A love of guitars led Tom Canning indirectly to the Internet of Things
and his role as head of IoT and Devices at Canonical. Here, he tells
IoT Now how his imagination was fired up lately by an enhanced
computer vision use case, he shares about his worst boss, and
the importance of listening to your gut instinct, says Tom Canning is head of IoT and devices at Canonical.

IoT Now: As a child what job did you want to have when you grew up?

Tom Canning: My childhood was a super fun experience, I was always building and experimenting with things and had big projects on the go. My mother made sure I took an interest in music and, after failing miserably at piano, I found my way to guitar lessons and ended up having a high school rock band! It was the cool thing to do at the time.

It was also at this stage I started understanding electronics, soldering resistors and exploring sound effects. My early dreams were to have an electric guitar company building effects pedals. As university days drew closer, I decided to study Electrical Engineering as a pathway to pursue that passion but upon graduation the excitement of computers took over and I started my sales career. Years later, I still play guitar and I’m still searching for that perfect sound.

IoT Now: If you had one business lesson to share with your younger self what would it be?

Tom Canning: Listen to your gut! It certainly doesn’t sound very eloquent to say – but it’s something you really need to pay attention to. The human defence system is extremely intelligent and has this very simple alert mechanism which signals uneasiness or danger. It’s this instinct our body generates and we can decide to either listen or ignore. The business lesson is simply ACKNOWLEDGE and LISTEN when you sense it.

It appears for a reason and you need to understand why it is signalling you. Consider it a special flag waving for your attention to think more deeply, think differently, ask questions or gather more data concerning a situation you are faced with. Clear the flag and you will sleep soundly. Ignore it and trouble may suddenly appear from nowhere. 

IoT Now: Without naming and shaming, tell us about your worst ever boss.

Tom Canning: I unfortunately had a boss that won the 1st place prize for being my ‘worst boss ever’. 

Leaders need to be transparent and true to the company mission at hand. It’s critical for success. We are conditioned to look up to leaders and expect them to possess and exhibit true passion for the product and customers we are helping. All intentions should be aligned for customer satisfaction and success.

My boss at the time was merely cycling through the motions and it was apparent that his interests were clearly self-serving. If you don’t want to take the time to understand a market, your product or your people, perhaps you also really need to step aside and pursue a different path in life. 

IoT Now: Which Internet of Things (IoT) use case has recently fired your imagination?

Tom Canning: The IoT market has so many great use cases and business transformations going on right now that it’s hard to choose one, but a recent use case for robotics fired up my imagination and it has to do with enhanced computer vision and sensor fusion workloads for perception solutions.

The use cases range from empowering autonomous mobile robots such as floor cleaners, shelf and environmental scanning robots for retail, and object recognition for industrial automation. Advanced perception solutions are driving innovations in multiple IoT segments today which is really exciting. 

IoT Now: What has been your most memorable business travel experience?

Tom Canning: I manage a global IoT team, so up until COVID-19, I travelled extensively. Most memorable business travels would have to be Cape Town and Tokyo. Two remarkable locations with fabulous views, cultures and cuisines!

IoT Now: What lessons have you learned from doing business in other countries or organisations?

Tom Canning: The key lessons I’ve learned are having empathy and mirroring the social cadence of the people you are meeting with. Not everyone works for a hyper-fast Silicon Valley start-up, speaks and understands your language, or grew up with the same mannerisms and social styles as you did. It’s critical to be respectful and try to see things from their point of view and the position they are in. Empathy is a learned capacity that is important to master – it helps you align and fit to your audience members in a calm and trusted manner.

The author is Tom Canning is head of IoT and Devices at Canonical.

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