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Home » Products » Podcast » Season 7 » S07 E04 – Public Service and AI

S07 E04 – Public Service and AI

Today’s guest is Matt Jukes, a ‘public service internet person’ who has a lot of experience with leading digital services. We discuss AI, travel, ambitions, and more!

Matt’s Favourite Books

  • The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
  • Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Everything in Life I Learned from PowerPoint by Russel Davis

Find all of our guests’ reading recommendations at our The Tao of WAO book club.



Important note: this is a lightly-edited AI transcription of the conversation. If you require verbatim quotations, please double-check against the audio!

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:23] Hello and welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society and internet culture with a dash of philosophy and art for good measure. I am Laura Hilliger.

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:34] And I’m Doug Belshaw. This podcast season is currently partially unfunded and you can support this podcast and other We are open projects and products at

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:46] So today’s guest is Matt Jukes, a self-described product person who is currently head of profession for product Management at the UK Government’s Department for Business and Trade. He’s got a great newsletter. We’ve been cyberstalking, Matt, for a very long time, over a decade, I’m sure. But his newsletter is called Public Service Internet Jobs, and he’s just an all around interesting person. So welcome, Matt.

Matt Jukes: [00:01:14] Thank you. Lovely to be here.

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:18] Before we get into the first question, Matt, you’ve known Laura and I for quite a while. And as we said, when we were warming up, we haven’t seen each other in person for maybe a decade. But when did you first run into Laura? Do you think?

Matt Jukes: [00:01:31] So I don’t remember the date, but it was it was when Mozilla festival was still called Drumbeat. And in Barcelona. I’m pretty sure that’s where I’m pretty sure. Um, so when you had your first encounter with. With the the the with Phil Sturgeon as well with my my little my little mate who has become a much better person over the years but was a right pain in the rear end back then. Um my main memory of the of the conference though was. Because it was in it was in the rambles in Barossa was how many Californian Mozilla folks would come over had things pickpocketed and stolen because despite despite all the warnings about the fact there was just about all the pickpocket gangs and stuff that hang around there and they were just leaving like MacBook airs and stuff like.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:27] Just sitting around.

Matt Jukes: [00:02:28] Yeah, yeah. Sitting around on the steps and stuff. And when people were chatting, I just. Yeah, it, it, it remains a, a big memory of me. But it was a brilliant event. It was. It was a big opening to me in the kind of that open community, and it was never quite the same when it moved to London, I thought. Much as it was like.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:48] Well we were Mozfest house, which we’ll get into maybe in Amsterdam week before last as well. And you and I work together. I think I kind of knew of you, but the we worked together at Jisc in different services for, for a bit. Cool. So our first question is always what is your favourite book? And we might let you sneak more than one in here. So here we go.

Matt Jukes: [00:03:12] I’m gonna cheat because how can you not? So I did an English degree, so how can I not cheat? So when I’m trying to impress somebody on a date or something, I always talk about I wrote my dissertation on. On The Great Gatsby. So. So. So there was a time in my life where I knew an enormous amount about F Scott Fitzgerald. I used to read The Great Gatsby every year for ages until in my mid-thirties properly. Um, but, but to be honest, that kind of that’s just what I’m trying to show off a little bit. And it particularly works in America, not surprisingly. Um, most recently, like, like an enormous amount of people. I loved that, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow book got here somewhere. Um, by Gabrielle Zevin. It was a novel about a year, I guess it’s about a year old now. Um. It was a it was a really weird bestseller because it’s a fiction book about two friends who create video games in the kind of, um, right. It’s a little bit like if you’ve ever seen Halt and Catch Fire, the TV show. It’s kind of a novel version of that. It’s a beautiful book. It’s like kind of one of them is autistic. There’s a kind of a romance follows them through their lives. It’s got a got a pretty blunt ending, but it’s a it’s a beautiful book. Um, and yeah, it was a really, really weird surprise hit like properly did the whole don’t judge a book by a cover but I bought it because of the cover. It’s like a, you know, it’s kind of got like silver shiny, but then it ended up being, you know, Reese Witherspoon spoke about it on like Instagram or something, and it ended up being this massive international hit off the back of that. Oh, and then my other cheap one on a slightly more work thing, which is a weird one, is a friend of mine who was one of the founders of GDS, Russell Davis. He wrote a book last year or the year before called Everything in Life I Learned from PowerPoint, and it’s this amazing book in like little hardback that is in landscape. And so every page is kind of a slide deck page, and it’s this amazing thing about teaching you how to present better the history of PowerPoint and presentation and storytelling. It’s just like it’s the it’s the book I’ve bought most copies of to hand out to people and kind of leave in different offices and stuff.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:38] Well there’s no better recommendation than books that you buy and give to the people.

Matt Jukes: [00:05:41] I mean, it’s been it’s a it’s a it’s a real winner because it. It’s the format tricks people into learning a little bit because it looks kind of fun. It almost looks like a big kids book in the way it’s laid out. And every page is kind of colourful and that sort of thing. But um, it’s incredibly useful because particularly in government, everyone’s so bad at presentations, right? So everyone blames PowerPoint, whereas it’s just like, actually it’s not, it’s not the apps fault, you know, it wasn’t designed to put 1100 words on a slide of reality.

