Stuart Johnston

Stuart shares with us how his studies at Edinburgh helped shape his life.

Name Stuart Johnston
Degree Course BSc (hons) Computer Science
Year of Graduation 1986

Your time at the University

I was one of those who followed the strange Scottish tradition of staying at home while at University. Even so, I had a great time! I spent more time than I should have in the Teviot bar and snooker room, and the Green Mantle and Green Tree  pubs (the latter sadly no longer with us). I really enjoyed the courses, and several of the lecturers were quite inspirational. I chose Edinburgh, even though it was where I had grown up, because of the reputation of the Computer Science department. I can honestly say that the reputation proved to be accurate, and I still use the skills I learned today, both specific technical knowledge as well as the overall approach to problem solving and learning.

Stuart Johnston Image

Your experiences since leaving the University

I started my career after University with Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, in Bristol. I had know about HP for years, and found their products and approach fascinating. I was also keen to move to another city, having lived in Edinburgh all my life up to that point… It turned out that Bristol was also a fantastic place to live, and HP Labs an amazing place to work. It was really a start-up organisation, and so most employees were of a similar age, and straight from University. The work was very interesting and challenging, and I remember thinking that it was similar to doing a PhD but also getting paid very well for it!

While at Bristol, I met my future wife Sonia (although it took over twenty years of living together before we actually got married!). We both worked in computer networking research at HP Labs, which was the beginnings of what is a very large industry today. We had good contacts with HP networking product divisions in the US, and in 1994 we were both offered jobs in California. It was a big decision, and meant leaving a lot of things behind that we really liked, but it felt like an opportunity not to be missed. So we moved, initially to Roseville, California. At the time, Roseville pretty much a backwater. Work was good, though, and I learned massive amount about product development and delivery (rather than research), and moved into management. On the personal side, we lived not too far from Lake Tahoe, so enjoyed great skiing in the winter, and hiking and mountain biking in the summer.

We moved to Boise, Idaho, for a couple of years, managing a couple of HP LaserJet products (me the cheapest personal LaserJet (1200) at the time, Sonia the largest, most expensive Colour LaserJet). I realised soon, however, that Idaho wasn’t for me, and also we felt we were missing out on the dot-com boom. So in 2000 I made a new-millennium resolution, and we soon moved back to California, both working as Director Software for different networking start-ups. This was definitely a different life to working for HP in Boise, and it was fun while it lasted, although it was clear that neither start-up was going to last very long!

Sonia soon joined up with two colleagues from HP Labs, who had also moved to California, and set up a small company, InMon, creating networking performance monitoring technology. Meanwhile, a few monthly later, I moved back to HP, this time as a higher-level manager for storage software and then later networking products. It all felt good career-wise, but after a few years I realised that I really was missing the direct technical involvement in work. So I eventually also joined InMon, and have been architechting and writing software ever since.

A few years ago we realised that we were missing the lifestyle in the UK, which was not helped by the atmosphere in the US, in the post-9/11 Bush years. So we eventually moved back to the UK, back in fact to Edinburgh! We’ve been continuing to do the same job as before, working remotely from the upstairs bedroom from our house in Newington. We are now in the process of setting up a new small company, which will continue to support the products we work on for InMon, and also branch out into other consulting work. Exciting times ahead!  

Alumni Wisdom

Do what your heart tells you too! Sometimes a big decision (eg moving to California, moving back to Scotland, taking a new job, etc) may not necessarily feel like the right choice from a logical perspective, but I haven’t regretted any of the choices I have made. Life is too short to do something which isn’t fun, exciting and challenging.

This article was first published in 2015. For updates on what Stuart is doing now, find his LinkedIn below.

Related links

Stuart Johnston on LinkedIn