For the 7th edition of Over the Air, we returned to London in the grand setting of St. John’s Hoxton, at the borders of Hackney and Shoreditch, for a fresh new environment that added it’s own flavour and colour to our annual event:
Photo credit: Benjamin Ellis; Source: Flickr Over the Air group pool
We capped ticket ‘sales’ at 550 this year as we got to know a new venue and it’s own particular capacity limitations, so are very pleased to have had just under 500 people across the two days, with a peak attendance of 350 on Friday after lunch.
We received some great press coverage of the event on Forbes, featuring the BBC micro:bit , and were super chuffed to have hosted the first BBC micro:bit Coder Dojo. We’re excited to see them roll out in 2016, to inspire the next generation of coders!
The full programme, plus slides from the workshops and talks can be found on our Lanyrd webpage, and the results of the Hack Day competition can be found here.
And although much of back channel conversation took place over a dedicated Slackline channel this year, we were able to capture the flow of OTA15 on Storify:
And last, but not least – it was with great sadness that we announced the retirement of Matthew Cashmore from the OTA organisational team – and wished him well as he follows a brand new career path into the priesthood.
He will be sorely missed. Especially as he has been saving our skin from day one! Ask Matthew the one about the Daleks. Or the one about the pyrotechnics license. Or the one about….
As our Logistics Maestro Extraordinaire, Matthew will be impossible to replace. But it’s a great opportunity to start growing the team who run Over the Air, and we invite anyone who might be interested in helping make OTA16 happen in any capacity to get in touch with Margaret or Dan @overtheair.org
Plans are already being hatched for OTA16, so keep your eyes peeled for date announcements in the new year.
We’re looking for innovative new ways to serve a younger audience on the devices they spend the most time with; their smartphones. We want to do this through clever use of tech, design and editorial direction around our content and public service remit. We want to build on and extend the BBC’s unique and unrivalled content experiences, from our unique music output and world-class drama, to our well-loved soaps, unrivalled sports coverage and essential learning experiences. Find out more here.
The best ideas have the chance to be further developed by our experts and even funded, made, and showcased on BBC Taster. We’ll provide expertise to help shape the best ideas with the teams, and get them into a ‘ready state’ for submission to our pilot process. If selected against judging criteria success will see ideas funded to make a live pilot on BBC Taster and tested with our audiences.
The BBC Connected Studio Challenge has a longer process than our usual Challenge, such that those who entered have been invited to film a longer pitch, which will be assessed by an internal team of people at the BBC. Any winners will thus be contacted after the event, but we’ll share the news here too.
The JustGiving Charity Challenge Winner = Stephen Nicolas for If This Then Help
Powering the #tech4good movement, the JustGiving platform helps not-for-profit organisations, brands and a growing community of developers to build applications that harness the power of online giving. Apps like these drive thousands of transactions on JustGiving every day, helping people around the world to make good things happen.
Over the Air would not be possible without the generous support of the companies and organisations who get what we do – and more importantly, what the community of participants does. It’s an important feature of Over the Air that it is FREE for all to attend – no conference budget or deep pockets required. And that’s only possible with the support of the fantastic organisations below.
We were thrilled to receive the support of the BBC at OTA15, with teams from BBC Digital, Make It Digital, BBC micro:bit, BBC Connected Studio & BBC Taster.
Read more about the teams from the BBC who joined us.
Silver Sponsor – Microsoft
Microsoft is the leading platform and productivity company for the mobile-first, cloud-first world, and its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.
Azure is Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, a growing collection of integrated services – analytics, computing, database, mobile, networking, storage and web – enabling developers, IT and data professionals to move faster, achieve more, save money and innovate. Microsoft Azure is easy-to-use, pay-as-you-go, and scales as you need with cross-platform support. Windows 10 is enterprise-ready, Maker-friendly, powering a broad range of devices with over 20 years of history in the embedded device space. Follow them @msdevuk.
