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How Oclaro's CTO keeps on top of the data deluge

Being creative, taking notes, learning and organising data are challenges that all company executives and engineers face. Andy Carter, CTO of Oclaro, is renown for his sketched diagrams and his ability to explain stuff. Gazettabyte asked him to share his experiences and thoughts on the matter.


Andy Carter, CTO

"To be honest, I am an absolutely terrible note-taker. I always have been. At university, I could either listen to a lecture and try and understand it or take notes. I couldn’t do both.

If I did manage to take some notes, I rarely looked at them afterwards or found them useful.

At conferences, in the days of printed outlines, I’d make a few comments in the margins or underline items, but rarely in a separate notebook. 

I remember one work colleague who would note-take in detail in real time on a Blackberry or laptop and circulate his notes immediately after meetings or a conference. He seemed to remember stuff, but it was quite off-putting as it was hard to believe he was actually listening. But he was.   

The great Roman philosopher/ general Marcus Aurelius was reputed to be able to carry on five independent trains of thought at once, but one is all I can really manage.

I rely on my memory far too much. It works much better with concepts and scientific data than it does with people and names, but I can generally remember most of the key points at conferences. Maybe not exactly when and where I heard them, but enough to point a search in the right direction.

If data or a meeting or spontaneous thought leads to ideas, I will make some notes or sketches, often on longer and longer Powerpoint slide sets with simple diagrams.

I don’t understand how my memory works. Things I want to remember, that I’m interested in, just stick; things like languages and vocabulary just don’t. I was hopeless at languages at school.


"Most of my time is spent connecting observations, people, actions and past experience, and trying to make people and teams think and act scientifically and methodically"


I’m rather disorganised with email also. Everything goes into a bundle and I rely on a combination of memory and search to find what I want. It is more or less the same with documents etc. on my computer. Putting things in different boxes/ files doesn’t seem to help much, it just takes time. And with the search facilities on computers getting better and faster all the time, it is not worth structuring the data.

Maybe it is the sort of role I have now at Oclaro that I don't really need to master note-taking as such. Most of my time is spent connecting observations, people, actions and past experience, and trying to make people and teams think and act scientifically and methodically. If things go wrong, there is much more of a tendency to ‘tweak’ rather than ‘think’ these days.

One item I always have in the office is a white board. Not the write on/ rub off melamine ones but a proper one with a pad of A0 paper. I’ll pull off a sheet and have it on the table for small meetings and discussions. I will make sketches and comments on this, including concept sketches and dimensionless ‘what if’ diagrams. Others at the meeting sketch or write on this also, and often take it away at the end. 

In restaurants, the ‘best’ have paper tablecloths to draw on (don’t worry about the food), or decent-sized paper menus. But beware! It can lead to trouble and secure disposal may be a problem. Certainly don’t do this at events like OFC and ECOC.

I remember explaining to our head of human resources what a WDM-PON was on a tablecloth at a restaurant in Torquay, and she remembered most of the concepts. That probably put me in Geek category 10!"

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