Inside Ople – Nahid Alam

Having already founded a start-up and worked in Venture Capital, Nahid Alam has joined Ople, bringing even more diverse experience to the Ople team. With a strong software and machine learning background, Nahid joined the team as Lead Software Engineer with the primary responsibility of implementing new machine learning algorithms in the Ople platform.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a master’s in Computer Engineering from Clemson. I joined Intel upon graduation. At Intel, I mostly worked on the audio and speech segments of certain products. After a couple of years, I decided to tackle new business ideas for the company. It was beyond my pay grade, but, that didn’t stop me. I worked with VPs and Senior Principal Engineers to discuss why Intel was not diving into certain business areas and what the company could be doing to strengthen the long term technology roadmap.

While researching these new technologies, I became interested in voice recognition. Soon after,  I founded a company focusing on voice command and control, similar to Siri. The initial use case was like home inside a home, very much like Alexa but before Alexa. Alexa was released later that year. Long story short, right idea, wrong timing.

What was that experience like?

It wasn’t easy. I learned my lessons, more on the business side including raising and planning, but, the hardest part was the fact that I was unsure about what I wanted really to do afterward. Fortunately, I found an opportunity at Cisco to work in Engineering Innovation. The job involved very early-stage, cutting-edge technologies.

One memorable project is a sales automation system, something similar to a chatbot but more sophisticated. The team identified a business problem but the product definition was unclear. The technology stack was not defined. Because of my experience in the Natural Language Processing space, I got involved with the project. I had to research Conversational AI landscape, figure out how different technology stacks work and actually build it. It was a really steep learning curve and I enjoyed every bit of it.

It seems like you enjoyed Cisco. What made you shift gears and join Ople?

One reason is that I kept thinking about my startup. I missed the fast-changing environment where I get to see the impact of my work. I missed seeing the customer reactions and those reactions when you work at a startup. On top of that, I found that I enjoy working with people who have similar mindsets.

But, the main reason I joined Ople is really that same reason. When I came in for the onsite interview, I found that every member on the engineering team really seemed excited about their work. They seemed to be bubbling with energy, and, that really stood out.  

When was your first exposure to Data Science?

The first exposure was in college, I am sure every engineer took some sort of AI course during college. The practical experience came with my startup. In fact, there were two different aspects of the work I was doing: the language understanding and the language generation. Then, of course, I continued to build experience in Machine Learning at Cisco.

Any particular reason you stayed in Natural Language Processing part of Machine Learning?

No, I guess it sort of worked out that way. Because I had experience in NLP at my startup, my machine learning career flowed in that direction. But I am actually very interested in Reinforcement Learning and where it will actually be used. The fundamental concept of Reinforcement Learning is that there is an agent that learns through some reward mechanism to reach a goal without labeled data. Right now, most of the applications of Reinforcement Learning are in robotics mainly because a robot is a perfect agent to learn through trial and error. However, there can be many different usages that we have yet to explore.

Can you tell me about your role?

Sure. My role is essentially understanding different ML models and making them productionizable and integrating them into the overall system. I spend a lot of time researching and testing to ensure everything works.

What do you like to do for fun?

I like to go outdoors as much as I can. I like mountains, so I like hiking, but I would like to learn more mountain related activities.

Nahid Alam at Mt. Diablo

Do you have a favorite quote?

"The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”

― Stephen McCranie

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