ISE Grad Joins Silicon Valley Start-up Focused on Resilience Engineering
Dr. Laura Maguire, ISE ‘20, completed her PhD at The Ohio State University working with Dr. David Woods on Cognitive Systems Engineering with an emphasis on coping with complexity in high-risk industries, resilience engineering, human-centered automation and coordination across distributed networks. While conducting research for her dissertation, "Controlling the Cognitive Costs of Coordination in Large-scale Distributed Software Systems,” she was recruited by San Francisco-based Jeli and now works as a research for Jeli. BuckISE asked her to share information about her new role and how her ISE education has an immediate and direct impact in industry.
BuckISE: How did you find out about Jeli and when did you start working for them?
Dr. Maguire: I was approached by the CEO, Nora Jones, while at a conference in Sweden. We had a great discussion about developing leading-edge software while wandering through one of Scandinavia’s oldest cities. It was a neat contrast to be talking about modern day innovations while surrounded by the architectural and engineering innovations of the 17th and 18th centuries! By the end of our conversation, she offered me a position with the company. I started with Jeli in March 2020 right after I defended my dissertation work.
BuckISE: What attracted you to this business?
Dr. Maguire: It wasn't a hard decision to go work with a team of highly motivated, forward-thinking developers to build a product around the core themes of my dissertation research. Software engineering is built on rapid cycle development that enables experimentation and adaptation in near real-time. We can be discussing design concepts in the morning and have lightweight prototypes nearly by the evening! This rapid development helps us engage our users in co-creating the product (which is a central tenet of Cognitive Systems Engineering) by allowing us to structure scenarios, theoretical use cases and simulations that help us to understand how the technology would influence real world practice.
BuckISE: I understand that your dissertation feeds directly into Jeli’s business model. Can you explain?
Dr. Maguire: Yes! The pandemic made it abundantly clear just how dependent we are on technology for collaboration and communication at work but also for connection. I remember thinking at the start of the lockdowns how relevant the people and the work I had just finished studying was for this moment in human history!
It's perhaps a bit obvious to say but since the 1950s, technology has become increasingly crucial for modern life – both in convenience to everyday activities and to extending the human capabilities to operate at larger scales, faster speeds and in a wider variety of contexts and conditions. However, in the past, you could typically take a system offline to add new features or maintain it. But in an increasingly global world, where business and life critical functions are reliant on technology, the modern digital service providers – like your online bank, Netflix or electronic health record providers – have to make their systems continuously available to their users.
This substantial shift meant new methods of developing and managing large scale software systems – largely based on methods of continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) of code which is the software equivalent of changing the oil in your car while driving down the highway at 100 miles per hour! With these new methods, new kinds of expertise were required. My doctoral research studied this kind of work.
When the pandemic hit, it accelerated the demands for 24/7 availability of critical digital infrastructure and made it increasingly important for companies to understand how well they can respond to failures in their systems and how they can be resilient in the face of unexpected events to ensure reliability and continuous availability of these important software applications.
BuckISE: Can you explain what your role is and how your contributions to Jeli are significant?
Dr. Maguire: I lead the research activities at Jeli.io – which is a fast-growing start-up designed to help organizations learn from their incidents. As you might imagine in such a dynamic work setting, being able to see the sources of resilience and then support those kinds of practices and transfer that knowledge across a fast-moving organization is challenging. We use failures in the system to be able to identify patterns that help or hinder a company's ability to adapt and, ultimately, to deliver reliable services. This research enables us to build tools that can better support the engineers who are tasked with building and maintaining critical digital infrastructure – both in day-to-day operations and in crisis situations. Jeli helps companies move faster and manage the risks inherent in CI/CD operations.
My role helps our designers and engineers to deeply understand the context of the work and the cognitive elements of the incident response activities – things like detecting, diagnosing and repairing problems in the system. In addition, I work collaboratively with our industry partners to develop insights into what makes this “site reliability engineering” work hard and what kinds of well-intentioned efforts may be detrimental to successful outcomes.
BuckISE: How did the Ohio State ISE Department prepare you for this work?
Dr. Maguire: The ISE program helps graduates to work with a range of disciplines to identify system requirements, user needs, as well as integration and leverage points to improve efficiency and safety within high risk/ high consequence work environments. The ISE Department has strong ties to industry partners, research and innovation labs, and community groups to help ground the theoretical research in practical applications.
BuckISE: What is your advice for others looking to enter this arena?
Dr. Maguire: The intersection of human-machine teaming and technological innovation found in Cognitive Systems Engineering (CSE) and software engineering is a huge growth area. There is a small, but highly motivated, group within the software engineering community that is working to translate the resilience engineering and CSE literature into their daily practices and their operations. Those interested should check out learningfromincidents.io for relevant blog posts from practitioners within the software engineering community and https://github.com/lorin/resilience-engineering for a curated selection of academic papers and other resources to get started with.
Story by Nancy Richison