Check in with ...Eben Upton
The mastermind behind one of the most influential British tech companies of the last decade, Eben Upton’s magnum opus – Raspberry Pi – made computer science accessible to young people everywhere.
Founded as way to introduce more children to the world of coding and computer science, Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer that would help shape Britain’s tech landscape for years to come. The man behind the magic? Eben Upton, an engineering guru who left a little town in Wales to make it big in the world of tech.
Which place most sticks out in your memory?
I really like this little island off the coast of Hiroshima in Japan, called Miyajima. It has a very famous floating Torii gate that stands in the water. At low tide, you can walk around it, while high tide sees the whole thing submerged. There are lovely mountain hikes here with little deer wandering all around you. We bedded down at Kurayado Iroha> – an excellent ryokan and just a really peaceful place to stay.
Where is on your bucket list and why?
Where haven’t I been… Let’s say South America. I know a lot of people who’ve had a lot of fun in Argentina and it’s ridiculous that I haven’t got there yet. I’m a bit poor on the southern hemisphere - I’ve never been south of Texas. I think I’d have a good couple of weeks there - lots of steak, Malbec… what more could you want!
If you had to return to any hotel in the world, which would it be?
The Four Seasons in Santa Barbara. The Four Seasons offering is very good; they’re great at making you feel at home. This one has a lovely Spanish-style décor and is right on the coast. You can rent these bikes with big tyres; I rode for miles along beach after beach - two and a half hours of pure bliss.
I have soft spot for Mawgan Porth in Cornwall. I’m terrible at surfing, but you see all these GB surfers out there who might be able to teach you a thing or two.
Where are your favourite places in the UK?
I have soft spot for Mawgan Porth in Cornwall. I’m terrible at surfing, but you see all these GB surfers out there who might be able to teach you a thing or two. We were in Mawgan Porth last year for my dad’s 70th birthday, so I booked him a surfing lesson. The instructors couldn’t believe he was 70! I grew up around the hills in Yorkshire so I gravitate toward beach holidays – the Gower Peninsula in South Wales is good one, too.
Where is your favourite London hangout?
If I had to say anywhere, it’d be the Tate Britain. I love that it’s away from the West End museum complex, and it’s got such a vast collection. The sheer amount of stuff in there is amazing. There’s also a massive Henry Moore collection, which I like - it feels like a bit of Yorkshire in London.
“We put ourselves down, but Britain has a very precise, finicky engineering ethos that we export, very successfully, around the world.”
Do you have any rituals about the way you travel?
At University, I spent a lot of time working in Texas. Steve Denton, my boss there, gave me a bit of advice that always stuck with me: when you’re packing, focus on your passport, your wallet and your laptop. Everything else you can buy at your destination. If you remember to pack it, great, you’ve saved some money, but essentially the rest is optional. This mind set helps me manage my stress massively.
How does it feel to be part of the BA100?
I was very happy when I heard I was the list, and even the happier when I found out that computer scientist, Sue Black, was on the list, too. She’s just done a British Airways Love Letter talking all about women in technology and our British spirit. She’s a wonderful person, so I’m quite thrilled to be in such good company.
What is your favourite memory of travelling with BA?
I fly with British Airways a lot, but travelling has changed since having my daughter (now two years old). We flew about nine months ago, to LA and back, and the cabin crew were so great, and above all, kind. It was night time on the way back and they really helped create a calm atmosphere around my daughter so we could both get a bit of sleep. The T5 experience is great, too – staying in the airport hotel the night before and going through the family check-in area makes life easier.
What’s Britain’s best export?
We invented democracy, and exported it around the world, so the argument could be made that the rule of law and the structure of society are our biggest exports. These days, however, we are really good at light engineering. We put ourselves down, but we have a very precise, finicky engineering ethos that we export, very successfully, both as products and as a service.
Where is your favourite place to do business?
I always really liked doing business in India. When I ran out of money, I sold some software to some Indian companies and went out to train people, particularly in Mumbai. I’ve never met a group of people who are so keen to do business; there is a real hunger to deal. If I could take one mind set from anywhere in the world and bring it back here, that’d be it. As an example, what’s the big success story of British engineering? It’s Jaguar Land Rover, managed by the Indian company, Rata. Indian management and British engineering is an amazing combination.
What’s your top piece of advice to aspiring tech entrepreneurs?
Nobody knows what’s going to succeed. I have a letter that I treasure from the East of England Development Agency sent about a decade ago, where they told us Raspberry Pi would never succeed. Just remember one of Arthur C Clarke's three laws: if an old physicist tells you that something is possible, then he’s probably right because he’s experienced. If an old physicist tells you something is impossible, he’s probably wrong because he’s jaded. Essentially, don’t let anyone decide for you what’s possible.