Laura Hilliger: [00:06:16] I don’t think it’s just government, though. I think it’s also NGOs have that issue. I’ve noticed that, you know, we do tons of charity work. And the bad. The bad press. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Matt Jukes: [00:06:30] Look, group all of them in my head together. So like, when I talk about government, I’m automatically folding in like, big international NGOs, like places you’ve worked in the past and and stuff and charities and higher education and all these kind of non-profit but similar kind of people all a bit too smart for their own good. Um, and think magically that it’s like copy and pasting stuff from word into PowerPoint suddenly makes it more like accessible for people without making any changes.

Doug Belshaw: [00:07:03] Why? Let’s just dig into that. Why is that? Why are people so bad at communicating ideas? Is it like a school thing or is it just you’ve always been a smart person and people have always listened to your ideas and then why won’t they listen to them now, no matter what kind of crap you put in front of them?

Matt Jukes: [00:07:19] Some of it, some of it’s education, some of it’s the nature of. You know, you you know, you did your doctorate and stuff. I mean, like. You you success is is kind of wrapped up into being incomprehensible for anyone else to a certain extent in a kind of in a lot of our education in this country and elsewhere. Um, some of it is also the, is the, is is a fear of lack of control. So when you do, particularly when you do a slide deck in a big NGO or a big government or anywhere large, really like I do it, you know, my slides tend to be just enough for me to remember what I was supposed to say on the slide. But for a lot of people, what they’re scared of is those slides getting out of their control. So if not, if everything they didn’t think isn’t on that slide, somehow they’re worried they’re being misinterpreted or misconstrued if if it gets out into the world. So they try to make every land, everything on the page sort of thing. Okay.

Doug Belshaw: [00:08:17] I tell you what I found really interesting recently, and we’re kind of this season is kind of touching on AI a bit is when there’s there’s times when people try and bamboozle me or other people with technical stuff. And what I’ve found is it’s really interesting if you take that and put it into ChatGPT and say, What does this person mean? It’s like sometimes it comes out with gibberish, in which case you kind of surmise that the person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. But sometimes it’s really quite useful because then you can talk back to them. It’s almost like translating into a different language.

Matt Jukes: [00:08:53] It’s cool and it’s a different and it’s a different language. And that’s a big part of it is a lot of this stuff that we do is. Is the translation between. Data scientists or technologists and policy people or operations people or the public or whatever. And everyone’s got their jargon and and tech’s bad, but like, everything’s bad. Like, every every profession has its own shibboleths that try and, you know, that are used to see if you’re one of the gang, you know, you know, we’re just slightly trendier in kind of tech at the moment. I guess like people, it’s easy to have a poke at us. Um, but yeah, but like, we’ve always done that, haven’t we? Like, a good part of my success at Jisc back in the day was, was making a load of stuff up on the spot, but no one, no one was sure whether they could call me on it or not. So, you know, that’s, that’s how you get things done to some extent as well, for sure.

Laura Hilliger: [00:09:50] That’s our that’s basically all three of us. Our job is to make things up without people realising that it just came out of our heads and translate it so that it sounds like a real thing.

Doug Belshaw: [00:10:01] Bullshitting as a service.

Matt Jukes: [00:10:03] But also for all three of us, our job is also to be to be that interface as well. Yeah, you know, to let because my running joke is I’m terrified every time I see a tech story on the front of The Economist because that’s my week gone. My week is gone from somebody senior having read that and believing that that’s the future every time and it is The Economist. It’s not the Ft or anything like that. It’s The Economist. Now, like if The Economist gets behind something. Then then you’ve got to read. You’ve got to go and buy the blooming economist and read that story. And then you’ve got to you’ve got to have the case about actually, it’s a it’s a great idea. But yeah. And so I get I get perceived as being the. Like negative Nelly. Now I’m the downbeat one because I’m. Because I have to constantly tell people that actually we’re not ready for that or there’s reasons why we’re not doing that.

Doug Belshaw: [00:11:00] Well, it was interesting. There was a blog post of yours which I read and reread where you were talking about identifying with a different character in a story that you knew now that you’re older. And I thought that might be a nice kind of interesting segway into your kind of career to date. You’ve had an interesting career so far when we continued. Like, how did you get to where you are now? You talked about having an English degree. Like where you are now is not an obvious step from an English degree.

