David is Immense’s Operations manager as well as a volunteer for the British Heart Foundation and a keen, but somewhat lapsed, fisherman.
Tell us a bit about what you do at Immense?
I’m the Technical Operations Manager. Currently I’m developing our company processes for the corporate Quality Management System (QMS). I’ve got a long history of technical and leadership roles in the software industry at the boundaries of software, simulation and engineering. I’m trying to use that experience within an Immense context to ensure that we focus on all the essential processes for any software development company. We need to ensure that our start-up doesn’t go off the rails because we’ve forgotten what we’ve done because we have no processes or records.
What would you say is the most difficult part of the job?
I think the most difficult part of it is trying to keep up with all the spinning plates. Its tremendous fun what we do! We have a good-sized team now: there were 12 when I joined and now it’s 22 so it’s grown quickly. Exciting stuff! Most folks are quite young relative to me, so things go on at a tremendous whack. Just keeping abreast of all the different activities can be a challenge.
Because of my experience I also get asked a lot of stuff about a lot of different things. Sometimes it can be technical, commercial, or even operational. In the Immense context, I’m a jack of all trades. I can have a go at most things and not make a complete fist of it. One day I could be working on bidding activities, then another day I could be fixing part of the electricity systems, making sure there is power to tables and so on. There is a rich list of things to do, it’s really good fun!
So, the diversity of stuff and flitting between them all.
What is the most rewarding part of the job?
The most enjoyable part is working with a young enthusiastic team. We all get on with each other we’re all keen to work with each other, with the company for the company. It’s a pleasure to come to work not a challenge. It’s a great place to work with a good buzz to it!
How did you find out about Immense and become involved in the company?
A head-hunter contacted me, I had been discussing something with him months earlier. Something I said struck a chord with him and he knew Immense was looking for someone to fill this sort of role. I came along and met Robin, Carl, Didac, Gary and Pau. What I liked about the company was the commitment the founders were showing to the company. I thought it was impressive that they were thinking about the culture of the organisation. From all the work I’ve done along the way, I believed culture is the single most important asset a company can have – possibly even more important than money (but not cash).
I thought it was an interesting idea, near the start of something; I had no idea how it would pan out or if it would. In some ways it was a risk but one I thought was worth taking at the time. I think if it wasn’t for the passion of the founders, I might not have gone for it.
What did you want to do when you were younger?
The strongest memory that I have is aged about 7 when I wanted a chemistry set. I so wanted a chemistry set! I heard about people who were Doctors of Science and I thought well I want to be one of those! That set the long-term goal maybe. Luckily Science and Maths has always been something I enjoyed at school. They were called O levels then not GCSE’s. That’s how old I am!
I came across Chemical Engineering, which is not surprising because the local industry was mainly Chemical Engineering. I studied it at Imperial, Chemical Engineering enabled me to be a jack of all trades, master of none … well, not completely true !
What’s been your biggest career achievement?
My biggest career achievement (in some senses) is having a career. For a long time, I was a single parent and holding down a good job too. Really my biggest achievement was bringing up my sons: they’ve all gone to good universities, got very good degrees, and great jobs. Giving them a secure start is the most important thing I’ve done!
Then I’m very lucky that I’ve enjoyed doing some really interesting things to do at work!
One of the best was: I spent three, four years working with BP and developing what is now called a flow assurance simulator. I worked with a team of people to develop a system which was deployed by BP around the world. They needed to simulate well systems from the sand-face (bottom of the well) up a tubing riser and through a converging pipeline to off-shore or on-shore facilities. We developed software for it which was used by flow assurance specialists (before they were called that) through BP Exploration. I figured out a way to deliver it from the UK to the rest of the world (Aberdeen, Paris, Amsterdam, New Orleans, Anchorage, Australia and the Middle East) without leaving the office and I did that before the internet was invented!
You come from an Engineering background, what advice would you give to those looking to get into Engineering?
The most important thing is to enjoy what you’re doing. Do things like Maths and Science and try and do those things as well as you can! I think its important to learn to collaborate and work in teams. At University when you get group projects learn to work with others. Presenting is a key skill too! Most of all: your profession shouldn’t be a chore. If it is, I would say (in as friendly a way as possible) find another job. If you’re passionate about something, then follow it!
What do you think the future of mobility looks like?
I have no idea in some respects!
There are lots of things on trial, lots of ideas, lots of things in proof of concept stages. Oil and fossil fuels will inevitably run out. The way we consume it is not good! Part of making things sustainable is moving to renewable energy sources. That would enable us to drive things like electric vehicles. I think in 40 years times most vehicles will be electric.
I think with autonomous vehicles will have an increasing role though I’m not sure what that will be. People still enjoy driving cars. I can’t believe everyone will just give up! There are challenges to overcome because there are trust issues with abdicating responsibility to automatic systems. Whilst on the ground, where autonomous vehicles are following tracks and pre-defined routes, we can accept that, but free moving vehicles is a harder thing to sell. We see some evidence of how automatic systems are accepted in airlines, where planes are largely automatic. We still need pilots for customer reassurance and the odd occasion where things go wrong and intuition is required.
Do you think trust is one of the biggest challenges facing the mobility industry then?
I think that’s one of the biggest challenges. One of the things we do at Immense is helping to develop confidence that the systems work and can be used and can potentially replace some of the manually driven vehicles. There is a bigger world out there and we just form part of that world. If our predictions said it makes eminent great sense to adopt automatic vehicles there would still be issues of trust to overcome. It affects the rate of adoption, I believe! But I don’t think it will stop because the way we are consuming resources makes the transition an inevitable one. We are sort of at the beginning and still have a long way to go.
When you’re not working what are your hobbies and interests?
I like going to the cinema, for meals out with friends, exploring things, travelling. I’ve been to quite a lot of countries, its nice to go on holiday and collect a new country. And my family they remain the most important thing, I’ve got two grandchildren now!
And tell me about your work with the British Heart Foundation?
I had the misfortune to have a heart event 12 years ago. It made me realise how fragile our hold on the world is. I was very lucky that because of advances in medicine and science I got the necessary treatment in a timely way which meant the problem I had was managed and I got better and continue to be well. I believe that we all owe a duty of care to each other and, especially if we’ve been beneficiaries of such good fortune, we have an obligation to help people less fortunate than ourselves. Given my background in science and technology I’m particularly pleased to help the British Heart Foundation. The main thing I do is take part in a patient advisory group where we help the British Heart Foundation decide how to fund clinical studies. Between 6-12 of us comment on approximately £25,000,000 of research proposals every year and try to indicate how they might be received by patients affected by various conditions. It’s surprising how often doctors forget that they are treating people. The BHF work allows me to do something enjoyable and feel like I am giving something back to people.
If you were stuck on desert island and could take three things with you what would they be?
Is it too cheeky to ask for a whole fishing kit? Honestly something like a beach caster, a reel and about 150 grams of lead, a hook and a knife and I’m sorted. I will not run out of food I can assure you!
Can you take your partner?
Do you know you’re the first person to ask that question… yes!
Ok I would take my partner, we could have some quiet time and enjoy each other’s company without the hassles of the rest of the world and we wouldn’t have to dust so we can live in an idyllic environment!
And maybe some sort of knife, maybe a machete, something that you could use to construct something! Oh, and cut down coconuts and fruit as my partner is vegan so won’t be too happy about the fish.
With a machete and a fishing kit I think that’s a good start, and my partner will keep me sane!
You can find out more about Immense and our other team members here.