Jeni Tennison is the technical director of the Open Data Institute, overseeing the organisation's work in numerous areas. She is a key driver aiding the government in its push to make more data open to the public.
Prior to this Tennison was the technical architect and lead developer for Legislation.gov.uk, which set many of the standards for API use with public data.
She originally trained as a psychologist and knowledge engineer, gaining a PhD in collaborative ontology development from the University of Nottingham.
Tennison's Hot Seat follows on from other IT leaders such as the CIO of Network Rail Susan Cooklin the vice president of Global IT at Conservation International Scott Mills and the CEO of Workday Aneel Bhusri.
V3: What does your day-to-day role involve?
Tennison: I oversee the technical aspects of the work of ODI and the projects that we take on. This includes the research that we do and the development of new tools and services. I also help frame our policy positions, for example when responding to government consultations.
What would be your dream job?
My dream job would involve the technical design and hands-on development of new web applications. I’d relish the chance to be able to try out new frameworks and languages, finding the best ways of making data available for people to use and helping them to make more informed decisions in their day-to-day lives.
Which mobile phone and tablet do you currently use?
My current mobile phone-cum-tablet is a two-year-old Galaxy Note, but I have a new Google Nexus 5.
Which person do you most admire in the IT industry?
That’s a tough question. I massively admire Sir Tim Berners-Lee, not only for his technical ability but also for the social vision that he has for the web as an enabler of the sharing of knowledge. I find Rufus Pollock, the founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation, inspirational for the same reasons. I also have huge admiration for Mike Bracken, who heads up the Government Digital Service, for taking on the massive challenge of changing the way that government does technology.
Which technology has had the biggest impact on your working life?
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
If I had to point to a day, it would probably be the launch of Legislation.gov.uk. This was the culmination of several years of work on the publication of legislation, making it available as open data with a flexible API, and changing the way in which people refer to legislation online.
What was your first job?
My third year of university was a year of work for what was then known as
Recruitment & Assessment Services, as an occupational psychologist. I mostly spent time performing statistics to make sure the psychometric testing of people applying for jobs in the civil service wasn’t biased.
What’s your favourite thing about working in the IT industry?
Things change all the time: technologies rise and fall and new ones take their place. My second favourite thing is the sense of fun and pragmatic optimism that seems to be common amongst the people attracted by the industry.
What will be the next big innovation of the coming years?
No idea. Predictions about next big innovations are almost always wrong; the ones that really change things tend to be unexpected.
What do you enjoy doing when you finish work?
Collecting my children from school, learning about their day, feeling a mother’s pride in their achievements and answering their never-ending questions.
What was the last book you read and was it any good?
I recently read Nexus and its sequel Crux, by Ramez Naam, which are fiction books about the ethics of making available “post-human” technologies. They are both entertaining reads that raised interesting issues about technology.
Who is your favourite band or musician?
I have very diverse musical tastes, but particularly like Nine Inch Nails.
Where’s your favourite holiday destination?
Last year’s summer holiday was spent in the Lake District and involved activities such as rock climbing and ghyll scrambling. It was great.
E-readers or real books?
I use e-readers for convenience when commuting, but I love the feel and smell of a real book.
Twitter, Facebook or Google+?
For me it's Twitter. I have always managed to resist Facebook.
The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
The Beatles, particularly Abbey Road.
Hannah and Her Sisters, for its exposition on the meaning of life.
Windows or Mac OS?
I use Mac OS.
On-premise or cloud?
Cloud for sure.
How can we get more school children interested in IT careers?
Should we even want to? My eldest codes now, but she does it (and I encourage it) because code is somewhere she can be autonomous and express her creativity, not because of an interest in becoming a rockstar programmer.
Did you always grow up wanting to work in IT?
Not at all. I was introduced to computing very early in life, but was only ever interested in what computers could enable me to do, not in computing for its own sake.
What websites do you have bookmarked at work?
Google Calendar and Drive. GitHub and Trello. It's telling that my reply consists of web applications rather than content-driven websites.
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