Matt Jukes: [00:11:32] Being like, I like I’ve given I gave a talk last week or the week before to students like 16 and 17 year old students in Exeter at some college. And and it’s like it’s a fun story but it’s also an unhelpful story mine in that it was all about being at the right place at the right time and being the right age to some extent. You know, I did an English degree, I did English, I did a joint degree, English and history. Um, had every intention of being a teacher. That was my goal. Um. Do took a year after my degree had been accepted to do my pgce and got a job at a university library, which just like I’d been working in like a Tesco’s stacking shelves and I thought I needed to get a bit more experience before I went in to do my my pgce. Um, so I got a job at the, at the Education Library of, of the university I was going to go to, to do, to do the qualification. And then I really liked it. But in a case of kind of hilarious reverse sexism, they just, it was 97. They just assumed they understood the internet. I had no clue. Like I’d handwritten my dissertation, like, you know, like I couldn’t even use a word processor. So they put me in charge of. They were building a little resources website for the library. I got put in charge of that. I got put in charge of teaching students how to use like. Um, Alta Vista or whatever it was at the time, like Internet search rather than the kind of CD-Rom search that libraries. So I was literally taking books out of the library to read and then going in the next day and pretending that I knew stuff. So that’s how I that was the beginning. And then I bounced around a little bit doing. Kind of a webmaster and an intranet manager and that sort of thing. Um, and then the, the big change was I got a job first for economic, social, economic and Social Research Council as their web manager. And I did that for a while and that got me the job. And the gesture was so. Jisc used to stand for the Joint Information Systems Committee, but it’s basically a. A kind of arm’s length body funded. Eventually, if you go far enough up, it ends up being or something. But it was it was basically about. Help him fund infrastructure and e-learning across higher education and a bit of further education. And I joined just at a time just before, Doug, I think, where they’d suddenly almost mistakenly got all this extra funding. So they’d made a funding request to the government like everyone does in spending reviews. Everyone puts in much more than they want, thinking they will only get a certain percentage of it. Just got everything they asked for and then got more. So there was this huge drive like recruitment drive. All the services got much bigger. They became this real demand to. To do new things. Like there was this like people had to spend the money kind of thing. So. And the idea I came up with, they just signed off basically like I, you know, I got them to build a blog network for, for everyone who was funded.

Doug Belshaw: [00:14:58] So that was I’m really glad you mentioned that because that was really important. And, you know, the fact that it was mandatory to blog about your funded project was a huge deal because even now you can go back and you can find like people talking about, Oh, we’re doing this at the moment rather than just what they presented at the end. Yeah, really.

Matt Jukes: [00:15:21] It was like it’s one of my proudest, like after all these years, I mean, it was one of the first WordPress multi sites. I mean, it was like it would not pass security checks these days. I mean, it was a bit iffy, but Yeah, but that thing about getting everyone to have to blog, making it, giving everyone a free service so they could do it and a bunch of other stuff we did around the edges was really fun. And then I kind of bounced around. I did a failed Start-Up and a few other things, all of which were great fun. And then again, I just ended up. Backing government or on the edges of government just when started when government digital service. And that was this massive radical change about. A decade ago or something suddenly working in the open was was mandated again like working Agile was mandated, like you had to do user research, all these things that I’ve been kind of talking about, but not really landing or landing in quite small ways. Suddenly you couldn’t get funding for a government project unless you did it. So it. And I was somebody. Who had because of all my blogging and all the talks and stuff like landed with this, this awareness of that way of working. So I just had this built in kind of. Support from the start, from people. They just assumed I knew what I was doing and I just got trusted with. Much bigger projects than I should have been really from the very start. Like I rebuilt, like I led, I built the team and led the work that completely rebuilt all of the Office for National Statistics stuff in the UK. So built a new website, built new data engineering, new data visualisation teams hired everybody, changed all the ways of working, brought in user researchers and agile and presented to chief economist at the Ft and and the the firm SAC of the Treasury and did all this showing my hoodie and my Adidas trainers and to all these important places. And they just got just got trusted. And, you know, it was brilliant. And and I’ve been living off it ever since, really, and just kind of bouncing along off this kind of slightly mythological memory of the things I did eight years ago, I think. Yeah go on Laura

Laura Hilliger: [00:17:38] I think it’s well, I was just going to say, I think it’s really interesting because, you know, most of the guests that we have on the Dow are people that come from our network, people we’ve known for a long time, not necessarily worked really closely with, but people we know from their work in the open. And it’s really interesting because when we when we talk to our guests, the thing that kind of a through line for me is how much luck and being in the right place at the right time, but also, you know, a deep intellectual interest in the intersection of technology, society, philosophy, art. You know, the you know, you’re talking about building networks Before we were before the academic community was really clear on how digital networks, you know, what kind of benefits they have, what like, what a community of practice actually means to the people involved in society at a, you know, a larger scale. And I think it’s really interesting, particularly for work in education, this this message that like your career, you don’t just train so that you can get a job and then you have that job forever like a you know, having a career is a lot of twists and turns and ending up in places you didn’t ever think that you were going to be and in communities that you maybe didn’t ever really feel particularly skilled for. So like for me, you know, I consider myself an open saucer. I don’t know what else to call it, but, you know, and I can write some code and I can build things on on the web. But I’ve never thought of myself as a developer, you know. So it’s like this this I feel like our field is quite diverse and it needs all different kinds of people to take those twists and turns. And it’s always interesting to hear, I think you’re underselling yourself when you when you say it’s all accident, you know?

Matt Jukes: [00:19:32] But I think some of it like I think curiosity is a massive part of it. I think there’s a thing where I was surprised like I was I’ve never been into games. I’m never like, you know, all these other things in tech never, never appealed to me at all. But like, I was fascinated with the Internet and the web from the start. And I just I was just always really curious. And so. The only way I could ever learn was was to do things. Really, I do think the game has changed now, though, because I do think a lot of it is much more siloed. I think when we came through, you were encouraged to be more generalist. The opportunities to to dip your toes in lots of different things and not have to specialise. We’re a lot more prevalent. Whereas now, particularly in the in the government space, you have to decide really quite early in your career, are you this, that or the other. And then there’s and there’s a community and there’s leadership and there’s opportunities. And like in a lot of ways it’s better because you’ve got that much more support.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:31] I was going to say, is it I guess it’s benefits and drawbacks of of both. Yeah.

