Running with ease: how tech helps Mark Torr blur distances and stay connected

man running crossing finish line

Focus Friday is our weekly column, exploring how people across Europe use Microsoft technology to help them at work and home.

Today, we speak with Mark Torr in Heidelberg, Germany about his work as the Microsoft Central and Eastern Europe Business Lead for Data, AI and IoT and how he uses technology to collaborate across a diverse region and many different teams all while working from a home office. Make sure you check out @MSEurope, to discover more tips from #FocusFriday participants on using technology to its full potential. 

What inspires you?
I am a technologist that believes technology is only useful if it is improving something. To that end, I am inspired by finding new ways to improve organizations or our society with the technologies I am responsible for.  Today I am most inspired by seeing how AI is being used to solve challenges around disability and our environment. Outside of work I am a keen runner inspired by Eliud Kipchoge who mixes great athletic ability with mental focus as he breaks through barriers in Marathon running. I have run in races with him a few times… although normally a few hours behind him.

Growing up, what’s the very first gadget or piece of technology you were excited about?
I was super lucky to get a ZX Spectrum computer as a child. It started my computing journey. Obviously at the start it was all about gaming, Horace goes skiing and I were best friends and I busted a lot of Joysticks with Daley Thompsons Decathlon, but eventually I used it to progress to writing BASIC programs. I was also excited using an Acorn computer at school. There I used to program Logo to create various fractal shapes. I have been a tech geek ever since.

man standing smiling

When was the first moment technology helped you?
I had to think hard about this as technology is so woven into my life now. I do not even think about it. I have been helped by technology in medical situations and it helped me make friends through using gaming technologies. Having said that, fundamentally, I think technology helped me most in keeping in touch with friends and family around the world once I relocated out of the UK – so I think this is when I first was thankful for it. For sure this is one of the biggest benefits of being an expat, as it lets you connect to people using video streaming, and other technologies, so you do not feel that far apart.

In your current job, what technology do you find most useful and how do you use it?
Nowadays it is Teams. I love being able to quickly connect, turn on the video, blur the background and just collaborate and catch up. I use it daily to talk to my peers out across Europe, and to brush up on my skills of finding and sending gifs – as apparently that is the modern way to communicate.

man standing smilingWhat difficulties did you encounter before you had access to this technology?
Without technologies like Teams, and predecessor technologies, remote working was not really that easy. Everything needed to happen in person. This meant more travel time, more time away from the family and higher costs all around.

What does Microsoft technology allow you to do more of?
My Xbox lets me relax with my boys, Teams lets me collaborate with colleagues and stay in touch, Office 365 supports me in a lot of my content creation and documentation, and Azure is powering my professional focus and constant technical learning. I must admit to buying a Surface Go as well. With that I have reduced the weight of my backpack when I travel away while keeping 100% access to what I would have with my bigger surface book.

Outside of work, what tech do you love to use and why?
I have several Garmin watches and I am really starting to love my latest gadget, a Stryd Power meter, which lets me run with Power. I love it as it combines my desire to be the best I can be at running with my love of Data and Analysis.  In the home I have to admit to having an Alexa, which we use to control our Philips hue smart lighting and various smart plugs. I love it as it saves me the effort of walking to things when I can control it all from wherever I am, either via voice or over my phone.

What piece of tech could you not live without?
Right now, all my running technology. I suppose my Surface Book that I use for work is important as well.

If you had one piece of advice for people using technology every day, what would it be?
Turn it off and forget about it sometimes. Go for a run/walk or spend time with the family doing things that have nothing to do with technology.

What technology are you most excited about for the future?
I have to say AI. Not just because I am responsible for it, but because it is going to have a massive impact everywhere. When combined with advances such as Quantum Computing I really think it is going to help us all. We are only just seeing the start of this today. I think the pace of change we see now is probably the slowest it will be going forwards.


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