Welcome to our AI data expert spotlight where I interview LXT teammates about their background and experience in helping companies of all sizes build reliable data pipelines. Today I am sitting down with Jessica Fernando – LXT’s Solutions Manager – to learn more about her experience and approach to helping clients succeed with AI.
Tell me a bit about your background. How did you end up in the field of AI data?
I actually kind of stumbled upon it! I was a linguistics student in undergrad studying phonetics, focusing on intonation and voice quality which I really enjoyed, but I was unsure of my career options once I graduated. I approached my university supervisors who put me in touch with a company called Appen that is also in the AI data space. They hired me to work on linguistics projects and I was eventually promoted to manage a team of linguists. During the seven years that I worked at Appen, I witnessed a shift in the perception of the industry, from a linguistics focus to an AI focus. Voice assisted technology and the importance of linguistics to power it is more understood, and it’s been exciting to be a part of that evolution.
Over the past seven years you’ve seen quite a range of AI use cases. What are some notable examples that come to mind?
I’ve worked a lot in text-to-speech and have encountered many interesting voices and languages through different projects that I’ve worked on. A notable example is a project where a company needed linguistic annotations for a pirate voice! It’s been fun working on obscure or poorly developed voices and transforming them into natural ones.
I also worked on a really fun project focused on emoji translation and localization for in-car use. For example, if your phone is connected to your in-car system and a text comes in with emojis, the data we provided helped the system translate the emojis into words in a variety of languages.
What is one of the most challenging AI data projects you’ve worked on?
Like my colleague Martha, I worked on the Babel-IARPA project where I was responsible for building a pronunciation dictionary for a low resource language. I do not speak this language but I had studied it a bit at University so I had some prior exposure to it. My role included sourcing native speakers for this language and creating processes to standardize the language. It was a great learning experience for me in many ways. I worked with people from a range of socioeconomic and religious backgrounds that required me to find creative solutions for collecting data while navigating various cultural differences. Sometimes we ran into situations where speakers wanted some transparency on the data use case, which exposed me to the concept of ethics in AI. I also learned to build partnerships with linguists who were native speakers of the language I was working in which helped me to develop skills that translate well to my new role in building client relationships.
I found that my University studies prepared me well for this project despite the fact that I didn’t fluently speak a language other than English. As a linguist we are trained to identify patterns in languages even when we don’t speak them. We don’t know what the words mean but we learn to work out which words have common elements, sort of like deciphering a code. Then we can apply those patterns to a full dataset. It can be hard work but it’s fun and I really enjoy it!
You’ve been here at LXT for six months now. What made you decide to join the company?
I joined LXT for several reasons. Mainly, I was looking for a new challenge. I gained a lot of experience in my last role and was looking to apply that to a new company, preferably a smaller one where I could wear multiple hats and expand my experience. I was exposed to solution design and pricing in my last role and wanted to build those skill sets.
Joining LXT was a great opportunity to reconnect with some of my former coworkers who I really enjoyed working with. It was really helpful to already have a sense of the culture that I’d be joining based on the fact that Phil, Martha and Jodie were already on the team.
Finally, I was keen to make a move to Canada and work with clients in North America. The opportunity came up with LXT and it fit what I was looking for in so many ways. LXT is a growing company with lots of opportunity, and the size was just what I was looking for. And the role was located in Toronto, so that was the icing on the cake!
How would you describe your role as a Solutions Manager?
My role is an interesting combination of sales and solution design. I work with clients to understand their data needs in detail, and then strategize with our delivery team to create a solution that will provide the client with the quality data they need according to their timelines. It’s been really fun to use my skills and experience in a new way and help LXT build strong client relationships.
What advice do you have for companies working in AI when it comes to their data strategy?
One area I am passionate about is data diversity. Unfortunately in the 7 years that I’ve been working in the AI data industry, I’ve found that many companies haven’t fully thought this through. Ultimately diversity should be addressed at each stage in the data lifecycle, from how the data is collected to who is annotating it and evaluating it. Diversity should be table stakes with AI data and is entirely related to the quality and relevance of the data set.
If someone wants to connect to discuss their data needs with you, how should they get in contact?
LinkedIn is a great way to reach me. I look forward to connecting!