Matt Jukes: [00:20:36] Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s like I can understand the appeal. Um, I think it’s limiting in a lot of ways. I think, I think it creates silos and kind of creates. Like where tension between professions that never really used to exist. But it also gives people a much better opportunity to come in junior and work their way up because you don’t have to do so much zigzagging, you know, which which a lot of people aren’t as comfortable with. It’s easy for me, you know, because I don’t have kids. I’ve got like I’ve always done a middle aged white bloke like me. Taking risks is like, you know, I’ve got a family, I’ve got a friends. I’ve like, I’m like, I can chop and change jobs and do all these things. And there’s never really been many consequences for me one way or another. And the same with the working in the open. Like it’s like I get to say things and do things knowing I’m not, you know, it’s a lot easier now because of my reputation as well in my in my little corner of the Internet. Um, but I’ve definitely got away with murder in the past. I’ve got away with things that would have got other people in trouble.

Doug Belshaw: [00:21:42] Um, can I just ask a question about the reputation thing? Because I feel. I don’t feel like you’ve done this, but I feel like other people have sometimes painted themselves into a corner where they’re seen as a an angry voice or a like, um, oh, we’ll go to this person for the, the, you know, the contrary view on the thing and we’ll we’ll get this person on the panel because they’re going to disagree with what everyone else has said. And you haven’t been that because you’re more measured and nuanced. But have you felt that that kind of vibe sometimes in your career?

Matt Jukes: [00:22:17] Yeah, there’s definitely an opportunity for it. But there’s a thing like every now and again or write something slightly ranty about Agile, about the way that it’s gone, that sort of thing. As I’m writing that I know it will be my most views, blog views, blog posts that year. Every time I do it, like I go from getting a few hundred people to getting a few thousand people straight away the minute I do it. And again, it’s never nasty or anything, but you know, I happen to think things have gone in a way that I wouldn’t have liked. I would have preferred it hadn’t in the kind of wider thing immediately after. I’ll get more requests to give talks, like suddenly I won’t have to pitch. I’ll be asked to go to give sessions and then. And then I’ll do a couple. But then when I give the talks, I’m not so ranty because, you know, because you’re in a room, so it’s a bit different and then it all goes away again. Whereas for the most part my. I’ve benefited. I’ve benefited from being generous and the generosity of others. So that whole kind of that earlier kind of open kind of community thing like. Look, I tried to help out. I tried to be part of things. I tried to give my time and my, like, I mentor people and all this sort of thing and tried to give back because I’ve received so much help from so many other people. And the kind of digital government. So it was like that in that kind of open content world as well. But the open government thing in the last ten years. Has been really about that. So I’ve ended up with friends in New Zealand and America and Canada and all over the UK. And when we all share and support each other and you always know someone’s got your back and you can. And that’s been the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to go to these countries and to take a bunch of stickers and give some free books out or whatever it might be.

Doug Belshaw: [00:24:07] And I mean, it’s difficult to know because you’re not necessarily over there for long periods of time, but you’re connected to New Zealand and America and Canada and whatever. You’re over in DC recently for that Code for America Summit. Are there lots of differences between I mean, every country has its own kind of way of doing things and culture and vibe and stuff, but is there a big difference between the way that things are done in different countries?

Matt Jukes: [00:24:31] So the reason I go to the reason I go to code for America is because it always gives me a boost when I come back. So I think at least I’m not having to do that. They’re like, America’s got all the same problems as we have procurement and kind of bureaucracy and how hard it is to recruit and all these things. They’ve got the same problems, but they’re all so much worse for America because American bureaucracy is so much more complicated. There’s the the, you know, the procurement stuff and the commercial stuff is like the legal elements around. Some of that is so much more difficult. Um, the relationship with the unions like is fraught enough here, but over there, like it can take three years to change a line in the job description, you know, like recruitment is really hard, but also, you know. The tech salaries and stuff over there for not even for big tech, for like all that next tier down the banks and things like that is so high. Like the market in America is escalated those salaries particularly for software engineers and stuff to such a level that governments always behind competing and tech companies can hire somebody in and kind of you know whole process end to end can be kind of six weeks and it can be six months to get into the federal government. And, you know, it’s a it’s a real challenge. So the people are lovely, they’re earnest and they’re committed and they’re incredibly smart. And I always enjoy going to these events and meeting up with them all. Um. But like they spend so much time just fighting to have a say to fighting to be involved and like lobbying just to be a part of something.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:18] So it’s been interesting with what the last six, eight months where you can’t you know, you can’t switch on your browser or your email client or whatever without getting something about AI and ChatGPT and Bard and whatever. How’s how’s that been in the kind of public sector in terms of product? Is it are some people thinking, oh, it’s just going to solve all these problems and make them go away in terms of getting the right people and the right processes and stuff? Or is it a bit more considered? Is it the same kind of do you see the same kind of problems in the product sector in public life as you do elsewhere in the tech sector, or is it different in some way?

