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Q&A: Stuart Silberg, Hotels.com

The CTO of Hotels.com - and IT Pro Leaderboard member - discusses why soft skills remain key and having to wait two days for a print-out.

What was your first IT job?

My role at NatWest in 1990. Back then, customers could only access their account from a single branch, so one of my first jobs was helping to centralise the IT systems.

Being able to visit any branch, and for that branch to have access to your details, is the norm today but back then it was revolutionary.

How has the world of IT changed since you first started in the sector?

There have been some huge changes. Every year, technologies get smaller and cheaper, while at the same time they become much more powerful. As a result, we all have considerably more access to technology.

When I first started my career, we didn't have a printer in the office, so we had to wait two days for a printout to be posted from a central printer. It sounds laughable now, but that's how things were.

What do you think are the most important skills people wanting to enter the IT job market should have nowadays? 

Now and always, the most important skills in IT are the soft ones. Anyone can learn to code but, if you cannot communicate effectively or work in a team, you will struggle to get ahead.

What advice would you give someone thinking of entering the IT jobs market/your younger self?

Don't specialise too soon. Get as much experience as you can across a wide range of IT disciplines. 

The industry is always changing and a good grounding across several disciplines will always come in useful.

What is the biggest challenge facing IT professionals at the moment? 

Industry-wide, IT professionals are having to manage an increasing number of platforms and devices. You have to be creative to find a solution that will work.

What technologies/trends are you currently watching and why?

Mobile and wearables are the most interesting to me at the moment. Apps play a very important role in our business, so I'm intrigued to see how apps will run across these platforms and understand the different ways that people will use them. 

I'm also closely watching the automotive space, which is providing a new platform for consumers to use apps. As a company, we've been doing some work with Ford in this respect. The Hotels.com apps were the first apps from the hotel and travel sector to be compatible with Ford's SYNCAppLink technology and we'll be making it available in Europe early next year.

Our existing mobile apps have already been downloaded more than 25 million times, so it will be very interesting to see what take-up is like for our apps on these new platforms.

Conversely, what current technology/trend are you not interested in and why?

Big Data. In my eyes it's just a buzz word. Data has and will always be a valuable asset for businesses, the fact that there is more of it today is not the point - it's about how you make use of it that counts.

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