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What's Cool in IT? 5 Questions with Dr. James Harland

Are you curious, creative and committed? Time for you to explore a career in IT.
BY Skendha Singh |   27-10-2015

Think IT careers. What comes to mind first? Cyber security, data management, tech support, web development, etc., right? Think again.

Dr. James Harland, Associate Professor of Computational Logic, at RMIT spoke to BrainGain magazine about the cool new careers that are opening up for IT graduates and enthusiasts. IT has never been more exciting. Edited excerpts below.

  1. Can you tell us about 5 IT careers today which are alternative and fun?

    An increasing number of IT graduates start their own company, or work on developing innovative new applications. Some potential IT careers are outlined below.
    1. After School clubs for kids. A recent Computer Science graduate of RMIT runs her own business, based around providing after-school supervision and stimulation for IT-minded kids. This includes encouraging their imagination and creativity by using online tools such as Minecraft.
    2. Building Minecraft objects. The United Nations Block by Block project involves developing simulations of new buildings and other projects as Minecraft objects, which people can then try out by playing a game based on these objects. This provides feedback on the use and design of the building before it is built, meaning that there is less potential for wasteful development.
    3. Developing mobile phone applications. This can be done from home by anyone who has the required skills and drive. Once it is developed, and has reached a certain level of quality, it can be uploaded to an online store where potentially anyone in the world could purchase it. This can be very lucrative for the developers of a popular game like Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja.
    4. Driverless cars.  Google has developed cars which do not require human drivers, and such cars are already on the roads in the US states of California, Nevada and Florida. A trial of such cars is scheduled for Australia in November. There are also cars being designed which do not require any drivers. All such technologies require a large amount of software, including vision processing, route planning and making safe decisions.
    5. Robots. The robots are not only coming – they are already here! Robot fish are used to monitor water quality in rivers. Companion robots are being used for elderly people. UAVs (or flying robots) are being planned for delivery of books and food. All such devices require IT expertise to ensure that they perform in an appropriate manner.
  2. What fascinated you about IT when you were growing up?

    The intellectual challenge. Computers were extremely primitive by today’s standards, with punch-cards used to instruct the machine. Despite this awkwardness, the challenge of making such a device perform in an appropriate manner was one that I found fascinating.
  3. Do you have ideas on how young students can have fun with learning science and technology outside the classroom?

    Plenty! There are a large number of small gadgets and computers, which can be purchased cheaply today, and be used in many creative and interesting ways. One of my favourite videos is the one below, which shows how a fish can drive a tank around a room. Devices such as Raspberry Pis, Myo bands, Lego Mindstorms, Buddy robots, Kinect cameras, LEDs and Arduinos can all be used to make interesting devices like these. Anyone with a curious mind and a creative instinct can make all kinds of fascinating machines with tools like these.

  4. What is great about teaching at RMIT?

    RMIT prides itself on work integrated learning, which means bringing real-world problems and scenarios into the classroom. This means that student are not only taught theory and concepts, but are required to put them into practice in projects at all stages of their education. For example, one of the courses that I teach, requires students to work on a project of their choice in their very first semester at RMIT. This gives them experience, right from the very beginning of their studies, in project organization and the ability to work within time and resource constraints. It also serves as an inspiration for the rest of their time at RMIT.
  5. Words of advice to students who want to enter research areas in the STEM fields.

    Come and have some fun! There are all sorts of fascinating questions that need answers, and many real-world problems that need solutions. Work in STEM disciplines requires skill and practice, but also provides immense opportunities for students to be creative and follow their passion. Clearing landmines in countries such as Vietnam, providing improved sources of food or developing better IT security, all require curious, creative and committed people. So come and join us!


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