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Dr Raoul-Gabriel Urma, CEO, Cambridge Spark

Describe your career to date 

At the age of six, I was introduced to the world of coding through a book on HTML given to me by my parents. This sparked a lifelong passion for both coding and education, leading me to create websites to teach children about strategy games.


Pursuing my passion, I earned a MEng in computer science from Imperial College London and a PhD in computer science from Cambridge University, with a research focus on source code analysis, machine learning, and education. My published work has garnered over 300 citations and I currently serve as a fellow and part-time affiliated lecturer at Cambridge University.


Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of working for some of the leading technology companies on large-scale data transformation projects, including Google, Oracle, Goldman Sachs, eBay, and Morgan Stanley.


I founded Cambridge Spark with the mission to empower organisations through education in data and AI. Our efforts have resulted in educating thousands of learners globally, serving major corporations and government organisations. With the support of the UK innovation agency, Cambridge Spark developed EDUKATE.AI, a proprietary learning platform for data skills, which has received a European and UK patent (EP3719653B1) that I co-invented.


In addition to my professional accomplishments, I am also the author of several best-selling software development books, including “Modern Java in Action” and “Real-World Software Development”, with a total of 60,000+ copies sold globally. My contributions to the community were recognised in 2017 when I was nominated as an Oracle Java Champion.

What key skills or attributes do you consider have contributed to your success in this role? 

I attribute my success to a combination of technical expertise and my passion for using technology to empower others. Additionally, my obsession with continuous improvement has been a key factor. I am always looking for the next challenge, seeking to absorb as much knowledge as possible to improve my skills. This drive for self-improvement extends to all areas of my life, whether it’s at the gym, in my friendships, or in my work.


What level of data maturity do you typically encounter across your client base and what tends to hold this back? 

With the ongoing evolution of technology, data management and analysis has inevitably been a key part in the growth and development of industry. Data skills have been some of the most desired skill-sets when hiring new talent and companies have identified that to truly succeed in this field, they need to invest in their staff and their infrastructure.


A lot of organisations have identified and started their own journeys in data maturity, but understanding this field comes with a steep learning curve and trying to find the balance between work and learning is a delicate line to tread. 


Certain industries are leading the charge when it comes to data maturity. Pharmaceutical and retail in particular have been pushing the limits of data science due to social and economic pressures to adapt. Consumer habits are constantly changing and the appetite for quick, convenient goods is pushing the retail industry to keep up. The pace of change is certainly something that holds companies back, along with the rising competition for skilled workers. 

What trends are you seeing in terms of the data and analytics resources your clients are demanding from you? 

The demand for data and analytics resources is on the rise as the industry evolves. Clients are focusing on upskilling into more specialised roles, such as data engineers and architects, reflected in the launch of a data engineer apprenticeship and discussions for a data architect qualification. There is a growing trend of individuals outside of data teams taking up Python to enhance their self-service analytics capabilities.


Additionally, clients are looking for advanced ML and AI capabilities, data integration across organisations, and cost-effective and scalable data solutions using cloud technology. Overall, clients are seeking more innovative and efficient ways to leverage their data assets.


What challenges do you see for data in the year ahead that will have an impact on your clients and on the industry as a whole? 

The challenge of demonstrating return on investment from analytics and AI initiatives remains a significant issue and opportunity for our clients. This year, I am looking forward to partnering with chief data officers and heads of data who are paving the way for the industry by quantifying the financial benefits of investing in workforce skills. Their success in showcasing the business impact of data teams will drive the industry towards greater progress and tangible results from data-driven initiatives.

How are you developing the data literacy of a) your own organisation and b) your clients? 

At Cambridge Spark, we are committed to helping our clients achieve data literacy and unlock the full potential of their data assets. Our clients have access to specialised, contextually relevant programmes such as the NHS Data Citizen and data driven journalism. 


We have also launched a series of skills bootcamps in collaboration with the Department of Education, to provide our clients with a new talent pool of data literate professionals. Additionally, all our staff have access to our internal Python Academy to enhance their data literacy, further empowering our clients to achieve their data goals.


How are you tackling the challenge of attracting, nurturing and retaining talent? 

At Cambridge Spark, we firmly believe in the value of continuous professional development and practice what we preach by providing various learning opportunities for our staff. This includes the internal Python Academy, CPD programmes, and attendance at relevant industry events such as World Summit AI. Our commitment to upskilling and growth extends to all departments, including sales and mentorship. Regular coaching and feedback are integral components of our approach, as we understand that they are key factors in developing and retaining talented individuals.

Dr Raoul-Gabriel Urma
has been included in:
  • 100 Enablers 2023 (EMEA)