Gridcognition recently hired a new Senior Data Scientist. Joe Wyndham has joined us from University of Technology in Sydney where he is currently completing his PhD in Sustainable Futures (Digital Grid Transformation). At Gridcognition, he has been busy working on our core simulation and optimisation technology.
As you will discover in the interview, Joe shares an interesting story about how he got interested in wind turbines, and luckily for us, he’s been able to apply that passion to build our new wind generation model. (Stay tuned for a separate announcement on that!)
But when Joe’s not writing complex code or thinking about models of reality, as all data scientists are inclined to do, he loves spending time with his young family, and riding his motorbike.
Here’s the interview with Joe.
What got you interested in the energy space?
When I was studying civil engineering I did an exchange semester in Spain. They have a lot of wind turbines, and right next to the city that I lived in, there was this lovely ridge. My wife and I would walk up and down that ridge and there were these huge turbines that I got wondering about. I was about to finish my engineering degree, and I then realised I didn’t have the right degree behind me to study them. So I ended up doing my Masters at UNSW of Renewable Energy Engineering.
What attracted you to working with Gridcognition?
Gridcognition is the company that I’d been thinking about building for the last three years. When I discovered they had beaten me to it (and done a pretty damn good job), I thought, well if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. I looked on their website and I loved the way the problem was described and what they were trying to solve. It blew my mind that someone had put all of that together. When I applied for the job I thought, even if I don’t get it I can still use the software in my existing role. So I scheduled a chat with Gridcog’s CEO, Fabian, and it was the first time I’d spoken to someone who understood all the energy modelling stuff that I’m really passionate about.
What is data science?
Data science is all about representing the real world with models that let us ask useful questions. More generally, I like to think in terms of a hierarchy of knowledge called the data-information-knowledge-wisdom pyramid (DIKW). We transform data into information using abstract models. And then we derive knowledge by interrogating those information models with useful questions. For example, you might ask something like, “what factor has the biggest impact on the value of a solar system?”. Once you’ve answered questions like that, what do you do with the knowledge you’ve generated? That’s where wisdom comes in. It’s all about making good decisions based on what you think you know.
What have you been working on so far?
I’ve been writing validation services for the inputs for the front end team. Part of having reliable, robust results is making sure the inputs make sense. Other than that, I have developed the back end of the new wind generation model. It’s an interesting design question, trying to cover all of the different use cases – some users know a lot about wind generation, but others might be thinking about wind generation for the first time. The other thing I’ve been working on is the scalability of the software. As the business grows it is important that we maintain quality regardless of how many users we have.
What is the best and worst part of being in a remote team?
The best part is the flexibility in terms of Gridcognition allowing me to set myself up at home in the way that suits a software developer. The worst part is not getting instant feedback from colleagues. It’s just so much easier when it’s face to face so you can gauge people’s reactions – whether they’re happy or not happy. And the social aspect of work is really important – it can feel a little bit isolating at home.
Who (outside of Gridcognition) inspires you from a work perspective?
I have been supervising students at the University of Technology Sydney who are doing their engineering capstone projects (which is a thesis they write at the end of their degree). I love being connected to bright young minds who are not constrained by a work environment. They think the sky’s the limit in terms of what is possible. I get really inspired from seeing them transition from being bright eyed students to students who have undertaken this big project without the guide rails they normally get from the rest of their degree.
What makes a good tech product?
This is something I’ve been studying in my PhD. It starts with an acknowledgement of values. It’s really easy for someone who is creating tech to get excited about what’s cool. But it doesn’t matter what technology does if what it does doesn’t align with people’s values.
What technology could you not live without?
My motorbike, which is a Suzuki Vstrom. Motorbikes are not as big as cars so you get more freedom when you’re riding them. You get through traffic easier, it’s easier to park, and it’s a nice experience riding the bike. With a motorbike you have to have more skills to maintain, like physical skills where you have to manoeuvre the bike, and you have to be able to read the road watching for danger. I like that challenge.
What is the greatest invention ever made?
A pushbike. It’s that basic and simple. If you look at the design for a pushbike, it really hasn’t changed in 100 years – once the two equally sized wheels were developed. It makes humans the most efficient land animals on the planet – you can expend the least amount of energy to get the furthest. There’s just so little waste of energy. When you walk, you lose a lot of energy, whereas bikes are more than 98% efficient. The amount of energy you put in is almost the same that you get out.
What’s another cool start-up in the tech space that you keep an eye on?
Someone that I went to university with founded a start-up called Vapar. They get video data from inside storm water pipes and scan them using AI. Then they give councils the information on what’s wrong, and where, so the pipes can be repaired and maintained.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I spend a lot of time hanging out with my very small kids, which is quite wonderful.