From a Computing GCSE to being Deputy Director

“Life is like a large pond, you are surrounded by lilypads and depending on your capabilities and circumstances you have to pick the next one to step onto.”

When I was younger, growing up in Wigan I was mainly interested in three things: football, computers and radio control cars. At school, I decided to study A Levels in maths, physics and chemistry and then went off to study chemistry at the University of Leeds with no fixed idea of what I wanted to do or where I was going afterwards.

After a period of unemployment, I was lucky enough to get a job as a Research Chemist with Crosfield, a Unilever company at the time. This involved working with Crosfield silica to remove protein from beer, essentially increasing the shelf-life of the product. To me, this was great, I was a beer scientist at the age of 21! I enjoyed the challenge of working on new formulations and eventually discovered a way of improving the shelf-life of beer using 50-70% less material than previous methods. At first, the brewers we worked with did not seem to buy in to the idea so the sales staff invited me out with them to explain the process to our customers. That was my first taste of sales and I really enjoyed it so I started to try to go out with the sales team as much as I could.

My next ‘career leap’ was in to telesales and this turned out to be a terrible idea as it really did not suit the way I liked to work and how I liked to develop customer relationships and insight. From there, I went to work for Dionex in a regional sales role with a remit for selling chromatography columns that separate chemical components. It was this position that helped me to recognise that I was actually quite good at sales and learned an important point:

“people do not just buy kit, they buy answers to the problems they want to solve.”

This led me back to my interest in computing where I taught myself how to use a macro-based scripting process that increased the efficiency of the sales process, helping me to match solutions to customer problems.

After several years in London, I re-located back to the North West and found a job with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) project managing an e-Science programme that looked at the application of web-based computing technology for solving real-life industrial problems. It was at this point that I decided it would be useful to return to education and studied part-time at Manchester Metropolitan University towards an MBA. It was great to be able to examine problems I encountered at work in an academic context. I focused on methods for lowering the barriers to innovation for industrial engagement which meant that, naturally, my job role changed from project management to industrial liaison where I helped understand the user requirements for a new data catalogue system at the Diamond Light Source.

My MBA also helped me to understand the essential technical elements of my role such as licensing and commercial requirements. These skills were utilised heavily during my next position as a Business Development Manager, where I worked to develop strategic industry partnerships for computational modelling research.

Four years ago, I joined the newly established STFC Hartree Centre as Head of Business Development with responsibility for a team that encouraged collaboration between industrial and research partners to extract value from big data, HPC and cognitive technologies for societal and economic benefits.

For me the best thing about the Hartree Centre is working with clients to understand how to integrate technology in to their organisations, ensuring that it works in the best way for them.

Clearly they thought I was doing something right because 18 months ago I was promoted to the Hartree Centre’s Deputy Director, which means I am more involved in strategic decision-making, stakeholder and project management and still get to dabble in some of the business development projects and partnerships I cultivated in the early days. It’s been a real pleasure to watch the centre grow from a small team of people in its infancy to a 50-strong department that has become one of the jewels in both STFC’s crown and a key asset to the Sci-Tech Daresbury campus and the North West. My experience as a deputy director has also provided me with exciting new challenges and opportunities for development in a rewarding position at the very forefront of digital transformation.

My advice to anyone would be to make the most of the opportunities available to you, recognise what you enjoy and what you’re good at and never stop learning or challenging yourself throughout your career.

Good luck!

Michael Gleaves
Deputy Director, STFC Hartree Centre


Michael was invited to participate in a panel discussion on academic career development at the Business of Science Conference which was held in Manchester on 18 May 2017. Other panellists included:

Shaping the Northern Powerhouse

Delegates attending APM Project Management Conference 2016.
Image credit: APM

The Association for Project Management (APM) recently held their first Manchester based conference, and the Northern Powerhouse initiative by UK Government was their key theme. Claire Trinder and Lisa Booth from our Programme Management Office attended the event, and it got them thinking about where the Hartree Centre fits in.