Matt Jukes: [00:27:02] It’s a real mix even in kind of public sector at the moment. So our department we’ve taken. A a pretty kind of hands off this. Just see how things go approach like it’s banned for use. Like we’ve made a decision as a department like no one’s to use it for anything work related. You can’t get to OpenAI from our machines. Like we’ve got teams experimenting a bit and looking at it, but there’s a real risk about just what a black box is like, how little control we’ve got over it. And people are playing around with some of the open source LMS and looking at our own training models and that sort of thing. So we’re in the mix at Dbdt. We’re looking at it and and we’re really interested. Um. On a personal level, it’s the first of these new. It was not interested in metaverse. I hate all the kind of, you know, you know, crypto stuff. And it’s been a really long time since something came along where I thought this might actually this might be it. I’m not sure. And I’ve got all sorts of worries about it for all sorts of ethical and other reasons and just sustainability and things as well like. But it’s the first time I thought yeah this might that actually that yeah maybe, maybe for the government stuff, particularly when it’s about kind of chat bots that are about giving advice about stuff that’s already written. Like it’s not opinions, it’s like finding a way to cut through that stuff. So we’re interested and we’re looking more widely. Ministers particularly are fascinated with it and are pushing departments and and digital teams and their policy people across every corner of government to to see how it can be used. And that will only be more. Now, the OpenAI of OpenAI are about to open their London office, so their first office outside of San Francisco is going to be London. Um, like it’s like Rishis already been around to say hello kind of thing. You know, there’s a there’s a lot. Sure. Yes. Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:29:13] Wasn’t there some talk about Brit GPT or something as well.

Matt Jukes: [00:29:16] And so there’s a lot of, there’s people looking at it. There absolutely is. People looking at what this means is like my money is on like for DB2, a big part, you know, not surprisingly, like a lot of what we do is provide advice about trade. Like if you want to export or you want to import and some of that is quite dense like our information architecture could do with some work. Search is difficult. People don’t always know what they’re looking for until they see it. Um, but, but we’ve got enormous amounts of really good content about it. Like people have worked like from the very technical to the kind of slightly more like public facing stuff. Unlike a load of history. And so in theory. We could train our own chat bot on that stuff. That would allow. People to ask questions and then refine their questions. And given it was only coming from our content, almost certainly, you know, in theory get the right answer in an easier way than the current. Search powergrim allows them to. I think we’re I think we’re, you know, a couple of years away from that. Even if everything kind of evolves in the in a good way. But just the fact that it’s a possibility has got everyone a bit lively, if I’m honest. Like that’s that’s the thing. And it will start to change. Where the investment goes. I think that’s the that’s the interesting thing because people. People like apps eight years ago or whatever. I mean, suddenly no one wanted to invest any money in websites. For a couple of years everything was about apps. Um, and then it kind of rolled back around when everyone realised how difficult it was to maintain the apps. But yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:31:10] I can imagine the front page of the Daily Mail because there’s already stuff about like woke chat bots and all this kind of stuff. Um, be interesting to see Daily Mail front pages when this stuff is rolled out across government and it’s literally just, you know, synthesising information on climate change and whatever, but it’s massively biased and it’s leftie, whatever and all this kind of stuff. It’s going to be.

Matt Jukes: [00:31:35] It will also be interesting because like even like last week, the former like the the previous head of HR for the whole civil service. Spoke at some conference and I can’t remember what the number was, but it was a lot. He said something like, Within two years I will mean we can get rid of a third of civil servants. And this is the former head of HR for the civil service. So, so like the Daily Mail would love that. So you know what I mean? So it goes both ways. Like, like it will, it will flip back and forth as it so often does. Like there, there is a, um, a roadmap with AI that. Daily Mail and Telegraph and all those people will be on board with. And there’s a there’s a roadmap where the mirror and everybody will be, you know, and The Guardian will be on board with. Um, there’s no evidence of either at the moment, really, to be perfectly honest. Like, I do think the scariest thing is, is the extent of it being a black box. Like OpenAI is like, you know, it can’t. The open is like, for us all, you know, the fact that OpenAI they are. They are. They are open now. They are. They are the flagship for the word open in, in an organisation now and like they make. Apple looked like Wikipedia. Like, no, like no one knows what’s going on.

Laura Hilliger: [00:33:03] Listeners cannot see all of us rolling our eyes at the fact that it’s called OpenAI.

Matt Jukes: [00:33:08] And it’s a difficult thing because I don’t even know because of the way that the algorithms work, whether they know like because point because of the way it works. Like that’s the point of it. Like, well, it’s.

Doug Belshaw: [00:33:21] Interesting that they’re deciding to set up an office in London, obviously outside of the EU, given the laws that are coming in potentially, which they might not be able to comply with. So being close enough, but not actually in the EU. Yeah, it’s it’s interesting times.

Laura Hilliger: [00:33:36] Yeah. I think what you were just talking about a minute or two ago, this idea that like government service could be training their own language models to answer questions about policy or to provide accurate factual information. This is a really interesting use case. I don’t know if there’s a word for a large language model that’s only trained on one specific area, small language model, maybe. I’m not sure. But I think that’s, you know, that like as a use case, it certainly seems like there’s a way, you know, there’s a way for us as technologists to steer AI in the public sector in particular to being really useful for citizens. And the question about that black box is, is how do we how do we get to a point where we understand it well enough to be able to actually create chat bots that are, you know, that are like listening to this policy stuff and providing factual information for citizens in a way that is transparent, actually open as opposed to open watching.

