Hugh Williams, Vice-President, Google Maps, talks about industry trends and career opportunities in computer science.
Williams is an RMIT alumnus and former Associate Professor of Information Retrieval at RMIT.
He spent more than 10 years researching and developing search technologies before deciding to pursue opportunities in Silicon Valley in 2005.
Since then he has had senior roles with companies such as Microsoft, eBay, Pivotal and Tinder. Now he is a Vice-President at Google, where he leads the product and engineering teams for Google Maps.
Recently, he visited RMIT for an informal talk to give staff and students his perspective on current directions in the computer science industry.
We caught up with him to find out what he enjoys about working in the industry, and his tips for pursuing a career in computer science.
What excites you about working in the industry, particularly in Silicon Valley?
The Valley is the centre of the tech universe. There's so much going on and so many smart people. You learn something new every day, it's an inspiring place to live and work.
What are some of the important developments happening in the industry?
I'm excited about digital assistants. We're heading into time where users are going to expect to talk to every device, and that device will be connected to other devices that operate as a network.
Within a few years, I'm sure you'll be telling you fridge to order more milk, asking your car if you closed your garage, and asking your washing machine when it last washed your jeans. Of course, your whole home will be automated, too, and it won't just be the lighting.
Driverless cars excite me, too. As a software professional, I get excited about hardware - it's a healthy admiration for the work they do. And I think driverless cars are amazing hardware technology with incredible software challenges.
Where are the opportunities for graduates globally?
Everywhere. It's a great time in history to be a computer scientist.
Every business is becoming a digital, data business, and software is becoming the heart of companies in most industries.
With applications of computing and IT becoming more pervasive in people's everyday lives, can you tell us about the importance of engaging with other disciplines as part of the learning experience?
Software is becoming a key component of many things we do in the world. And those things are complex. They are part of business processes, have user experiences, solve financial problems, and so on.
Having empathy and understanding of other disciplines (and, of course, of users!) is critical.
What qualities do students need to succeed in this area, and are there any special demands created by the pace of change in the industry?
People skills are underrated.
There are a lot of smart people out there, and a lot of very accomplished technical professionals.
But the fraction of those people who really enjoy helping others succeed, mentoring people, building great teams, leading organisations, collaborating with others, dealing with conflict, and honing their craft as leaders is much smaller.
I'd encourage students to spend time on developing those competencies and skills.
What opportunities and experiences should students seek out to make the most of their studies?
Having a mentor is important at any stage of your career.
You need to have someone to help you see around the next corner you'll come to, or to just help you think through the challenges and opportunities that your professional life will bring.
I've had mentors for most of my career in the US and it's been a critical part of helping me succeed.
I'll have lifelong relationships with my mentors. It's been a great way to make connections and build a network.
Networking is also important. Learn about the craft of software, ask questions, get to know people, offer to help out on interesting projects, and figure out what you enjoy doing.
What inspired you to come and speak to students on-campus?
RMIT played a huge role in my life. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to study here. That grounding in computer science enabled me to get where I am today.
So, I try and take every chance to give something back, even if it's just a short talk and offering some career advice.
Story: Lawrence Martin