IT Life: The Science Of Tech

Vivian Chan, CEO of scientific recommendation platform Sparrho talks about science, education and her love of the Science Museum

Vivian Chan is the CEO and co-founder of scientific recommendation platform Sparrho. A strong advocate for women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Chan has served as chairman and president of the Cambridge University Technology Enterprise Club (CUTEC). She tells TechWeekEurope about her career in technology and she’s her own tech villain.

What has been your favourite project so far?

I have really enjoyed building the team at Sparrho. We’ve become a family and it’s been really rewarding seeing the family grow these past few years.

What tech were you involved with ten years ago?

Vivian Chan SparrhoI was still studying so the most tech I got involved was battling with dial up internet and instant messenger being a big thing at that time.

What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?

I think that technology will be so well integrated to our daily lives that there won’t be a clear distinctions between what is tech and what is non-tech by then. Better handling and manipulation of big data sets will mean machine learning and AI solutions will quickly be becoming the norm.

Who’s your tech hero?

Sherry Coutu, as she’s a fantastic and relatable role model. She was the first person to tell me if I didn’t know how to do something, I should go and find out how to do it. She learnt how to code, is now on the board of LinkedIn, and is bringing tech back into curriculum through her Founders4Schools program. It’s great to see what she has accomplished, and that she’s not afraid to go after what she wants.

Who’s your tech villain?

Myself – I always wished I had more time to learn more tech but become my own villain when I limit how and when I find time to get down to learn new things.

What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?

Tech is no longer something limited to a specific place but can give us the flexibility of allowing tech to exist no matter where you are. Right now that is in the form of mobile devices, but this is constantly changing.

The Science Museum in London are doing a great exhibition called ‘Information Age’ around this at the moment. I think that what’s happening at Disney World right now with the integration of wearables is a great example of where tech is headed. I’m excited for whatever the next platform is that brings tech to you rather than needing to seek it out.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?

I admire companies like Prismatic, who not only create cool tech, but actually work to improve the state of the art for all of us. They push out innovative code, and allow others to build on it. This is something we’re already working to emulate because helping everyone move forward is the real essence of the open source movement. They also have a blog that transparently talks about everything from startup life to technical decision making – it’s a great read for anyone else tackling the same issues. 

What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?

It’s hiring the right people. Making sure you have the right people on your team, in any industry, is important because they are the ones who need to not only understand the domain, but be capable of building products that deliver the best solution. Recruiting well while maintaining culture is the most difficult part of growing a startup.

To Cloud or not to Cloud?

To cloud – Google Docs, Amazon Web Services, Heroku – our infrastructure is all up in the ether

What did you want to be when you were a child?

As a child I was torn between becoming a medical doctor or a businesswoman. I’ve managed to strike a balance and now I’m actually doing a bit of both: I have my PhD in biochemistry and I run my own startup. It’s great that I’ve managed to stay to close to what I always wanted to do. Although at one point I wanted to be a horse riding instructor – guess there is still time to do that one day!

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