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Meet the team: Phil Williams, NLP engineer

3 min read

This week, Aveni welcomes Phil Williams to the team!

Phil is our newest NLP engineering expert. He started his career as a QA engineer in the semiconductor industry before becoming a software engineer. In 2008 he returned to university to study for a masters in speech and language processing. After completing a project on machine translation, he jumped at the chance to stay on for a PhD and work with some of the world’s leading machine translation researchers. He now splits his time between working at Aveni and working for the University of Edinburgh as a researcher.

What led you to this career?

Since my first experiences with computers – which mainly involved playing games – I’ve been amazed at the incredible things that creative people can get them to do. I started messing around with programming on a ZX Spectrum and finding out more about how computers work. After being briefly put off by uninspiring IT lessons at school I was reintroduced to programming during my degree and then engineering became a natural career choice. It was the right decision in retrospect and I’ve loved learning from the talented people I’ve worked with over the years.

What attracted you to Aveni?

I was excited to see how Aveni is using the latest advances in natural language processing to move existing technologies like video conferencing in a new direction and massively extend the power and usefulness of the software. And as a start-up, Aveni is free to take advantage of all of the latest software development processes and technologies and the opportunity to work at the cutting edge of development was really appealing.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about engineers?

That you need years of higher education and formal training (and that that’s what companies should look for when recruiting). Sure, a few roles will genuinely require that background, but in many cases, I think it’s more about the mindset and desire to learn. There’s space – and a need – for people from a huge range of backgrounds, which sadly isn’t always reflected in the workplace.

How do you like to start your day?

I like to get caught up on the news, emails, and messages – basically, I try to clear the decks ready to focus on something I can engross myself in.

What’s one thing you’re learning now and why is it important?

SageMaker (and cloud-based machine learning generally). Being able to deploy machine learning at scale without setting up all the infrastructure yourself is essential if machine learning is going to be widely adopted.

What do you like doing outside of work?

I love the 80s and 90s arcade games and have recently picked up some original PCBs. Just figuring out how to get them to run properly with modern TVs and controllers has taken a lot of trial and error and help from more knowledgeable friends and the wider arcade gaming scene. I’m a big fan of one-on-one fighting games (think Street Fighter 2) and am looking forward to playing in person again when the Covid-19 restrictions are eased.

When travel becomes an option again, I’m looking forward to getting back on a train and heading north to explore the highlands some more with my partner. I moved to Scotland in 2008 and have loved travelling about getting to know its cities, towns, and islands.

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