Aarhus University Seal

Alumni interview: Anne Kirsten's untraditional route into IT

Anne Kirsten Mølle, alumni #673 in Computer Science from Aarhus University, had an unusual path into the world of IT. It started with an education in textile, which led to BSc/MSc in Computer Science. Today she works in Galway, Ireland as Data Scientist/Senior Software Developer at Global Labs and Innovation Management, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).

”When I design software, designs or workflows, I sometimes start with the premise and use inference and formal logic to determine the outcome. At other times I start with the conclusion: System requirement is X and we have Y... How can we model and implement a system of data, objects and rules, the will result in fulfilling X, and exactly X only? This is where we need creativity!”

Prior to enrolling on University of Aarhus, Anne Kirsten Mølle qualified as teacher in hand-weaving at Skals Håndarbejds-seminarium. She fell in love with the shaft-looms and the combination of logic, rules, mechanics and materials and dived into structures and patterns and the challenge of being creative within fixed limitations.

As long as I can remember, I was fascinated by structures and patterns and how to construct/de-construct all sorts of things. I completely lost my heart to the large shaft-looms and the combination of parameters in play, needed for creating a piece of textile,” tells Anne Kirsten, and continues:

As a crafts-person I was intrigued by the Jacquard punch-card looms, but I did not know of Ada Lovelace, nor her contribution to Charles Babbage’s mechanic computer: The Analytical Engine, and I did not know, that Danish researchers built computers, such as GIER and DASK. That changed while my formal education proceeded. During my work life as IT Professional I have combined the fascination of structures and the rules creating them with working practices that analyze, design, develop and test software products.” 

This time job opportunities will direct my choice of education

Unfortunately weaving teachers were not in demand, and she decided to take a new route and choose an education with better prospects for jobs. Then, as now, IT specialists were highly in demand, and with A-level Math/Physics on the Leaving Certificate she had many options but chose Computer Science at Aarhus University.

I was, and still am, fascinated by coherence of systems and contexts, so pursuing a technology/science education, was a way of gaining better understanding of many factors in society. We are all part of evolutionary societal processes, many of which is tied to technology. I find it very important to be able to make informed choices, rather than having to go with the tide. The most important learnings from my study in Aarhus, besides the technical knowledge, was learning to reason; to look at problems from many angles; and having confidence in a systematic approach combined with creativity will eventually lead to a solution.”

Student and Start-Up Owner

However, Anne Kirsten never lost interest in textile crafts and alongside the studies, she lectured in IT-tools for weaving- and knitting-design and developed software for loom-controllers.

”In 1991 the visionary principal at Skals invested in a license to a Norwegian Design Software and a computer. The TK-VEV software was developed by Terje Engen & Kari Bratsberg at Høgskolen i Oslo (HiO). I found a couple of functional errors in the software, which led to an invitation to travel to Oslo and collaborate with research staff, engineers and software developers. Seen through the lenses of 2023, it was very basic:  DOS machines, VGA monitors and keyboards only, however these innovators were true ’trailblazers’ - nothing like that existed in textile education at the time. That was very inspirational and in effect started me off as software developer.”

The collaboration evolved to a small business selling software and training courses to schools and colleges in Scandinavia. The profit was invested in R&D of software and pneumatic loom-controllers, making it possible to transfer designs directly to the controllers. Working with the customers in the weaving workshops instilled a respect for end-users and emphasized the importance of UX design and software product testing.

TK-VEV was an expensive niche product, and as a product-owner Anne Kirsten learned, that the root-cause of so-called 'user errors' often were related to poor GUI design and that you cannot sell a Proof-of-Concept, but need to 'productionize' and harden your ideas. The plan was to continue the R&D business in combination with another IT-role, but the craft colleges experienced a decline in interest and funding, and the business model vanished.

In 1995 Anne Kirsten graduated, and as hoped, the demand for IT-specialists was high - everyone went straight into a new roles as IT Professionals.

My first role was at Mentor Informatik in Aarhus, a Danish-owned company producing IT-systems for the public sector, e.g. STADS (Student Administrative System) - still in use to this day. Mentor Informatik was founded by graduates from Dept. of Computer Science at Aarhus University, and they had a unique approach to software development, participatory design and quality, that I never met anywhere else.”

Her technical career gathers momentum in these years, however several company fusions result in Mentor being absorbed by a multinational consultancy company. Still chasing software development roles, Anne Kirsten in 2007 moved to Cryptomathic - a software product house with strong connections to research at Aarhus Univesrity, founded in 1986 by cryptographer Prof. Ivan Damgård amongst others.

