Michael Jackson is Skype’s Director of Operations. As you hear in the interview, it has nothing to do with surgeries or pop singing, but it does have a lot to do with ensuring that Skype is continuously available to our global user community.
Michael is also a proud member of the *”People visiting Skype Tallinn office”* community — his home is in Denmark, but he spends a lot of time, days and often weeks, in Tallinn, working with the operations, systems administration, customer support and other groups of people here.
Download this interview as [MP3](http://download.skype.com/share/audio/michaeljackson.mp3) or [OGG](http://download.skype.com/share/audio/michaeljackson.ogg) (length 10:15).
**This is an interview with Skype’s Director of Operations by the name of Michael Jackson. Before proceeding to more serious or work-related stuff, I’m sure you can share us a couple of stories or incidents that are a result of your name assignment.**
Well, of course. It’s quite common actually to meet people who have similarly famous names as you travel around and meet people. I can say two examples. Often you meet people in check-in lines, at hotels or stewardesses and these kind of people who exchange names. They find it rather amusing every time they finally meet someone with a famous name. Other was the time when I was asked to give a press conference in Denmark with a well-known Danish pop singer called Kim Larsen. He wasn’t Kim Larsen the real one, he was a salesman from the Cisco router company. But it did give certain amusement to the participants that they could finally come and see Michael Jackson and Kim Larsen on stage at the same time.
**Please tell a bit about your own background. Where are you from, where were you born and raised, and where has life taken you.**
I am from England. I was born in northern England, but the last 14 years I’ve lived in Denmark, just outside Copenhagen, where during my working life I’ve worked more or less all the time in competitive communications companies of one sort or another, whether it’s radio paging or mobile telephony or fix net telephony, but now for Skype.
**Your title is Director of Operations. Please fill us in a bit about what does Operations mean? Many people associate it with surgery, but that’s probably not the case with you.**
Yes well, the only operations we perform are operations on hardware or computers and things that have broken down. The operations team in Skype is responsible for making sure that all of our users are happy with the service we have and that it works well. Although it’s a decentralised infrastructure as we know — the Peer-to-Peer System — we still have quite a lot of hardware associated with offering downloads, offering SkypeOut and SkypeIn, and these kind of services. All of this needs maintaining. On top of that, me and my group look after the customer service and payment systems which many of our users use satisfactorily and some of them use less satisfactorily. Our task is get it working as good as is now possible.
**What is the current state of our operations? Especially, we continue to have quite major growth figures. So are we keeping up with that?**
Yes, that’s exactly right. The growth is huge. Naturally, that means we have a constant task of increasing our databases, increasing our machinery and our general ability to handle the number of transactions. I think we’re doing very well. We haven’t had any breakdowns or major malfunctions or things for a very long time, and our ability to recruit and get people to help us with Customer Service and all these areas is fine. Actually, I think we’ve never been better.
**Regarding operations, we have so far been discussing mainly hardware and technical side. Is that where you spend most of your time, or does your work also involve business and regulatory and those sort of issues?**
In any business, all of the areas overlap when it comes to doing business deals with some partner or some organization, so I get involved a lot in some of the business deals we do within the company. In particular, I am involved with a lot of the third parties providing services — people who provide us the termination services for SkypeIn, SkypeOut, for the banking system, the credit card companies, offline banking systems, e-wallets, PayPal — these people I spend quite a lot of time dealing with. Primarily setting them up and then passing them on to the members of our operations team to handle the day-to-day operations with these people.
**As much as you can tell — what would be the one most interesting single current project that you’re working on at this time?**
I think the most interesting one is to recognize that the regulatory world of communications is changing. We have to try and convince the governments and the people who traditionally regulate telephone services that in fact Skype and the new generations of telephone services, or communications services, are rather different to the old systems, which were basically, in one form or another, a telephone that you picked up and used to make calls. Skype does a lot more as the regular users will know, and there’s some risk that the regulators don’t understand that and make some rather strange decisions. So part of the task is to keep these guys informed of what’s happening so they don’t do the wrong thing or something silly. That’s an interesting task because they want to learn, they’re interested in learning, but they still have the laws and regulations of their particular country to uphold.
**You have been involved in this sector for quite a while, so let’s extend on that last bit. Would you say that the regulatory environment is the same all over the world, or are there any special peculiarities or certain regions that could be pointed out here?**
Every country is different with the regulatory environment. Although theoretically you’d think that the problem was the same or the issues were the same in every country, the implementation is very different in every country. So you can look at requirements for storing data, for example. In one country they might indicate that you have to store something for ten years, and in another country they might indicate that you have to delete it after six months. And those are very different requirements which we have to fulfill in a variety of ways. And it’s this kind of discrepancy that gives us of course a lot to do when we’re operating in 200 different countries.
**How did you find your way to Skype? How did you first hear about it and how did you end up working here?**
I first heard about Skype on October 21, 2003, when I saw an article on Skype on television in Denmark. It looked very interesting. What was most interesting was that the guys who were in Skype at that time were people who I had worked with once before. So we started a dialogue immediately and were able to come some agreement there.
**What kind of features of Skype do you use most? What kind of stuff do you do?**
I travel a lot, I’m away from home a lot. Like I said before, I live in Denmark and my family are in Denmark, but I am travelling a lot to Estonia, London and Luxembourg. So I use Skype a lot just as a personal tool to keep in touch with my family. It really does help that we can talk to each other in unlimited amount in voice without worrying at all about the cost. It also means that we can have things like the multichat running, which is kind of interesting. My whole family and my children, they also have multichat on their computers, so if some funny thing happens in their school or day-to-day life, then they can just write it in the multichat, and we have kind of little running diary, which is kind of fun. So I use Skype a lot just as a regular user, and a lot as many of our users probably do.
**Skype as a workplace, as a company. Is there anything particularly good or bad here that you’d like to highlight? And also comparing to your previous positions and companies?**
I think the difference in Skype is it’s an extremely dynamic company where we have thousands of offers coming in every day from people who want to do business with us, or with ideas for improvement of the product. We have a very short decision time in Skype, from taking in these offers, deciding if there’s anything to do with them or whether to reject them, and then executing anything in practice. So we’re quite an efficient company to deal with and it’s very easy go from the management to the people doing, for example, programming work or specification work or the product managers. It’s happening very quickly which is kind of unusual.
**What would your message be to the newbies who are just learning about Skype and maybe this is the first thing they hear or read about Skype?**
I think they should try and explore the benefits, be with Skype. Not just use it once for making a cheap or free phone call, but keep using it as part of the day-to-day activities. Some of the features and the way it helps you run your life, in fact, aren’t obvious from the start. So keep with it, keep trying it, and keep more friends on it. The more friends that you have connected in to it, the more you have the ability to have conference calls and multichats and things like that. It’s actually something new than just phoning home cheap.
Photos by Siim Teller