The computer specialist, professor and author could very well use the title of one of his books, "Policing the Cybernation," to describe his new role.
Just switch out "Microsoft" for "Cybernation."
On Wednesday, Barrett was named trustee in the European Commission's antitrust case against Microsoft. In this position, which takes effect immediately, Barrett will advise the EC's competition commission on Microsoft's compliance with its historic 2004 ruling. That decision called for the software giant to share accurate interface protocols with competitors and to offer a version of its Windows operating system without the Windows Media Player.
The task should draw on Barrett's wide range of work experience. Back in 1985, he became the United Kingdom's youngest lecturer when he took a post at York University at age 23. He left that to become a trainer at software developer Kernel Technology in Leeds, then went on to serve as a high-tech consultant for companies in the U.K., the United States and France. He is also the author of several papers and books relating to cybercrime. Barrett, a sometimes columnist for CNET Networks site Silicon.com, was recently appointed professor of computer criminology at the Royal Military College of Science, Cranfield University, in Britain.
While Barrett is barred from discussing his role as trustee in the Microsoft case, he was able to tell CNET News.com about his background and his views on the proper role of government.
Q: Let's start with your having been the youngest lecturer in the U.K. After serving at York for three years, you moved over to the private sector as a computer consultant. Were you bored with academia?
Barrett: I was bored out of my mind. I was playing squash something like three times every day and looking for a new challenge. I had been an undergraduate for three years, a postgraduate for two and then gone straight from there into being a university lecturer, so I was still back in the university arena.
As the youngest lecturer, I was right at the very bottom of the pay scale. Lecturers don't make nearly as much money as they should, so I was as poor as a church mouse. I guess I have very expensive tastes. The appeal of going to work for somebody that would pay me a decent amount of money and give me a car was just wonderful.
As a lecturer, you deal with students who would tend to listen to you. As a consultant, you deal with clients who aren't necessarily going to take what you say to heart. How did you get clients to listen to you?
Barrett: I had a few advantages. I was roughly the same age as a lot of the students I was teaching. So I was used to dealing with people from less of an authoritative point of view and more from a personality aspect.
Secondly, one of the extra jobs I took on at York University was to be the industry liaison officer for the department. So before even taking the job at Kernel, I was already dealing with some very large organizations in order to get research funding, to place students, to establish mutual projects. So I was already doing it, essentially, as an academic. All that happened when I went to industry was I was doing it as a consultant.
How has the background you have had at this point prepared you to work with government agencies, like with the EU?
Barrett: I learned very early on how to analyze systems; how to listen to people; how to work out what people wanted; how to divide up a problem that you look at, to begin with, and think, "That is absolutely impossible"--how to divide that into a set of achievable objectives that you can timetable and project manage.
All that is the same, whether that is a government agency, whether it's a large commercial enterprise or a class of students you have to explain things to.
So the skill set you've acquired is transferable across a broad spectrum?
Barrett: People are people. I do an awful lot of teaching police officers how to investigate high-tech crimes. The mantra for that is the same for all that I do: "People are people."
I've dealt with IBM. Let's say, you don't deal with IBM. You deal with a small set of people who you know within IBM. I worked for a number of years as a salesman and as a sales manager, and you learn very, very quickly that it's people who you are dealing with.
What type of companies did you work for in the U.S.?
Barrett: I worked for two companies. I worked for a California-based software development company specializing in networking technology called Locust Technology, where I was head of consulting. And then later, I worked for Honeywell Bull. It's a large French group with a number of different roles?Towards the end I was a fellow, which is an advisory post within the organization.
The idea (of a fellow) is to have someone with the technical wherewithal and commercial wherewithal to understand what the
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