It was a great satisfaction to work in an organization where 'thorough test = exhaustive test'; where software design cover more than 'happy-path' scenarios; and where your peers seriously believes, that hard problems are the most exiting problems. To be challenged with hard problems in software is still one of my favorite activities.”

The new tasks, including applied cryptography, triggered new interest in the software security domain, and with support from her employer she started part-time studies in 'IT security and cryptology’ at IT-Vest. After a couple of years, Anne Kirsten followed her husband to Ireland, where he, as ethno-musicologist, could pursue his interest in Irish Traditional Music and research. With her IT-background, Anne Kirsten was confident that it would be easy to land a new job abroad.

There is always an IT role …

”This was probably the worst decision ever from a career perspective. In 2008, Ireland was in the middle of a recession, and entered an EU bail-out program. It took me 6 months to find a job, and I learned some hard lessons about IT contracting. On the positive side the job pushed me into new learnings on data-mining.”

The interesting tasks in the long term however, could not compensate for the many hours of working alone from home, as one of the drivers for Anne Kirsten is collaboration.

”So far, all of my IT career had been team- and project oriented - collaboration and critical exchange of ideas were always integral in software development from my experience.”

After a while she secured an R&D role in Galway at multinational Hewlett Packard (HP). This became the outset of a long and ongoing employment at HP and later HPE. It turned out that especially the methodological and critical approach to software development, ingrained through the study years, was advantageous in the new role. Over the years her roles spanned back-end developer and database admin on 'Knowledge-Management' systems, where influx of product information and deep-tech notes were transformed and propagated to various end-portals systems at Enterprise Business of HP and later HPE. As an employee at HPE you are encouraged to grow your career through intern job changes, and Anne Kirsten made the most of this over the years, by securing roles in R&D, HPE Cybersecurity, HPE Security Analytics and HPE GreenLake Cloud Services.

Lifelong education

One constant characteristic of Anne Kirsten's career is thirst of new knowledge and converting learnings to software solutions utilizing modern technologies. This trend started with her first job move and have continued ever since.

In 2016-19 Anne Kirsten pursued a part-time MSc in Data Analytics at UCD School of Mathematics and Statistics in Dublin, and in 2020-22 she added a 3rd MSc to her CV - this time in Cyber Security from Munster Technological University. The Master Thesis combined data analytics with cybersecurity and included an implementation of a new ML model for classification of network data: "Bayes In Cyber - Applying Bayesian Approach for Deep Learning on Network Intrusion Data". Again, studies led to internal job change, this time to an MLOps team in HPE GreenLake Cloud Services, and from there onto her current role as Data Scientist/Senior Software Developer at HPE Global Labs and Innovation Management, where she currently enjoys the many challenges of Generative AI.

During the Corona lock-down, Anne Kirsten followed an online seminar: 'Serendipitous Discovery Through Data Visualization' by Hans-Jörg Schulz. This seminar demonstrated how interactive visualizations can allow for new insights from large datasets that would not have been seen otherwise. The importance of conveying and distilling insights via visual techniques led Anne Kirsten back to Aarhus University in 2022, for the course Data Visualization by Hans-Jörg Schulz. From this course she obtained new theoretical knowledge on interactive graphical representation of data; practiced new technical skills and updated her toolbox with State-of-the-Art programming tools. Another important element of this module was practicing Visualization-Critique: identifying potential pitfalls and suggesting constructive changes to avoid misleading info.

The emphasis on practicing visualization critique was not (at the time) a high priority of the MSc Data Analytics, but it is of utmost importance for both Data Scientists and Software developers. Recently algorithms and their use of private data, which we (voluntary) give away for free, have been debated in and across many sections and new concepts like Surveillance Capitalism and generative AI give rise to heated debates. As IT-professional in the datascience/software development domain I am constantly challenged by having to draw borders; and misleading representations, whether from visualizations or from generative AI provokes me. It is important for me to be able to qualify my standpoints in these matters.”

Anne Kirsten finishes by stating, that she never regretted her choice of education, and that even after 25 years the appetite for trying to solve hard problems still remains. She did not follow the standard educational path, but did actively blaze a trail with passion, curiosity and a will to challenge status quo. Her journey is an inspiring example of how combination of mathematics and creativity can form a unique career in IT.

I highly recommend to 'return home' to Computer Science at University of Aarhus, either for continuing education or to study single modules via 'Tom-Plads ordningen'. When I compare my education from AU with that of my international colleagues from e.g. USA or India, there is no doubt:  I am very proud to have graduated from Computer Science at AU and the education have provided me with such strong foundational basis, that I can continue to build on it and land exciting roles.