How do I study IBM Watson software

Interview with Nina Fischer, AI Application Consultant in the IBM Watson division

Women in Tech: "There are an incredible number of exciting challenges that await you."

In our series of articles "Women in Tech" we introduce inspiring women who have successfully gained a foothold in the IT industry. Today in focus: Nina Fischer, AI Application Consultant in the IBM Watson division.

The tech industry is dominated by men - so far, so bad. But slowly but surely, the so-called Boys Club is getting company from talented women: More and more women are gaining a foothold in the industry.

For this reason, we want to give exciting and inspiring women the opportunity to introduce themselves and tell us how and why they chose to enter the tech industry. But topics such as gender prejudice, challenges or funding opportunities are also discussed.

Our woman in tech: Nina Fischer

Nina Fischer has been working at IBM as an AI application consultant in the IBM Watson division - the platform for artificial intelligence - since 2017. As a specialist in speech recognition and virtual assistants, she develops AI solutions and works on their implementation. Winner of the WIN-Award 2020 (Women‘s IT Network) in the TECHNICAL INNOVATION category in PLATINUM. Before entering IT, she completed a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and completed her master's degree in “Robotics, Cognition, Intelligence”.

How long have you been interested in the tech industry?

Actually, my interest in mathematics only showed in high school. That was when I noticed that the (most 😉) arithmetic methods are actually totally logical and that it is fun to enter the correct number in the solution field after a long and complex arithmetic problem. After graduating from high school, I therefore decided to develop myself further in the mathematical / technical direction, but also did not want to lose the connection to practice. At the same time, I've always been fascinated by space travel - so studying aerospace engineering was an obvious choice. So I first studied mechanical engineering in my bachelor's degree with the plan to further specialize in my master's degree. In fact, it turned out differently than planned. As a result of an internship, my focus of interest changed more and more towards artificial intelligence. So I decided to study for a master's degree in "Robotics, Cognition, Intelligence", which enabled me to delve deeply into AI and learn how to program neural networks, for example, but also gave me the freedom to introduce some space lectures. Win win!

How did you get to your current job?

I am very happy that I was able to give computer science a second chance.

I always found computer science terrible at school. I didn't understand anything about the subject at the time and saw no reason why I should learn something like that. But that changed, as I said, from high school onwards. During my bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, there were compulsory lectures in the field of computer science, which I enjoyed so much that I even worked as an IT tutor for the lower courses at university. I supported the students in programming systems in C.
At the end of my bachelor's degree, I did an engineering internship at Airbus Defense & Space GmbH and was able to work on a super exciting project: CIMON. There, with the help of artificial intelligence from IBM, the world's first autonomous flying voice assistant for astronauts on the International Space Station was developed; and I was allowed to take over the programming of the AI ​​dialogue system.
Then it was clear that I wanted to change and get even deeper into the AI ​​sector. At the same time as completing my master’s degree in “Robotics, Cognition, Intelligence”, I started to work at IBM as a student trainee and was able to apply what I had learned in practice in many customer projects. Since completing my Masters in January 2020, I have been working full time at IBM and I am very happy that I was able to give computer science a second chance.

Do you have a role model?

I find it very difficult to name a role model - it always sounds like you see another person unreservedly as an ideal that you are trying to copy yourself. Each person is so individual and has their strengths in a wide variety of areas. I would rather say that there are some colleagues or friends whose work or attitude inspires me or makes me think. With this input I try to get the best out of myself and to go my own way. I am very grateful that my family, colleagues and superiors in particular always supported me in my decisions and encouraged me wherever possible!

Have they been put in your way?

I am lucky that no major obstacles have been put in my way in terms of career technology.
Of course, there are always some challenges here and there that have to be mastered - be it the one difficult exam at the university, for which you are taking the third time, requirements in everyday project life where the solution is unclear and complicated, or the small ones personal challenges, such as speaking in front of a group.
However, I try to see these challenges as opportunities to develop, learn and grow from them.

What are you doing exactly in your current position?

