Tech Trailblazers

Tech Trailblazer: Chloe Thompson

  • Name: Chloe Thompson

    Role: Cognitive Science Engineer

    What does your typical day look like?

    I always start my day with a cup of tea while sifting through any emails and writing up a list of to do’s for the day, in preparation for daily stand-up with the team in NI. Most days before midday our team in NI have meetings with our colleagues in the US, where we go over latest developments in our pipeline of work and any new ideas that have been sparked from our research. The rest of the day can vary depending on what I am looking at that week. My role is focused on research and implementation of bleeding-edge ML models and algorithms (that definitely comes over pretty cool on paper). I could spend my day reading papers, knee deep in data or training and evaluating models, but it’s the variation that keeps it exciting!

    What are you currently working on?

    I would love to tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. I am joking, but that is the joy of non-disclosure agreements. At a high level, the team I work within focuses on generating insights from our data that will benefit Aflac, our customers and agents. This means that I could be working on data discovery to come up with a hypothesis or developing a model to solve a business problem.

    A lot of the work that I do is very flexible, once we prove that a concept is possible – or isn’t - we create the pipeline for the system and hand our work over for any further development to add into a product. After that we move onwards to the next complex problem sitting in our future ideas backlog. Outside of research and development, we spend time connecting with different teams, both in NI and in the US, to gain an insight into what they work on and how they operate to gauge if there is any scope for our team to bring in some innovation.  

    What inspired you to join this company in particular?

    I joined Aflac while I was still in university and ended up coming in as their first intern. I came across Aflac through career events and sitting on a panel at a university open evening. After having a conversation with some of the people, everything I was interested in aligned with Aflac values and the type work. For me the culture, freedom to explore creative approaches and the rolling sleeves up and getting stuck in attitude was a great fit. The Cognitive Science team I work in has grown a lot since I started, and the diversity of thought and experience is also a great learning opportunity coming straight out of university.

     Did you always want to work in this industry (tech)?

    I knew going to university that I wanted to do some form of engineering, whether that was Product Design or Software and Electronics (I chose the latter). Then when I went to university, I knew I wanted to end up in a technical role but I wasn’t sure what that would be when I had made it through the 5 years. I was definitely confused by the amount of roles and choice!

    Throughout the years I decided to focus on AI, which ultimately led me to where I am today; but that is something I am very happy with. I was always slightly afraid of graduating and being bored in my job sitting coding all day and I think that is why working at Aflac suits me so well. Being a Cognitive Science Engineer means I get to code, research, collaborate, bounce ideas around the team and constantly learn. 

    What’s your favourite part about your work?

    It sounds very cliché, but I love that technology and research is constantly changing. There will always be a range of new technologies, approaches or models waiting to be discovered. I have always had a curious mind and getting to spend my day problem solving to find a solution to a business problem suits me to a T.

    The culture in the team of failing fast to get to the final working solution, keeps you on your toes to learn and think outside the box. I get to work with some of the best people and as a chatty person I love interacting with a range of people with diversity of thought.

    What would you say to other people considering a job in this industry (tech)?

    It is entirely possible to have a career in this industry no matter your background. Whether you have a technology degree or not, there are so many roles within tech that you don’t necessarily need to be the world’s best coder to land a great job. I am biased in that fact that I think this is a great sector to work in but that is because there are a wide range of jobs that diversity of backgrounds and experience only makes what we develop better. If you’re interested in technology just go for it! There are so many routes into the industry now, so block out that voice and people who say you can’t do it and give tech a try. Worst case it’s not for you – and that’s okay! - but best case you love it and find a career you’re passionate about.

    How do you see this technology impacting on our lives?

    Technology already impacts our lives whether we realise it or not, and it has great potential to even more in years to come. The most important thing is that we learn to consume, create and manage technology in an ethical way. One of the biggest forces will be Artificial Intelligence, and along with that comes the use of personal and business data to train these models. As AI progresses, those designing and developing models need to be aware of the ethics behind utilising models for decision making. Bias is entrenched in the data and even developers, both consciously and unconsciously, but it is our duty to ensure that decisions and processes are fair and equitable. Just because we can use technology and AI, doesn’t always mean we should!

    Who inspired you to work in this field?

    I honestly couldn’t pinpoint an individual person that has inspired me to work in tech; the inspiration for me has been an accumulation of smaller points over many years. From my parents watching a report on BBC Breakfast about nanotechnology and thinking it was a good paying job, teachers supporting me to pursue ICT and Technology & Design and looking up to others in the tech community in Belfast, there have been many moments that have led me to this point. I have always been interested in the “Why” and “How” behind technology and interested in creative hobbies, so for me working in a role that is a combination of the two is a perfect merge. It may not be the most exciting and inspiring story into why I have ended up in the tech sector, but in the words of my mum “If it is for you, it won’t pass you” and tech must have been for me.

    What do you consider to be the most important tech innovation or development in recent years?

    I could be biased here and say that it is Artificial Intelligence but that wouldn’t be fair to all of the other amazing developments. In recent years IoT (Internet of Things) has taken a massive leap, especially in terms of commercialisation into smart home devices. While we all see Alexa and Google home devices as small additions to our homes, which can automate our light bulbs and heating, the technology within these devices are part of larger developments in technology for other sectors. IoT is an enabler for automation and independence, which has the power to create a more inclusive society. It has a large part to play in reducing friction and improving access for those with disabilities. Whether that is with wearables or visual recognition systems, automation through IoT has the potential to break down barriers and create access to enable a large portion of society to have equal opportunity. 

    What tech gadget could you not live without?

    I am a massive Apple device fan, to the point where I have fallen deep into the ecosystem and find it difficult to choose between my Apple Watch or iPhone. Only because my watch is less useful without my phone, will I settle on choosing my iPhone. My phone has most of my life on there from photos and music to emails and my many cloud storage apps, I can do everything on there that I need to!

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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