Engineering and Product

Hercules Konstantopoulos, Data Director at Flux Federation

Dreams of becoming an astronomer and doing precisely that! For a while at least, anyway. Hercules Konstantopoulos, Data Director at Flux Federation, became obsessed with the night sky as a child and followed his passion into astronomy, however seeing the growing issues around climate change and the pressing need for innovation, he pivoted out of research and towards working in tech.

We caught up with Hercules to learn more about the twists and turns of his career that has taken him all over the world, what his role as Data Director at a high-growth tech company entails and some advice for others that might want to follow a similar path. Thanks for sharing your story, Hercules.

How would you explain to a five-year-old what you do for work?

Everything around us is made of numbers, but not everybody can see them. I find the numbers and help people understand what they mean.

And for the adults, what does a typical day-in-the-life look like?

Every decision we make should be informed by hard facts. I collect and interpret all sorts of information to help businesses make better decisions.

My BAU includes workshops, hard maths, and everything in between. I also work on setting up the infrastructure that makes all this possible. Sometimes data science takes hard graft, other times it is about the low-hanging fruit. Either way, the results can be surprising and they are always useful.

Was working in tech something you dreamed about doing as a kid, if not what was?

My childhood dream was to become an astronomer. And I did!

I was awarded a PhD in Astrophysics from the University of London (UCL) and went on to have a very rewarding career in astronomy. More on that later.

Tech was never on the radar as I was only truly interested in science. I also liked art and design but because I had no excess of talent for making art I stuck with science! It turns our tech is just applied science, so here I am ¯_(ツ)_/¯

I learn new things for a living! That is, in hindsight, what drew me to science, and it is something I have kept on doing since I switched to Tech and Energy.

What do you love most about your job?

I learn new things for a living! That is, in hindsight, what drew me to science, and it is something I have kept on doing since I switched to Tech and Energy.

Tell us about yoru career pathway and how you got into tech?

The journey has been long and windy, but it has been a very fun ride throughout. I grew up in rural Western Greece so unlike most people I was very lucky to have access to the night sky. It is no trivial thing, the majority of people on the planet grow up in cities and they do not have the opportunity to commune with nature, be it trees, bugs, or stars.

I became quite obsessed with the night sky and astronomy when I was about eight years old and arranged my whole childhood around the quest to become an astronomer. I did not want to study Physics and then specialise in Astronomy, as was the norm in my home country at the time, so I decided to study abroad.

University College London gave me the chance to access telescopes from Year 1, so I chose to go there… it was as simple as that. Thanks to my European Union nationality I was able to study in the UK as a local, without paying fees, which made it all possible. It saddens me that this is no longer the case after Britain’s departure from the EU.

The path of working as a scientist involves a lot of moving around.

We have fixed term (typically 3yr) research appointments until we get a professorship someplace, so the path took me to the grand telescopes in Chile, the amazing university sector of the United States, and the collaborative wonderland of Australian labs. At the same time, I was always very aware of the big issues with climate change.

Even growing up seemingly unaffected by these matters in the 90s in a rural area, I experienced quite a bit of existential dread about it! So when the time came to choose whether I should stick around the science sector by pursuing a professorship, I instead decided to apply my skills to climate change.

This took me first to a sustainability company, where I got to both build software, and advise companies on how to reduce their carbon emissions. I became aware of the challenge of making software properly at enterprise scale so when I was given a chance to work at Atlassian I very gladly took it!

And then, one day, we decided to make a change and live closer to nature. Big cities were never quite my jam, and I was convinced that way of living was may main cause of anxiety. We got lucky and moved to Aotearoa in 2019, and I got doubly lucky in that I got to return to the energy sector, combining my software and science skills in a field that is ripe for innovation.

Are there any key traits or characteristics of people that do well in your chosen field?

Research and development (and data science) consists of large projects.

It is easy to lose sight of big goals when we are in the weeds, so the ability to compartmentalise is very useful.

People who can chunk work and collaborate on grand vision (that is, compromise in the good sense) tend to enjoy this field more. I think these are skills that can be practised, not some immutable personality traits.

Allowing one's imagination to go wild is also nice, as long as it is reined in when things need to get done! Again: a compartment for creative work (yay), and another for task execution (okay).

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