Silver Sponsor – Just Giving
Powering the #apps4good movement, the JustGiving platform helps not-for-profit organisations, brands and a growing community of developers to build applications that harness the power of online giving. Apps like these drive thousands of transactions on JustGiving every day, helping people around the world to make good things happen. Follow them on Twitter at @jghackers.
Silver Sponsor – The Citizen Cyberlab
The Citizen Cyberlab is a consortium of several Universities (UCL, Imperial, University of Geneva & University Paris Descartes) + CERN + UNITAR + The Mobile Collective. Together we are building digital tools and platforms for Citizen Science. Follow them on Twitter at @citizencyberlab.
Event Sponsor – Google
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Our company has packed a lot into a relatively young life. Since Google was founded in 1998, we’ve grown to serve millions of people around the world. Find out more about our products for developers at https://developers.google.com/products/.
Event Sponsor – Twitter
Twitter was born on mobile, and we know what it takes to design, release, and grow a great mobile app. Twitter recently announced Fabric, a modular mobile platform which makes it easy for developers to build the best apps. Fabric combines the services of Crashlytics, MoPub, Twitter and others to address some of the most common and pervasive challenges that all app developers face: stability, distribution, revenue and identity. Find out more about our products for developers at: https://dev.twitter.com/
Event Sponsor – MediaTek Labs
MediaTek Labs is the developer hub for wearable and IoT Innovation, providing the platforms, tools, documentation, technical and business support to create your own devices powered by MediaTek chipsets. From smart light bulbs to the next-generation fitness tracker and the exciting world of the smart watch, make your journey with our help.
And last, but not least:
Bean Bag Sponsor – Mozilla
Built for those who build the Web. Firefox Developer Edition brings your core dev tools together with some powerful new ones that will extend your ability to work across multiple platforms from one place. It’s everything you’re used to, only better. And only from Firefox. Find out more at https://firefox.com/developer
Friday Dinner Sponsor – Braintree
Braintree’s global platform powers payments for thousands of online and mobile commerce innovators including Airbnb, Uber and GitHub. Merchants in more than 45 countries across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia can accept payments in more than 130 currencies. Braintree’s v.zero SDK, featuring One Touch™, powers single-click purchasing with PayPal, Apple Pay, credit/debit cards, and Bitcoin. To learn more, visit Braintree at www.braintreepayments.com and on Twitter @braintree.
Soft Drinks Sponsor – SAP Devs
Founded by 5 maverick developers, SAP is a market leader in enterprise application software. The company offers open platforms and technologies for you to build, deploy and manage enterprise applications. To get started and to learn more, visit developers.sap.com. Follow the team at @SAPdevs.
Every year, we open up the Over the Air workshop programme to the community, inviting you to become a central part of the Workshop Programme, with a wide range of talks introducing new technologies, platforms, APIs, SDKs, use cases, and much more.
A very big thank-you goes to the many people who contributed to the OTA15 programme! We have heard lots of brilliant feedback about just how informative, helpful and inspirational your talks were. Full session details can be found on Lanyrd – http://lanyrd.com/2015/ota15/schedule/ – and we’ve invited all speakers to share their slides, videos, and other materials as “coverage”.
Many of the hacks presented at the Show & Tell on Saturday made use of technology or ideas that you presented.
The following Entries and Teams entered the OTA15 Hack Day Competitions:
Entry & Team
Yakilium, by Terence Eden & Sareh Heidari
A wearable… FOR YOUR CAR!nSpeeding? Automatic donation to charity! Speeding? Change your Radio 1 Roadshow to THE ARCHERS. Speeding? Upload your naughtiness to an open data set – and Tweet a photo of your criminality to the police!
Tweet Me News, by Sara O’Connor
16-34 year olds share, on average, six pieces of content a day on social media, which is a lot of data about what they are interested in. They spend up to 14 hours per day consuming media, across several devices, especially on the platforms they are sharing content, which is a great place to reach them to show them articles that they are interested in.
