Alison Brown

Alison Brown has spent more than 25 years working in computing, specialising in networks. She joined Teesside University in 2000 as a lecturer in computing science and is now assistant dean of recruitment and partnerships.

Past

In the early part of my career I was programming using the C language. Much of the industry was mainframe-based but we used PCs for our development work. The hand-held computer that we used had to be intrinsically safe and, at the time, there was only one on the market – a device designed for use in mines. Mobile devices were a thing of the future! Memory and disc capacity were also so low that everything had to be designed and coded to be really efficient. User interface design was almost non-existent and with the device offering just four lines of 28 characters, it required a lot of scrolling.

I started working in networks in 1995 as a technician at Teesside Polytechnic. At the time, we were using a bus network with thick Ethernet. I have worked in networks ever since, either installing and managing them or teaching networks to undergraduates and postgraduates. The field of networks has transformed in my time in the industry; speeds and performance that were unimaginable in business networks are now delivered to many homes.

Present

The dependency on computing has increased beyond recognition since 25 years ago. Mobile devices have transformed the way we access systems, the internet and data. Not surprisingly, development has matched this with the huge growth in social media, as well as contributing to efficiencies in business and industry. The networks that underpin this are incredibly fast and users now expect an immediate response. I heard recently that the ‘Z-generation’ has an eight-second attention span for responses on their mobile devices.

The growth of data and the need for access have developed so rapidly that networks have had to evolve to accommodate the huge data sets that we rely on.

On another level, the development of the skill-set to support these changes has lagged and there is now a global shortage of data scientists predicted over the coming years.

Similarly, computer security has been hitting the headlines for years, and is a problem that organisations are constantly grappling with. Changes in technology and its uses have presented new risks and weaknesses.

Future

Security will continue to be an issue as the continued development and use of technology will open new vulnerabilities. The demand for staff that can address these threats will continue to grow over the coming years.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been with us for a while, but it is now capturing everyone’s imagination with profile developments like driverless cars and AlphaGo [the computer programme developed by Google Deepmind to play the ancient Chinese board game Go – considered more complex than chess] profiled in the media demonstrating what can be achieved.

Virtual Reality is the other major headline grabber at the moment, with affordable devices just hitting the market, and I believe there is much more to come.

Over all, the industry is becoming more specialised and employers are looking for experts with specific skill-sets – one good example is that in the past, the computer scientist would be the go-to person for computing roles. While that is often still the case, this field is exploding into a range of specialisms including data scientists, security analysts and network analysts.

Computing is still one of the most exciting and rapidly changing fields in the modern world. There are some areas that still need addressing, such as the digital divide, but providing we continue to adapt and explore the opportunities that computing offers, who knows what the next 25 years will bring?

Timeline

1990 – Appointed as software developer and team leader for Morgan Moore Engineering Ltd, after completing a masters degree in computing at Teesside Polytechnic (now Teesside University).

1995 – Became senior UNIX technician at Teesside Polytechnic

1996 – Left Teesside Polytechnic to be network manager at Hambleton District Council, where she helped install the first network in the council offices and became responsible for all IT services.

2000 – Joined Teesside University as a lecturer in Computer Science (specialising in Networks).

2011 – Appointed senior lecturer

2014 – Appointed assistant dean (recruitment and partnerships)

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