Meet the team - Barbara Alvarez Solanilla

The Urban Big Data Centre brings together the expertise and experience of colleagues from all over the world. We'd like to introduce some of them in a series of informal profiles.

What is your job title at UBDC, and what does your role entail?

I am a Senior Research Engineering Manager at UBDC. I manage the Data Science Service team, which is formed by a group of very bright people working on exciting projects with a strong social component. I oversee the team of 7 people working across multiple projects, I ensure a balanced distribution of resources, and deliverables. I also manage relationships with a wide variety of stakeholders, both internal and external, and raise awareness of the team and our projects within the wider community. More importantly, I ensure the team has the necessary tools and a safe space to thrive and shine.

What are you currently working on?

I recently joined the team and still getting familiar with everything, which is a challenge on its own. Right now, most of my time is dedicated to project managing the deliverable of a new data catalogue, supporting the GALLANT project, which is of a similar nature, and scoping the requirements for an improved data infrastructure.

Are there any subject areas you’d like to explore in more depth in the future?

The Data Science Service team is coming out of its start-up face and into a more mature stage which is a proof of its own success. We continue working on innovative projects, but we are also starting to build a more robust data infrastructure to support the growing demands of the centre and at enable future work.

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I am originally from Madrid, Spain where I spent my childhood. However, I started travelling when I was 16 years old, and never looked back. I spent most of my adult life abroad including Poland, Romania, and Scotland. My mum and dad are still in Madrid, and I see them as often as I can. I try to visit them every few months, especially after the pandemic. I also have a younger brother, although everyone thinks he is the eldest! He is my best friend.

I did 8 years of art school, mainly painting and a bit of theatre. I also write, in fact, I have had a book in the making for a few years now.

A surprising fact about me is that I am an introverted person, which you would not guess until you get to know me very well.

Picture: Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire

What do you like about living in Scotland?

I first came to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a weekend trip with a friend 8 years ago and we both ended up moving here. I fell in love with the city, the architecture, its history and of course the Scottish people! Scotland is an enchanting part of the world with a gravity and magnetism that speaks to me at a deep level. From the nature of the west coast and the drama of the Highlands to all Glasgow has to offer in terms of architecture and art, anything from exhibits, concerts, museums… Although, If I had to choose one single thing, I would say Edinburgh castle. There is something magical about it.

What other interests do you have outside of work?

I am a very active person, I like nature, walking, hiking, yoga, dancing, gym… anything that allows me to connect mind and body. Also, travelling is one of my passions. I love exploring new places, meeting people, and experiencing different ways to see the world. I especially enjoy solo travelling as It allows me to immerse myself in the culture and better understand other worlds. If I had to choose one thing though: Bachata (a type of Latin dance). I am an obsessed bachata dancer, I started learning it during the pandemic and now my life revolves around it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add to help us get to know you better?

A lot of people wonder how I got from journalism to data and for me the answer is obvious. Journalism is about finding and using data to have a better understanding about a specific situation, it could be an international conflict or something more localised such a corruption case in a small town. Then you use that research to present findings to the audience and help them make an informed decision that would change their reality (hopefully for the better). Data is a powerful tool to drive improvements in the world. I guess as soon as I realised that, every step in my career brought me closer to data. Today I lead a Data Service team and our core function is to use advanced analytics and machine learning to support research findings that improve people’s lives.

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