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  • Bio: Diarmid studied Maths and Philosophy at Oxford University and is now Director of Systems Testing for Metaswitch Networks.
  • Role: Director of Systems Testing
  • Organisation: Metaswitch

Diarmid Mackenzie

Starting out

After university, many of my friends went on to careers in law, consulting and banking. The prevailing wisdom seemed to be that a successful career inevitably began with long, inconvenient working hours, at the bottom of a large organisation. Metaswitch offered something very different: the promise of challenging work from day one, and the opportunity to distinguish myself on something other than my preparedness to give up my evenings and weekends.

My initial training was as a software engineer, working mostly in C on a new product that we were planning to sell to phone companies in the US. I received intensive on-the-job training from an experienced engineer assigned as my mentor. I began writing code, and soon moved on to software design. Very rapidly, I was in a position where I had responsibility for decisions that could make a real difference to the success of the project.

After two years, I was given the opportunity to lead my own development team. This meant a big step up technically, as well as the need to develop new skills managing people and projects. The intensive support and coaching continued, helping me to meet these new challenges successfully.

After five years working in Enfield, I was well established as a manager in our Development organisation. I’d worked on a series of challenging projects, and there were lots of exciting opportunities to come, but I was increasingly aware of other parts of our business, in particular the work we were doing with our customers in the US. Having always wanted to live abroad, it seemed like a good time to try my hand at something different.

Moving to California

When I suggested moving to the US, things started to move very quickly. Our customer base was growing very rapidly, and we needed engineers who understood our products to work with them. My new role built on my experience in the UK, but there was a steep learning curve understanding how the phone companies actually used our equipment, and understanding the networks that it had to operate within.

Within a few weeks of my arrival in the States, I found myself working onsite in a remote part of Alaska, a two-hour flight west of Anchorage. There are very few roads out there – many of the communities are only accessible by plane. In terms of the weather, terrain, and distances involved, it’s one of the most challenging places on earth to try to build reliable telecommunications networks. It was certainly a long way away from an office in Enfield!

In all, I spent four years in the US, during which time our business out there doubled, and then doubled again. I managed a growing team of engineers, working with customers on highly complex and involved network migrations. My job was to make sure the projects stayed on track, and the customers were happy. The telecoms industry is very tightly knit, and one dissatisfied customer could be a major obstacle for our sales team, having an immediate impact on our revenue and momentum.

Back in the UK

Having returned to the UK, I now run the System Test team for all of our telecoms switching products. It’s my team’s job to make sure that our products deliver the reliability that our customers demand. We build networks that stress our products in every way imaginable, verifying that they continue to function correctly. Every day, we simulate millions of phone calls through these networks.

It’s a role in which I can draw on the full range of experience I’ve had within Metaswitch. I understand the internal design of our products, and I also understand what our customers need from the product in the field. I can ensure that what we deliver matches our customers’ needs.

The trend in the industry is towards ever larger-scale systems. We now have customers looking to design their network around a single massively resilient core that can support millions of subscribers, both fixed-line and mobile. It’s my responsibility to make sure that we can deliver systems that meet these requirements. This is undoubtedly my most challenging role yet, but I relish every minute of it.

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