What if we took data from what they shared and cross-referenced it with the news of the day? We could personalise a set of articles that are highly likely to be of interest to them. And rather than ask the user to visit some website, we’d send the new articles to them on the platform they are already using.
Tweet Me News delivers personalised news stories to you, via Twitter, based on your tweets, courtesy of the BBC Juicer.
Woof RTC, by Sam Machin
Using a Raspberry PI with the Camera Module and a Mic as a WebRTC client running ‘headless’ The pi can be set up as a remote monitor on for example my puppies crate so I can check on him from any browser.
Because the Pi itself has no input or control method the answer/hangup controls for the Pi end of the call are implemented remotely on a mobile browser using pusher’s web sockets to control that end.
The Transcriptinator, by Tristan Roddis
The Transcriptinator is a desperately exciting game designed to run on the British Library’s Crowdsourcing Arcade Machine (http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digital-scholarship/2015/09/what-makes-the-crowdsourcing-arcade-machine-tick.html)
It takes information from the hundreds of thousands of scanned documents available on the Qatar Digital Library website (e.g. http://www.qdl.qa/en/archive/81055/vdc_100023962800.0x000026) . These documents have OCR transcriptions attached (same link, scroll down) but these are imperfect, having been done by a stupid computer rather than a clever human being.
The Transcriptinator enlists the help of the aforementioned human being by presenting them with the OCR words, alongside the source image, and inviting them to mark which words have not been correctly transcribed.
The way it does this is by using the open API available on the QDL site, which presents images via the International Image Interoperability Framework (http://iiif.io/ – possibly the world’s most underrated protocol). This allows selective zooming and cropping which, when combined with positional information from the raw transcription XML, allows game players to compare the two at the level of each word.
Performance Budget Calculator, by Jonathan Fielding
Performance is very important for responsive websites which is why performance budgets are becoming a lot more popular. The problem is that they are painful to put together so I decided to put together this tool that would allow you to put together a performance budget easier.
In doing this I am hoping to open up performance budgets to a much bigger audience, as it means both developers and designers can quickly play and experiment with different performance budgets and the impact they have on the end users.
video at https://youtu.be/C98PeyHSKQ4
Touch Free, by Alistair MacDonald
A hardware hack that allows a mobile phone or tablet to be used without the needing to touch the screen.
This is of use when wearing anything from protective gloves in the cold to medical and industrial environments where touching a screen is not safe. It could even provide access to hardware otherwise unavailable to a disabled user.
The device is based around a microcontroller that emulates a virtual keyboard and mouse (and for games a joystick) and allows access to most of the basic functionality via a finger joystick.
DSC0073, by Oli Newsham
When people come back from holiday they always tell you about the place they went to off the beaten path; the little local cafe, the old farm they stayed on, or the village in the middle of nowhere. This speaks of a natural human curiosity about the lives and cultures of others. DSC0073 is an API that seeks to satisfy that curiosity.
Digital cameras are so commonplace that 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Only a tiny fraction of that content gets shared, and an even smaller fraction gets shared widely. A vast quantity of content is uploaded with no description, gets no views, and only has the name given to it by the device on which it was recorded. That is the key to DSC0073.
The DSC0073 API hosted on Azure searches YouTube for content with a camera-bestowed title and serves it up as a single serving view into the lives of people all over the world. I’ve built a website and a Universal Windows 10 app that consume data from the API to present a stream of video.
The KeyGlove, by Tom Durrant
The KeyGlove is a keyboard in a glove that allows the user to type by simply pressing their fingers against a solid surface. Keys are entered by pressing binary combinations of the 5 fingers at the same time.
This entry method can be a little hard to get used to at first so there is also a game to help learn to type.
