7 Q’s with Karen Winterburn, Senior Product Manager at SilverRail

 In Careers, Blog

Karen works within our search team, based in Brisbane. She has been one of our longest standing employees and has seen a true transformation within the industry


1. Before joining SilverRail what was the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?

As a student I worked for a popular ice-cream parlour. We crafted waffle cones with customers peering at us through a glass window. There were high expectations regarding cone quality. If the mixture was too runny, the cones would be brittle. If the cooking plates were not hot enough, the cones would be chewy and colourless.  Uniform, crunchy, golden waffle cones were the holy grail of ice-cream servers. We were rewarded at the end of every shift with a delicious complimentary ice-cream of our choice. I can see now, that the focus on quality prepared me well for a career developing software.


2. What drew you to SilverRail originally? And how has it changed since?

My major areas of study were computer science and a field of mathematics called operations research. This opportunity combined both of my disciplines and it was gratifying to apply what I had learnt to real industry problems. I started when the company in Brisbane (originally called Opcom) was only a few people and saw it grow into a thriving business and eventually acquired by SilverRail. It’s been fun being at the cutting edge of the rail industry’s technology evolution, for example developing the first real time journey planner for the UK Rail industry in 2006. More recently our instant search technology is proving to be an enabler for continued innovation in the industry. While I’ve seen a lot of change during my tenure, my current role as one of the product managers for SilverRail’s Search products, still exercises my maths/computing neural pathways which I still really enjoy.


3. What do you find the most challenging at SilverRail?

Remaining current with technology trends and keeping up with rising user expectations is a constant challenge in our digital age. It’s not easy striking the right balance between effort spent on modernisation of underlying technology versus the development of new user features. Additionally, we can never be idle when it comes to our journey search and fare calculation algorithms. There is the ever-present challenge to keep pace with growing dataset sizes and the increasing need for speed. That’s why designing and implementing faster and faster algorithms has been an ongoing endeavour ever since inception of our first journey planning engine.


4. What has been your favourite project at SilverRail?

In 2015/2016 I was involved in the Transport for Greater Manchester real time implementation. Real time functionality had been available in SilverRail’s UK Rail product for a number of years, however bringing this complex feature to life in SilverRail’s multi-modal door to door journey planner for the whole of UK dataset presented many interesting challenges for the team. The UK National dataset containing all local transit, national services and street data in the UK was far greater in size, density and complexity than the UK Rail data. This project integrated real time data from multiple sources and from multiple modes and operators in the same multi-modal dataset. Now continuous push feeds dynamically update the journey planner to route journeys based on real time information. It was exciting to see this advanced capability go live with Transport for Greater Manchester in May 2016.


5. Where do you see the future of rail?

The future of rail looks bright! Four days a week I endure sitting behind the wheel in creeping traffic and breathing in exhaust fumes. My journey to and from work is not pleasant and sadly where I live there’s nothing enticing about my other commuting options. A well designed public transport network would be an inviting alternative to my car. As the backbone of public transport networks, rail plays a vital role in supporting population growth and reducing the environmental impact of travel. Rail is unrivalled in its ability to move large numbers of people over small and great distances both cleanly and cost effectively. Smart cities will tempt people like me from their cars by delivering quality rail services combined with integrated transport that seamlessly carry travellers to the important rail backbone. High speed rail investment will increasingly provide greener and more appealing options over short to medium haul air routes. Powered by travel technology companies like SilverRail, improved online and mobile user experiences will also enhance the attractiveness of rail.


6. You came to London recently, can you tell us about it?

It was fantastic sitting with my colleagues in the London office whose voices I have heard on calls many times. I also made the short hop from London to the Stockholm office and again enjoyed the collaboration possible when everyone is in the same room. Meeting some of our valued customers face to face and receiving feedback first-hand was a treat too. I attended the Accelerate Rail 2019 Conference and listened to presentations by knowledgeable, passionate and forward thinking rail professionals from both public and private organisations. I’m glad to say that SilverRail’s focus is hitting on many of the hot topics from the conference, for example, ease of buying a ticket, digitalisation of ticketing, integrated multi-modal transport, real time disruption information and data driven decision making.


7. Finally, can you describe what you were like at age 10.

I asked my Mum this question and she reassured me I was a caring and protective big sister to my three younger siblings however I seem to remember being a bit bossy and I didn’t like sharing my barbie dolls. I was organised, cleaned my room and made my bed. I loved school, always did my homework (even when I didn’t have any) and was often the first up and ready for school in the morning. Now, I barely keep up with the cleaning, am far from being a morning person and don’t have any barbie dolls (sad but true). Two things my 10-year old self and I have in common is that we both love being outside on a sunny day and we both think that grandparents are awesome!

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