Judges on Fire: Justin Lodge, Principal Architect in Financial Services

In our Judges on Fire series of podcasts, we aim to let you get to know our judges a little better. They also get the chance to share their wisdom and tips about entering the Tech Trailblazers Awards. For our third outing we are connecting with Justin Lodge who is based in Singapore and works as a Principal Architect in Financial Services.

In a fascinating chat, find out about Justin’s wide variety of jobs during his career, what he is looking for in an entry to the Tech Trailblazers Awards, and what disruptive technology is going to shake the world in the future.

So, over to Rose Ross, Founder of the Tech Trailblazers Awards, as she interviews Justin Lodge in our third Judges on Fire podcast.


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Interview transcript

RR: I’m delighted to welcome you all to Judges on Fire, an introduction podcast to some of our amazing judges at the Tech Trailblazers, and Im delighted that today Im being joined from Singapore by an old friend of mine, and an old college friend of mine, Justin Lodge. Hello Justin!

JL: Hello Rose, great to be here.

RR: Fantastic, well it’s great to have you here. You’ve been involved with the Tech Trailblazers right from the beginning, and obviously we’ve known each other for a long time, because we were actually at the same university together and used to hang out, which is lovely to then also have an opportunity to work with you, as our paths crossed again in the world of tech. So, for the people who don’t know you, if you could give us just a little bit of an overview of who you are, and how you’ve ended up where you are, and what you’re doing now.

JL: So, I’m Justin Lodge, I’m working for a very large banking institution in Singapore. I’ve worked in technology pretty much since I was 16 years old when I did my first programming gig before I met Rose. Since then I got a Master’s degree in engineering from Aston university where I hung out with Rose a lot, it was fantastic, and then I went off to do software engineering. Then at the ripe old age of 25 I went consulting and started to travel the world, I ended up working for a very large bank in Luxembourg, then moved across to New Zealand and worked in telecommunications, banking again, and some government institutions in Wellington in New Zealand, and even did a gig representing Cisco out in Tahiti in French, Polynesia.

I’ve done a wide variety of careers, I know mostly about software development applications, development in the very early days of Dynamic Systems Development method in the very late 1990s, and then all that Agile kicked in. Then I moved across to Australia and ended up working on infrastructure. So 20 years of deep infrastructure experience in and around large data centres, and then I ended up working for banks again. So, here we are in Singapore and at the moment I’m working on, would you believe it, cloud. So, that’s where I am at the moment, we’re looking at what have we got to do to move the cloud, like everybody else.

RR: Digital transformation, don’t we love it.

JL: Absolutely.

RR: The lift and shift.

JL: You might think it’s lift and shift, but it isn’t!

RR: What would you describe it as?

JL: Ah, the money to be saved, and the opportunities to really lift customer experience comes through transformation, and that’s what we get by going to the cloud, we can get much more reliable. So it’s not so much about the cost savings, but it’s all about better customer experience, a lot higher reliability, and, the cloud is more secure than your data centres, so there’s security involved.

RR: Interesting. Obviously, youve been involved as a judge which has been great, right from the beginning, so were in edition no. 9. What kind of things will be catching your eye? Because obviously you can look at all elements of infrastructure which is very much where our startups live, whether thats security cloud. Youve talked about developer and we have a developer category about tools that help developers, so what kind of things are you particularly excited about seeing this year? Or, whats going to catch your attention?

JL: I’ve seen some technology recently, which is…the biggest area we’re really trying to make a difference is in customer experience, but it’s also about data, and it’s also about understanding the data. So big data, I’ve been doing big data for years before it was big data, and it’s that area of data quality, and being able to produce actionable insights in a very short amount of time is really beginning to flow through. I’ve seen some Israeli technology which is very, very interesting, because the biggest problem in ingesting data is the fact that it’s all a mess when you get it, and nothing matches between different systems. Some of this Israeli technology has got the AI built into it, that means that you can ingest data without having to do the extract transform load processes on the front.

So, that’s what I’m looking for this year. I’m looking for some really interesting bits of ability to be able to produce fast actionable insights, without having to spend six months trying to work out what the hell the data looks like in the first place.

RR: Yes, discovery of a quick rate that you can move things.

JL: Yeah, those kind of technologies are really making a difference to our businesses, and also making a difference to IT. Splunk has been around quite a few years now, and there are lots of people that know how to do logging, but being able to understand what’s going on and intelligently manage that is cutting edge, so that you can be ahead of the curve when things aren’t going right.