BODY TALK, by Moira Morrison
My solution is a handshake between a microsoft band, an azure site, and a virtual reality headset. My desire is to integrate the vr device seemlessly to the owners activities by scraping websites for content, setting up the headset sending operating instructions and status notifications and then recording body statistics during the hr experiences. The stats can then be compared for best experience reaction, fastest desensitisation, and across users ‘how was it for you’.
Baby Swipes, by Dom & Heather Hodgson
Tinder for Baby names or what happens when you suggest Buckles as a baby name to your wife
IFTHT – If this, then help them, by Stephen Nicholas
The problem: I want to give more money to charity, and I want to encourage more people to give more to charity.
“What’s stopping you / them?” Laziness / I’m never sure how much to give.
“How about just a % of what you earn?” That could work, but what about people with fluctuating incomes or need to save for a bit. And what if we could make it more interesting…
The (original) idea: interface with Google Pay / Braintree on my phone and give a dedicated % of my ‘luxury’ purchases to a nominated charity.
Turns out this is tricky: unsurprisingly the payment data is not generally shared and so I can’t really do this (short of a purposeful man-in-the-middle attack).
So this has evolved into a general service on the device that can be used to automatically trigger a donation to a charity of my choice. Other apps can then plug into this (with the appropriate permission) to do cool stuff (some of which I may also try to hack together).
* A pomodoro timer than punishes you if you don’t complete the whole pomodoro (i.e. if you use your phone as a distraction)
* Geolocation interaction
** E.g. whenever I go to McDonalds, make me pay. Or if I go to McDonalds more than once in a day, make me pay.
** Or an app that can determine the charity for an event I’m at, and I can easily donate.
Lego Coward, by Janos Potecki
Lego Coward is basically a LEGO Mindstorm robot which is driving autonomously. To program the robot I used Python, which I have just rarely used a couple years ago.
The robot is called coward, as when he bumps into something/somebody he makes a ~90 degree turn and drives away.
Furthermore, there is a remote control which can change the direction and the pace of the robot.
CazKnit, by Caz Mockett
A way of getting your favourite knitting patterns read to you while on the move.
Sentimental Juice, by Matt Lacey
It’s a news reader based on the BBC News Juicer that uses sentiment analysis of the stories and a learning algorithm to surface the more interesting stories. Once it’s learnt interests it can use that to filter breaking news alerts to only those that are relevant to the person receiving them.
Ripple, by Jon Kelly, Viviane Li & Olivia Chou
Ripple’ gives context to News.
Help viewers to better understand:
• news from other points of views (‘World views‘)
• how a news incident may affect their daily life (‘Ripple share’)
• current affairs via archive news articles
The ‘World views‘ demo shows a part of the whole concept.
Tweet To Police, by Paul Johnston
I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE PARK ON DOUBLE YELLOW LINES AND IN ALLEYWAYS AND MINOR ANTISOCIAL STUFF HAPPENS.
Basically, those things that you’d call 101 for if you could be bothered.
Why not just tweet it quickly and forget about it?
So I’m using ionic (!) to create an Angular and Cordova based HTML5 and iOS and Android (and possibly even other platforms) app to do this.
Dancing R2D2, Judith Boldt & Elgin Candoleta
We built a dancing R2D2 out of LEGO Mindstorms
Smart Home, Hercules Fisherman
Technologist , artist interested in innovation in general
The Marquees are up, the Bean Bags are fluffed and spread around the building, lots of lovely mysterious packages have arrived, and we’re raring to go!
Getting to the Venue
The gates of St. John’s Hoxton will be open for registration at 9:00, with coffee and tea on offer in the main building until the whole thing kicks off at 10:00. You don’t need a physical ticket, we have your names at the door.
The Venue is a short walk from Old Street Tube Station, and you’ll need to head up to the western side of the grounds for the main gate.
If you’re driving, there is parking in the neighbourhood and a number of paid parking spaces close by. Here’s a handy overview of the options.
There is wheelchair access throughout the entire venue.
