IT is an exciting modern career. IT is part of every job now and there are so many opportunities. When I was at school fifty years ago computing did not even exist as a University subject or career option, but my very first job introduced me to this new skill.
As a meteorologist I was forecasting locust plagues in Africa. We drew the weather charts for Africa and the Middle East by hand every day from the weather station reports. I suggested we asked the USA to let us have their satellite imagery of weather systems across the Northern hemisphere to fill the gaps.
This enabled me to write computer models describing evolving weather patterns and forecast where the locusts would be carried on the wind and whether it would rain where they were moved to. The rainfall determined if they would breed successfully and enabled us to direct teams to control the pests before the locusts destroyed the crops, so helping to ensure families in some of the poorest parts of Africa did not starve. From that moment I was hooked on the power of computing to solve problems and make the world a better place.
Large scale modelling is fantastic. It enables you to test theories and answer all sorts of “what if” questions. What will the effects be if we have a policy to do this or that? You can apply it to anything that interests you. You can look at the epidemiology of diseases and see how you might best control an outbreak of something like foot and mouth disease by seeing all the ways it can be transmitted round the world in the food chain and how you could stop it.
In fact there are many jobs today that you would not think need people to be familiar with computing but those are exactly the skills they need. For example marketing jobs now need people who can analyse the data collected by search engines to decide what products people might want to buy and how to influence the behaviour of different groups of people so that such things as public health awareness campaigns have the greatest impact.
I have been lucky enough to get involved in real time computing as well as modelling. When I worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment I wrote the software to run air to air and air to ground simulators to test out new ideas for how aircraft cockpits should be designed. One of the most exciting challenges was how to design voice activated commands that would work under all circumstances and could reduce the workload on pilots in highly stressful situations.
It is really exciting when these systems become the normal way of putting in the co-ordinates for a flight route. This early work has carried on into all aspects of our interactions with machines. Now a machine can take near perfect dictation. Voice activation can be used by disabled people to control machine assistance and make their lives easier by turning on the lights or a kettle, closing the curtains or calling a lift. There are programmes now to do simultaneous translation from one language to another. You name a problem and you can programme and control a device to do it for you.
Raspberry Pi is a wonderful way to get in to this new world and experience for yourself the power of computing. See a problem and build the solution. With IT skills you can really make the world a better place.
Louise chairs the BCS Security Community of Expertise and Identity Assurance Working Group. She started her career as a scientist modelling weather patterns and locust plagues in Africa. She then moved into operations research and real time computing for aircraft systems in Defence.
Over the last 25 years she has been an IT & R&D director (Thorn EMI, Logica, AEA Technology, Vivas). She has also worked on Government advisory bodies (including the Defence Scientific Advisory Council, the CO ID Stakeholder Group, the ICO Technology Reference Panel and PITO as a non-executive director) and as an expert for the European Commission.
Her consulting focuses on: strategic and corporate governance, the exploitation of new technology and risk management. Her latest work includes identity assurance and payments on the Internet, developing resilient organisations, from environmental, security and privacy perspectives (including information assurance and fraud prevention).