Sometimes we forget the humans behind the tech in our ever busy world. DSF is fortunate enough to know some incredible tech leaders across the world and has the privilege of hearing them present at our events. That being said, our Speaker Spotlight sets the stage to get to know our speakers on a more personal level and connect them with our growing community. Read the mini interview below!

A bit about Daniel

My name is Daniel Harrington and I am a Senior Data Consultant working for Mesh-AI, a data-first consultancy which specialises in Data Mesh principles and enabling AI capabilities for businesses. I have been in the industry for around 4 years, starting life as a consultant at Kubrick Group before joining Mars Petcare, and now Mesh-AI. I am a technology enthusiast and love learning about the latest developments both within the data industry and outside – in particular, I am very interested in Blockchain technology and how it will impact the Data industry in the coming decades.

Outside of work, you can often find me with my nose in a book, playing rugby or cooking up a culinary storm in the kitchen (or attempting to at least)!

How did you start out in your tech career?

My path to Data started at university where I undertook a Computational Intelligence course at university which gave me an insight into the world of data and machine learning. I immediately fell in love with both the process of building software as well as witnessing how we can gain valuable insights from large data sets. I realised that the part of the process I enjoyed the most was, however, building software and products around the data rather than the statistics and ML. My first data-based project was my final year University project in which I developed a device to determine the optimal location for house plants which used environmental sensors to collect the data and send it to cloud storage. Reading from the cloud storage, I could then analyse this data in real-time to give live updates on the suitability of the plant’s environment using Fuzzy Logic algorithms. This was a great opportunity to dive into python development, data parsing and API interaction which led to my wanting to pursue a career in the industry.

What are the signs of success in your field?

I think that success is a very personal metric as people have different motivations in business and life and it’s important that you measure yourself against your own goals rather than aspiring to be like someone else. That being said I think the signs of a successful and motivated engineer would be:

– A creative and disruptive mindset – whilst data engineering is possibly the most boring job title out there, it can be a very creative subject and engineers that love to get together and generate unconventional solutions to unique problems are often the best to work with. Challenging the status quo is important in such a dynamic industry and there are always plenty of opportunities to do things differently to achieve greater success.

– An obsession with learning – it is important that in an industry that is constantly evolving, engineers are open to learning and trying new things. By constantly moving forward and being open to new ideas it is easier to stay ahead of the curve and generate more value as a disruptor.

– Honesty and humility – knowing your limitations and being open about this will always get you further than trying to pretend you are someone you are not. Engineering is always a collaborative effort so being honest with your team members will always help achieve joint success.

What is the best and worst thing about your job role?

The best things about being a Senior Engineer are being technically responsible for a range of different projects simultaneously and being involved at all stages of the development lifecycle. As someone that loves the development side of the role, being able to be technically involved at all stages of a project is exciting and challenges you in several different ways. I think the main challenge is being able to scale your thinking based on scope. This means being able to design functional code within a library for example, but also being able to fully architect solutions and define how components will operate in the context of wider platform infrastructure – if you can knit all of this together then it can very satisfying when it all works!

The worst thing about the role is probably when you realise that an exciting idea you have has no business value. It is so easy to get sucked into the dream of building a technologically advanced solution without considering the value added, but this is why it is important to have diverse data teams that keep the developers grounded and aligned with the wider business goals.

What can you advise someone just starting out to be successful?

I would advise them to be brave. It is scary diving head first into new problems or putting your hand up for opportunities outside of your comfort zone, but this is where you will gain the most experience and most satisfaction when you are successful. We all know what it’s like to do a mundane task that is well within your capabilities, but conversely, the limbic friction you get from starting a difficult new task is how you will get the most enjoyment out of your work.

How do you switch off?

I like to switch off by getting exercise whether that be at the gym or playing sports; I especially like working out at lunch as I find it energises me for the rest of the working day. Outside of that, I try to perform daily mindfulness practices to help ground me and mitigate the stresses of daily life.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I actually would not give any advice to my younger self! I cut my path and made plenty of mistakes along the way, but has led me to a career and life in which I’m very content so wouldn’t want to mess that up!

What is next for you?

I am looking to continue to grow and increase my range across new topics in the industry, but aside from that I have no concrete long-term plans. I have thus far definitely leant more down the technical side of the role, but it would be fun to lead a team one day. I am happy to just develop organically and see where it takes me!

If you could do anything now, what would you do? Why?

If I could do anything I would love to get involved in some of the cutting-edge AI projects being developed currently like DALLE-2 & ChatGPT – I think these applications of AI (actually AI not ML!) are so intriguing and the philosophical, moral and technological question their development raises will be the most important in human history, so being involved first hand would be the opportunity of a lifetime.

What are your top 5 predictions in tech for the next 5 years?

1. Movement away from monolithic data architectures to a more distributed model – the cloud environment is so dynamic and with proper design, the barriers to having a distributed data platform are getting lower and lower. This will break silos and allow companies to make better-informed decisions using data across different areas within their business.

2. AI-enhanced development – as ChatGPT can outdo any human developer, so augmenting your code with AI will become commonplace leading to faster development and lower lead times on projects.

3. Model Validation will become more important – as models become more and more complex with a greater downstream impact, the need to ensure that they are properly validated will become critical to ensure fairness, avoiding bias and ensuring robustness. Companies like Trubrics and CausalLens are helping with model validation and creating explainable AI which will assist with these common issues.

4. The Data Arms Race will become critical for business success – as data becomes a fundamental capability that more and more companies have, a lack of data literacy will expose even well-established companies leaving them behind.

5. Generally available Quantum Compute in the cloud – (possibly closer to 10 years than 5) I see at some point soon being able to spin up a Quantum VM for general use which is quite terrifying as the power that opens up will change the tech industry as we know it.

Thank you to all our wonderful speakers for taking part in our Speaker Spotlight!

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