What you Need to Bring
Bring your own devices and chargers, we’ll provide you with all of the WiFi details on arrival and there will be power throughout the whole venue.
Bring a tent and/or sleeping bag if you’re staying with us overnight. There is plenty of space to camp on the grounds and lots of quiet corners inside the main building to roll out a sleeping bag. We also have showers and extra washrooms out on the grounds.
Bring your business cards to keep in touch with all of the great new people that you’ll meet, and to leave with the workshop session speakers you would like to follow up with you afterwards.
Bring emergency rations – we’ve done our best to make sure you’ll be well fed, watered and caffeinated throughout the whole event, but haven’t been able to cater to all of the dietary considerations that we would have liked to. If you have special requirements, we recommend that you bring a few things of your own just in case.
Plan your Programme
As always, it’s an action-packed programme with lots to choose from. Take a browse through theschedule on Lanyrd and “track” the talks you’re interested in for a handy personalised mini-programme that will show in “your sessions”.
Check out the Hack Day Categories
If you need a bit of inspiration about what you might want to work on during the Hack Day, the list of Challenges, Categories and Prizes are now all posted, and there is some very cool stuff to be won!
We’re looking forward to seeing your hacks and ideas at the Show & Tell on Saturday afternoon. We’ll be posting an online form tomorrow where you can submit your hacks, and indicate which categories they fit in.
Join the Conversation
There is lots of buzz already happening on Twitter with the #ota15 tag for this year’s event, but we also have a dedicated Slackline set up as well – making it easy to find each other and collaborate throughout the two days.
If you have any questions or trouble joining the shared channel, you can contact the Slackline team at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the in-app chat athttps://slackline.io – You will also be able to find them hacking at Over The Air!
FREE Azure Passes, courtesy of Microsoft
Microsoft is sponsoring a free 1-month Azure Pass for all attendees at Over the Air. Developers and makers can build and scale their projects with up to $100 of Microsoft Azure cloud resources on demand– from analytics, computing, database, mobile app services, networking and storage to web. To get a head start, find out what you can do atwww.azure.com or go to learning resources at Microsoft Virtual Academy
Thank-you to our Supporters & Sponsors
And last but not least a huge thank-you goes to our Support Partner and Sponsors for making OTA15 possible – we can’t do it without them!
We have asked a number of our Supporters and Sponsors about why they get involved in Hack Days, price their views on innovation, buy | and what they are excited about in the technology industry.
Today we’re hearing from:
Elena Branet, Internet of Things and Data audience evangelism lead
Mike Taulty, Microsoft Technical Evangelist
Lee Stott, Microsoft Technical Evangelist
1. Why do you get involved in Hack Days?
“We believe some of the best innovations are born as a result of people getting together to connect, share, test concepts, and build on each other’s work. It is amazing to see how quickly teams can solve complex problems with collective intelligence and resources. We love the creative process and exchange that takes place during hackathons, and we want to help people use technology and tools to do great things.”
2. Does involvement in Hack Days have an impact on the further development of your products and services?
“Absolutely. Listening to the needs of the community – from developers and students, to startups and enterprise — is a critical part of our product development and feedback process. We take feedback into product teams and requirements are prioritized on a regular basis. The Microsoft Azure cloud platform was built with openness in mind, and the cross platform editing capabilities we’ve built with Visual Studio Code are both great examples of how we have evolved our platform to support the needs of people who build software and services.”
3. What are your own internal approaches to Innovation?
[MT] “Microsoft definitely believes in the ‘hack’ approach to innovation and you’d see this in our ‘OneWeek’ initiative which happens each year and includes a global, company-wide hackathon across all roles. This isn’t the only time that the company hacks in the course of a year but it’s certainly one of the biggest hacks that we know of, and employees are encouraged to take some of the biggest code-bases out there and like Windows/Office/Bing and push them in new directions. We’re also involved in tonnes of hacks in the developer communities worldwide each year. We like to hack!”
