A female Machine-Learning Engineer's journey for International Women's Day

Amelia Kirby

About Dora

Rui Dong (Dora) is a Machine Learning Engineer and Research Lead at Tiliter. She sums up everything that is great about Tiliter. She’s incredibly smart and at the top of her game in the field of machine learning. She is a working parent, balancing the demands of being a committed, dedicated employee with being a great mum. And she has a can-do, positive, curious attitude. We’d clone Dora, but she’s probably already working on the tech to do it herself.

Dora shares a little bit about her journey so far.

Initial challenges

I am a senior machine learning researcher at Tiliter. I am responsible for AI algorithm development, improvement, and end-to-end deployment.

I was five months pregnant when I completed my PhD degree and looking for a job. I considered myself as at the weakest stage of my career — being a fresh graduate, a female engineer, and a mother-to-be. I had little confidence that I would find anything given my situation.  

Then, I met my manager who could oversee what I perceived to be my weaknesses and recognised my potential. Now I’m a senior researcher at Tiliter, promoted from a graduate within just a few years. The journey wasn’t easy; but it has become the most valuable asset for me.

The balancing act

The most challenging part has been the balance between work and family. One year ago, there was a proof of concept (PoC) project with a five-week deadline so that our proposal could get ahead of the competitors. It was considered to be an impossible mission since a ready-to-deliver AI model-enabled system can often take months or years to complete.  

Within five weeks, the team and I would have to complete requirement clarification, data collection, AI model building, algorithm reasoning, UI building and prototype testing. This PoC was to build an automatic detection system on edge devices with cameras. A light weighted AI model was preferable for quick inference on edge devices. Endless trial and error were not enough to find a simple yet efficient method for this PoC. Time was our biggest enemy in achieving the goal.  

But that little hand sneaking on my keyboard and screen also tried to steal some of my time. Background cries were not working out as motivational music! Figuring out how to balance my time spent on an attention-seeking infant and on a tightly scheduled project was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do, after completing a PhD degree.

Luckily enough, I have a supportive husband who understands the demands and could become my daughter’s primary carer. I use my strengths to practice multi-tasking, switching roles without compromising either my work efficiency or a mother’s duty.  

For example, my daughter became the first model for the detection system! While she practiced her mobility in front of a camera, I completed my testing. If I drew a flow chart, she learnt the shapes of a triangle and rectangle. Of course, accidents happen — she also learnt that water does not mix with mum’s computer.  

As I look back, I see I had started a habit that will be with me forever — that is to make every minute count and utilise my time to the full. And, yes, the team and I succeeded in the PoC in the end, and the system has been deployed in the field.

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Amelia is Tiliter’s wordsmith. She has a background in tech writing, comms and content in a broad range of industries and is on a mission to banish jargon.

Amelia is Tiliter’s wordsmith. She has a background in tech writing, comms and content in a broad range of industries and is on a mission to banish jargon.

Amelia Kirby

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