Alex Healing, Edinburgh graduate and Young IT Professional of the Year, talks about why the University and the city lived up to their reputation, his work with BT and why you should never miss an opportunity to gain new experience.
|Degree Course||Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science|
|Year of Graduation||2005|
Your time at the University
In choosing universities Edinburgh really stood out as one of the few places to study Artificial Intelligence as a subject in its own right and when visiting for the open day I instantly wanted to be part of the community, both academically and culturally in what seemed like an exciting city to live in.
The university and city certainly lived up to their reputation and I remember in particular the many group projects on my course.
The System Design Project, for example, where groups of 10 managed and built a complex system of software and robotics over a focussed four-week period.
This experience and others gave me a firm foundation in order to feel confident jumping into similar projects in industry afterwards.
The high level of practical, hands-on group working at Edinburgh was both great fun and incredibly useful.
Tell us about your Experiences since leaving the University
I joined BT on their graduate programme following Edinburgh having considered several post-graduate options. It was clear to me that I wanted to be involved in research but I was particularly drawn to the applied nature of industrial research over academic. Salary and opportunities for career progression were a factor in my decision as well.
I instantly wanted to be part of the community, both academically and culturally in what seemed like an exciting city to live in.
At BT I’ve stayed within their research department but see my role as extremely multi-facetted and dynamic. I’ve seen my work move from largely theory-based where publishing papers and patents are some of the main goals, to one which is far more human-centric, involving architecture of complex software where the usability of the end customer is in mind throughout the process.
To recognise my efforts I was awarded the title of ‘Young IT Professional of the Year’ at the UK IT Industry Awards 2012.
Having been in some ways frustrated by the gap between great academic research in AI, for example, and that which actually makes its way into products and is used in the real world, I’ve tried to focus my efforts on the application of such theoretical methods by making them accessible and intuitive to use.
I now lead a team of around a dozen researchers and software developers and we continue to develop a visual analytic tool since it made it to market last year. The software uses a combination of data visualisation and mining techniques to offer insight into data-rich problems, such as those increasingly faced in the area of information and cyber security. To recognise my efforts I was awarded the title of ‘Young IT Professional of the Year’ at the UK IT Industry Awards 2012.
Never miss an opportunity to gain new experience; it doesn’t matter if it’s the opportunity to learn a new language, to apply for a summer placement, to organise a group excursion, to put yourself up for a position of responsibility… whatever it is, if it’s new the chances are that you’ll learn and develop and grow increasingly confident with what you can achieve.
However trivial the opportunity may seem at the time it may lead to valuable life lessons, which are gold dust for job interviews. Weigh up all the opportunities that present themselves to you and go out and seek more.