4. What role can mobile developers play in both the future of the mobile industry, and emerging industries such as IoT and wearables?
[MT] “Mobile developers are key for helping to develop and evolve IoT and wearables. Firstly, mobile developers are very used to running in environments where you’re running code directly on a device that may have limited hardware or a security-sandboxed app model. They’re also used to reaching out across networks from their mobile apps to access remote data services. They’re thinking about the identity that needs to flow to those services and the management that needs to be done around mobile devices and apps. At Microsoft, you could say that we implicitly recognise this by having a Universal platform that runs mobile devices but also IoT devices so in that sense a mobile developer *is* an IoT developer.”
5. Do you have a view on where the next big opportunities will lie for developers?
[MT] “Everywhere. For the longest time we’ve said that the ‘world runs on software’ and that’s accelerating. We see opportunities in providing a user with an experience that is tailored to them, their device and their current context, is increasingly personal and intelligent and which is available to them everywhere. That implies opportunities everywhere from devices to cloud-based intelligence. There’s never been a lower barrier to entry to building on today’s devices + cloud to make a business that can scale from 1 user to 1 billion users. It’s an amazing time to be a developer.”
[LS] “We also see the next big opportunities coming from Data Insights. All organisation are now looking at ways in which they can speed up the access and time to analyse all types of data. Data is key for organisations to make better decisions, and they can do this faster now thanks to the cloud and services from machine learning analyse the data . Tools like Office Delve are a perfect example of the Office and Data opportunity. Office Delve surfaces personalised content to you from across a user’s Office usage. With the Office Graph, Delve brings you information based on what you and what you are working on, who you’re working with.”
6. Tell us about some of your own new products and / or services that you are excited about.
[MT]. “We’re seeing a lot of innovation around making computing more personal. We see this in seemingly simple ways in that we can increasingly talk to our devices via technologies like Cortana. We can log into our devices securely using facial recognition with technologies like ‘Windows Hello’ and cameras like Intel’s RealSense which also allows us to take detailed control of our devices through (e.g.) hand based gestures. Then we see some of those technologies moving to the next level through a device like the HoloLens which combines gesture, gaze, speech with augmented reality 3D output. It’s hard not to be excited about those kinds of devices and where we’re going as an industry.”
7. How would you like to invite the attendees of Over the Air to get involved with your organisation?
We invite attendees to join the talks and workshop sessions to learn more and are happy to help support projects of developers and makers:
Startups that are building for IoT and Data can apply until 30th Sept for our IoT & Data Innovation Programme to get $120k free Azure cloud, plus tech advisory and more at http://aka.ms/iotdatainnovation
Phil, malady Marysia and I from MediaTek Labs can’t wait for Over the Air at the end of this week – it’s our first time at the show and we are looking forward to meeting you all. MediaTek Labs is a free online community of IoT developers and device makers found at labs.mediatek.com. MediaTek Labs is the home of MediaTek LinkIt™, price some of the world’s best connected platforms for Wearable and IoT devices. With our development tools you can create devices that can connect to other devices or directly to cloud applications and services. The LinkIt platforms consist of Software Development Kits (SDKs), Hardware Development Kits (HDKs) and related technical documentation.
We have a session on Friday afternoon at 5pm – Build your own IoT and Wearable device with a development board from MediaTek Labs – where you can learn all about MediaTek LinkIt™ ONE, the development platform that enables developers to create Wearables and IoT proofs-of-concept with the simplicity of the Arduino IDE and Seeed Studio Grove peripherals.
At the end of the session we will have some LinkIt ONE boards for you to borrow for the 2 days so get hacking and enter the Best Hardware IoT hack – there are 5 LinkIt ONE boards for the winning team.
We had the honour of speaking with a number of women with technology-related careers at the BBC about their career paths, and what they are excited about in their current roles.
