Microsoft Research, DCA Design, Rolls-Royce
University of Cambridge
I’m trying to help people understand how to build big systems, like cities, that survive when unexpected things happen.
I’m a PhD researcher at the University of Cambridge. I study big systems like cities and organisations and think about they can survive, or be resilient. We can’t predict the future, no one really knows what’s going to happen in 10 or 20 years time – even engineers! We’re facing some big challenges like climate change, new technologies and population growth. Engineers sometimes focus on building one product, for example an aeroplane. An aeroplane is a really complicated bit of technology but do you know what is more complicated? The people that use the aeroplane! Who uses that aeroplane? How does it change people’s behaviour? How does it affect the environment? We need some engineers to look at the bigger picture of how people and technology interact and how we can adapt to future change.
I’ve also done other work designing and building products. For example, I recently worked at Microsoft Research to build a programming language for children that’s physical rather than on a computer screen. The language can be used by blind children as well as sighted, broadening access to computer programming.
My Typical Day: I spend my day reading, writing and interviewing experts about their work.
Academics mainly communicate their work by writing papers. These papers are presented at conferences around the world, or submitted to journals. I spend a lot of time reading other people’s papers or writing my own. I also run studies where I interview people working in industry, asking them questions about resilience and their work. The types of people I talk to are very varied, they can include engineers, people running companies, or teachers!
I mainly work in an open plan office in the Engineering Department at the University. I can work in other places if I want to though because I only really need a computer and an internet connection. So, sometimes I work from home or in cafes around town.
What I'd do with the money
With the money I would create kits for kids to build toys with technology.
I believe that all people should have the chance to play and build with technology, not just engineers! I want to make kits that have everything you would need to build a simple toy using basic electronics and craft. I’ve already designed a few of these kits but I need to build them and give them to kids to test. I thought I could do this by going into schools and holding workshops to get feedback.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Tech-hacker, people-listener, problem-solver.
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Presenting at a conference in New York was cool. I loved the city!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I once got sent to the headmistress in primary school!
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
A jeweller or maybe an architect.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
It depends on my mood! I’m really looking forward to seeing Adele at Glastonbury this year.
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Travelled round Indonesia with friends.
Tell us a joke.
Why did the banana go to the doctor? Because it wasn’t peeling so well. (The joke my little brother used to tell EVERY DAY when he was 7).