Since February 2020 I have been working as an "AI Application Consultant" at IBM Germany in the Watson Services division. The “IBM Watson” platform uses cloud services to cover all possible AI components - from speech recognition to dialogue systems, visual image recognition and linguistic search through to its own neural networks. Since we mainly work in customer projects and develop AI systems for their companies together with customers, my everyday life consists, among other things, of talking to customers about requirements and objectives and discussing possible solutions. Often several projects run in parallel, which requires good time planning.
After the votes, the implementation follows. I think about strategies, for example how I can make the AI ​​dialogue system the most intelligent and user-friendly. As a rule, there are also further dependencies on databases, knowledge contributions, further AI services or other interfaces, which also have to be queried by a backend application and, if necessary, built into the dialog. Depending on the project, I then work on dialogue, speech recognition or directly on the backend.
Another part that is very important to me is the opportunity to develop further in addition to "daily business" through training courses and to acquire additional skills.

Did you develop something yourself?

There is development work in every project that we implement and each one is unique in structure and content. Accordingly, I have already developed smaller and larger components myself in a number of projects.
One of the most exciting projects I have been involved in was or is for sure the CIMON project in cooperation with Airbus, DLR and IBM. CIMON is a free and autonomous flying voice assistant for astronauts on the ISS, which can support the astronauts in their daily tasks and experiments through AI. Here I was responsible for the dialogue and speech system of the astronaut assistant almost from the beginning and also programmed some components of the backend application. For my work at CIMON, I won the WIN Award 2020 (Women’s IT Network) in the TECHNICAL INNOVATION category in PLATINUM. Of course, that makes me twice as proud to be part of this wonderful team.

Why are there so few women in tech?

You have to break these ways of thinking and clichés for yourself first.

Certainly, stereotypes and prejudices have some influence on the career aspirations of women (and men) and gender-atypical jobs are then chosen less often. I was no exception myself and used to find IT, programming and computers to be “nerdy” and unattractive - and above all “nothing for girls”.
You first have to break these ways of thinking and clichés for yourself personally in order to see what exciting topics and challenges await you.

What clichés have you come across with regard to “Women in Tech”?

Especially earlier, when it came up that I was studying mechanical engineering, the first question was usually: “Are you the only woman in the classroom?” Or something similar. In fact, however, I had a few fellow students during my studies, whom I then pointed out. But we were still a long way from a 50/50 distribution. In some cases, the question was then asked whether these women would then also be recognized as such, or whether they would be more likely to be seen as men in terms of looks. Such clichés are unfortunately anchored in some people's minds and may prevent other women from embarking on a technical career path.
In my current professional environment, however, I have fortunately not had to make any negative points of contact with prejudices regarding "Women in Tech" - on the contrary: I know some specialists in their fields who asked for this expertise and who are not preferred or disadvantaged because of their gender become.

And why should more women work in tech?

It can only be helpful if a task is viewed from as many angles as possible.

In the past, in some professional or university projects, I have found that the more diverse a team is, the more exciting and diverse the solution can be in the end. So I don't really want to attach that to a man / woman difference and why more women should work in the tech industry. In my opinion, it can only be helpful if you look at a task from as many angles as possible in order to develop the best end product. In general, it would be important to me that men and women, experienced and newcomers, “doers” and “thinkers” work together - to name just a few aspects of a diverse team. I would be happy if you could reduce the pigeonhole thinking and prefer to concentrate on the skills of all those involved that flow into a project. Only in this way can synergies be used meaningfully and innovations of all kinds can be created.

What does the future look like - will the diversity debate soon be history?

Hopefully at some point this debate will no longer be an issue. But I think that requires some rethinking in society, which is often rather slow and sluggish. Initiatives such as https://www.awomaninai.com/, https://www.femaletechleaders.org/, the Girls Day or this “Women in Tech” series give women the platform for their presence in the tech industry to strengthen.
The fact that diversity in general - and not just in relation to gender - is already practiced and promoted in many companies today is a step in the right direction. It would of course be nicer if the discussion, e.g. about stereotypical gender roles, were not necessary from the outset. But maybe we can do it in the future.

Do you have any tips for women looking to get into tech?

If you are interested in technology, don't let prejudices or pre-established role models deter you. You yourself are the best way to refute stereotypes and clichés.
Go your own way confidently and try to see hurdles or setbacks as “learning gifts”, so you can always develop yourself further. There are an incredible number of exciting challenges that await you.

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