RR: I’m sure well see some very interesting things, and we have had a lot of Israeli submissions in the past, as well as obviously a lot from Silicon Valley and from Europe, so Im sure well have quite an interesting variety for you to have a peek at over the coming weeks, and months.

So what sort of advice would you give, because people only have so much within the entry process to wow you, and we look at a number of different elements. Obviously we want to look at innovative technology, because thats what were looking to the startup world for, stuff that perhaps you may not be seeing in some of the larger incumbents. Were also looking for that sort of agility, I would imagine a lot have been pivoting over the last few months as the world has changed considerably, and obviously technology has been an element within that. Also, how theyre engaging with the market, and how their market adoption is going. But whats particularly of interest for you to be shown, what evidence are you looking for?

JL: I’m looking for people that understand what the problem is that they’re trying to solve for their customers, and properly articulating that, because there seems to be, particularly in the tech space in security that there’s this assumption that the people you are selling to actually understand the security space, and that isn’t really true. For example, there are lots of people who want to upgrade cyber security, and they need to understand the story behind the product, about what’s the purpose of the product, in terms of what it’s there to do. It’s like that’s the why, the what, and the how, that’s what I’m looking for. If you’ve got a coherent story, and they know what their audience is, they know the segment that is going to be really interested in buying, then that really helps me to understand, is that product a good fit, what’s it going to achieve?

Over the years I’ve read many, many entries where I’m not sure the PR person that wrote the entry actually understood what is the tech they’re trying to sell. That storytelling piece is why you Rose are so good at your job, which is why I admire you.

RR: Thank you, I really appreciate that. I shall go away and blush for a little bit now, but lets move on to the next set of things. From your perspective what has been defining your success, and what sort of startup technology have you found useful, that you think has driven you to have an interest in that sort of world? Youve worked for a startup in the past havent you? Or you were going to I think.

JL: I’ve looked at it a few times but it all depends on what you mean by startup, is it Series A, Series B… there’s a whole bunch of different phases they go through. I’ve definitely been involved in ideation, the current financial institution I work for runs an entire venture capital arm, and we have a whole set of criteria is about what we do for FinTechs, and how we spin them out, and how we do joint ventures. So that’s kind of what I’m looking for in my experience of understanding the financial institution where I work, how they operate. It’s really interesting about the survival of the fittest and how sometimes we’ll run an entire set of ideation processes, and there might be close to 50-60 ideas and two will get picked.

What makes the difference is the team, because you need the visionary, but you also need the tech guy. You need a combination of the team approach to be able to give a good rounded story, so everybody understands the different facets, and be able to sell it properly. So that’s really how I’m looking, if I can see that multiple people have put their input in, and they know what they’re doing, then that’s the bit about the story that really makes it fly, and so I can then say that product you can buy, because it will fit here.

RR: So theres something new thats coming in this year which youve not experienced before with Tech Trailblazers, because nobody has. Im not sure if Ive spoken to you about this as yet, but when we get the shortlist for each category, were also going to invite all of the shortlisted companies to do a lightening talk, because now everybody is more comfortable with doing stuff over the likes of video conferencing, like were doing here. So, theyll get an opportunity for one of their technologists, or one of their visionaries to share those visions for five minutes, ten minutes maximum, to just give you a sense of it, which hopefully will lift things a little bit out of where the entry submissions are. And obviously you guys do your due diligence, youll go and have a look at the websites, you might look at a white paper or view some videos

JL: Yeah, I look at every single website in my judging. I spend quite some time trying to understand what the pitch is, why it’s working, how that’s going to work. So yeah, I do the research.

RR: Hopefully, the lightening talk will also give you an insight into those 5 to 7 final contenders as well. So, thats something to look out for in October.

On a more personal level, we like to ask a few questions which is..and this is kind of a fun one, what superhero would you be?

JL: Ah! That’s a fun one, I was going to say Muttley, but he’s not a superhero.

RR: I used to be able to do his laugh.

JL: Well, I can do a Scooby-Doo, but I can’t do Muttley!

RR: Thats close to Muttley to be honest, that was quite close to a Muttley.

JL: So he was kind of my superhero when I was probably 2½ – 3 years old, I remember quite vividly. When you look at superheroes, no I don’t really have one! Muttley, let’s stick with Muttley.

RR: I think Muttley is a fantastic choice, I absolutely adored Muttley, so yeah I cant question that one at all.

