Dr Caspar Ryan teaches postgraduate students about mobile application development and object-oriented software design. He recently spoke to RMIT News to provide insight into this emerging area.
What do you do at RMIT?
I work primarily in distributed systems and mobile computing with an emphasis on software development methodologies and the frameworks and tools that underpin them.
The challenge for me is to find better ways to develop software: for example, how can we write software that is easier to maintain and reuse? How can we write software that can run on anything from a super computer to a handheld device? How can we write software that can be used on as yet unimagined devices that will form the emerging Internet of Things?
What drew you to this area and how did you get into it?
I have always been interested in how technology works. I disassembled my first calculator at age 8 but couldn’t reassemble it. At the age of 12 I got my first computer and was able to explore my curiosity without limit and quickly realised I was more of a software than a hardware guy.
What are some notable awards and achievements for your research or teaching?
I have been privileged to receive a number of teaching awards over the years, maybe my part time acting classes helped me relate to the audience! In research I have been successful in a number of competitive grant schemes such as ARC Discovery, CRC, and am currently working as a chief investigator on an industry sponsored project with Siemens Germany and am a co-leader on an RMIT Sustainable Urban Precincts Project that was funded by the Siemens/Victorian Government Greener Government Buildings program.
What are the current trends in this area? What are the future challenges and directions in your area, and what excites you about the future in your field?
I like to joke with my students that if I think something is the next big thing you can be pretty confident that it won’t be! Having said that, I’m excited to see where augmented reality and the next generation of virtual reality will take us. Devices like the Occulus Rift and Google Glass might be ahead of their time but I expect them to become the norm in the next 10 years.
It’s exciting to be part of the industry that is at the helm of these technological changes and I enjoy seeing their positive impact on our day to day lives. At the same time we need to be aware of their effect on privacy and security, and be prepared to address these challenges as they arise.
Where do you see your research heading in 10 years? What do you hope to be doing?
In the next 10 years I look forward to seeing our current research being applied in practice to improve our everyday lives. For example, one of the major projects I am working on involves smart cities with an emphasis on intelligent buildings and the systems that control them. Intelligent buildings can range from individual domestic premises (smart homes) through to large scale commercial buildings such as office towers, data centres and advanced manufacturing plants. In ten years we expect these buildings to be connected by a smart electrical grid (the Smart Grid) that will encompass not only power distribution, but complex control and networking protocols linking a complex array of discrete systems. This is a significant research challenge because intelligent buildings must consider many competing factors, which often require trade-offs, such as: environmental impact, space utilisation, human comfort and ergonomics, safety and security, and of course economic constraints.
Over the next 10 years I expect many of the ideas that we currently explore at a theoretical level using modelling and simulation to be put into practice as new intelligent buildings are constructed and existing buildings retrofitted with new technology. So in 10 years we will have gained a huge amount of experience and will have a wealth of real word data to study. We are also likely to have a whole new set of ideas about how to move forward and continue improving the way our cities support our activities and grow around us.
What are some of your student success stories?
Some of the successful graduates from my discipline that spring to mind are Anna Tito, game developer at Electronic Arts in Austin, Texas; Nick Burton, product manager at FourSquare in New York; and Atish Gonsalves who is a director at DisasterReady.org in Los Angeles. There are many personal success stories as well though. For example, last year one of my students was so excited by my lectures on Coupling and Cohesion that he became quite well known for questioning his fellow students on the topic to make sure they understood it as well as he did! I was really pleased with his enthusiasm and it actually generated a lot of productive discussion in class.
What kind of students succeed in this area? What qualities do they possess?
Information technology and software design require more creativity than one might imagine. Students who have a combination of creativity, resourcefulness and technical prowess have the potential to become successful. Of course, determination and perseverance are both important in any pursuit.
What do you enjoy about teaching into the Master of Computer Science program?
Teaching into the Master of Computer Science program provides an opportunity to delve deeper and given the industry experience of many of the postgraduate students I am able to incorporate their professional experience into our discussions. For example, I can incorporate specific industrial problems they have worked on as case studies for analysis in class.
What are the burgeoning areas in this field, i.e. where are the jobs?
Specific technologies come and go but I think jobs that combine soft skills with technical skills – such as software architecture and design, business intelligence and novel uses of emerging technology in new application areas – are where our students can make the most impact.
Expertise in any one technology can be offshored or easily replaced but an understanding of emerging problem domains combined with the ability to be creative, to communicate, and to solve unknown problems with innovative solutions will have greater lasting value.
Story: Rebecca McGillivray