Alumni

Alumni profile - Juan Carlos Fernández Gómez

I used my time at Queen Mary to build the technology that I’m currently trying to deploy within my company, SmartMaze. This company focuses on software development and the implementation of IoT solutions to improve the performance of public transportation in developing cities.

(Internet of Things MSc, 2019)

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Why did you study MSc Internet of Things at Queen Mary? Did you have a particular career progression in mind?

Ever since I was a child, I have dreamed about interconnected things. I wanted to build a smart home, with everything adapted to my comfort. I pictured myself talking to the fridge and playing with the blinds via voice activation. I got really excited about the endless possibilities of having a house that I could control via technology way before Alexa and Google home came into existence. So, back then, if I wanted such a house, I had to build it, and this is what led me to study Mechatronics Engineering for my undergraduate degree - I wanted to make this house from my childhood a reality.

It wasn’t until I got a job working for a huge Telecom that I was introduced to the Internet of Things and Smart Cities - countless problems that could be solved if we could find a way to connect everything. With this in mind, I started working on a side project that focused on improving public transportation in large cities. However, I soon realised that I required more technical knowledge if I wanted to do it right and I thought that studying MSc Internet of Things could help me achieve the right level of knowledge.

Queen Mary offered the best programme I could find on this subject. Most universities had a module or two that covered the topic, but I wanted full immersion; the ultimate goal was to turn my side project into an Internet of Things (IoT) development company.

What did you enjoy most about studying this degree and were there any academics that had a strong influence on shaping your time and studies here?

I really liked the fact that we covered every single approach in IoT. From the communication protocols that are used to collect the data, the data science to handle and use this information, and the methodologies to implement the solutions, the course took a very holistic approach. My favourite module was “Enabling communication technologies for IoT” with Dr Bodanese. It was very interesting to understand in detail how technology works from behind the scenes. It opened my eyes to lots of possibilities that I had never encountered before.

I will grow my company until it has a presence in every major city around the world. My team will continue developing amazing solutions that will address the needs of cities, ultimately improving the quality of life of their residents, globally.

Having grown up in Mexico, what prompted you to pursue your studies in London and at Queen Mary in particular?

To be honest, I had never considered London to be my city of choice when I was living in Mexico. I had visited the city before and while I thought it was great, nothing really appealed to me to make me want to live there. That was until I came across the MSc Internet of Things course Queen Mary offered. This was a great opportunity for me to move to London and I took it, not knowing what to expect. And just after a couple of weeks, I loved it. The city is dynamic and full of life. There is always something going on, relating to art, culture, entertainment, etc. The people, contrary to the general stereotype, are friendly and very polite. I have made great friends here, and I’m very excited about the future.

The most important thing though is the incredible number of opportunities that are available in this city, particularly for IoT, Data Science and AI. There are events, developments, and workshops everywhere to keep you up to date on everything that is happening in the tech world. I think that possibly after San Francisco, London is the best city in the world to start a company in this domain.

I came to Queen Mary, first, as I mentioned, for its holistic approach to IoT and secondly, because its location is at the centre of everything. The campus is literally in the heart of London, and most tech events happened 15-20 minutes away (by bike). So, I chose Queen Mary for what I could learn both inside and outside of the University.

How did you find the experience of moving to London to work and study? What helped you adapt to a new culture and way of life?

As someone who comes from a big city in Latin America, the way of life, in reality, is not that different. People are rushing everywhere but they let you be. You’re just another drop in the ocean. You can be yourself and no one will bat an eye; if you’re respectful and considerate then you can fit in. London is one of the most multicultural cities on earth, so it wasn’t that much of a culture shock when I moved here.

One thing that can be hard when you come to London is making new friends, because people who have lived here for years are not always that open to letting you in their circle. This is different from what you can expect in Latin America, where after a couple days of hanging out with someone, you can become (almost) family.

However, there is constant movement in the city and in the University (I would estimate that more than 85% of the students in my school were international), so you’ll find hundreds of people that are in the exact same situation as you and you’ll meet new people and make new friends almost immediately.

Can you describe your career path to date and touch on your current role as Data Specialist at Connected Places Catapult?

After my undergraduate degree, I started working as an associate project manager for a large Telco, where I helped with the deployment of several IoT products for the mass market. I left after a couple of years to join a small start-up that focused on recycling. Two of my favourite topics are sustainable development and technological innovations, and the start-up that I joined was trying to help the environment through an innovative business model.

However, after a year, I got an opportunity to work for a small consulting company which allowed me to travel around the world doing different projects for the financial industry. I took it, but I decided to continue working on a side project that focused on improving public transport for developing cities.

After a couple of years, I decided to expand my project, which is why I decided to pursue my master’s degree in IoT at Queen Mary. I used my time at Queen Mary to build the technology that I’m currently trying to deploy within my company, SmartMaze. I then got the opportunity to work with the Connected Places Catapult and the Hertfordshire County Council as a Data Scientist on a project that focused on analysing the current highway infrastructure of the county, using machine learning models and analytics as a tool to improve the current state of the network. I am currently working on this project.

What are some of your daily responsibilities in your Data Specialist role? And how did your time at Queen Mary and your master’s degree help prepare you for your current job role?

