Andy Nagle has been appointed Education Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Microsoft UK, overseeing technology strategy for our work with schools, colleges and universities across Britain. The News Centre sat down with Andy to find out more about his role, the challenges he will face and what he hopes to achieve.
Role: Education CTO at Microsoft UK
Lives: West Lothian, Scotland
Family: Married, four children
Pets: A King Charles Spaniel called Sam
Hobbies: Musician (mainly guitar. He was in a band called Rewired that signed a record deal)
Tell us about your new role
It’s not about the technology in isolation, its about empowering people to achieve more. I help customers unlock their use of technology so they can achieve their goals. For example, I see a school has bought Office 365, but their adoption and consumption isn’t happening. What are the challenges there? Do they have a digital strategy? Does the team need digital skills or people skills, is it technical blockers? I help them define that strategy and align it to the outcomes that they hope to achieve – whether that’s transforming teaching and learning or optimising how their organisation operates.
I also work with Education Scotland and other government departments across the UK as well. Education Scotland is in a great place, having Glow (a nationally available digital environment for learning that provides access to a number of web services and resources to allow users to create, collaborate and innovate). The Welsh government has Hwb and the Department for Education is thinking hard about its digital and edtech strategy. In all of those cases I can go in and look to work at a national level and share our knowledge, new developments in technology tools such as Teams, or share innovative approaches using data and AI. It’s a diverse and exciting role.
What will you bring to the role?
Historically, I have spent a lot of time focusing on the customer and helping to implement systems and solutions. For me it’s about aligning the tech with the customer’s vision, starting with the student or teacher, understanding what the challenges are and what success looks like, and working back from there, or, as Satya Nadella would say, “Hitting Refresh”. I will be taking a really user-centric approach to this new role.
What were your previous jobs?
I’ve been at Microsoft two years. Before that I was with Apple, and for five years I managed their education business in Scotland and other parts of UK and then ran the public sector business in Scotland, with a huge focus on healthcare. Before that I was at Dell for six years, as well as NEC Computers.
What are your aims at Microsoft?
I hope to help our customers achieve their goals. I want to move the narrative from “here’s what we bought”, to “here’s what we achieved, here’s what we changed, here are the new experiences we are delivering for our students and staff”. I aim to change what success looks like when it comes to technology in education, and focus on outcomes – is the technology being deployed effectively to solve problems and help our customers achieve more?
We are keen on building a nation of people with skills who have successful careers, which in turn helps them have happy lives. That would also be great for Britain as a whole.
What’s will be the hardest part of your job?
The most challenging part will be resetting people’s vision to realign the focus on people and outcomes. The technology part is rapidly changing but easier to navigate. It’s the culture we need to focus on to help our customers get the most out of digital transformation. I will need to use agile methodologies such as design thinking, which puts the user at the centre of the technology, and helps customers build user groups and gather feedback so their project is a success.
What’s the best part of your job?
It’s seeing someone do something that they didn’t think was possible. For example, “Learning Tools” are built into OneNote and Word. The thinking behind that is a core part of learning is reading to learn, but before you can do that you need to learn to read. My son’s dyslexic, so I know what a challenge learning to read can be. To have a technology that can support someone on an individual level in a very non-intrusive way is priceless. I’ve worked with children who have to print out A3 sheets of paper so they can read and keep up with the class. Imagine the stigma that goes with that. If you’re dyslexic, you might be too shy to say anything, and that can lead to behavioural problems. But now, from the comfort of your own device, there is technology that’s built into the software to help and support you. It’s phenomenal to watch teachers use OneNote and Word with students. We also see it in further education and higher education, too. These tools are really helping students and maximising their opportunities.
I’ve got kids so I know the challenges they face, but I’m in a position where I can try to affect change on a larger scale. It’s very gratifying and humbling.
What is a leader?
A leader is someone that can help empower the people around them to achieve their goals. An effective leader helps embed his or her team’s vision of what the shared goal is. Before you can help people achieve goals, you need to identify what those goals are, then you can help people find the strengths within themselves. It’s like being a teacher – you can’t do the job for them, that’s not the role of a leader, it’s about helping people understand the shared vision. A good leader is able to instil passion and belief in their team so they can achieve goals.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my contribution to Glow. Two years ago they had about 80,000 monthly active users. We put in place training programmes for staff to help increase digital skills among teachers, to help them think differently about pedagogy and how they can engage students. Glow now has 150,000 monthly active users, with two million logins every month. It’s the largest active Microsoft educational tenancy in Europe. It’s a huge success story for Scottish education, but more importantly, the teachers and students are excited about it and they’re very proud of what they have achieved.
What inspires you?
My family inspires me, as well as the community where I was brought up. I grew up in a deprived area of Scotland, where university was only for the rich. It wasn’t something my family considered; they were loving and very close but we didn’t have much money. But they gave me a belief that I could still change the world; and I landed a record deal, worked with award-winning producers, run businesses for Apple and Microsoft. You really can achieve anything you put your mind to, when you have a growth mindset. It’s important to be curious about everything and retain a desire to learn.
What’s your favourite Microsoft product?
I use OneNote, and I don’t know how anyone can live without Excel. PowerPoint is amazing, especially with the artificial intelligence built in. My 10-year-old daughter’s teacher has told her to do a presentation on Italy. The point of it is so my daughter can learn about Italy – the culture, the history, the food. She spent 20 minutes trying to make the slide look pretty and finding the right picture. I show her the online pictures in Glow, which are copyright-free, and has soon as you put one in PowerPoint, the design assistant pops up. That gave us beautiful designs. So, in less than two minutes, we’ve got a professional design and images and we can start thinking about the content. I think that’s amazing; it’s so simple but it shows the power of the artificial intelligence in Microsoft’s software.
I love Minecraft, too. It’s more than a game, it’s a movement. It’s one of those once-in-a-generation things. Teachers can now engage learners who otherwise might have been disengaged, and they’re able to offer new opportunities that are impossible in the real world. How else could you get thousands of children across the country to build and design a castle, which incorporates maths, design, geometry and history? Students learn by doing, and Minecraft is doing.
What was the first bit of technology that you were excited about?
The ZX Spectrum 48k. It just captured me. I used to play Treasure Island Dizzy, I would be on it for hours until I cracked a problem. I went from that to a Spectrum 128k, which had a built-in tape deck, and then on to the Commodore 64, followed by an Amstrad. After that I went into consoles, before buying an Atari ST. That’s when I started programming music and building my own computers; I used to buy spare parts and build my own so I could record music. That’s how I got into technology, and now being Education CTO means I get to take that passion to a major scale – the journey is just beginning.