By Jude Dineley
James’s passion for computers was sparked at age six when a teacher loaned him a pile of books on how to program the school’s BBC microcomputers. His parents gave him his first computer soon after and he hasn’t looked back since. Today, he’s a staff engineer at Google in Sydney. “I just love what I do,” he says.
As part of his Bachelor of Engineering/Bachelor of Business Management at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, James chose to study computer systems engineering. He dabbled in robotics and electronics and built up his programming skills at the same time.
During the holidays, James scored paid industry internships and enjoyed the one at Google in Sydney so much that he made it his mission to get a job there.
James works on the programming that allows Google Maps to be used in other websites and in apps like Runtastic, which map running, walking and cycling routes. But his proudest achievement is pioneering work on Google Crisis Maps. When devastating bushfires hit Victoria in February 2009, he and his colleagues noticed emergency service websites were overwhelmed by visitors trying to get information.
They brainstormed and, over a weekend, built a map where people could view fire locations and alert levels through a Google Maps interface. Unlike typical websites, Google Maps can cope with the extreme web traffic generated during natural disasters.
The Crisis Maps have since evolved into a global project, bringing together multiple types of disaster-related information, from satellite imagery to evacuation routes, and covering a growing number of countries.
After five years at Google, James now manages a team of 16 engineers and his work takes him all over the world.
“If you love what you do, it’s much easier to be successful,” he says.
After visiting high schools with Google, James believes that many people have an inner computer scientist waiting to be unleashed.
“There are so many people out there who think that technology is not something they’re that interested in,” he says. “But then they try it and fall in love.”
Author: STEM Contributor
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