The job is mostly analytical, so I need to clean, process, and analyse the data for the Asset Management team. I interact with surveyors, team leaders, analysts and other stakeholders in order to collect the data and to make sure that the goals and the strategies are aligned with the project. Once this is done, the main task is to define ways to improve the maintenance schemes of the county’s infrastructure, getting the most value for money. For these, I use optimisation models, prediction tools and other machine learning techniques.

Queen Mary provided several tools that I am currently using, programming skills that I employ on a daily basis, and a critical understanding of the technological trends and techniques that I can use to improve the recommendations I give to the county and the solutions I develop with them.

Studying in another country will change how you perceive things, and even more, how you perceive yourself.

Have you had any life-changing or stand-alone moments where you’ve realised that you’re doing a job that you really love?

When I was working for the Telecom company, I remember looking at a short, corporate animated video of a person walking around the city interacting with everything around them. From getting on and off the bus, getting info for theatre tickets, shopping, and interacting with cars and buildings, life seemed so dynamic and efficient. My role at the time, as Associate Product Manager, involved working on the deployment of some very simple IoT solutions. But when I looked at that video, I thought about all the potential that these technologies had, and how they would change the way we live. The video ultimately made me realise how much I wanted to be a part of this change and I am actively trying to contribute to this change via my company SmartMaze.

Please tell me a bit more about this company and your motivations behind launching it.

The main goal on my mind when I chose Queen Mary was to get a technical understanding of the IoT solution I was creating for my company SmartMaze. The development of the technology that I used for my first prototype came out of my dissertation.

SmartMaze focuses on software development and the implementation of IoT solutions to improve the performance of public transportation in developing cities. It collects several streams of data that are processed and analysed to help transport managers improve the condition and the performance of the network.

We are using the latest technologies in the Cloud, in the IoT world and in AI to increase the reliability of our service and our overall customer satisfaction.

It all began because I used to live in a city where public transport was extremely unreliable which caused uncertainty, frustration, discomfort, and ended up affecting my daily life. I cannot recall how many times I stood at the bus stop for a while, only to realise that the bus I was going to take was not coming, or that it was 20 or 30 minutes late. This seems small compared to other problems, but it is something that we can fix that could have a huge impact on the lives of many people.

How diverse is the sector that you currently work in?

It is beginning to get more diverse. In terms of gender, it is still a male dominated field, but more and more women are starting to get interested in the sector and this is reflected in the amazing solutions that they are building. However, overall, I have observed that IoT is a very global sector, with people from all around the world feeding into it and looking to make a difference.

What are some of the rewards and challenges of being an entrepreneur?

Being an entrepreneur is a deeply transformational experience, but it is, without a doubt, a rollercoaster. While it is very rewarding when you get close to your destination, it comes with several challenges that need to be overcome.

For me, one of the best things about being an entrepreneur is that you get to materialise your dreams. There is no idea that is too crazy to be implemented. I get to create new market strategies or new features for the product I offer, and I just need to come up with a way of making it a reality. Of course, I have to manage the risks, adapt the idea to my target market, minimise threats and weaknesses, but if I am confident, I can test new ideas myself. I don’t have to go through a lengthy process of authorisations and signatures. I’ll just do it and see what happens which is very exciting!

However, being the one that makes the decisions means that I’m the one who has to deal with the consequences. If something goes wrong, even if it was not my fault, I’m ultimately responsible for the success of the company and this can be very stressful.

One of the best things about being an entrepreneur is that you get to materialise your dreams. I can test new ideas myself; I don’t have to go through a lengthy process of authorisations and signatures. I’ll just do it and see what happens which is very exciting!

What advice would you give to prospective students thinking of studying in another country based on your own experiences?

Do it. It is a life changing experience, and not just because it can give you the academic knowledge that you require to get further in your career. It will provide you with a global perspective on life as you will get to interact with people from all around the world and understand problems from multiple angles, considering different cultures, approaches, and traditions. It will change how you perceive things, and even more, how you perceive yourself.

It is natural to be scared beforehand. What if I don’t meet anyone? What if I miss home? What if I don’t understand anything? In reality, none of these worries will be as bad as you think. There are countless other people who will be in the same situation as you and you can get through any problem together. I guarantee that you will be able to test your limits and realise that you are stronger than you originally thought.

What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Do any moments stand out in particular?

Some of the best moments from my time at Queen Mary involve a lot of the people that I met through my course and include memories of studying and partying together and helping each other when needed. I made amazing friends, and I had a great time getting to know them. I will be forever grateful for the memories they have given me.

The best moment, however, is linked to my master’s project; my supervisor and the head of my department helped me to contact a potential industrial partner so that I could run the prototypes of my solution. I met several people who participated in my project with enthusiasm and the end result is that I got the first version of the solution that I am currently using with my software development company. This was the main reason I went to Queen Mary, and it ended up happening. My overall experience was even better than I expected.

What are your future aspirations in terms of your career and in life?

I will grow my company until it has a presence in every major city around the world. My team will continue developing amazing solutions that will address the needs of cities, ultimately improving the quality of life of their residents, globally.

The age of data started a few years ago, and it is not stopping. And I’m being part of it.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Juan or engage him in your work, please contact Nicole at n.brownfield@qmul.ac.uk.