John is highly-experienced .net, MVC, SQL Server, Umbraco developer who specialises in information design. Zola Systems Limited, which John has been successfully running since 2002, specialises in creating systems that capture, analyse and present data in an easy to understand layout aimed at all user levels.
Our friendly techy is one of our most regular walkers, placing second on our leader board in 2017 with 301km. You can find out more about John and his enigmatic pup, Pippin, by connecting with him on LinkedIn.
Tell us about your first Freshwalks?
I’d been meaning to attend a Freshwalks for some time; I came across it on social media and, as a keen walker, it had piqued my interest. I had finally managed to free up some time to get along to one, so I spoke to Michael and decided to bring the dog (Pippin the working dog springer spaniel) along with me too.
I was made to feel really welcome, although I felt incredibly embarrassed after Pippin decided to revert to his working dog breeding and round up a flock of sheep! You’d think that the fact that the sheep were at the bottom of the ridge, he would have left them alone… but sadly not. I’m not sure I’ve ever shouted so loud in my life trying to get him back. Needless to say, Pippin has been under much closer control ever since!
How many have you attended?
Virtually all of the walks since then. Some people have even questioned if I have a real job!
Why do you come back?
I enjoyed the first one so much I now find it quite an easy thing to justify freeing up the time to go. I get a fresh sense of perspective, great company and there are physical and mental health benefits also. The pub afterwards is an added bonus too.
What’s your favourite route?
All of the routes have something that is worth seeing again – if nothing else scenery can look completely different dependent upon the time of year. My favourite actual hike was Hathersage and Stannage Edge. I didn’t go to the heated lido afterwards (not sure it would have been fair on the dog) but the colours of the heather that day, the light, and the company were absolutely stunning.
The something you always bring?
Favourite Freshwalks memory?
Helping drag Aisha Riaz out of a bog (several times). The sense of camaraderie on a Freshwalk cannot be bettered.
How has Freshwalks helped your business?
I have a few projects that are in the pipeline. But (and this is the key point about Freshwalks), it is not necessarily about the business deals you make on the walk. It is about challenging yourself, seeing things differently and finding answers to business problems.
Recommend three people you have met on Freshwalks?
That’s genuinely not a fair question, because there are so many! But I will pick John Shinnick (whatever you need he has it – from great business advice to a tissue for your streaming cold), Heather Gray (because she can’t stop smiling) and Gareth Lancaster (a fellow data geek).
How does Freshwalks challenge typical networking formats?
Freshwalks gives you the chance to really get to know someone and gives you a common experience to help bond you together. You spend the full day (sometimes a good part of the evening too) with the group and therefore can have a decent conversation in an informal situation – and it does not get much less informal than dragging someone out of a bog (sorry Aisha). Typical networking is a far more scatter gun approach.
Freshwalks is a combination of exercise, networking, sharing knowledge and thinking time. How do you balance those components?
On a Freshwalk, you don’t really have to think about how to balance them – it just naturally occurs because of the group and who you are talking to. In typical networking, you don’t always get people who listen to what you are there to say – they’ve got their lines and just want to throw them out. On a walk, you actually get to listen and be listened to (OK, fair enough, it is not that easy to do that in a 50mph wind on Mam Tor).
Suggest one new place for us to go.
Ashworth Valley – in between Bury and Rochdale. It has absolutely beautiful scenery, and one of the key birthplaces of the industrial revolution with old coal mines and mills dotted around the valley. It’s a true mix of a Freshwalk Hills and Freshwalks City.
Sum up Freshwalks in three words.
Best. Idea. Ever!