Philip Richardson went from Commander to Civilian after an amazing opportunity arose to join Google. Read on for how he did it, in his own words:
- How did you find yourself in the military?
Inspired by the courage and deeds of grandfather in World War 2, the seeds of adventure offered by the military were sown from an early age. I grew up in Bahrain and visited several warships that docked there en route to and from the Arabian Gulf but I went to a UK boarding school with a thriving Combined Cadet Force. Whilst at school, a proactive military liaison officer arranged for me to spend my half terms and weekends on military bases rather than go home and so my future in the Royal Navy was cemented at an early age. A sponsorship programme helped fund my years at University which came in really handy when I was an impoverished student. Relishing adventure, I was a good fit for the military as I loved working within a high performing team and I certainly felt a sense of duty and pride when wearing the uniform.
- How is working in data in the RN different to the commercial sector?
I believe there are clear themes in common between the two environments. Delivering cutting edge technology with world-class people who relish solving problems are some that immediately spring to mind. These are, I believe, critical common themes to delivering any mission, military or otherwise, especially in today’s digital world. Knowing how to get the best from your colleagues’ skills and ensuring that they get the best from you, is imperative to solving complex problems in both environments. One difference I have found upon entering the ‘Googleverse’ was the unfettered access to the breadth and depth of technological innovation, engineering excellence and a focus on R&D to deliver transformational solutions. These levers offer game-changing capabilities for the UK Defence community.
- What was the highlight of your military career?
The highlight of my military career was the responsibility I had to deliver the aviation capability to our newest aircraft carrier, HMS PRINCE OF WALES. The embarkation, integration and generation of world-class maritime aviation onboard the newest and largest aircraft carrier the UK has ever operated was the culmination of a 10-year aircraft carrier build programme. The ship was delivered simultaneously to the F-35 aircraft and the seamless integration of both cutting-edge capabilities has placed the UK at the very forefront of carrier-capable nations, ensuring that the UK can continue to project influence in the international arena. Being at the leading edge of delivering this world-class programme was a highlight of my military career.
- Why did you leave the military?
My deep and passionate commitment to Defence meant that I was increasingly finding myself away for long periods of time which, when added up over 25 years, put pressure on my wife and family. It was an incredibly difficult decision to leave but an amazing opportunity arose to join Google in a role where I could utilise and develop the skills I gained from the military and apply them in another fast-paced, professional and exciting environment.
- How did you end up working for Google?
Getting the most out of every asset has always been a priority for me. Whether it be the operating envelope of an aircraft, or the availability of a flight deck or vessel, working with like-minded people solving problems, usually at short notice and under pressure, has always been something I enjoy and relish. At the school gates, a friend once told me that Google likes solving problems with technology. This very much sparked my interest so I reached out and applied for a role with the Public Sector team within Google Cloud. The rest is history.
- Where will you be in 5 years?
I plan to be right at the heart of Google Cloud’s effort to deliver industry-leading solutions and cutting-edge technology to the UK’s public sector, ensuring they can achieve their missions and deliver even better services to citizens across the UK.
- What projects/areas of tech/cyber should the military and commercial sector be focusing on in the next 5 years?
Over the next five years, the power and scalability of cloud technology needs to be adopted and integrated across military, civilian departments and commercial organisations. The commercial sector needs to help the public sector recognise, maximise and realise the power of data and treat it as a strategic asset. This includes using and integrating world-leading AI technologies to help deliver value and insights from data.
- Throughout your life who would you say have been your main role models and why?
I have had several role models throughout my life, each offering inspiration in different ways. During my school days Des Kumar, our basketball coach, showed great faith in us young school boys as he enrolled us in the South West of England Men’s league where we were most certainly tested. No adult teams enjoyed being challenged, let alone beaten, by us kids but it was through Des’ inspiring leadership, dedication to training and how he fostered such a powerful team spirit that meant we played well above our ability and caused much embarrassment to the established mens’ teams. It was at this early stage that I recognised and learnt what the power of good leadership and a strong team ethic could do.
Whilst serving in the Royal Navy I witnessed several great leaders, some of whom I identify as role models. One in particular stands out; Captain Rocky Salmon, who I worked for when he was Commander Air of HMS ARK ROYAL. I witnessed first-hand how he managed, led and inspired others whilst operating under high-pressure situations. Rocky displayed a constant serenity and calmness as he worked safely and effectively managing the operations of a busy aircraft carrier flight deck with jets and helicopters operating day and night in challenging weather conditions and hostile environments. The safe and measured orchestration of this dynamic and constantly changing aerial ballet, with zero margin for error, was done in a calm and assured manner that infused confidence into the whole team. Rocky always seemed to have more time than others to make the right decision at the right time which resulted in ensuring risk to life was reduced and aircraft were recovered safely. Witnessing these qualities at close quarters meant that he quickly became a role model that I aspired to emulate.
- Do you or have you ever had a mentor? What did you learn from them?
As one of the leading aviators in the Royal Navy, I have worked for, or near, Admiral Jon Pentreath for many years. I have a professional and personal relationship with him which transcends generations, families and a common path of military service which has led to an informal mentorship relationship over recent years.
Whilst I served under his command we had regular meetings where we discussed the professional challenges I had in the delivery of aviation operational capability. We also discussed wider issues involving the welfare and support of people, mental health and my own career progression. I learnt and absorbed qualities from Admiral Pentreath that I believe have served me well. Witnessing how he displayed the utmost loyalty and support to his people was an excellent leadership example and something I ensure remains the focus of my leadership roles. His mentorship and guidance armed me with the confidence, tools and ideas on how best to approach future leadership challenges. Appreciating and recognising the support that a family gives to those dedicated to their job, alongside really understanding and getting to know your people, was an important lesson I took onboard.
