What the real Pros say

by Paul Curzon, Queen Mary University of London

Originally Published in the CS4FN “Women are Here” special

Rebecca Stewart CC BY 2.0 Thomas Bonte
Rebecca Stewart CC BY 2.0 Thomas Bonte

Some (female) computer scientists and electronic engineers were asked what they most liked about their job and the subject. Each quote is given with the job they had at the time of the quote. many have moved on or upwards since.

Here is what the real Pros think …

Building software that protects billions of people from online abuse … I find it tremendously rewarding…Every code change I make is a puzzle: exciting to solve and exhilarating to crack; I love doing this all day, every day.

Despoina Magka, Software engineer, Facebook

Taking on new challenges and overcoming my limitations with every program I write, every bug I fix, and every application I create. It has and continues to inspire me to grow, both professionally and personally.

Kavin Narasimhan, Researcher, University of Surrey

Because computer science skills are useful in nearly every part of our lives, I get to work with biologists, mathematicians, artists, designers, educators and lately a whole colony of naked mole-rats! I love the diversity.

Julie Freeman, artist and PhD student, QMUL

The flexibility of working from any place at any time. It offers many opportunities to collaborate with, and learn from, brilliant people from all over the world.

Greta Yorsh, Lecturer QMUL, former software engineer, ARM.
Shauna, Gavin and Greta
Shauna, Kavin and Greta

Possibilities! When you try to do something that seems crazy or impossible and it works, it opens up new possibilities… I enjoy being surrounded by creative people.

Justyna Petke, Researcher, UCL

That we get to study the deep characteristics of the human mind and yet we are so close to advances in technology and get to use them in our research.” – Mehrnoosh Sadrzadeh, Senior Lecturer, QMUL

I get the opportunity to understand what both business people and technologists are thinking about, their ideas and their priorities and I have the opportunity to bring these ideas to fruition. I feel very special being able to do this! I also like that it is a creative subject – elegant coding can be so beautiful!

Jill Hamilton, Vice President, Morgan Stanley

You never know what research area the solution to your problem will come from, so every conversation is valuable.

Vanessa Pope, PhD student, QMUL

I get to ask questions about people, and set about answering them in an empirical way. computer science can lead you in a variety of unexpected directions

Shauna Concannon, Researcher, QMUL

It is fascinating to be able to provide simpler solutions to challenging requirements faced by the business.

Emanuela Lins, Vice President, Morgan Stanley

I think the best thing is how you can apply it to so many different topics. If you are interested in biology, music, literature, sport or just about anything else you can think of, then there’s a problem that you can tackle using computer science or electronic engineering…I like writing code, but I enjoy making things even more.

Becky Stewart, Lecturer, QMUL

… you get to be both a thinker and a creator. You get to think logically and mathematically, be creative in the way you write and design systems and you can be artistic in the way you display things to users. …you’re always learning something new.

Yasaman Sepanj, Associate, Morgan Stanley

Creating the initial ideas, forming the game, making the story… Being part of the creative process and having a hands on approach“,

Nana Louise Nielsen, Senior Game Designer, Sumo Digital

Working with customers to solve their problems. The best feeling in the world is when you leave … knowing you’ve just made a huge difference.

Hannah Parker, IT Consultant, IBM

It changes so often… I am not always sure what the day will be like

Madleina Scheidegger, Software Engineer, Google.

I enjoy being able to work from home

Megan Beynon, Software Engineer, IBM

I love to see our plans come together with another service going live and the first positive user feedback coming in

Kerstin Kleese van Dam, Head of Data Management, CCLRC

…a good experienced team around me focused on delivering results

Anita King, Senior Project Manager, Metropolitan Police Service

I get to work with literally every single department in the organisation.

Jemima Rellie, Head of Digital Programme, Tate

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EPSRC supports this blog through research grant EP/W033615/1. 

“The thundering engines vibrate throughout your body”

Computer scientist Jason Cordes tells us what it was like to work for NASA on the International Space Station during the time of Space Shuttle launches.

(From the archive)

The space shuttle lifting off
A space shuttle launch.
Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Working for a space agency is brilliant. When I was younger, I often looked up at the stars and wondered what was out there. I visited Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and told myself that I wanted to work there someday. After completing my college degree in computer science, I had the great fortune to be asked to work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center as well as Kennedy Space Center.

Johnson Space Center is the home of the Mission Control Center (MCC). This is where NASA engineers direct in-orbit flights and track the position of the International Space Station (ISS) and the Space Shuttle when it is in orbit. Kennedy Space Center, situated at Cape Canaveral, Florida, is where the Space Shuttle and most other space-bound vehicles are launched. Once they achieve orbit, control is handed over to Johnson Space Center in Houston, which is why when you hear astronauts calling Earth, they talk to “Houston”.

Space City

Houston is a very busy city and you get that feeling when you are at Johnson. There are people everywhere and the Space Center looks like a small city unto itself. While I was there I worked on the computer control system for the International Space Station. The part I worked on was a series of laptop-based displays designed to give astronauts on the station a real-time view of the state of everything, from oxygen levels to the location of the robotic arm.

The interesting thing about developing this type of software is realising that the program is basically sending and receiving telemetry (essentially a long list of numbers) to the hardware, where the hardware is the space station itself. Once you think of it like that, the sheer simplicity of what is being done is really surprising. I certainly expected something more complex. All of the telemetry comes in over a wire and the software has to keep track of what telemetry belongs to what component since different components all broadcast over the same wire. Essentially the program routes the data based on what component it comes from and acts as an interpreter that takes the numbers that the space station is feeding and converting them into a graphical format that the astronauts can understand. The coolest part of working in Houston was interacting with astronauts and getting their feedback on how the software should work. It’s like working with celebrities.

Wild times

While at Kennedy Space Center, I was tasked with working on the Shuttle Launch Control System for the next generation of shuttles. The software is very similar to that used to control the ISS. The thing I remember most about working there was the environment.

Kennedy Space Center is about as opposite as you can get from the big city feeling at Johnson. It’s situated on what is essentially swampland on the eastern coast of Florida. The main gates to Johnson are right on major streets within Houston, but at Kennedy the gate is on a major highway, and even then, travel to the actual buildings of the Space Center is a leisurely 30 minute drive through orange groves and trees as well as bypassing causeways and creeks. Along the way you might spot an eagle’s nest in one of the trees, or a manatee poking its head from the waters. Kennedy is in the middle of a wildlife preserve with alligators, manatees, raccoons and every other kind of critter you can imagine. In fact, I was prevented from going home one evening by a gator that decided to warm itself up by my car.

The coolest thing about working at NASA, and specifically Kennedy Space Center, was being able to watch shuttle launches from less than 10 miles away. It’s an incredible experience. The thundering engines vibrate throughout your body like being next to the speakers at an entirely too loud rock concert. Night launches were the most amazing, with the fire from the engines lighting up the sky. It is very amazing to watch this machine and realise that you are the one who wrote the computer program that set it in motion. I’ve worked in a few development firms, but few of them gave me as much emotion when I saw it in action as this did.

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This cs4fn blog is funded by EPSRC, through grant EP/W033615/1.