“If the Northern Powerhouse were a country, it would be amongst the biggest economies in Europe. If we can make this region an economic powerhouse, the whole of the UK will benefit.”

Phillip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer

It sounds simple enough when you put it like that, but as we discovered at the APM conference, there’s a lot more to unlocking the benefits of the Northern Powerhouse than meets the eye.

The event, held in early December 2016, zeroed in on the developments in infrastructure, communication and technology projects that are being designed to re-balance the UK economy in line with the government’s Northern Powerhouse vision laid out in its strategy document. In summary, the Northern Powerhouse is a vision for a more joined up region in which northern towns and cities work collaboratively, sharing skills and resources to unlock the economic potential of the area.

The APM Conference placed a strong emphasis on the importance of organisations, particularly those from the public sector, providing an infrastructure for businesses of all shapes and sizes to build upon. This was suggested with a view to building an environment that encourages and fosters innovation across three key sectors: manufacturing, energy and health – with the integration of the digital technologies sector spanning across them all.

The day got us thinking about our own work at the Hartree Centre and the role we are playing in supporting the Northern Powerhouse strategy, both in terms of our technologies and capabilities as well as the way we manage and deliver our projects.

Advanced manufacturing

Over a quarter of the UK’s total manufacturing output comes from the North and innovation within manufacturing is going to be critical to the success of the next industrial revolution. This is why we are proud to be partners in LCR4.0, a new business support programme that will help manufacturing SMEs in Liverpool City Region to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by digital technologies. This project really emphasises the importance of collaboration and synergising regions to encourage technological innovation.

Healthcare innovation

Another prime capability for the North that is on the Northern Powerhouse agenda is health. This encouraged us to think about the ways in which the Hartree Centre are working to support innovation in healthcare. In particular, as part of our Alder Hey cognitive hospital project, we are working in collaboration with Alder Hey Children’s Hospital to develop a technology using the IBM Watson cognitive computing system to help revolutionise personalised medicine, putting patients at the centre of their care. This work links in with the Northern Powerhouse strategy by sharing capabilities, helping organisations to process large amounts of data, extracting the most relevant parts and transforming the information to create useful and relevant personal insights.


As the capability, complexity and sheer number of devices increases, supporting growth in digital technologies, there are growing demands on energy. At the Hartree Centre, we are proud to be at the forefront of energy efficient computing research and are exploring power use in computing, devising ways to achieve step changes in energy efficiency without compromising on performance. This work will hopefully feed in to the Northern Powerhouse by supporting the digital revolution, both environmentally and financially, enabling us to do more.

Final thoughts

The APM conference not only prompted us to think about how our work might support the Northern Powerhouse strategy, but also the diverse programme of speakers afforded us the opportunity to understand how other organisations are working towards the same agenda.

“The event provided a great insight into how the profession of project management is changing and how having skilled project professionals is critical for the success of any large project or programme. It is clear that the Hartree Centre will have an important role to play in in supporting the Northern Powerhouse strategy and central to that will be our skills not only in the technologies but also in project management.”

Claire Trinder, Head of Programme Management

“I was really pleased to listen to the talks and realise how well the work that we are doing at Hartree is aligned with the Northern Powerhouse strategy.  Being a relatively new Programme Management Office, I think we also heard some valuable lessons learnt and took away ideas for how to improve upon our own project delivery. Hopefully the Hartree Centre can be part of the programme at next year’s conference!”

Lisa Booth, Partner Services Officer

Not just ‘big’ – bringing big data into line

What’s in a name? When it comes to taming big data, it’s easy to just see the challenge as being one of scale – just as the name implies. But as a non-specialist working in this area, I quickly discovered that it’s more complicated than that. And I’d like to use this post to explain why that’s the case.

Continue reading “Not just ‘big’ – bringing big data into line”