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INTERVIEW // Professor Sue Black from 100 Moments that Rocked Computer Science

Professor Sue Black 100 Moments


INTERVIEW // Professor Sue Black from 100 Moments that Rocked Computer Science

Does Computer Science have an image problem? Research published last month by the British Computing Society says that it’s the least popular of all the science subjects and that boys still outnumber girls in these classes six to one. Professor Sue Black, tech evangelist and professor of computer science at Durham University, is on a mission to reverse these numbers and raise the profile of the subject she loves. In each episode of her podcast, 100 Moments that Rocked Computer Science, Sue invites a tech pioneer to explain the breakthrough moments that have changed the world. The second series begins on 20 April.

Last time we checked in with you, you’d just finished up the first series of 100 Moments that Rocked Computer Science. What kind of reception did you get?

We had such a great time making the first series and I was really pleased by how well it did. It made the Apple top-10 charts for Technology, which was very fabulous. But the best bit was hearing back from listeners who had clicked on an episode and then binged the rest. It was also fantastic that so many people tuned in from outside the UK. I remember hearing that we had a big surge of listeners in Slovenia, to whom I’d like to say a belated najlepša hvala!

So what’s new for Series 2?

There’s a whole new line-up of incredible guests, absolute icons in their fields, but I think the best additions have got to be Kaal and Quentin, both of whom are currently studying computer science at Durham. They did an amazing job helping me discuss where we’d be without each episode’s ‘moment’ and what we can expect from the resulting technology in the future. One thing we’re trying to do with this podcast is to show how computer science is a very concrete way of shaping everyone’s future and the more people (and different kinds of people) we can equip with computer science skills, the better that future is going to look.

What’s your favourite episode so far?

I had an absolute blast with all of my guests so this is a very tricky question! But I think certain ‘moments’ have led to some particularly interesting discussions like the one with Anne-Marie Imafidon where we talked about Ada Lovelace and the very recent re-discovery of women in tech history. My chat with Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia (later in S2) was fascinating too as we discussed diversity in AI and how you can’t keep technology separate from social and political issues. That really built on my interview in series one with Megan Smith about civic tech. Another favourite episode was the one about quantum computing, because Tom Ilube’s explanation – of something that’s pretty complex – is absolutely brilliant. It’s an education podcast at the end of the day and every time I hear someone say that they learned something from it, I’m just so thrilled.

We know you’re a professor of computer science at Durham University but what does it mean to be their Tech Evangelist?

Well, I love technology! I also feel so grateful that education and technology have completely changed my life, helping to bring me and my family out of poverty. So I’m very passionate about technology not just because it is so exciting as a subject but because it changes lives. Through my social enterprise #techmums teaching tech skills to mums, particularly in underserved communities, through to our award winning programme TechUPWomen – retraining women with potential from all kinds of backgrounds directly into tech careers I’ve seen how technology can empower and enhance people’s lives in so many ways. The more we all understand the potential of technology, the more we ensure that we have diverse teams creating products and services the better our future will be. Tech gives us the tools to improve life for everyone on the planet, I can’t help getting excited about that and trying to get everyone else excited about it too!

Target Jobs at Bloomberg London HQ Nov 2012

It’s not just for the Boys
Target Jobs at Bloomberg London HQ Nov 2012

What’s the most surprising use of technology that you’ve seen?

This is probably not what you had in mind but the most surprising tech I’ve seen is when my now husband proposed to me using an online World War II code-breaking Enigma machine simulator. It was so romantic, funny and fabulously geeky. I think lots of other people enjoyed it too as Paul’s proposal was covered across the media and we trended on Twitter Moments worldwide, which shows that we all love a love story. ❤

You’re a very busy person! Are you normally multi-tasking when you listen to podcasts? And what are you listening to these days?

Haha, true. Well it depends on the podcast, I do knit quite a lot, so if I’m not working I might be knitting as I listen. My favourites apart from #100moments are Kara Swisher’s Sway, Alan Carr’s Life’s a Beach, Jon Ronson’s Things Fell Apart, and I usually fall asleep at night listening to the BBC’s Newscast. My all time favourite podcast series is the first series of S-Town, it is utterly incredible, if you haven’t listened to it, go listen to it now.

100 Moments that rocked computer science

You can listen to 100 Moments That Rocked Computer Science on SpotifyApple Podcasts or your favourite podcast app. 

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