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IWD’24: ‘I’ve never seen being female as a barrier to achievement’ [An Interview with Sophia Flucker]

Ahead of International Women’s Day, JSA Europe’s João Marques Lima had the opportunity to sit down with Sophia Flucker, a prominent figure in the data center engineering and energy efficiency industry. As a woman in a technical leadership role, Sophia attributes her success to the support of expert colleagues and her own determination, never seeing her gender as a barrier to achievement.

With her extensive experience in delivering data center design, commissioning, and energy assessments, Sophia, who is currently based in London, has nevertheless encountered and overcome numerous challenges throughout her career. 

In this interview, the technical director for MiCiM, and managing director at Operational Intelligence shares details about that journey as well as her insights on the future of data center engineering, sustainable solutions, and the role of women in the industry.

JML: With your extensive experience in delivering data centre design, commissioning, and energy assessments, could you share some of the most notable challenges you’ve encountered and overcome in these areas throughout your career?

SF: It’s always a challenge to make changes (including energy efficiency improvements) in live facilities as this introduces risk and mitigations have to be managed to ensure there are no unplanned service interruptions.  Interfaces between critical systems can be complex and managing the human element and stakeholders is essential.  Using a collaborative approach to identify key risks and scope gaps helps to identify issues and deliver successful project outcomes.

JML: As a woman in a technical leadership role, what are some of the key factors that have contributed to your success in developing low energy data center cooling solutions and leading teams across multiple projects and countries?

SF: I’ve been lucky to work with a number of expert colleagues who have been very supportive in developing my skills and experience.  I’ve never seen being female as a barrier to achievement.

JML: How do you envision the future of data center engineering and energy efficiency, and what role do you see yourself playing in shaping these advancements within the industry?

SF: The industry is continuing to grow rapidly while under increasing pressure to reduce its environmental impact and while dealing with a skills shortage.  We have to keep abreast of technology changes in order to best prepare our clients for these unknowns.  This includes supporting innovation and increasing awareness about sustainable solutions as well as promoting learning and development.

JML: Given your involvement in industry groups on data center energy efficiency, could you share some of the key insights or initiatives that have emerged from your participation, and how these have influenced your approach to sustainable and energy-efficient data center solutions?

SF: There is increasing awareness of the environmental impact of data centres beyond energy efficiency, looking at the life cycle impact of the whole supply chain.  This means considering the embodied impact from materials for example and looking beyond carbon to other types of pollution, e.g. what happens to servers when they are decommissioned?  When we just look at energy efficiency we can cause detrimental impacts in other areas (burden shift).  It’s important to take a holistic view although it is challenging to undertake this type of analysis.  There is a long way to go to improve the sustainability of data centres.

JML: What are some of the most promising trends or innovations you have observed in the field of data center energy efficiency, and how do you integrate these into your work at MiCiM Ltd and Operational Intelligence Ltd?

SF: Liquid cooling looks likely to become increasingly deployed and this will have a huge impact on data centre design and operation.  We are monitoring the different solutions and analysing what this means for different stakeholders so we can support our clients accordingly.  

JML: As the Managing Director for Operational Intelligence Ltd, what strategies and approaches have you implemented to drive business development and promote innovation in the context of data center engineering and energy assessments?

SF: Finding innovative improvements has always been a key part of our approach in the belief that we can do things better through learning from experience.  We are involved with various industry groups and have published a number of technical papers (available on our website) to promote our expertise.

JML: You have published and presented work in the area of data center energy efficiency. Could you highlight some of the key findings or insights from your published work, and how these have contributed to the broader conversation on sustainable data center operations?

SF: There is better awareness today of energy efficiency best practices but most operational facilities we have been involved with have opportunities to reduce their energy consumption by at least 10% through additional optimisation of existing systems, with short paybacks.  We tackle this by working closely with operations teams to analyse how to put theory into practice on their live facilities.  As mentioned above, we’re also discussing with our clients how to reduce the overall environmental impact of their facilities. 

JML: What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

SF: I’ve benefited from lots of professional advice but if I had to pick out a couple of things: one would be to understand people and where they are coming from and the other would be preparation. 

JML: What advice would you give to younger women entering data centres today?

SF: It’s a dynamic sector with plenty of opportunities and you can make your career what you want of it (be the change).

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JSA is celebrating Women’s History Month throughout March 2024. Find inspirational interviews on our LinkedIn Page.

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