IBMer Spotlight: Meet Allison Allain

ESSEWe grab a coffee with IBMers from around the world, and share our chat in this weekly spotlight series. This week you can meet Allison, from IBM US.

In celebration of International Women’s Day this March,  Allison shares her thoughts about women’s progress, and what it means to be a woman at IBM.

In the morning, I like my coffee…
I drink french press coffee, with sugar and milk.

When I get up to go to work, I look forward to…
continuously learning new things.

I am responsible for..
learning, researching, understanding and developing, the state of the art in neural networks and deep learning.

My typical day…
includes reading papers, writing code and collaborating with the researchers: on my team, at IBM and in the community.

The coolest part of my job is…
working with amazing people. In particular, how much everyone I work with is always learning; their willingness to share what they’re learning, answer my questions and to listen and learn from me with the topics on which I am an expert.

The biggest challenge I have….
is keeping up to date with (and hopefully ahead of) all the developments in my field. Sometimes it’s hard to find a good balance between learning and making, it’s easy to get swept up in exploring new technologies and forget to build something with the new ideas.

Most memorable moment in my career…
was having lunch with my two Board Game AI heroes, who’s work I studied when I was in graduate school for Machine Learning for Video games; they are IBM Researchers! I love how open and excited our researchers are, about sharing their passion for their work.

Top piece of career advice…
always ask questions, even if you feel like you’re “supposed to know the answer”. If somebody is speaking about a topic that doesn’t make sense to you, asking a question will help the speaker reformulate what they are presenting so that it DOES make sense, and you’ll learn the answer in the process (as will the rest of the room).

What does women’s progress mean for you?
Progress would be a day when we no longer have to ask this question; where colleagues accept each other strengths and help with areas for improvement without ever considering their gender.

How you have experienced being a woman at IBM?
At IBM, we each come to meetings having a deep expertise in something, or a certain niche, and not knowing much about the things the other people in the room know. It drives us to be humble and respectful, to ask questions, to be continuously learning, and to answer questions with kindness. We have women mentor for both Boys’ and Girls’ technology camps that we host at T.J. Watson Research Center, which, in theory, will normalize the visual of women working STEM fields for the next generation. IBM gives me time to represent women in STEM by giving talks and mentor with FabFems and the Challenger Learning Center.

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