Johnathan Mawdsley, BSc (Hons) Computing
  • Chef-turned-computer programmer connecting people through ideas
  • Encourages digital skills building through the power of mentoring
  • Inspired by critical thinking around confirmation bias
  • Director of Industry Buddies – connecting the South West tech scene

Connecting the theory to digital practice

Johnathan Mawdsley

1. Who are you? And what is your passion?

I worked as a chef for three years because I had a passion for cooking and wanted to pursue it as a career. But I then realised there was no longevity in it for me and wanted a change in career.
I finally did a lot of overdue research on picking a career, watched a lot of TED talks and discovered Ikigai, which is the Japanese idea of finding a career and life balance by using what you love doing, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for.
We’ve always had computers in the house since I can remember, and I have always enjoyed finding out about the technology behind them. So I decided to build on this passion, particularly in programming, which I love. This led me to become a mature student studying computer science at Plymouth.
I’ve always got a huge list of ideas. Always reading books, jotting notes down. I’ve got an extensive list of things I’d like to work on. Not all of them will come to fruition, but it is good to have ideas and to always try to keep generating them.
Things can, and will still, come out of nowhere, whether it is Snapchat or Uber. I expect those types of ideas to exponentially increase. 

In this ever-expanding, constantly changing industry, there is always something new going on. And there is always a massive amount of scope for further change.

Johnathan Mawdsley, BSc (Hons) Computing

2. What does pioneering digital practice look like for you?

We hear about the term ‘disruptors’. It might be overused but it is very relevant. I wouldn’t say I am a disruptor, but I definitely like to think that way. I always like to keep the bigger picture in mind.
A lot of books emphasise the importance of getting a mentor. Whenever you read any top tips, or articles about being successful, it keeps coming up – get yourself a mentor. Now I'm part of the University’s mentoring scheme. 
I took this idea and created a project where I could help people. If you are building your skills in some way, you might as well try to do something useful with it, rather than developing practice programs that aren’t going to help anyone else.
I run a student team that aims to connect students to mentors in the South West digital tech industry. As a director of Industry Buddies, we have designed and developed a web app that allows students and mentors to sign up and connect with each other.
We think networking and mentoring are two great things. That's why we are trying to make the process quicker, more efficient and more accessible.
A lot of tech industry is moving to places where rates to live are lower, and places like this, where it is nice to be. We are seeing emerging tech scenes in Devon and Cornwall, because if it is digital, you can work anywhere.

3. What is a fear you'd like to conquer?

I used to have a huge fear of heights when I was younger and sometimes that still crops up, even though I love climbing and I’m on the committee for the University Adventure and Expo club.
Johnathan Mawdsley, BSc (Hons) Computer Science
Computer screens with lines of code.
Graphic processor. Courtesy of Shutterstock

4. How do you respond when faced with a problem?

Working as a chef taught me to work in really stressful situations. You are under constant pressure all the time. That experience really helps me to stay calm now.
I worked in security as well, so all of those combined experiences help me to remain calm and just address the issues objectively. I always feel like I can break the bigger problem down into smaller problems. 
The University has also reinforced this approach with the way they’ve taught us to develop. You always break things down into smaller problems, so they become easier to handle and you can chip away at them.
This approach definitely helps me with my whole outlook on life.

5. What do you know of that you believe could really change our world for the better?

One of the main things I am interested in is confirmation bias. There are a lot of algorithms that suggest ‘if you like this, then you might like that’. If someone has a belief, and then they are shown something that just confirms it, they will just believe in it even more.
We are seeing this happen with some very negative beliefs. Someone who has racist beliefs, who is then shown another racist video, will only have that point of view reinforced. Confirmation bias can also be used for good, but it is not something that is fully understood in the tech world.
This goes back to Ikigai – finding a life balance. For me, this is about something that pays well, but is also altruistic and gives me satisfaction.
Looking back, the careers advisors in school didn’t really prove very helpful. One of them told me I should be a gardener. This was all based on a computer's response to me saying 'I like being outside'.
Post-it notes used for Agile planning.
Johnathan Mawdsley, BSc (Hons) Computer Science
Smartphone and apps being tested.

6. What do you want the world to look like in 10 years?

I hope we are still progressing and working harder on things like climate change.
Although there are a lot of bad things happening in the world, there are statistics that also show us how it is becoming a better place.
And work around confirmation bias discussion is part of this. If you are trying to persuade people to align to your cause, it can be easy to push them further away, so we need to understand more about this issue.

7. If you have the chance to share one message to the whole world, what would it be?

A lot of people still don’t realise we’re in the data age and accept all sorts of things as facts.
You can easily skew statistics and misrepresent them to support whatever belief you have. It cannot always be just taken as the truth.

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