Looking into the future, obviously technology is having impacts across all aspects, and you on a day-to-day basis are working with the subject, whats happening behind the scenes for a lot of businesses. But what technology are you anticipating will be coming to the fore over the next say 5 maybe 10 years, thats going to have a huge impact, that youre maybe looking forward to seeing. This is perhaps like some of those sci-fi things which were so accurate in the 1950s that might actually happen.

JL: What I’m looking forward to is the low earth orbit satellite systems that Elon Musk is putting up, I think it’s called Starlink, I don’t remember quite what he calls it, but it has the opportunity to produce massive disruption in people’s ability to get internet services without government censorship. That’s going to have massive political ramifications, but it’s also going to provide massive opportunities for things like digital currencies, and a lot of the financial institutions are very keen on dabbling in the edges at the moment, and some are going more than that.

So, I think the combination of digital assets, bitcoin, those kinds of things, distributed ledgers, they’re all going to have a massive disruptive influence on how people manage their money, and become sovereign, so that they effectively can choose what it is that they do and don’t declare themselves, about how they operate financially. So, there’s a whole bunch of different aspects to disruption in the financial industry, in governments, and all different things that get facilitated by that base capability of being able to put up an internet connection anywhere on earth, that isn’t regulated by somebody else. That’s not to say you’re not under surveillance, because we all are some way or other, but the democratisation of the internet is really going to become key, I think, with that ability.

Let’s not just say there’s Elon Musk doing that, there’s a number of other companies that are working very hard to try to do similar things. For me that’s the big disruption, is the fact that governments will no longer be able to control what people can and cannot do. So, it’s going to provide massive opportunity for a lot of people. There’s my opinion.

RR: Well, that’s pretty disruptive. So, you’ve chosen a really low-key one like autonomous cars. [Laughs] Or helping you make a cappuccino in the morning.

No, the way people do business in the future is going to be massively changed by not having to be tethered anymore. It’s going to cost Elon Musk about $10 billion to get this network up and going, and running globally, and it’s going to reduce the network latency time between London and New York. So, specifically Slough and New Jersey which is where all the world’s biggest transaction engines run for all the stock market transactions. So it’s going to shave 25 milliseconds off the round trip time on latency, so Elon Musk will make his money back pretty much within 12 months, if not quicker, on his $10 billion investment, in terms of what additional business that they can facilitate through those low latency connections.

So, there’s another disruption to it, and I’m really looking forward to it.

RR: Whats the timeline on that?

JL: Well, everything’s moved around a little bit with C19, but he was saying that by the end of this year he was going to have North America up and operational with this. Now, there’s been a whole bunch of changes in and around that, they’ve had a change of management. What else has been going on? Oh yes, they had a long discussion with astronomers about the fact that those satellites are really reflective, and it’s causing a problem, so they’re looking at what they’ve got to do to cope with these satellites, with a different paint that is going to make sure that the satellites don’t reflect as much. So, they’ve got ecological things in mind, but while they’re doing that it slows them down.

So, I don’t know if they’re going make their date at the end of this year to have North America live, but certainly by the end of 2021 they’ll be global, everywhere apart from Antarctica because there’s no customers down there. They’re talking about…

RR: I dont know, penguins have got a fair bit of bitcoin tucked away here and there.

JL: [Laughs] Yes. It’s only going to be $5 or $10 a month and you’re connected.

RR: Well, something to maybe catch up on once thats going live, and making a difference there. Well, I think thats probably it, is there anything that youve not been asked that perhaps youd like to share with people, that you think would be beneficial for people who are looking to enter this year? Apart from of course “do it”, obviously thats important because you cant be included if you don’t enter.

JL: I think be really good at the storytelling, that’s what I’m looking for, because that helps me understand where the product fits, and how viable it’s going to be.

RR: Brilliant, fantastic. Well, the night’s drawing in there in Singapore, so thank you so much Justin, its wonderful to catch up with you anyway, but its great to hear more about what youve been up to, and looking forward to for this years awards. Thanks for joining us for the Judges on Fire.

JL: Well, thank you very much for the opportunity. One little last thing, obviously the opinions… I would just like to let everybody know that my opinions are my own, and have got nothing to do with my employer. I really appreciate the opportunity here Rose, thank you.

RR: Fantastic, thanks so much Justin. Have a lovely evening, and look forward to catching up with you very soon. Cheers.