Introducing Laura Smith, Slanted Theory’s CEO and co-founder
“I always thought I’d grow up to be an artist.” Meet the woman behind ALAIRA
Laura Smith is the face of ALAIRA and co-founder of Slanted Theory. If you haven’t yet seen her at one of her regular speaking gigs or caught up with her on Twitter, here’s a chance to learn more about the woman turning hard numbers into inviting digital landscapes.
The journey to Slanted Theory
It was clear from the start that Laura’s mission in life would be communicating ideas through visual media. At school her passion was art, and she displayed an early entrepreneurial flair by running digital art classes for her teachers – for a wage, of course.
“I always thought I’d grow up to be an artist. I loved drawing and sculpting as a child and I took that with me all the way through the A-Level fine art,” she remembers.
University followed, and Laura studied Information Systems, a discipline which led her into the world of UX design and later a role in a computer science research department. In many ways it was the perfect mix, requiring creative thinking, pragmatism and a personality that embraced the possibilities of technology.
Surrounded by colleagues who were pushing the boundaries of tech on a daily basis, it wasn’t long before Laura built up the momentum to turn her personal passion project into a full-time job.
“During my time in the computer science department I met Mark Burkitt, Slanted Theory’s co-founder,” she recalls. “His background covered 3D simulations in computational biology.”
“After talking with him and hearing about his expertise in 3D, the ‘aha!’ moment came – what if we created 3D visuals you can interact with, rotate and pull apart to make data discoveries? Soon afterwards we left our jobs and focused on Slanted Theory full time.”
Together with Mark, Laura began her mission to make data – including the big numbers that most people don’t usually get to grips with – accessible to everyone through the intuitive and enjoyable medium of three-dimensional space. The company launched in 2017 and set up its HQ in Kelham Island, Sheffield, UK.
“What drives me is staying in touch with our vision,” Laura says. “Our goal is to give analytical superpowers to everyone, without the need for a data science background.”
Women who can
Besides opening up technology to everyone through visual media, Laura’s other passion is making the world of tech a more welcoming place for women – especially those who don’t have a scientific or technical background.
“There’s a lot of fear about moving into what is perceived as a male-dominated industry,” she explains, “especially for women without the background. But anyone can succeed in tech if they’re willing to learn. All kinds of skills and disciplines are part of making a tech project work, and just because you can’t code doesn’t mean you don’t have a seat at the table.”
“Setting up Slanted Theory took me out of my comfort zone,” says Laura. “I make mistakes all the time, but I’m also learning all the time and I love what I do.”
Her tips for women embarking on a new career:
“Trust yourself – don’t second-guess your decisions. Go for what you want, and talk to other people. New perspectives are valuable and talking helps you clarify your ideas.”
Today, Slanted Theory is busy reaching out to big businesses, educating them on the possibilities of 3D visualization for data analysis and finding the best ways to apply ALAIRA technology for their needs.
But what about the future? Laura’s ambition is to make data truly democratic – for everyone to be able to access, investigate and understand data at a glance, without prior training or education.
“Our brains are more powerful than most computers and we have an innate ability to perceive patterns and make connections within visual information, even if it’s complex,” she says.
In practice, bringing data into everyday life might involve creating a hybrid of real and virtual worlds – a ‘mixed reality’ virtual office where everyday objects are overlaid with visual information to augment their utility. The ALAIRA technology has huge potential for virtual and remote working, too.
“Inside the VR world you can collaborate and communicate wherever you are and whatever you’re doing,” says Laura.
“Whether you’re at home, at work, sitting in a café or travelling the world, you can come together and work in a virtual environment that contains both your colleagues and your data. Everything you need is right there.”