AlumniDr Peter Burke
Position at time of writing Chief Product Officer of an established Silicon Valley based Cyber Security Company (from Jan 2023)
Degree: BSc (Hons) Computer Science and Microprocessor Systems, 1985; PhD Computer Science 1990
Interesting fact: Peter lives on the street in Menlo Park California where Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google. Perhaps more interestingly, he and his wife, Pauline, almost bought the actual house, now owned by Google, but decided the back yard wasn’t big enough so bought one 300 yards along the street. Interestingly, the woman who did buy the house and rented a room to Larry and Sergey became the first VP of Product Management at Google.
Tell us about your background?
I was born and raised in East Kilbride and attended St. Brides High School. In addition to providing a great academic education, St. Brides gave me an early insight into what “Computer Science might become” during a 4th year work experience program where I was first exposed to software development. This was instrumental in my decision to study Computer Science.
After graduating, I joined Barr and Stroud in a role that allowed me to work on both real time embedded software systems and hardware design which was a great first job. About one year into this, Professor J.T. Buchanan convinced me to return to Strathclyde to undertake a PhD in Artificial Intelligence. I distinctly remember him saying something along the lines of “with a PhD in AI, the world will be your oyster”, and that was back in 1986…
Why did you choose Strathclyde?
If you were going to study Computer Science in Scotland in the early 80s, Strathclyde was clearly the place to do it. It had the best Computer Science faculty, (many of our lecturers were leading researchers in their field), and it had the best computing facilities. It also offered a unique course, Computer Science and Microprocessor Systems, that combined software, electronics, and a solid grounding in computer hardware systems.
Where are you now?
Following the completion of my PhD in 1990, I worked in Switzerland for several years in the area of Medical Image analysis before returning to Scotland to work for British Telecom and subsequently IBM.
In 1997 I took the opportunity to move to Silicon Valley to take up a position as VP of Product Management for an early-stage company (Ceon). After becoming CEO and ultimately selling Ceon, I was involved in leading several other VC backed companies before taking up executive positions in larger publicly traded companies such as Motorola, Google and Nesutar. Being in Silicon Valley at the start of the “dot com era” and watching companies like Yahoo, Google, Apple, Facebook etc. grow up around us has been a fascinating and rewarding journey.
More recently, I have turned my focus to the increasingly important field of Cyber Security, which I see as a new and crucial frontier within the world of software.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There are two things that come to mind in this regard.
One relates to a time I went to a Telecom Trade Show in Nice as the CEO of an early-stage company. We were presenting an early prototype of a new product that we had under development, in full knowledge that if the feedback wasn’t good, we would probably have to “wind up the company”. At the end of the week when the organizers were trying to close the show, we still had a line of interested customers at our booth and very strong validation of our idea.
The second, and more enduring highlight, is the lifelong relationships that I have made with many people in our industry. In many cases I have worked with the same people at multiple companies and who are both colleagues and good friends.
Ambitions for the future
My ambitions for the future are to continue to help develop the relatively young field of Cyber Security, get involved in more board work, and to continue to mentor former colleagues.
What are some interesting developments in the tech industry to look out for?
I think we will continue to see a greater appreciation and understanding of how critical Cyber Security already is in our increasingly digital world and the fact that as an industry “we aren’t quite there yet”. This area will continue to be an “arms race” for years to come and an area for great innovation borrowing from the fields of AI and data.