Matt Jukes: [00:34:46] Untrustworthy, I mean, the thing the thing I would say is if we can’t do that, then we shouldn’t do it. And I think that’s. Yeah, that’s it. Um, I’m sure you’ve both come across Rachel Caldicott, like, used to run everything and she’s been writing lots of stuff about kind of, um, kind of where public service in the widest sense kind of touches AI and what some of the challenges and problems are. Um, and I found, I found it really influential that the stuff that she’s saying because it’s a nice balance too, because everything else is either kind of the end is nigh, like it’s all kind of singularity and we’re all going to, we’re all going to, you know, Terminator is going to take us out or is the other foreign answer to everything. And I think I think we have to find a balance somewhere in there. And but I do think it’s but like I said, it’s interesting. Like none of the like it’s the most it’s the thing I found most interesting since the Web as far as kind of I don’t know if it’s right. I don’t know if it will work the last time. Well, the social media was the last time I was really interested and God knows that went in the wrong way. So I just look at it now and think, this is interesting. But also I’m 50. Am I going to invest a bunch of time in in really being the person who’s the voice around it? Probably not. I’m going to watch really and like contribute where I can. Do you think.

Laura Hilliger: [00:36:16] Do you do you think that you say that that you know about not being the voice around it? Do you think that part of what’s going on or like a reason to kind of step back is because you don’t feel like you know enough about AI or how the models work?

Matt Jukes: [00:36:33] Yeah. And you feel like you.

Laura Hilliger: [00:36:34] Can’t be that voice because of it. Because of a lack of knowledge.

Matt Jukes: [00:36:38] I don’t think I’ll get to that either. I think the commitment to. Look. Look. Look at it from a kind of from a humanity standpoint or something at the moment. Like, I’m interested in the efforts. I’m interested in the opportunities and that sort of thing. Like, it’s it’s too much. It will be too much for me to really understand what’s going on. Under the hood of it. I think like I could do it. But the commitment to really get into it, like I like I’m still more interested in kind of the storytelling and the web and, you know, like, I’ll continue to fight the corner of the open web for the for now, I think. I think that’s like that’s been my commitment as far as these things. And I guess in the second half of your career.

Doug Belshaw: [00:37:24] Like one of the jobs to do is to do the harder thing, which is managing and dealing with the humans. And because the technology is sometimes like, yeah, you can understand it, but sometimes you can’t literally understand human beings and they act in weird ways and you have to kind of understand how to manage people in such a way. And I don’t mean like line manager, I mean like manage situations so that things come together in good ways, which could easily go south.

Matt Jukes: [00:37:56] My job, like I don’t look, I’m not on the hook for a product at all these days. Like my my product is the people. I’ve got 22 product managers of different stages of their career. I make sure that they’re all their well-being is okay. I make sure they get the best learning opportunities. I’m a sounding board where they have difficult problems. I make sure that they’ve got the opportunity to network across government and elsewhere so that they can find solutions to their problems. But. But that’s become. That’s. That’s become my thing. Like I sell myself increasingly as this idea that I’m like, I’m a community elder now. I’ve been around, I’ve got this network, I’ve got all these connections, I’ve got no ambition. So you might as well take advantage of of, of my network. Like, I can help you, I can point you, I can introduce you to people and that sort of thing. And that’s, that’s what I offer my teams and I offer the ability that I’ve been in every sticky situation they’ve been in in the last 20 odd years. So I can tell them how how they can land a presentation with a difficult bunch of stakeholders or how to communicate with their tech lead. You know, and have have those conversations. And and that’s the stuff that I that I’ve come to enjoy more. But the more you do that and get further away from actually being the product person and actually doing the delivery. You know, at some point it just becomes all theoretical and so you lose impact. So I’m teetering these days. I’m going to have to consider whether I take you know, I do something again for a bit. And actually. Go and.

Doug Belshaw: [00:39:36] You have to grow your beard really long and get a stag and.

Matt Jukes: [00:39:39] Start stroking it even more. Yeah, but it changes, you know, you have to. I never I never envisioned myself becoming an HR person. But two weeks ago, my entire week, I didn’t do anything but recruitment deal with kind of capability stuff and speak to contractors like, like literally five days, you know, morning and evening every day. I just that was my pure week. I didn’t have a conversation about anything to do with Agile or product or anything. It was just about. People. And it was a good week. I mean, I wouldn’t want to do it every week, but it was a legitimately good week. Yeah, good, Good stuff.

Doug Belshaw: [00:40:22] And we’re going to have to finish in a minute. But one of the things we’ve got in our in our notes was that you were sharing recently on LinkedIn, of which you’re reasonably active, that you were celebrating the celebrating the anniversary of a business trip. And I’d love it if we could weave that into this, into this podcast episode. Do you want to tell the story of that?

