Nuria Oliver, User and Media Intelligence Scientific Director at Telefonica Research
o Tell us what you do and why it is of value in your organisation?
I lead an international team of researchers working on a variety of research areas, including artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, data mining / machine learning, and mobile computing.
Our role is to contribute to innovation, to patent the innovations we generate and to have an impact on Telefonica’s success. When our work leads to the creation of a complete new product, it is very exciting and empowering.
o What do you like most about your job?
I absolutely love my job, and for many reasons. First of all, it is intellectually very stimulating, and it continuously involves problem-solving, reading, learning, working on new project and brainstorming with my group from whom I am constantly learning. Secondly, we collaborate with other research institutions, host PhD students and undergraduate students all year long. Finally, I have the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people by commercializing our projects through Telefonica Digital products.
I chose to follow a career in technology because I believe in the potential that technology has to improve the world and our quality of life. There is nothing more rewarding than being able to fulfil this vision through my work.
o What are the bad bits?
Stress levels can be fairly high at times, due to deadlines, excessive workload, frequent travelling, and the responsibility of leading a team. At the same time, I find that a certain level of stress is stimulating and motivating. In any case, the positive aspects of my job clearly outweigh the difficult ones. I feel extremely lucky.
o What does a typical day look like?
My typical day starts with me catching up on my email and reading tech news. Then I have meetings from about 9.30am until 3pm. I have time to think, read articles, write papers, prepare presentations and talks later in the afternoon and in the evening if necessary. One of the greatest advantages of working with computers is the flexibility we have with our working schedule. I also travel a lot for instance to present our work in scientific conferences, to give talks, to participate in meetings, etc….I manage to make my trips as short as possible in order to not to be away from home too much.
o What qualifications do you have and what qualifications are essential for this role?
I have a PhD from the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). My areas of expertise are machine learning, artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction and computational perception. In addition to my technical background, in the past years I have studied management and business concepts.
o What qualities do you think are needed for this role?
You need technical expertise in the specific area of work (in my case, machine learning-artificial intelligence, user modelling, human-computing interaction, mobile computing, multimedia data analysis…), but not only. It is equally important to have strong passion, curiosity and eagerness to learn new things, interest in tackling challenges, creativity and perseverance.
o Do you help others and the world?
Making the world a better place through our research and innovation is the key motivating factor for us. Telefonica is one of the largest communication companies in the world, with a presence in 26 countries world-wide and a reach to over 300 million users. Hence, our research findings, prototypes and expertise have the potential of truly having a positive impact in the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Telefonica is very committed to embracing innovation as a key element for its sustainability and competitiveness in the future.
o What is the most exciting thing you’ve done in this role?
Creating the research team that I am leading now. I moved back to Spain from Microsoft Research in Redmond (WA,USA) to create a research team within Telefonica Digital. It was a great challenge and an amazing opportunity in my home country. I am proud to say that in four years, we have become one of the leading research teams in the world, we have achieved excellent scientific results (publications in top conferences and journals, prizes, etc…) while also playing an important role internally by transferring our innovations to Telefonica products. And this is just the beginning of an amazing adventure.
o How geeky is your job?
My job is very geeky, we are constantly thinking and coming up with ideas for technological innovations and algorithms. At the same time, I work with people and for people, hence my job also has a very important human component. So, it is a mixture of machines, geekiness and humans.
o What’s you work-life balance like?
I believe IT offers work-life balance opportunities and flexibility levels rarely matched by other professions. You only need a computer and an internet connection to work from home or everywhere else. This is why computer science is a wonderful career for women, with more advantages than traditional professions. I am committed to encouraging and inspiring younger generations to pursue careers in science and technology, particularly women. Technology is the engine that moves the world forward, and being able to contribute to defining what the world will be in the future is extremely motivating.