As a part of our series about cutting-edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Trevor Dowswell.
For the past seven years, Trevor Dowswell has been the Chief Technology Officer at Hotel Internet Services, a multi-national enterprise networking and software development company. He directly oversees all product architecture and technology adoption and implementation for the company.
Trevor is a specialist in the architecture and configuration of converged, large-enterprise wired and wireless networks. He is a Cisco-certified engineer who has personally directed the installation of hundreds of public access WiFi networks, as well as large-scale video-on-demand and IPTV systems.
Additionally, he is a specialist in public access and hospitality authentication systems and network security, a web designer and Ruby developer, and has years of experience in top tier support, troubleshooting obscure issues with advanced and complex networks.
On top of his technical experience, Trevor is a published writer and editor, and previous to his involvement in the tech industry, worked extensively in marketing, live audio/visual, and the motion picture industry. He uses this textured background to provide fresh insight and vision into product design and rollout across Hotel Internet Services’ many verticals and brands, enabling the company to set new industry trends.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I had been managing a post-production audio studio for movies and TV in Burbank, California for a few years, and it was, in general, rewarding, creative and interesting. I had the opportunity to work on some great projects with all manner of intriguing people, from Jim Cameron to Carmen Electra. However, I had started to feel like I was hitting a ceiling in both my career and financially, so I was on the lookout for something new.
I struck up a conversation on social media with an old friend from high school, and she just happened to be hiring for someone to coordinate their web development and installations. I had only scratched the surface of web development at USC years prior and knew virtually nothing about enterprise computer networking. However, I love a challenge, so I thought “perfect” and jumped in head-first. I somehow managed to convince them that I could do the job, started a couple weeks later…and quickly went back to college on the evenings and weekends.
I happen to be a quick learner, so within six months, I surpassed our most experienced engineers and moved from a coordination role to Director of Installations, project managing all network projects and performing all advanced configuration, as well as bringing in-house our web development for all guest-facing properties.
Funnily, it wasn’t until I became the Director of Installations that I realized I had inadvertently followed in my father’s footsteps. For years, he worked as an Electrical Engineer for Motorola, overseeing the installation of the first wireless computer systems in police cars around the globe.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
This is perhaps the wrong sort of interesting, but it’s what popped to mind. I got a call from one of my install technicians, who I had sent to Brooklyn for a hotel Wi-Fi installation. He was standing outside of the property and was concerned that he wasn’t at the right location. It didn’t look like a hotel, there was no front desk, just a locked door and a tinted, bullet-proof window next to it with a little slot at the bottom. We double-checked the paperwork, verified the address with the account manager, and he was indeed at the correct location.
I told the technician to just to go and see if he can get in, scope it out, meet with the client, and find out what the deal is. He called me back a bit later. He had managed to get into the building and walk the site, and he was positive this wasn’t a hotel. When I asked him why, he said, “The door to every room was open and there were only mattresses on the floor and TVs playing pornographic content.”
This client had hired us to install a pay-for-use Wi-Fi system, so we spoke to him, trying to understand why he wanted Wi-Fi. Was it even going to be used? He told us a story about how they recently acquired the property and were going to upgrade and change things. So we went ahead and installed his network, assuming they were converting to a proper hotel.
We were not shocked when they later requested that we start charging for the Wi-Fi by the hour. We uninstalled that network pretty quick.
Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
As a networking company, we’ve been working quite hard to create a seamless environment for apartments, student housing, senior living and hotels that ties together all of the disparate and disjointed internet-enabled technologies that exist in the market and makes them simple to use. We want a regular person to be able to walk into their apartment on move-in day, start our setup wizard, and within five minutes have their personal Wi-Fi network up and running, TV live and have a simple interface moving forward to manage any future devices they wish to onboard, including smart lights, cameras and appliances. Additionally, that private network they just created is instantly available no matter where they are on the property, not just in their apartment, with the same speeds and all the same features.
