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“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom” – An interview with Lloyd Watkin

I caught up with Lloyd Watkin, the Principal Engineer at OLIO – ‘The Food Sharing Revolution app’. Lloyd has been with OLIO for almost 4 years’ and is not only passionate about the tech but also the mission behind it. OLIO are doing incredible work in order to prevent food waste around the UK by connecting neighbours and local businesses to share food – and not just throw it away!

We have been working with Lloyd recently to help diversify their tech team and SR2 will also be supporting and sponsoring OLIO’s event ‘Making S*** Happen’ on August 21st in Bath. This is going to be a really insightful and interesting evening filled with speakers from all walks of life talking about things they’re doing to make the world a better place. If you want to be a part of it then just sign up on the link here!

So Lloyd, you work for OLIO – The Food Revolution App. Tell me more about what they do?

Food waste is a massive environmental, economic, and social issue all around the world; in the UK, for example, the average household throws away £700 of food each year, and when compared to countries Food Waste generates more CO2 than every country on the planet except for China and the USA. We grow more than enough food on this planet to feed everyone yet two doors down from someone binning a pile of food they didn’t get around to eating could be a family in food poverty. Similarly there’s always something you just need a spoonful of for a recipe but have to buy a big jar and the rest ends up going to waste when a neighbour could equally make use of it. We also work with stores to help reduce their food waste and redistribute it to the local community using our massive (and amazing!) volunteer network (30k and counting!).

Simply put we’re trying to help solve one of the greatest threats facing our planet and at a level where everyone is able to be involved.

You’ve been within a tech career for about 15 years’ now – what would you say are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen over the years?

Over that time I’ve seen web-centric tech change a lot. Not just the technologies but the quality of engineering too. Long gone are all connecting to a shared file system and using the F5 testing technique (i.e. hitting refresh in the browser). These days its distributed version control and unit/automation tests which is a much happier (and safer) place to be. One of the more interesting differences for start-ups like us is that developers of my, erm generation or before, had to be involved at all steps of the stack and so naturally had server admin as well as development skills. Now thanks to amazing platforms this range of skills aren’t required so much (so we can concentrate on delivering more software more quickly), but sometimes you need these broader skills but with your lower head count.

What’s your favourite thing about working at OLIO?

We’re all highly motivated by the company mission and therefore it makes working with the whole company a very positive experience. We also get contacted by users who have discovered OLIO and through the availability of food &/or through volunteering have managed to turn their life around for the better. We also get some very interesting things shared through the app and its always great to find out about them, one example is a gardener sharing their surplus of Tromboncino squash. Also working flexibly and remotely with a positive helpful team is great for productivity and mental health.


We’re extremely excited to be supporting your pop-up event on August 21st – ‘Making S**T Happen’ – tell our readers more about it?

On a quarterly basis I drag the tech team from our various corners of the world (yeah, we work remotely!) in order to have some co-working time and catch-up socially (team bonding is important). I like to try and do something interesting in the evenings; I thought this time it would be good to meet some other developers (some of us don’t get the chance to attend meetups due to location) and socialise outside of our developer group. Being a one-off event it needed to be about telling a story (to appeal broadly to the community) and I wanted it to be a place for a positive discussion (with a bit of rebellious edge… so swear words). Hence a pop-up meetup about making shit better in whatever way.

What do you think are the biggest challenges companies face within diversity/inclusion?

Speaking specifically from a start-up point of view (because huge companies with lots of applicants experience a different set of challenges) and given that I’ve just completed our latest round of recruiting (and found a great QA thanks to SR2) the major problem is that the sheer ratio of people like me (straight, white, male developers) to any other group is staggering and, sadly, not unexpected. Redressing these balances (because there are several) takes many years not only because we need to encourage non-people-like-me to head towards a career in tech but when they get there the working environment needs to be welcoming/inclusive/etc at the same time. With a small, but growing, team I’m trying to bake diversity and a welcoming environment from the early days so it’s part of the culture rather than something that has to be actively thought about as we scale.

What do you want to be remembered for?

This is getting deep! Realistically, whilst lying on my death bed, surrounded by family, soft jazz music playing, a random water cooler in the corner, and a parrot spouting death metal song lyrics, all I’d really like is to have as few regrets as possible and to be able to look my children in the eye and have them know that I did my very best.

Favourite quote? Words you live by?

Two things spring to mind…
I often say to my step-son “always do the right thing, especially when it’s the hard thing to do” so I’m assuming at some level I apply this to myself. Unfortunately he hasn’t quite applied this principle when it comes to cleaning his bedroom.

The other is a quote from Bertrand Russell “to conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom” – to me this means that if something feels scary or difficult (i.e. you fear tackling it) then you are probably going to learn a lot in the process, so its best get on with it.

3 people you’d have dinner with:

• Elon Musk, the guy delivers and is massively mission driven in the right way
• Greta Thunberg, a bit cliché right now, but she’s a young lady wise beyond her years and also someone who takes action driven by a mission

…. actually I can’t do more without opening the floodgates and spending four hours listing names. It would depend on my mood and what was on my mind at the time. Oh, and dinner with each separately, when I talk to each person I want to talk to them directly and not engage in a group conversation 🙂


Interview by Charlotte Baker

a voice of diversity in tech.


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