Dame Wendy Hall
Professor Dame Wendy Hall is a world-renowned computer scientist and serial entrepreneur who has formed several spinout companies across three decades at the University of Southampton. A pioneer in multimedia and hypermedia, her work has held global significance in the areas of digital libraries, the Semantic Web and the foundation of Web Science as a research discipline. She became a Dame Commander of the British Empire in the 2009 New Year’s Honours List.
Initially an expert in pure mathematics, Dame Wendy reluctantly taught herself programming while working at a teacher training college before her first academic post at the University of Southampton in 1984. She was one of the first computer scientists to undertake serious research in multimedia and hypermedia. “This was going to be the future,” she explains. “The research we did was ground-breaking, but for me it was always about applying it in different areas for education. That was my initial motivation.”
Dame Wendy has played a prominent role in the development of her subject and until 2008 served as a Senior Vice President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a member of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology. She was President of the British Computer Society from 2003 to 2004 and an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Senior Research Fellow from 1996 to 2002.
“I want to be known for my science, not that I’m a woman in science,” she adds. “It’s really important that women become part of the mainstream. We need a diverse workforce in science and engineering and it’s not improved much in the past 40 years. There are a lot of women running startups now and I want to see them grow to become the chief execs of the big companies.”
Dame Wendy started her first company – focusing on simulation software for use in education – in the 1980s and has formed a further four spinouts during her University career. Her second business, which was set up to sell the hypermedia system Microcosm, attracted £13M of investment before it was sold at the turn of the millennium.
Most recently, Dame Wendy has helped launch the global discipline of Web Science and is now Director of the University’s Web Science Institute and the Web Science Trust. She is exploring the interface between social sciences and physical sciences. “When you look at the future of the internet and all the potential threats and opportunities that stem from it, the study from a socio-technical perspective is becoming more and more important,” she explains.
Dame Wendy is a fervent supporter of Future Worlds’ vision to help the University of Southampton’s entrepreneurs change the world with their ideas. “I have a contact list that is second-to-none and a lot of experience,” she says. “People in industry do want to see the next generation come through and I’m going to help make those connections.”
Dame Wendy believes that abstract thinking is a key requirement for entrepreneurs to find success. “I don’t worry about the details,” she says. “A lot of people can’t see the wood from the trees when they’re writing code or planning how something is going to be implemented. You have got to forget today’s world and think about what the technology could make happen in 10 years’ time. After all, this is just the beginning.”