We are doing away with having to wait days, if not weeks, for underwhelming, overpriced internet to be activated, and which only provides the most basic services.
Our Wi-Fi is properly designed for full coverage in all areas, both living spaces and common areas, with enough bandwidth to satisfy the heaviest consumers, and it even provides features for more advanced internet users who need things such as static public IPs or who want to host LAN parties.
How do you think this might change the world?
I am a strong believer that technology should be used to augment and enhance the human experience, not supplant it. Thus, day-to-day technology should blend into the background, often forgotten and infrequently noticed. Therefore, the changes we expect might often feel intangible, such as less stress, more quality time, increased productivity, better focus on the things that matter.
The other factor is simply providing better internet to more people. We are becoming more and more reliant on the internet for both work and play, so one’s quality of life can be largely dependent on the quality of internet you have readily at your disposal.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks of this technology that people should think more deeply about?
I feel that every conversation about connecting all things to the internet warrants reflection on security. Every pathway out is theoretically a doorway in. Do I think you might stumble out to the kitchen one morning and have your toaster try to kill you? No, not likely. Could I envision someone hacking a surveillance account to determine when someone isn’t home so they could be robbed? Yes.
Security is everyone’s responsibility — the service providers, developers, hosting services, users. So everyone managing their piece of the pie correctly is critical in surviving the world of the Internet of (every)Thing.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
For some time, we have been able to create the networking environment to support a fully-managed, secure, simplistic internet experience, but the industry as a whole has just not been there. So there have been a few of us championing for the correct advancements and adoption of technology to make all of this possible, and that has been a slow climb for the past ten years. The final tipping-point was when a partner of ours was able to fully crack internet-delivery of bulk TV service. That was the final piece in the puzzle for creating the end-to-end solution that we felt was truly complete.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
FCC 22–12 (an FCC ruling from earlier this year to further promote competition in multi-tenant environments and to do away with internet and TV service provider exclusivity contracts that have stifled innovation) helps clear the way for opportunity. I feel like better managed internet and TV is an inevitability at this point. There are too many players demanding its existence, and it is the most logical path moving forward for building developers, owners, and managers.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
Our company is very keen on surveys. We like to know what people are actually thinking and doing out there, and we also love sharing that data with everyone. So we have put a lot of time in collecting information and opinions from thousands of real users, owners and managers regarding Wi-Fi, entertainment, and IoT, and our marketing team continually puts that data out using every channel they possibly can.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would say that I would not be doing what I’m doing today without Rafael van den Berg, who built up the tech side of Hotel Internet Services during its infancy, is currently our Director of R&D, and was my first networking mentor. When I came in to interview all those years ago, I was only armed with random, disjointed pieces of data about networking that I had gleaned from Google searches over the previous two days. Rafael was the one who accessed my technical knowledge during the hiring process. Looking back, I truly knew nothing; my answers were an absolute joke. Rafael knew that I knew absolutely nothing, but he was willing to take a leap of faith, and I’m sure glad he did.
Since that time, we’ve built most of Hotel Internet Services’ products together. We are each other’s sounding boards, and I think having two people who can balance each other out and challenge each other is invaluable.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In presentations, speeches, articles, conversations with clients, prospects, vendors, and competitors, I have always preached unity. Let’s all work together and build great things. There is already too much divisiveness in our world. We don’t need people throwing blame around; blame never solved a problem. What the world needs is simply good people, doing good things, making good products, and having a good time.
So I’ve tried to lead by example, as well as worked to actively inspire goodness. My wife and I flow a lot of energy towards people and groups who are helping others, helping the planet, and in general those striving to make big, positive impacts around the world.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
Wow, this is a tough one. I’ll give it my best shot:
Everyone is Pretending
It’s not just you. A lot of people are still waiting for that ethereal moment when they suddenly become a grown up. Because I felt like I was pretending to be an adult, it took me a little while to realize that I knew more about my fields of expertise than any client or other vendor I spoke with. The moment I realized I was the authority of my field and that everyone else also felt like they were pretending, I fully owned every phone call and meeting. I was confident, decisive, and I could get things done.
