Today is Ada Lovelace Day. Here’s a conversation with Dr Sophie Kain, a modern great woman in technology. My conversation with Sophie grew long, so I’ve divided it into two parts: one for morning coffee and one to enjoy with afternoon tea.
Prior Kain Ltd is Sophie’s director. This company provides technologies to overcome significant communication and information handling issues by providing information management and communication solutions. Part one:
Please tell us about your role as Prior Kain’s director.
Prior Kain is a small business so my role as director includes everything from managing day-to-day operations to delivering programmes and developing the company for the future. As we currently work with project-based subcontractors, I am responsible for everything in the core company. This includes making coffee, filling out VAT returns, and writing bids for future projects. With a view to acquiring more random research businesses, I am also setting up PKG Technologies, a joint venture business in innovation and research.
To differentiate ourselves from other government suppliers, we have several key business drivers:
We are not tied to any proprietary systems, so we can tailor our solutions to meet the needs of each customer (a rare thing in larger MoD suppliers). );
We use an iterative development approach to adapt our systems to customer needs.
We build strategic partnerships, but we are not tied to any third party agreements. Therefore, we can remain technology agnostic.
We create virtual teams to keep overheads low and provide cost-effective solutions.
We use open standards and open-source software to provide flexible, extensible and cost-effective solutions for technology needs.
Your current role is very different from that of a quantum physicist. How did you get to where you are now?
I have been able to manage my own business because of several factors. First, I will admit that I am not a natural born researcher. I felt that academic research was essentially taking small steps in a large area, and frankly, the institutional nature of Universities wasn’t for me. I decided to go into industry instead.
Thales Research noticed that I preferred to lead than program and placed me in charge of an information management project and exploitation project. (Incidentally, in large companies leadership and management are often misunderstood – I think I am great at the former but not the latter! I took the initiative to create a pan-European lab at Cognitive Systems, and was eventually given the responsibility of the University of Surrey laboratory for Remote Collaboration Systems. As is the case with these things, after establishing that there were no customers for our pursuits I made my position untenable and highlighted this, which was a particularly unpolitical (very likely the best thing to have happened to me).
General Dynamics United Kingdom Ltd was my second job. I managed an information management project, and was also Exploitation Lead for Data Information Fusion Defence Technology Centre. This second job was very interesting because it was clear that there was a huge gap between what the academics at the Centre spoke and what the end customers wanted. I was then convinced that a business was needed to bridge this gap. It became clear that conducting research in large companies can be difficult due to the complexity of policy and processes required to “try” everything.
I was a contestant on The Apprentice, a UK TV series. I learned many things.