Posted on October 19, 2018 by staff

Hartree Centre director blows apart tech myth


The director of the UK’s most powerful computing centre has challenged the tech industry to change its message and attract talent from other academic areas.

The Hartree Centre is part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council and was opened in Cheshire in 2013 to accelerate the UK’s adoption of Big Data and cognitive computing technologies.

Backed by more than £170 million of government funding and strategic partnerships? with the likes of IBM and Atos, it is home to some of the UK’s top experts in high performance computing, data analytics and machine learning.

“We don’t want people applying who want to spend their entire career working with GPUs and chemistry applications,” Alison Kennedy told BusinessCloud. “We’re looking for people who are interested in the underlying technology and how it can be applied in different ways.

“Companies need to look at a different way of portraying the jobs they advertise. Working in supercomputing, a lot of how we portray ourselves is ‘oooh, we have very big computers, we do these very complicated maths-based science problems’ – and it’s not really about that.

“We have really good facilities which enable us to challenge these huge world problems. We need to change the message.”

Kennedy, who also wants government to do more, joined the Hartree Centre in April 2016 and has a wealth of experience in leading high performance computing projects within the UK and internationally.

A former executive director of operations at the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre, she is also the managing director and chair of the board of directors at PRACE (Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe).

Speaking to BusinessCloud at TechUK’s ‘Supercharging the Digital Economy’ event at Manchester Science Partnership’s Bright Building, she expanded upon the idea of whether Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects are really necessary.

“I have three kids and my middle daughter has a degree in Russian. She worked in retail for four years then went back and did a conversion Masters in software engineering and is now a data scientist at the University of Edinburgh,” she said.

“There are very few people who do computer science at university and we are taking too narrow a view. For many jobs, having a strong science background is important, but it’s not important for every tech job – and it’s not important if you’re a programmer.

“Languages and programming languages, for example, have a strong correlation. We need to be a bit more imaginative.”

Kennedy points out that, among women with a background in STEM, more of them study biology or chemistry than physics or maths.

“Look at the diversity question: there’s a big focus on getting more girls to take STEM courses but you don’t need that,” she said.

“You must have the right sort of enquiring mind and be clever enough to pick things up quickly – but you don’t necessarily have to have three years of university education in a particular area to make your mark.”