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New £655,000 Breast Cancer Care app inspires people on many levels

Finding out about the latest innovation in support for cancer sufferers has inspired Nick Booth on many levels

This month two of my friends quit their jobs in with major service providers because they felt jaded by the awful ‘stresstosterone’ culture and wanted to spend more time with their kids.

Granted, the customers of Wetherspoons in Surbiton are probably not a big enough survey sample to predict national trends, but we can draw one conclusion with some confidence. The IT industry needs new entrants, fresh approaches and different perspectives.

How do we encourage the masses to storm the barriers to entry and start their revolution?

We need some inspiring stories of people who lead by example.

This week Kristina Barrick began work as Digital Innovation Manager on a £655, 000 project to build an information portal for the charity Breast Cancer Care. The encouraging thing about this is that Barrick started off with no tech credentials at all, no academic interest in IT and wasn’t particularly motivated by money. Those three conditions are normally considered the Holy Trinity of guiding lights for the IT industry.

Barrick, by contrast, got into digital by accident. Her degree was in English and History. She picked up her service design skills in order to support her charity commitments, which began with The Stroke Association and continued with Breast Cancer Care.

Sufferers of breast cancer are in particular need of support as they progress from diagnosis through treatment to recuperation. The support that patients get through personal contact ends once they complete a course of treatment or leave hospital, but this is a time when they are particularly vulnerable. So the mission was to anticipate the full range of emotional needs and provide online services that helped them through a time when they are hostage to depression and fatigue and bewildered by changes in their health and environment. By getting more information about what is happening, and more guidance about what to expect and what to do, patients can be helped to feel more in control.

This is what the Breast Cancer Care App (BECCA), launched May 2017, sets out to provide.

This week the charity announced that it has begun further development transform the app from a ‘bitesize tips resource’ into a powerful machine learning, artificial intelligence platform which can find out the needs of its 36,000 users and cater to them more effectively.

The multiplicity of support information is too broad to do justice to here, but support includes everything from information on generic subjects to selectively personal content - based on the age, condition and individual needs of each patient.

The development money (donated by the Big Lottery Find) will finance expansion of the app’s content, sourcing and editing useful intelligence on breast cancer, such as well-being, diet and managing the side effects of treatment. Having collated and edited all these sources it publishes the intelligence succinctly and clearly in one place.

Barrick’s motivation was to provide care, but by default she has become an expert on Big Data, Machine Learning and AI.

“The charity has been fantastic at supporting my training and development,” says Barrick.

 

That’s the sort of leadership by example story that might inspire people to get into the industry.

 

Meanwhile, on the other end of the ‘skills shortage’ spectrum, this week the CIO of a global bank described his recipe for staying sane. Never attend meetings, whether it’s a conference room or a conference call. Minimise everything you possibly can on your laptop and switch your phone off when you go home at 5pm.

 

So maybe the best way to survive in IT is to have passion for your career and dispassion for the technology.

This was last published in February 2018

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