Sam De Silva

As both a Council and Trustee Board Member, as well as one of a handful of technology lawyers volunteering at BCS, Sam makes it his mission to dispel myths and educate other IT professionals to ensure everyone is on the same page.

As a specialist in IT law, Sam says he ‘helps to ensure BCS is going in the right direction, complies with all the laws and manages risk appropriately.’ For him, being part of a group that is ‘actually trying to help society be a better place by the use of technology’ is what’s most rewarding.

What matters most in your professional life?

‘It matters that I’m doing challenging and interesting work which gives me the opportunity to make a difference. One part of my role as a partner of a law firm is to provide strategic legal advice and support to clients in a variety of ways such as providing legal risk assessment and drafting and negotiating technology contracts with both suppliers and the customers buying their technology solutions. It's important to me to service my clients to the best of my ability and ensure they see me as a trusted advisor. I like doing new and novel things which are difficult because it's more satisfying when you then find a solution.

How did you get to where you are now?

‘One could say that I had a very traditional career pathway in relation to my legal career. However, my academic background was somewhat unusual in that I did two degrees simultaneously, one in IT and one in Law. Following graduation, I went straight to work at one of the main law firms in New Zealand. Since then, I’ve also worked for law firms in Australia and the UK. I’ve progressed from lawyer to associate, to senior associate before being promoted to a partner of a major international law firm.’

What's important to you outside of work?

‘I have two children aged seven and four, which doesn't leave me time for much else at this stage in my life. I love spending time with my wife and children and it's really important to me that I do spend my spare time forming that family relationship.

‘I don't want to be an absent father, but I do sometimes have to work long hours. I try to make sure I leave work at a decent time so that I can read my kids their bedtime stories, but that often means doing a few more hours of work in the evening.

‘My priority is to be an active father, support my wife and know my kids really well.

What does BCS mean to you?

‘BCS is a good organisational body for IT professionals so that we can feel part of a community group like other professions do. It's a great platform for like-minded people to explore and discuss technology issues amongst themselves and extend that dialogue to the wider public.

‘BCS allows IT professionals to share their know-how with each other, get guidance and be involved in thought leadership.’

Why are you an active member of BCS?

‘I think I can add value to BCS with my skillset of technology law. It's an area which people working in IT don't necessarily understand or need to understand but should have a general awareness of. However, a little knowledge can be detrimental, so I try to dispel myths and educate other IT professionals to ensure everyone is on the same page. There aren't many technology lawyers involved with BCS, so it's even more important that I am involved.’

What do you do as a volunteer?

‘I am on both the council and the trustee board. I also speak at BCS events. The trustee board is responsible for the overall direction and strategy of BCS, which I play a part in. Thankfully, I don't have to do it alone - it the collective responsibility of the team of trustees.’

How does your role help BCS to succeed?

‘My role helps to ensure BCS is going in the right direction, complies with all the laws and manages risk appropriately. Because BCS is a charity, we can't afford to waste money - I support the senior leadership team at BCS to ensure that BCS continues to operate successfully.’

What makes your role enjoyable?

‘It's a people thing for me. I enjoy getting to know people from different backgrounds and experiences and it’s a pleasure to share those experiences. Everyone is a volunteer and everyone has a passion which creates a really nice atmosphere. The social aspect is what I find most enjoyable about volunteering for BCS.’

What makes your role interesting?

‘I always say, you can never stop learning! My various roles are interesting because I'm always learning which makes things exciting. I get to see things which work and others which don't - presentation styles, for example - so that I can learn from them.

‘It's also really interesting and rewarding to be part of a group that is actually trying to help society be a better place by the use of technology.’

What are you most proud of with BCS?

‘It always makes me proud when I help BCS to navigate through complex legal issues to develop a solution. Unfortunately, not all problems will have solutions, so it's really satisfying when they do, especially when it's a really challenging issue.’

Are there any memorable / striking moments you've had with BCS?

‘I helped establish the company’s position on the sharing of our member data. It was a complex situation because groups and branches within BCS wanted greater access to member data, which I could understand because they wanted to improve their attendance and the success of their events. However, we couldn't just give them carte blanche access to data for the sake of our members’ privacy. I had to compromise between our members and BCS to ensure everyone was happy with how much data was being shared. It was a delicate situation which I helped to resolve.’

How do you balance work / personal life / volunteering?

‘It's definitely a challenge and I'm not sure that I always do manage to balance it all. I am involved in a number of voluntary ventures, including a trustee of a charity, ISO, the Law Society and the EU Commission (perhaps not for much longer in relation to the latter!).

‘Because I have so many external roles, I have to make sure I don't take on too much and overcommit. But this is difficult to do because the roles provide good opportunities which I feel honoured to be offered, so I am reluctant to let people down.

‘It comes down to trial and error really - I don't have any secret tips and it's an area I could probably improve on myself.’

What would you say to a new volunteer who asks you how to be successful?

‘My advice would be to prepare in advance. Before you begin volunteering, you need to understand what your objectives are and what you are trying to achieve. What are your reasons for volunteering - is it to put something back, or for your own personal development?

‘You also need to acknowledge that there will be challenges both in relation to people and organisational issues and sometimes you’ll think “is it worth it?”, especially when you're not getting paid.

‘Once you've established all of this, talk to other people about what it's like before diving in.’

What do you want to do next in your BCS journey?

‘I’m not sure. I have no detailed plan but I hope that there will be future opportunities and roles where my skillset and experience would add value.’

With the turn of the decade, where do you think BCS should be heading?

‘I think BCS will need to do a bit more outside the box thinking - not just follow the status quo but think of ways we can improve or accelerate things that have been done in the past.

‘BCS needs to be agile and innovative and follow through on that innovation. We need to look at strategic alliances and perhaps working with other relevant professional bodies to grow our membership.

‘We also need to be at the forefront of thought leadership in relation to technology and how it impacts on society.’

If you had children, would you recommend they follow in your footsteps?

‘I'm not sure; like any parent, I just want them to be happy. With my kids being so young, it's difficult to know what their interests and strengths will be. It takes a particular person to go into the legal profession - like any other profession, it isn't easy. Whatever they end up doing, they need to have a passion for it, but it's also important to be practical as you have to make a living out of it.

‘In terms of volunteering, I would say focus on developing your career first, then volunteer. Both of my parents were keen volunteers for many years and earned the Queen's Honours for community service, which instilled in me that if you have the opportunity, for example, if you're from a privileged upbringing, you should always try to give back to the community and help others. I hope to inspire my own children in the same way!’