manager to get an office with a window view. So, when you take it took a pandemic, to get companies to realise, what they could do. And if you look at all the soaring costs at the moment, you don’t have to have big office spaces anymore, your electricity bills are going down down because people work from home. So you know, it’s saving money for the companies who, unfortunately it took a pandemic for IT companies who should have from day one only could do all they say, yeah, we can then work from home, we have that technology.

Dom Burch  10:32

And that’s often the case, isn’t it that you take you need a catalyst event, as terrible as the pandemic was a catalyst event actually get people to make that shift? Do that change? Yeah. I love this idea that you’re sat there with a mahogany table in the best view in the house. You know, 20 years ago that had been just for the chairman on the top floor. I love that.

John Breen  10:54

Lovely, comfortable office. I have a great view of the Irish countryside. So I wouldn’t get that, I’d be looking at another building across the road.

Dom Burch  11:03

And also get you you’re working now, aren’t you with an international team of colleagues who are based you know, Romania in different parts of Europe or UK? How does that work then as a technology team, how do you bring that together? So that you know you do manage to keep you know, being agile and working in sprints, but doing it completely remotely?

John Breen  11:22

Yeah, as I said, like if I have to ask someone a question, I just hop onto Slack or Teams and ask the question hop on, say you free pop up video chat and have a chat with them. It’s no different than me walking out there and walking to the end of the building to talk to someone, ok not face to face. But if I want to see the person I can pop a video chat and talk to him. So it’s slightly different that I’m remote. But it makes our job easier. Like a lot of companies before because everyone had to be in the office. They didn’t have a lot of remote staff. All them are gone by the wayside now because. So my friend is a four o’clock because of his timezone. Because it’s six o’clock there. Like in other jobs. I work for people in Asia, China, the Ukraine and America and there being certain cross over times. Well, it was awkward then because you had to be in the office, your own office at the time. But to me the nearest office was an hour’s drive. If I was lucky, an hour and a half to two hours drive home at night. So I have more family life now. Because of it.

Dom Burch  12:21

What would your message be to somebody who’s perhaps listening to this podcast hasn’t considered a role in the future in technology? You know, we’ve got young Ellen, for example, who’s a farmer by background and did agri tech at Queen’s and then has ended up at ubloquity and has just absolutely flourishing in a in a technology role. If you were chatting to somebody who wanted them to consider a role in technology, what would be your advice to them? 

John Breen  12:44

No matter what job you have, you’re using it. Like if you’re a cashier at a till your using the point of sale system, it’s technology, it’s IT, you know, so anyone can do IT. You just don’t have to be afraid. And as I said, there’s never any wrong solution. Because people come up with ideas. It’s almost like God, we’re not actually that’s quite a good idea. One of my sons is an astrophysicist. He walks in it. And his degree, his his PhD is an astrophysicist. So he went into it. And I have two other sons that do IT as well. My eldest said he was never intended to go into IT. And he decided because the his brothers are talking about all the time, so he give it a try. And now he’s doing IT. There’s no such thing, no one can do anything. Like, if you look at I don’t know how it is in other countries, but in Ireland once you come over 25, you no longer need you’re leaving set to go to university. So there is nothing stopping him, in the Republic actually going and doing a degree if you wanted to, in computers wihtout having their original base subjects they needed in your leaving set of A levels. If you look at many online courses that are out there teaching people that are not IT people, computers, my wife is a nurse, but she can programme in Python.

Dom Burch  13:58

I love I love the fact that you’ve got somebody in the medical industry and somebody in the space sector. So you, when you have this argument, when you say it’s not brain surgery or rocket science. You’ve got two qualified people in the room.

John Breen  14:12

So you know, when she was doing some training, she actually had to learn how to write stuff for Access, create an Access database and write scripts to actually do things as part of our training. Technologies there for everyone. And anyone can do it. As you say, they don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do it, but it might help but you don’t have to be!

Dom Burch  14:33

Absolutely brilliant. Well, listen, John, it’s been a pleasure catching up you thank you so much for taking the time to come on the ubloquity podcast. I’m looking forward to our next ubloquityness of things call because I have to say, lovely listeners, John holds a record at the moment for the most entertaining introduction to anyone who’s joined the company. But John, for the meantime, thank you so much for coming on.

John Breen  14:54

Thanks for having me.