Just a few months ago I was a long way from where I am now. Not just in mileage, but also in my career.
Flashing back to 2015 I was living and working in San Francisco. As everybody knows that region is a hotbed for technology companies ranging from big corporations to small start-ups. It’s ‘the place to be’ if you want to work at the forefront of technology and innovation. I was extremely fortunate to land an internship as a data scientist at a fashion-technology startup.
Now, it should be said that I am by no means a ‘fashion guy’. My clothes hang in my closet, I wear them, I wash them, and that’s about the extent of my affair with fashion. So given my background in Biomedical Engineering and neuroscience you might think it an odd-fit. But I was looking for a place that had unique data and would leverage both data and machine learning as a strategic differentiator – something I found both at my internship and here at Philips. At the end of my internship, I came back to finish my PhD with the goal of finding a company that had unique challenges and many greenfield opportunities, which would allow me to be creative. Philips Research was one of the few places I found where the challenges are not just unique but also impactful.
Last year Philips opened their new North America research headquarters in the heart of Cambridge, MA. I was contacted, recruited, and hired. The new facility, called Philips Cambridge Innovation Labs, is the home not just to Research but also to Philips Design, the Digital Accelerator, and Innovation functions from across our businesses. This location has already become the place where multi-disciplinary teams work together to co-create healthcare technology solutions and prototype them to get them to market faster. The innovations we will research at this location will focus on providing solutions for major challenges in society, such as affordable access to advanced healthcare, the prevention of cardiovascular disease, and the treatment of various types of cancer.
Being the new guy here in Cambridge some of my peers have asked me why did I leave the techy confines of the Silicon Valley for Philips in Cambridge? There are 3 reasons:
- A 125 year-old start-up. When I arrived in Cambridge for my interview I envisioned walls of cubes and rows of offices with closed doors, as that was my stereotypical view of large global enterprises like Philips. To my surprise the environment here is just like my experience working in the Silicon Valley. Things move fast, people work together, and it has a start-up feel. The office is social with an open-office concept interspersed with labs all around the office. The space allows us to actually be collaborative and discuss ideas and solutions without having to always huddle in some windowless conference room.
- Experienced people. Working with people who are highly intelligent, experienced, and from diverse backgrounds has really helped my own work and personal development. There is so much complexity in a company like Philips, but the people I work with have been an incredible resource and have guided me through challenges of being new to the team..
- All data is not the same. Healthcare data, in both the quantity and quality available at Philips, is especially exciting for machine learning research scientists. It provides many greenfield opportunities with unsolved and challenging problems that allow a data scientist to be creative. I am routinely looking at ways to combine images, text, and streaming time series data using traditional machine learning and cutting edge technologies like deep learning. There are many chances to get involved in not just the math and science but also building pipelines, user interfaces, and apps. The algorithms I develop focus less on improving our bottom line and more on patients and doctors.
Right now I’m 3,103 miles away from the Silicon Valley, but it really doesn’t feel that way.
If you’d like to learn more from Asif about the work he is doing at Philips in Cambridge, MA he can be contacted via LinkedIn.