Matt Jukes: [00:40:44] Yeah. Again, just to say I’m only on LinkedIn because Twitter is so broken now. I don’t know where else to go, but so yeah, so I was so it was five years ago, five years in a week or something now, I guess I’d been invited to speak at a conference in Wellington in New Zealand. Um, and that had happened some time before this. And in the interim, after being invited to speak at this conference, I’d taken a new consultancy gig at the BBC. And originally I was going to go to Australia and New Zealand and be gone for a bit longer, but the BBC wouldn’t have it. So they said You can only be gone for X amount of days. We really need you to be available to lead this team. I was pretty new into consultancy so I agreed. I would never agree now, but at the time I agreed. So I. So. So I flew to. So I went to. I went to New Zealand for seven days basically. So I flew. I flew to LA, changed flights, got straight on another flight, no layover, um, got to Wellington on a Sunday, left on a Friday evening from London, got to Wellington Sunday morning, spoke at one event on the Monday, another event on the Wednesday. Um, did something on the first day. Maybe then. Then. Flew. Saw some friends in Auckland and then flew back to London to left on the Sunday from Auckland. Um. And sometime in that week when I was in New Zealand, the person I was working for at the BBC said, You absolutely. We need you in this meeting. Um, and it was a Tuesday. And I said, well I only get about that morning. I said, We really need you. Just come in, just do this meeting. And again, it was new to consulting, so I agreed. So I landed at Heathrow, showered at Heathrow, changed into the one clean outfit I had left in my bag. Um, got the tube to White City, where the BBC offices are. Um, was hallucinating, seeing auras around people. I hadn’t slept on the flight. Really. Um. Went to the meeting room, was about five minutes early, sat down. No one showed up for the meeting. So I was there for about 15 minutes, and no one came. No one dialled in, nothing. Um, and so I walked to the area where my team was and two of the eight people who were supposed to be at the meeting were sat there and they and they said, What are you doing here? And one of them was the person who told me I absolutely had to be there. Oh, my days. And somebody had tried to get in touch.

Laura Hilliger: [00:43:29] And did you keep your did you.

Matt Jukes: [00:43:31] Yeah, I just I was I was like, I wasn’t. Later that evening, I was fuming all over the place. But there and then. Look. Look, I realise how funny I did realise it was funny there. And then to be honest, cause it was just like, This is so stupid. And I was still carrying my backpack because I hadn’t gone back to the hotel or anything. And I was living in a Travelodge in North Acton in London at the time because I because I was in because I was at BBC every day, because it was before Covid. So it was before remote. So I was literally like in this crumpled clothes that had been in a bag for a week holding on to my backpack, like clearly wobbling. And they were like, Oh, yeah, we’re sorry. And so, so and so had tried to try to get in touch with you, but we decided not to. We decided. So two people had decided had cried off because they had trouble getting from broadcasting house in London to the office in London. So that’s where you’ve.

Doug Belshaw: [00:44:30] Come in person from New Zealand.

Matt Jukes: [00:44:32] Come in person from New Zealand. But then I just I just sat down. I just sat there, people talking to me. I don’t remember any of it for two hours. I just sat there and then I left and I went back to my. Yeah. So it was bad. It’s a funny story now. And it was. And the BBC and I loved I loved that team. I loved that BBC team. Apart from I never I never, um, my relationship never recovered from the boss who pulled me into that meeting. No, I can imagine.

Doug Belshaw: [00:44:58] I can imagine you lose some respect for someone who pulls you in from across the other side of the world. Definitely. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:45:04] I would. Some bitterness for sure.

Matt Jukes: [00:45:07] Yeah. It didn’t turn out to be that important a meeting. Not just the fact it didn’t happen. The meeting itself, when we finally did, it was just like, Well, did you need me in this? So yeah, I think it was just putting me in my place because I.

Doug Belshaw: [00:45:20] Was it’s interesting because in that story there, it’s all about perspective on work and how important that meeting is and how important the work is and and the advice that you give to people in your current role in any future roles is really important, like helping people put things in perspective, you know, especially when it looks like the shit’s hitting the fan or someone’s very disappointed with someone else in the big in the big scheme of things, what does it matter?

Matt Jukes: [00:45:44] Like reality is particularly in government digital. So we build web pages and web forms. Yeah, that’s all we do. We build web pages and web forms. We build a lot of them, and some of them are complicated. But like, you know, it’s not putting a man on the moon. I think we I think we get wildly carried away sometimes about, you know, and and other people do about us about about digital. But we’ve managed to make it. Look, it didn’t don’t feel like it felt this complicated ten years ago. A lot of it is the reality. Like, it doesn’t feel that we’ve simplified things. It feels like we’ve made everything more complicated. Um, you know, like, I miss the days. You could just throw up a WordPress site and, like, get someone to skin it and suddenly you had like. And that could be a government website. Yeah. You know, I mean, like, loads of things have been great and they’ve been really useful and really important. But, um, I do miss the kind of slightly crazy. Days of the early 2000 were like, no one really knew what they were doing and there wasn’t much big tech and there were still some hope for social media. You know, those. Those were fun days, to be honest.

Laura Hilliger: [00:46:55] It sounds a little bit like your ambition is curbed. Is that I mean, is that just an experience thing? And I ask because I also feel like, you know, ten, 15 years ago, I was had a very different kind of ambition than I do today in terms of.