- What mistakes have you made in your career? How have they shaped you for the better?
The lesson of challenging and double-checking information is something that will live with me for the rest of my life. It stems from one particular flight I flew in the Arabian Gulf. There was no suitable diversion or an alternative place to land which resulted in me ditching a Lynx helicopter into the ocean and making an emergency escape underwater whilst it sank. Not an experience I would ever wish to repeat! This event has caused me to challenge more, in particular, to challenge information when received, especially if it forms any part of a critical path. It has made me much more risk-aware, perhaps one could argue at times more risk-averse. Nevertheless it has ensured I challenge that information is true, and not just assume it is, because it comes from endorsed or official channels.
- What transferable skills did you learn in the military? What is the one skill that sets you apart from your non-military peers in the commercial sector?
I believe that the core values the military teach and embeds in every soldier, sailor or airman/airwoman (Commitment, Courage, Discipline, Respect, Integrity and Loyalty) are key transferable skills that become part of every serving or veteran’s DNA. It is these core values that offer value to the industry. Having served in high pressure and, at times, dangerous operational environments gives me a deep emotional and conscientious motivation to deliver the best capability possible to Defence to help others that now serve. I believe that this motivation and experience is unique and gives military veterans a unique perspective when working in the commercial sector.
Your thoughts on tech industry issues:
- What emerging technologies should we be keeping an eye on?
I believe that new and emerging technologies that could disrupt global security in the future include the following:
- Artificial Intelligence(AI) - AI can pervade and influence all areas of society. It can enhance computational power for military reasoning for decision-making, reconnaissance, planning, intelligence and almost every other capability that Defence owns. Examples include; Vision AI which can enable better equipment safety management processes, or digital twinning which allows the testing and evaluation of new capability iterations and enables predictive maintenance transforming the availability level for critical military platforms.
- Robotics and Autonomous Systems - Force protection, improving situational awareness, and remote logistical support in areas of challenging terrain are all excellent use cases for robotics and autonomous systems. These capabilities allow a greater degree of freedom of manoeuvre whilst reducing physical risk to the soldier. The technology for developing these capabilities are improving exponentially and being applied to all parts of society.
- Internet of Things (IoT) - The application of IoT within Defence has huge potential as ships, aircraft, vehicles, personnel, and operating bases can all be connected in robust and secure networks. This improves perception, situational awareness and response time for any decision-making process; all are critical capabilities for a modern and effective military. Edge computing, AI and 5G enables the seamless flow of data across all areas of military capability which strengthens the command and control network which is a mandatory enabler of any military task.
- Cyber - Increasingly, we are seeing more military systems being connected and operating ‘online’. This means they are vulnerable to cyber attacks and degradation from malware, ransomware and phishing attacks. Technology which protects the security of military equipment and critical national infrastructure is of paramount importance and, as capabilities improve in the automatic detection, investigation and neutralisation of cyber threats; this is an area that demands constant investment and attention.
- Immersive Technologies - Immersive synthetic technology which makes training scenarios, repetitive experiences or mission rehearsal possible is a critical way of de-risking operations and improving the readiness and efficiency of military units. Augmented reality (AR) offers increased effectiveness for personnel operating in the field. AR headsets offer additional mapping information, movement markers, threat detection and much other data enhancing real time decision-making.
- Big Data Analytics - Being able to maintain the strategic advantage relies upon being able to access information and derive insights from it. The side that can extract vital data, analyse it and then rapidly and securely disseminate it will achieve strategic advantage. Big data analytics can unlock insights from various data sources and the power of quantum computing will allow simulations to be run for real time informed decision making.
- If you were to retrain now, what area of cyber/tech would you focus on developing skills in?
Witnessing the impact that AI and Machine Learning (ML) has already had, and will increasingly have, upon all aspects of society makes me feel that I should retrain now! If I had my time again I would aim to achieve a deep understanding of AI/ML from the outset and gain as many qualifications and as much experience as I could. This would include the ethics, application and technical delivery of AI and ML. The Defence Digital Strategy states there is a requirement to upskill MOD personnel to be able to deliver AI/ML and data driven insights across Defence. Furthermore, it is an exciting and groundbreaking area of technology that can solve and make transformational outcomes to difficult problems. This is motivating stuff and can make a huge difference!
- What more can the government do to encourage more veterans into cyber and tech training programmes and jobs?
Some branches of military personnel are deeply integrated within the provision of cybersecurity capability and many will already hold security clearances. These trained, experienced and often ‘easy to clear’ individuals need to be fast tracked into these sorts of roles once their days of military service are over. Highlighting the opportunities for this sort of transition is an easy win that would support transitioning personnel. Their sense of service, loyalty and duty does not disappear when they take off their uniform.
- Why are service leavers well suited to cyber security and tech jobs?
Many service leavers depart the military with valid security clearances and often have a strong grasp of the operational domain, the skills to analyse it, and build a plan of action. They can be the missing link between tech companies and the challenges they seek to address. The analytical, problem solving and domain expertise demonstrated by service leavers makes them ideal for this role.
- What advice would you give to service leavers who are thinking about upskilling in tech, data or cyber skills?
You cannot start early enough. Do it now. Many companies provide free training on their services, such as Google’s offering which is here.
- How can we encourage everyday people to take better care of their cyber security?
Five easy steps and do these regularly:
- Regularly run a security check up on your account.
- Keep your software updated.
- Use unique, strong passwords.
- Remove apps and browser extensions that you do not need.
- Protect against suspicious messages and content.
Further information can be found here. NCSC has also published some helpful guidance to protect from cyber attack. This can be found here and more information on applying the NCSC’s zero trust principles on Google Cloud can be found here.