Creepy-crawlies behind a career jump
When asked to join Minibeast Wildlife as lead developer of the Spidentify app, Cameron Hunt (BChemEng(Hons) 2012, BBiomedSc 2012, PhD 2018) leapt at the opportunity. As part of a team of four, he has helped create Australia's most comprehensive spider identification assistant and field guide for mobile devices. Whether you’re just curious about a huntsman’s habits or desperate to know how bad a redback’s bite might be, Spidentify is your go-to source.
“As you can imagine, Chemical Engineering didn’t offer any app development lectures. Nor was my thesis related to spider apps,” says Cameron. “With help, I learned to design the interfaces and algorithms for producing suggested spider species. I then put that together with all the information on the spiders. And now I’m responsible for ongoing maintenance and app upgrades.”
At this year’s Whitley Awards, the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales acknowledged the significance of the Minibeast Wildlife team’s work: Spidentify won a Certificate of Commendation for the digital field guide category. “It’s a great feeling that they considered our app to have made an outstanding contribution to publications highlighting Australian wildlife,” Cameron shares.
A passion for learning new programming languages lies behind Cameron’s success with Spidentify. “This started way back as an undergraduate, while doing simulation work with MATLAB, and then followed me to my PhD where I used a lot of different programming languages in my thesis,” he explains. “So writing an app was just another step, another language to learn, and one where I could see exactly what I’d created on my phone.”
Struck by the growing accessibility of programming information, Cameron remarks, “When I was quite young, I watched my dad, a mechanical engineer, writing some software for his work. He had this pile of large reference books and special software. It took days of his time. Now you can log into an online platform that can teach you the basics of the programming language Python in a matter of hours.” Cameron hopes machine learning tools will become even more accessible.
In grappling with personal adversity, Cameron has been bolstered by friends and family. And he encourages students to seek professional help in times of need. “There are amazing people out there who can and do want to help, without judgement,” he relays. Cameron also offers this broader advice: “Stop worrying about grades so much and get involved with groups and clubs. Take advantage of startup and entrepreneur resources – look for opportunities to apply the things you’re learning to the real world.”
A self-confessed nerd, Cameron reveals, “I play a lot of board games and computer games. I collect miniatures and paint them, own a 3D printer with googly eyes, and love to read fantasy and science fiction books. I used to do a lot of hiking and running and I’m trying to get back into that now that I’ve completed my PhD.” And, of course, Cameron maintains his fascination with Australia’s eight-legged wildlife (a weird and wonderful way to combine work with pleasure).