Trust Your Instincts
If you’re still alive, it means that you’ve been more right than wrong. If something feels off or doesn’t seem like the right decision, it’s likely you’re right and it probably is off and it probably isn’t the right decision. Don’t place implicit trust in another just because they’ve been doing something longer than you have. Tenure doesn’t always equal competence, so you have to find a balance between trusting others and trusting yourself.
Following is Way Easier Than Creating
Creating the future, creating the vision and writing out the plans, getting agreement and cooperation, and pushing new projects from implementation through to completion is way, way harder than following a path that has already been paved. When you become an executive, or if you start your own company, you have to be willing to become your own power source. It takes a lot of mental fortitude, and it burns though so much mental energy.
Find a Really Good Rubber Duck
In software development, there is a practice called “rubberducking” where you debug your code by describing each function in normal language to a rubber duck (or your object of choice). This practice is just as effective in business as it is in programming. I don’t have an actual rubber duck on my desk, but I do have a person who will listen to whatever I have to say without judgement and who can often give me a unique perspective and sage advice. And sometimes you just need to get out of your head. Describing a problem to someone else often makes the solution spring to mind — sometimes just opening your mouth to start talking is enough to make the answer materialize.
Be Willing to be Wrong to be Right
It’s really hard to get anywhere substantial without being willing to just throw yourself out there and suffer the consequences, both good and bad. You have to be just as willing to be wrong as you are to be right, because if you’re never doing something because you might be wrong, then you are simply never doing anything. Sounds like 1st Grade logic. It probably is. But it’s true, so who cares.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Ha! That is a rather generous description of me, but I’ll roll with it.
I would say, be responsible. Whenever you’re at a crossroads where you can either take less responsibility or more, go with more. You can take baby steps. It doesn’t have to be huge every time. But if everyone gradually took just a little bit more responsibility for their health, for their emotions, for their child’s education, for their partner, for the quality of their products, for their company, for the effects of their actions on others and their environment, for making at least one person happier today, for that guy that no one else is letting into traffic, then we would collectively, eventually solve all world problems.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One I’ve used over and over is, “There are no such things as problems, only conversations.” And this is one I actually don’t just preach.
I did an experiment with this when I was working in building maintenance in my late teens. At the time, it seemed like every few days someone was mad at someone, and often, it was directed at me. I decided to see if I could resolve every upset simply with communication. For example, if a bathroom was out of service, could I not fix it and then make everyone happy and able to move on just by talking to them? It worked 100% of the time.
However, you have to do it right. You have to actually fully communicate, meaning truly listen, understand and acknowledge the other side, and the intent of your communication needs to be to make them right, not wrong. I completely shocked a partner of a company I was working for a number of years ago with how powerful this is. He asked me to have a call with a client that was threatening legal action and had been quite nasty in their emails and letters. I got on the call, I listened, I told the client that they were right, we hadn’t delivered what was in the contract nor could we, that the contract was wrong, and laid out what we were actually able to do, and that was it. Afterward, the partner got with me and was just completely baffled. He said, “I don’t understand, no one yelled at you. They didn’t even seem upset. I don’t get it.”
It wasn’t a problem, it was simply a conversation.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Managed Wi-Fi, TV, and smart home is a market with significant growth. There are a number of players in the residential arena (Google, Samsung, Control4, etc.) with products well suited for single-family dwellings, but these products can start to fall apart in a multi-tenant environment. At the same time, property developers, owners and managers are fleeing from the behemoth service providers that have dominated this market for decades. Therefore, the market is primed for disruption and a significant “land grab” with a solution that integrates all of the strongest residential technology players together and provides a centralized interface to manage them from a property level, as well as a tenant level, and that’s what we’re offering with our product.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.