Here’s what they had to say:
The Podcast Interviewees:
Lesley Mearns is a Programmes Business Analyst at the BBC, which is a Business role; Lia Vipulananthan is an Operations Shift Leader in the 24×7 Team and has 14 years experience supporting all the BBC digital content; and Rosie Campbell is a Technologist in the the R&D North Lab & North UX Research Group.
Rosie is working on the intersection of TV and games – with iPlayer, broadcasting can become interactive – what new kinds of experiences can we create that mix BBC storytelling with real-time rendering? She also recently worked on Smart Wallpaper, where she made an immersive ‘hide and seek’ game and accompanying android app. CBeebies characters hide on the walls, and children use their phone’s camera to ‘detect’ (seek) them.
Women in Technology at the BBC
Interview with Carrie Hall, Software Engineer in the TV & Mobile Platforms – Radio & Music Group.
I’m Carrie Hall. I’m 27, I’ve been at the BBC for two and a half years and I work as a software engineer on the iPlayer Radio mobile application for Android and iOS.
How did you first get interested in a career in technology?
I played a lot of computer games when I was younger, and my older brother was into technology so we had a desktop computer and a few consoles which I used to use. I made my first website when I was about 14, in HTML, and attempted to make a few flash games. However at school I preferred other subjects such as English, but still did Computing as an A level and it was when it came time to choose my degree that I decided to follow a career in technology, as there was a lot of interest at the time in websites and web applications, which is where I saw myself working.
What was your career path to this role, and did you have role models & mentors along the way?
I studied IT at GSCE, then Computing at A Level. My degree was Internet Computing at the University of Manchester, which at the time was mostly Computer Science but with some extra modules in web technologies. I spent one year in industry between my second and final year, where I was working as a software engineer. At this point I was mostly a Java and web developer, then I learned Android to complete my third year project and really enjoyed it. After Uni I took some time out to travel then worked as an Android engineer for a year before getting my current role at the BBC. My biggest role model is probably my older brother, he’s always been excited by learning new things, whether that’s technology or otherwise, and it’s very infectious. He’s always pushed me in my career and encouraged me when I’ve been unsure about my own skills.
What do you find exciting about your current role, and how do you strike your own work / life balance?
At the BBC there is a real focus around building apps that people love, rather than churning out apps to make money. I love working on the same product and seeing it constantly improve as we add new features. We also have the benefit of being able to reach a massive amount of users which really pushes you to make sure that what you’re doing is right and is going to work across all devices, which on Android can be challenging at times. At the moment, striking a work/life balance is fairly easy as I don’t have to take my work home with me, however as a software engineer I do work on my own projects at home to refresh my skills and learn new technologies.
Extended Interview with Lia Vipulananthan, Operations Shift Leader in the 24×7 Team
Questions asked by members of the Ada’s Community
How did you first get interested in a career in technology?
I was the person in our household who took apart the broken VHS recorder and put it back together having four extra screws left over. My father was a Chemistry and Biology teacher, my mother a nurse so our household was always more science than arts based.
A chance encounter with a BBC Micro brought home for the summer holidays by my father from his school prompted a lifelong obsession with fixing broken things and finding ways to make things run smoother.
What was your career path to this role, and did you have role models & mentors along the way?
Material Engineering at Uni to a computer sales job to a Helpdesk role to Operations with a good helping of fixing other peoples broken computers. My role model was Sarah, my first boss here at the BBC who hugged me my first day and said thank you, there’s now another woman on the team. She encouraged me to look for roles outside of my team, mentored and counselled me on how to further my career and explained the mistakes she had made in order that I could learn from them. Also my father encouraged me to do the best that I could and to takes risks and above all keep learning.
What do you find exciting about your current role, and how do you strike your own work / life balance?
In my current role I have a chance to be proactive and fix things before they break rather than the opposite and be reactively fixing issues. BBC Digital has over 800 products and talking to the programmers and architects always makes me reason how wonderfully creative the teams are.