Matt Jukes: [00:47:11] I had quite a lot until I don’t have Covid. Covid crushed what was left of my ambition, basically like I had, you know. But also I did really well out of my little shorts, like financially, I did well at my little short seller consultant, like I don’t have a mortgage. Yeah. You know. So. So that was luck. That was, again, it was the right place right time. Like it did nothing really to deserve it. I did a good job, but like, but I didn’t deserve the money like a friend who was there right with me. Decided to hold on to his shares and they were now worth loads less. Whereas I was so desperate to have money for the first time in my entire life. The minute I was allowed to cash my shares out, I cashed my shares out and that turned out to be the right decision. I had no insight. There was no like magic thing to why that was. I just was like, this is so exciting. Like, you know, I finally, like, I’ve got money. Um, so, so that plus I had Covid twice. I got really ill got hit by that car, like I had a bunch of other kind of stuff that I don’t talk about. And I came out of it all thinking.You know, what do I want out of this now? Look, I enjoy the work. I love the community. I don’t want to do anything else. But also, I don’t want all the stress of, like. Be chasing ever more senior roles, because I definitely have tried that.

Laura Hilliger: [00:48:35] Yeah. So we actually asked you on the podcast after we saw your ambitions for 2023, one of which was be a guest on a podcast. So we’re like, Oh, Matt, he’ll come on our podcast because it’s one of the ambitions. But the other thing about that post that I that I thought was really interesting is, is that it’s not your ambitions for yourself this year are, you know, they’re more about like finding your whole self making sure that you’re whole as opposed to like work style quote unquote professional ambitions.

Matt Jukes: [00:49:16] Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:49:16] So I’d love to know. Yeah. So how are your other 2023 ambitions going?

Matt Jukes: [00:49:25] So all the ones that were to do with travel and kind of doing things for the most part have gone really well. Like, I had a brilliant my 50th. I’ve done another travel. I’ve been accepted to a couple of. I actually cancelled on a conference last week. Because I had writer’s block, I just couldn’t land the talk. But I’ve been accepted, so lots of it’s been really well. I’ve not look, I’ve kind of I go through stages because I’m. I’m really heavily into street art and graffiti and stuff like that, and I’m a really bad painter myself, and I go through stages and I have ambitions this year to paint more, and it’s gone exactly the other way. Like I’m not painting at all. I’ve just kind of lost lost my mojo in that a little bit. Um, and I’ve been a bit rubbish with my health, if I’m honest. Um.

Laura Hilliger: [00:50:13] But did you get a tattoo?

Matt Jukes: [00:50:16] I did get my tattoo, which is of a spray can. Oh, nice. Yeah. So, um, so I’ve been like, it is funny. I’ve had the design, I’ve had versions of the design since my 30th birthday. And I keep saying and I’ve said, I’ll do it and it evolves and the design, but it’s always been some version of a spray can. Um, so I was going to get it done on the 30th and bottled it was going to get done at 40th and bottled it and finally got it done. And I’m 50. It’s such a midlife crisis thing. But yeah, it’s good. I mean, like it’s been a good year actually. Like, I didn’t like I had proper panics about not great with milestones, usually like age milestones. I kind of do this whole retrospective of my life and I have a little bit of a crisis each time, but 50 it just was just fun because there’s no expectations at this point. Like you kind of you’ve kind of got to a level.

Doug Belshaw: [00:51:08] No, I love the idea of of having ambitions instead of resolutions. So we’re halfway through the year. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of the things you wanted to do. So we’ve got the second half of the year and.

Matt Jukes: [00:51:19] The best thing I did was get wrecked because I was obsessed with writing the book. Like you both know this. You’ve both had these things. I was obsessed with writing a book for a really long time, and I tried and I’ve written multiple chapters and I’ve done stuff. But it made me miserable every year for ten years. It was always it was always my number one ambition. I, I came, I did courses and I came at it from different angles and brought different software and tried it different ways and went on writers retreats and all of it. And every every year I just lost momentum. And last year I decided I wasn’t ever going to make it a thing anymore. And it’s amazing how much happier I’ve been ever since I just said, I’m not going to try anymore. That’s it. It’s done.

Laura Hilliger: [00:52:06] Well, of course. Shall we wrap it up here?

Doug Belshaw: [00:52:10] Yeah, I think we’re going for a long time, and. Yeah, let’s. Let’s definitely get mad. I know we say this about all our guests, but I definitely want to get Matt back on at some point because there’s so much stuff we haven’t dug into. We took a bit of an eye lens on this and things, but there’s so much other stuff we could we could get into, especially to do with like Unconferences and how to organise those and that kind of thing. Because I think that’s a, that’s a definite skill that people get a little bit like freaked out about and think how to organise an unconference. So we could go into that next time. But yeah, for now, that was a great conversation for my perspective. We’ve gone slightly over, but I think it’s all warranted and all good.

Matt Jukes: [00:52:49] Like I know what I’m like, so I’ve booked the next half hour off as well.

Doug Belshaw: [00:52:56] Excellent.

Doug Belshaw: [00:52:57] Thank you very much, Matt.

Matt Jukes: [00:52:59] It was lovely to speak to both of you.

Doug Belshaw: [00:53:00] We’re recording this episode at the start of July, but it won’t go out for at least a month. So things change, the world changes, whatever. We’ll put some context here around stuff. Cool. Okay. Well, thank you very much and cheers for now!

Matt Jukes: [00:53:13] Thank you both. Cheers!