Rob Noble

Roke meets


Meet Rob, our Head of Profession for Future Compute and Software. We chatted to him about his multiple stints at Roke, how computing has evolved from being akin to caring for a pet, to managing an entire zoo, and humanity’s future among the stars.

Tell us about your career before Roke

I’ve had a boomerang past with Roke where I worked here once before from 2008 to 2013. Other than that, I’ve been involved with two start-ups; one where I was an early employee and we tried to take on Adobe Flash, the other which I co-founded and we tried to take on Uber. Some would say I didn’t learn the first time around! I’ve also worked in banking and insurance and on contract assignments which were mostly around defining technical architectures. I’ve been a people manager for a significant part of my career but from 2020, I’ve made a conscious decision to take on roles with a larger proportion of technical delivery.

What does a typical day at Roke look like for you?

Many context switches! Activities for a typical day so far in 2022 include:

  • Coordinating progress and defining architectural direction on our Innovation Epics – our own Apollo Programme
  • Reviewing and contributing to technical documents or software delivery for a bid or a project
  • Taking part in our recruitment activity to find the finest minds to join our teams
  • Digital delivery – driving better processes, infrastructure and tooling to improve productivity
  • Working closely with teams specialising in our other areas of expertise

What does your role as Head of Profession for Future Compute and Software entail?

Championing what we need as a profession to best enable us to deliver, and reciprocally encouraging a restlessness in all software professionals across Roke to become ever better at what we do.

Tell us about the main principles of future computing and software

For software it’s easy, it’s about embracing continuous change and automating everything, the only human intervention should be ideas – the creation of the code/architecture/user-experience. Everything else in the lifecycle from the idea, to the idea becoming part of a continually operational service that delights a given set of customers, should be automated.

Compute is more nuanced. Commonly, running software needs a physical computer that requires looking after – it must be kept cool, given power, updated, and kept secure both physically and digitally. Essentially treating it like a pet. The innovations of DevOps, virtualisation and cloud have pushed us to instead treat computers as cattle rather than pets, where we manage a herd. We now focus on large groups of computers – rather than individual units.

Future Compute takes that analogy further still but on three fronts. Firstly, compute has become hugely diverse with neuromorphic, quantum and other non-CPU based architectures, so it’s no longer just cattle it’s more like an entire zoo! Secondly, compute isn’t even like a herd anymore, containerisation completely abstracts away our awareness of any single computer, making it more like a substance, say like food. Lastly, the way software specifies its compute needs is changing, at the moment it’s still quite prescriptive. In our food analogy, our software may prescriptively request 50g of cheddar cheese, yet that’s changing into something more like a negotiation – “I want food with at least this much protein, this much fat and that tastes cheesy.”   

How does your work overlap with the other practise areas at Roke?

Everything is connected. You can’t do data science and machine learning without software and compute to run it on. There’s an overlap with the other practises as well. A lot of cyber is exploiting flaws in software and networked compute, sensors generate information to process in software ultimately. Enabling continuous change overlaps with project management, business analysis overlaps with user experience and finally systems engineering and software architecture clearly overlap.

What are we doing at Roke that is at the forefront of future computing and software?

A big theme within our team is essentially around enabling operatives to take advantage of the ultra-agility that DevSecOps and MLOps has made common in software, and apply it to operational roles across Roke’s broader protection domains. I’m confident it will seed some amazing innovations across mission reconfigurable operational digital delivery.

In Future Compute we are seeking partnerships with major vendors and academia to ensure that we remain at the forefront of compute as it evolves into the quantum, cognitive and bio-inspired compute of tomorrow. We’re also working closely with internal colleagues to ensure future Roke engineers have access to the most useful of this technology, be it cloud, edge, on-premise, or most likely blended seamlessly between all hosting modalities.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I walk a lot with my two dogs, and in the warmer months I also kayak. For a good few hours each week I like to turn off my phone and disconnect from the grid, so to speak. I also like to read science fiction, the more socially-culturally challenging the better. I believe humanity has a bright future among the stars, but the road forwards will always have many scary precipices along the way.