Behind Hakai: Shawn Hateley
A blog series highlighting the people who play an integral role behind-the-scenes to ensure the data keeps flowing and the Hakai Institute keeps running.
Shawn Hateley is a jack of all trades—part engineer, part computer scientist, part builder, part programmer, part detective, and a little bit of everything else. When a sensor stops working, Shawn is there to solve the mystery of why it happened and figure out how to fix it. Solutions vary. Reasons why a sensor stops working range from wear and tear to ice to lightning to a wolf chewing through your cable. No two days are alike.
What do you do at the Hakai Institute?
I have a few roles. I look after general IT stuff, like computer hardware, or my printer is broken kind of problems. I also help out with the facilities, especially the automation side of things. We have alarms and sensors to make sure all of the equipment and infrastructure is working.
For instance, if the water filtration system on Calvert Island springs a leak, you could lose all your water really quickly. Or the Marna Lab on Quadra Island. There are salmon and shellfish in tanks, so we always need to know if the seawater is flowing properly into the tanks. We’ve automated things to send an alert anytime something needs fixing.
Then the big task I work on is the sensor network, especially for the hardware side of things, such as installing sensors, and making sure the data gets sent where it needs to go.
What’s your favorite part about working at Hakai?
The best thing about working with scientists is that they always want to do something a bit different. It’s unusual to have scientists give you instructions to implement a system that’s been done before. That almost never happens. It always requires some kind of one-off solution.
I also love when an email pops up asking me for help—a problem I get to solve and at the same time helping someone out. I love fixing interesting problems.
What got you into this kind of work?
My dad was a builder and a close family friend got us our first computer when I was five. Growing up whatever opportunities came along to blend those two things together, I took it. In school, I studied technical theater and pursued that for quite a while—sound, set design, rigging, costumes, and lighting.
I’ve never had formal training in engineering or computer science. All of it has been on-the-job training.
What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on?
Lately my favorite has been the KC Buoy. We just put that back in the water last week. It was probably because I took on more responsibility. I’d never worked on a mooring before. It was integrating a whole new sensor system we’ve never worked with before—taking this new sensor system, getting the existing sensor network to talk to it, and get the data back out, and the newness of this large marine platform.
What’s one aspect of your job you could do without?
Shipping and transportation to Calvert is definitely a challenge. You have to be prepared and ready for anything. It’s harder to improvise. Oh, and I could do with fewer printer problems.
What new challenges are you excited about?
Everywhere we go is a little different. We might have figured out how to install a certain sensor in a stream on Calvert Island. Now, we’re going somewhere else like the Homathko watershed, and we have glacial runoff where you can’t see an inch into the water. It’s always something.
*This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.