It all comes down to data.
With constant changes in technology and a society in which absolutely everything is becoming increasingly data-driven, data is truly the key to innovation and growth in almost every industry – and Dr Lihong Zheng, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at Charles Sturt University, couldn’t be more excited.
“The Internet of Things (IoT) impacts upon almost everyone on the planet, thanks to the smartphone in their handbag or pocket,” she explains.
Features such as analytical decision-making and predictive modelling mean that the IoT is a real game-changer in terms of how we do business, manage our households and even live our lives.
There is almost no industry that is immune to this data-based reckoning, Lihong advises, and she is thrilled to see her students bring data-driven technology to life.
“We’re doing lots of interesting things in agricultural projects, for instance, such as performing checks on animals using smartphones, and using IoT to check grape quality,” she says.
“Devices such as Google Home are giving consumers a taste of what they can expect with this, too; it’s about creating a centralised IoT system that gives you the ability to control household functions, such as lighting and heating. You can do this even when you’re not actually in your property, and it’s becoming standard in many homes. It will only increase in popularity as it becomes more affordable and accessible.”
Dr Lihong, who grew up in China where she completed undergraduate and postgraduate studies in electrical engineering, was first lured to Sydney via a university scholarship. In her career as an academic, lecturer and researcher, she has worked on projects as varied as building functioning robots and mastering image capture technology well before smartphones doubled as personal cameras. She has even created number plate recognition tech for highway monitoring systems.
Now based out at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, Lihong is guiding the next generation of entrepreneurs forward. She has pioneered new IoT courses at the university, and has boosted students’ STEM and ICT skills through innovative online subjects.
“Moving first from China to Sydney, and then from Sydney to Wagga Wagga, has been a huge cultural change. But the people are so nice and friendly, so I quite enjoy the environment here,” she says.
“My main role is teaching. I’m an academic leader, and I look after more than two thousand people. I’m responsible for ensuring the curriculum is current and of high quality.”
It’s no surprise that, as an educator, Lihong is passionate about the continuing pursuit of knowledge.
“I think everyone agrees that learning is a lifelong journey,” she says.
“Technology is changing so fast; sometimes my students will say, ‘We’re learning lots of things that are going to be useless by the time we graduate’. I don’t agree with that, because I don’t think any learning is ever ‘useless’ – and the way we educate is to prompt students to consider how they are thinking.”
With the IoT having become very popular in recent years, Lihong predicts it will be a huge growth industry, and skills around it will be vital for many roles in the evolving employment landscape. For the jobseekers of the future, building experience in areas such as coding or data mining will give a huge boost to their prospects, as will cyber-security skills.
Lihong says she is always seeking to broaden her horizons and promote the benefits of a career in science, especially for women. In 2017 she participated in the IoT Spartan Challenge, coming second with her team. This achievement afforded her the opportunity to open up a dialogue with Libelium, the company running the competition, and she won a grant that allowed her team to visit the company and see their pioneering work firsthand.
She also recently won the Academia Award in the Women in IT Awards at the 2019 Cisco Live Conference.
Passionate about arming the next generation with the tools they need to lead the charge, she works to build a curriculum that prepares students to find their own way to solve a problem, rather than simply giving them a standard set of criteria they can apply.
It’s these skills, as well as critical thinking and coping mechanisms, which make universities irreplaceable as institutions of learning.
“My colleague gave me a really good example,” Lihong says. “A school teacher teaches you that 1+1=2. At university, you’re going to learn why 1+1=2.”
Lihong stresses that for entrepreneurs of the future, personality plays a key role in career success – perhaps more than ever before. Those who are quick learners and strong team players are the most likely to flourish, and persistence is important at a time when the goalposts are always changing.
“You need to keep trying, and not be afraid of failure,” Lihong advises.
“I tell my students: don’t be afraid to make any mistakes, you learn more when you fail. And if you want to stand out and be outstanding, you really need to keep an open mind.”
This article is brought to you by Charles Sturt University. CSU operates in a paradigm of research excellence and partnership, and is committed to excellence in education and providing quality pathways to university.