My concession to a work / life balance is that I do not take my mobile to the bedroom and spend times doing hobbies that do not require a power outlet such as crocheting and cycling, reading and diving. If I am anywhere near a computer or phone, I end up checking work email and answering them and retrying to resolve issues when I should be switched off from work.
What changes would you make to your current job to enable a better work/life balance?
Not look at phone for the days I am not on call
Did you encounter problems returning to work following having children/maternity leave in terms of work/life balance, childcare, flexibility.
I cannot answer for myself but I do know people when I first started at the BBC who encountered issues, however now the managers and departments are much more flexible. I believe the ubiquitousness of broadband is the main reason, when I started they were still putting in ISDN lines for the work from home staff. Now there are not enough seats in the building for all the staff with the assumption of many people will work to work from home. Also the BBC have made it much easier to use your own equipment to work with use of certificates for whitelist access and use of mobile messaging apps such as Good to receive work emails.
Were you happy returning to the same role or would you have preferred to have returned to something less demanding on your brain/body/time (I hope that doesn’t appear patronising – I ask because a number of female developers I’ve spoken to have told me that they would prefer something simpler/less technical and/or more creative following maternity leave).
I cannot answer for myself, two of the ladies I have worked with who went on maternity leave, came back to less demanding roles and were quite frankly over qualified for the roles they settled into. However both needed the freedom to not have to worry about work and not have too much of a demand on their time and brain. The other lady went on to manage large project and do very well for herself. It is a balance and I think your partners support matters the most.
For the two ladies who downgraded their jobs, they were not supported in childcare or household chores from their partner so had to take on the full responsibility on top of a normal workload (both husbands expected their dinner on the table when they got in despites the ladies working a full day’s work and taking the children to and from nursery / school).
For the lady who did not let having children make a difference to her role, her husband was both very supportive and understanding of his wife’s job and the fact that he needed to step in and should his share of the chores.
Did you feel worried about returning to work due to the speed technology evolves and your skills being out of date?
I cannot answer for myself but I know a lot of the ladies used to feel this way. Staying in regular touch with your manager and colleagues, coming in to show off the new offspring keeps you in touch with your team and they never need an excuse to keep you updated with what is happening and allowed you to assess what is going on.
How long did you take off after having children before returning to work, was that influenced by work and would you have preferred it to be longer/shorter?
I cannot answer for myself but most ladies I have worked with wanted to come back later (longer than a year) but felt pressured to come back to keep their job.
What’s the hardest problem you ever solved in this role?
People. One was a shift partner that was utterly useless and did no work. A second was someone I could see within a month had the ability but no work ethic. In both cases, I was too scared to put a formal complaint into my boss. In the end, both people were sacked from the team on the basis of other peoples complaints (from outside the team).
What’s a mistake you made in this role, and how did you overcome it?
Not being more forceful and standing up for myself specifically letting someone else take credit for my ideas and being too timid to demand recognition from the department.
Is there scope within their role to initiate projects? Are they creatively fulfilled at the BBC?
Yes and yes but its knowing the right people. If you network and talk to people and ask them what you are working on, you find out about all these amazing things we do at the BBC. But it is not communicated out very well. There are initiatives to promote this within teams such as 10% time.
You can use 10% of your time to work on your ideas – anything goes as long as it has something to do with our work. More details on the BBC Blog here
Do you feel you are recognised for what you do on an equal footing? Can your voice be heard?
Yes and yes but you have to be forceful and project your voice in the room full of men and large personalities. You have to be concise and knowledgeable and above all be practiced in asking for the recognition.
What do you think is the number one top most important skill for your role, and what are the things that you do to keep learning it and getting better at it?
What do you perceive as being the biggest barrier for women entering the tech industry and what are your ideas to overcome these?’
Ourselves. My physics teach told me I would fail Physics because girls generally do. I believed him rather than myself. Spend time talking to other women about their experiences and you will see a common thread in all their stories.