This week we caught up with Tom Iddon, an NLP Engineer at Aveni. We dive into how he went from the world of academia to becoming an engineer at Aveni. He joined the company in February 2020 and has a degree in MSc Speech and Language Processing from the University of Edinburgh. Here’s what he had to say:
What was it about Aveni that made you think ‘this is somewhere I want to work’?
I was excited at the prospect of working on some cutting-edge NLP projects, but it was mostly about the people. I could tell from the first couple of interviews that Aveni wasn’t looking for people who already had all the required knowledge – they were looking for people willing to go outside their comfort zone and constantly pick up new skills. That culture of continuous learning is what really sold me on Aveni.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Our dev team uses the scrum/agile framework, so my days are very collaborative. Even though we all work remotely right now, the team stays in constant communication. We have standup in the morning, where everyone gets the chance to talk about their work the previous day and their plans for that current day. After that, I might do some work on my own, but more often than not I pair with someone, which is a great way to avoid silly mistakes! And we’re always discussing our approach with the team, taking and giving feedback, etc. By the end of the sprint, everyone in the team has had a hand in every piece of work that was done!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The variety, hands down. Because we’re quite a small team, you have to be willing to do whatever needs to be done. That means I get to work on front-end and back-end development, machine learning, data science, user experience, you name it! No two days are the same.
What did your career path look like before it led to being an engineer at Aveni?
My background is in academics. I started out doing a Linguistics degree at Edinburgh, then moved into NLP and Automatic Speech Recognition with my masters. That led to a research job in Speech Synthesis. I really liked research but I was keen to transition to an engineering role, so I’m fortunate that Aveni was looking for someone to do a bit of both!
What skills make a successful NLP Engineer?
So far I’ve found that the most important skill is working with data. In academia, it often seemed like I could take data for granted and I was just experimenting with models. In industry, you still need knowledge of the latest models and technologies, but that’s no help if you haven’t cleaned and balanced your data properly.
Another really important skill is taking clients’ needs and translating them into technical solutions. A lot of people find machine learning totally mysterious, so it’s up to you to explain what’s possible and agree on a realistic outcome together.
What advice would you give to people who want to pursue a career in NLP Engineering?
Be willing to learn! NLP is still a huge area of active research, so there’s always more learning. The amount of information can feel pretty overwhelming, but eventually, it all clicks into place.
How do you unwind after a day at work?
Obviously, it’s a bit tricky to socialise at the moment! So I tend to entertain myself with movies, audiobooks and/or a cycle around the park. I’m also a huge D&D nerd, so I play that about once a week over Zoom!