Hi Will, let’s begin by jumping in a time machine: tell us about your journey before you joined Sentinel Hub
Hello! For most of my school days I aspired to become a journalist, spending most of my time on humanities subjects, rather than the Sciences and Maths. However, I changed my mind at the last minute and applied to study Geography at Aberystwyth University. I’d always been passionate about Geography and thought it would be much more fun to study than English. During my undergraduate degree, I loved the huge range of subjects offered by Geography: one week studying glaciology and the next geopolitics. In my final year of my Bachelors I was first exposed to GIS and Remote Sensing and although I struggled I found them extremely interesting data sources and programs.
After graduating, I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do with myself, then out of nowhere I received an email about a fully funded MSc course in Remote Sensing and Geography and speculatively applied. Surprisingly, my application was accepted, and I threw myself into the new challenge, way out of my depth. Until this point, I had primarily still been a human geographer and found the remote sensing concepts and my first exposure to Python particularly painful! However, I completed my MSc with a Merit and started my geospatial career working in GIS. After 2 years, I found my first EO position working as an Earth Observation specialist in a project that became the start-up: Spottitt. After that I worked in a more software development orientated role at Deimos Space. In these positions, I found out that my passion lies in developing applications. I was seeking a new challenge in a new city when I saw the ad for Sentinel Hub in Graz. I could not resist the urge to apply, so here I am!
What got you interested in space?
My first memories of being interested in space were when I visited Cape Canaveral in Florida on a family holiday. The huge scale of rockets and space crafts fascinated me, even if I didn’t get to see any being launched! I never really gave a thought about being an astronaut and at the time didn’t dream that I would be working in the space industry in the future. I’ve always been a Geographer at heart, and since seeing my first satellite images I’ve been fascinated by the beauty of the planet from their unique perspective.
You have now been working at Sentinel hub for 9 months: what is your team like? Do you have a central office or are you dispersed?
We’re a small team of only six but we’re full of energy and ideas, and I’m excited to see how we drive forward Sentinel Hub over the next few years together. I also really thrive working in a young and multicultural team and feel that we are a great fit! It’s also a great location to work, we’re located in central Graz and there’s plenty of great places to eat and socialise close to the office. Importantly, the Sentinel Hub team have been really supportive in helping me settle into a new city!
Talking of Graz, how are you settling into the Austrian way of life?
It’s certainly challenging moving to a new country from the UK post-Brexit during a pandemic! But it is certainly something I would recommend to try if you have the inclination to! It's been exciting to live and work in a European city and experience the European culture as well as the Austrian culture. I like that Graz is central in Europe and I'm looking forward to exploring neighbouring countries that I've never been too. The city is also close to the mountains and I have already managed to get a few bike rides in to explore them!
How do you see your contribution to Sentinel Hub?
I feel my approach to problem solving bounces off well with the rest of the team, as I’m able to offer an alternative perspective to our work with my humanities background. Also, my previous experience using different sensors and technologies has given me a good overview of what ideas are feasible and realistic before we commit too much time on them. I also hope that I can use my knowledge to help translate and communicate the technical concepts and methods involved in our work to non-specialists and less technically minded users bridging the gap between technology and the user widening our reach and opening up EO to an even larger audience.
With your different background than engineers or developers, how do you see the future of the EO sector?
The EO industry seems to be in constantly in transition, still trying to find its identity. But it's not a matter of "if", but a matter of "when" it turns into a mainstream data source. The innovation will come from finding the right data to solve the solutions - that will be the skill the most likely sought: navigating the huge amounts of data being generated every day. This is proving difficult to adapt as we have gone from barely any data to too much in a very short amount of time! And while new technologies and automation will help us to adapt, EO experts still have an important role to play. The value will be in people who will be able to quickly cherry pick the data required to respond to the problems they’re confronted with; you can't code your way out of a problem if you can't solve it in the first place and that’s where Geographers will still play a vital role.
What is in store for the future of Sentinel Hub GmbH?
I believe it’s time to fully realise the potential of the Sentinel constellations creating products that are not necessarily purely EO related. People are far more interested in the value of a product and whether it answers their questions than the source of that data. I see our team playing a big role in this connecting non-EO users with satellite imagery in new ways we probably haven’t even thought of yet!
I also see applications based on multi-temporal high-resolution data being taken up in a big way as the Sentinel archives mature and its users realise what they can do with 5 years + of regular and mid-resolution satellite images.
Thank you very much for your insights. Before we leave, can you tell us what is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen in a satellite image?
My personal favourite is the delta of the river Lena in northern Russia - the colours and the patterns are mesmerising especially in the SWIR [Ed: *Short Wave Infra-Red*] channels, and you can lose the scale of the area. Details that look intricate from afar turn out to be kilometres wide. This is what I love about satellite imagery, it gives you that unique birds eye perspective over huge swathes of the earth which we’ve never previously had. I really see it as an essential and powerful tool for fighting climate change. For example, without it we would have no knowledge of the scale of environmental disasters around the world like the forest fires in Siberia and the huge swathes of the Amazon being deforested.