Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Digital Hero: Mark Sherwin, Accenture Interactive

We’re asking some of our industry’s leading figures to nominate their digital hero and to explain what’s so special about them.

Mark, Managing Director, Accenture Interactive has been in digital for over 20 years. One of the nicest people in the digital industry, among his early claims to fame was building BBC Radio 1’s first website and London Underground’s first B2C website. He’s just been appointed Honorary Senior Visiting Fellow at Cass Business School.

His digital hero, a teacher, was chosen to also celebrate all the digital teachers who are “inspiring the next generation and fuelling the very grass roots of our digital economy”.

Who is your digital Hero?

Richard Hurley — formerly head of computing, design and technology at Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex. My mum first bought me a book called ‘Teach Your Child to Programme’ when I was about 8. Not sure mum ever opened it, but luckily I did.

By 16 I had a great grasp of computing and programming from DIY learning at home. Being brought up in Kenya I didn’t get the chance to do a formal qualification in computing. At 16 I returned to the UK and the state system wasn’t all that keen on allowing me to study Computer Science due to my lack of formal qualification.

Enter Richard Hurley — who took me under his wing and recognised that you don’t need a formal qualification to be good at something. Richard was an inspirational teacher, for a teenager who hadn’t always excelled in the behaviour stakes at school.

What have they done to achieve hero status in your eyes?

Richard was far ahead of his time in understanding the digital skills we needed to be equipped with to be relevant in the new digital world. Richard creatively blended the formal Computer Science A-level with a much broader multimedia education, when most folks didn’t know what that was.

Over two years we learnt to create interactive CD-ROMs, code, video edit, digitally photograph, 3D render, audio edit — you name it — and all this in the early 90s. As students Richard got us involved in running the Multimedia and Quicktime User Groups and took us to exhibitions in London to demonstrate our work.

It was at one of those exhibitions that I met my first employer and started work in the digital industry the day I left school. Without Richard who knows where I’d be, but unlikely a Managing Director in Accenture Interactive — The Largest Digital Agency Network in the world. Thank you Richard!

How has their heroism helped drive digital?

I recognise this is a very personal story, relevant because I was lucky enough to be in the right place, at the right time and taken under the wing by a visionary, inspiring, creative and deeply curious digital educator.

However, I’d like to think that by nominating Richard this is also a proxy for all those other incredible digital teachers out there, inspiring the next generation and fuelling the very grass roots of our digital economy.

What are the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?

I’d say it has to be the digital skills gap. I believe the shift in focus for young people from teaching computer science and design technology, to more standardised ICT skills has not helped fuel interest, excitement and capability in the core skills needed to thrive as a creator rather than just user in the digital economy.

We need to encourage more kids to code, more children to understand what it means to innovate through design and experimentation, and more kids to desire to create digital experiences, not just live in them.

Get this right and we’ll have the right fuel to grow our digital economy for many years to come.

What is your most heroic achievement in digital so far?

I’m not sure I’ve done anything heroic yet — but it’s a good challenge to aim for.

I am very proud that for the last 2 years I’ve chaired The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s Digital Route Panel. I had the privilege of working with The Institute to bring together a diverse set of industry leaders and educators — including for a while Richard – to set the standards for future digital apprenticeships and technical education.

If I can help more young people have the great start in digital that Richard helped me have, then I’d say I could at least start to unwrap the hero cape!