While the term ‘thought leader’ might sound like another corporate buzzword, it’s actually a way of saying a person is an influencer in their field – someone who has a large amount of expertise in an industry, and is able to use this to offer guidance and inspire innovation in the workplace.
We talk to three pioneers in different fields of the tech industry to discover how they draw on the past, analyse the present and look to the future to set the pace for their respective fields.
Dr Andrew Lucas is the founder of Agent Oriented Software or AOS, a pioneering company when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) applied to global industries, including IT, telecommunications, aviation, robotics and defence.
From age six, I knew I wanted to design aeroplanes. I went to the UK and did my PhD in aero-engineering at the University of Cambridge, before going on to work for Rolls-Royce. I was deeply frustrated at the time, because I wanted Australia to have a manufacturing industry as advanced as that in the UK.
I’d been working on a revolutionary robotics project, and thought I could start using my skills in robotics and software to start my own company, the Preston Group, before moving to join the Australian Artificial Intelligence Institute.
Because it felt like I was doing a lot of research and development but not actually making anything, I set up AOS in 1997. I probably started the business 10 to 15 years before the industry here was ready for it, but having a passionate and talented team experimenting on projects meant we were able to get to where we are today.
I was well aware when I started AOS that you can go broke being an evangelist. You can’t convert the market – you have to wait for the market to catch up.
Along the way, I’ve always told my team that my top priority is for them – us – to be working on interesting things that shape the world. At the moment, that’s technology that is an emulation of human rational reasoning, plus we have research collaborations with RMIT, the University of Melbourne, QUT, the University of New England and the University of Sydney. We sponsor PhDs, and work a lot with private industry as well.
All this means AOS’s team is right at the forefront of software concepts. That’s exciting. Giving my team the freedom to experiment and do things they would never have the chance to do anywhere else, while also seeing this experimentation have real-life applications and implications, is the true value of this job.
It’s a bit of a mix between working autonomously and collaboratively. I feel like I am the translator, if you like, between our clients and my software engineers. I have the bigger-picture thoughts and disseminate where and when I need to, which leaves my staff free to come up with the amazing, company-changing ideas.
Aryel Pyliotis is a technical director in environmental impact assessment at GHD, a global professional services company that provides engineering and architectural consultancy for major projects that have an impact on the Australian environment.
I’m a project director on environmental-impact assessment projects, which means I manage major infrastructure projects around Australia, like the multi-million-dollar Inland Rail Narromine to Narrabri project.
Multiple specialists in the industry, such as ecologists and hydrologists, write complex reports on the impact of various aspects of each project. My team then translates these reports from tech talk into plain English, so that the community understands. Essentially, we’re bridging the gap between people who are very tech minded and those who are not.
I manage a team of 12 people, most of whom are female, which is rare in this industry. As a leader, I find the best way to develop rapport and confidence is to be vulnerable with my team – to share my own experiences and make sure those I work with know they can contact me at any time.
Above all this, I offer my team freedom to come up with unique solutions, which is not always easy in an industry where we have very set ways of doing things. It’s about assuring people that their ideas will not just be heard, but will contribute to – and have an impact on – the future of the company and industry. When people believe their thoughts and ideas are lost in a vortex, there’s no inspiration to keep achieving.
[H3] What’s One of Your Proudest Achievements?
My team’s contribution to and use of digital environmental impact assessment systems. For example, with the Sydney Gateway project that we were involved in, you can go online as a resident and see everything from expected noise impacts to changes in flora in specific regions. It’s a huge tech innovation because it communicates very complex ideas into something relatable.
It has taken us the past five years to take very big documents that aren’t user-friendly or easy to understand, then start to make them simpler. We’ve really had to fast-forward the way we use technology to communicate things better to people, because they demand it and want to understand what the impacts are. It needs to be more transparent and visible.
I have to show my team that what they are doing is changing the way the community looks at large government and private industry projects; that they are doing something now that will shape the future. When you feel valued and that you are making a tangible difference, you step up to make an even bigger difference. It’s a win-win.
Angie Kelly is the content marketing manager for The Lighthouse, a portal created for Sydney’s Macquarie Universityto bring research to life – and make it accessible – in a fast-paced, newsroom-type environment.
I have a newspaper and print journalism background, and never imagined I would be working in the tech industry. But I was given a clean slate to use my writing background to create The Lighthouse. There were no rules, and nothing to stop me from doing exactly what I wanted to do when creating this platform. It essentially translates all the amazing stories Macquarie University has into understandable bites that your average person wants to know.
We’re simplifying often very complex content into easily digestible concepts. It’s like we’re the middle person between research expertise and the public. We translate exciting research news into stories where people can see how complex things can have a real-world impact on day-to-day life then present it on a platform that anyone around the world can access. Because while we can create great stories, it’s not going to help anyone if they don’t know those stories exist.
At the start of my role, I had to get up behind a lectern in front of a room of economists or scientists much smarter than me and convince them to give their time to me and take a risk. I had to convince them that making them more accessible was of huge value to the university, as well as them. But it has paid off.
I began with the most supportive tech team of software trainers, CMS providers and designers. Together we created a brand independent to, but complementary of, Macquarie University, through technology and storytelling.
I feel like my biggest role now is empowering employees to make our tech offerings more user friendly. We know how to increase traffic, and get great user insights from Google Analytics. We’re on a mission to maximise this.
The real team inspiration and excitement comes from seeing how big our reach is, and the difference we’re making in people's lives. I constantly remind myself and those I work with how far we’ve come in such a short period of time, how we’re making an impact now, and how this will shape people’s futures.
It was a happy day when we hit one million page views. Now we are way beyond that. Media uses us as a key source of finding experts now, and we have a massive archive of experts at the ready to explain things that pop up in the news every day. So when the breakfast show producer rings up at 6am desperate for some advice on a topic, I can direct them straight to the right person.
It's really, really valuable for the experts’ profiles, as well as our reputation as a research centre and a source of great news. Because we’re not just reactive, but proactive too. We know what news is coming, and how we can divulge the details for maximum readership.
When my team sees our stories out there making a difference in the world… Well, that’s all the inspiration we need to keep going.