I’m in love with the T-shape of you

I am going through yet another leadership training program and yet again I get the same verdict: goal-oriented, structured, achievement-driven, knowledge-driven. I whisper into my colleague’s ear: “I am not a people person”. He whispers back: “then maybe you don’t have the right job”.

jigsaw puzzle

The fun fact is that I find a lot of people who are like me. So, I started to analyze the strengths of my leadership team as a whole and came up with; warm, innovative, fun, and some great people leadership skills. So luckily, together we represent all the different but important pieces that we need for this organization.

It got me thinking, last year I wrote a blog post about playing solitaire. This time it’s different– It’s all about putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

For instance, my leadership team comes to me and says: “Elena, we need to have regular all-employee meetings, and no, it’s not OK for you to join online, be present, visible, receptive” – exactly the push I need. I am thankful to have support from my team in various dimensions – we complement each other as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Each team member comes with a set of special skills, and together we are complete and efficient.

Each piece of our jigsaw puzzle is unique – we have different backgrounds, skill sets, preferences and passions. My unit is a self-going agent within a company close to 100,000 employees representing all its values. Our shape is perfect for our mission, to be the driver of artificial intelligence technology leadership for Ericsson. But if you zoom out, we are a piece of a bigger puzzle.

Let’s now zoom back in again. It’s not just our unit that has a shape. Each person has a shape as well. A T-shaped person has in-depth knowledge in one field (vertical bar of T) and a broad knowledge of an application domain (horizontal bar of T). For example, a statistician specialized in political systems. Or, a politician who knows statistics. It is important that the two bars are connected. For instance, if you are really good at solving differential equations and know a lot about French porcelain of 17th century, then you cannot automatically call yourself a T-shaped person, as they are not really connected the same way.

And similarly to T-shape, there is a Pi-shape with one more leg of in-depth knowledge, and an E-shape… you get the point. In general I would say, the more “bars” you have as a person the more interesting you are. Of course, and in case you choose to be I-shaped, you can still be endlessly interesting for people who are into the same field, but you run a risk of being seen as ‘just a geek’ by everyone else.

Personally, I have been working hard on diversifying my professional profile (or adding more bars to my shape) while keeping it all connected. I gladly take opportunities of diving into new areas and shifting my focus from old areas. In the long run this strategy should bring me to the shape of a Swiss army knife. There are plenty of “bars” of different shapes and directions, and they are all connected, and one can actually choose which parts of the knife to fold in or out. Or, if we were to tweak the rules of the jigsaw puzzle, the more skills you have, the better you fit in with the other pieces.

Still, having all these different skills is one thing and enjoying using them is another. Doing a good job is not necessarily the same thing as having fun at work while doing a good job. Being a fan of multi-parametric optimization problems, I aim at maximizing the fun, so that we all get to use our favorite skills. So forgive me for not being a people person, luckily I have my team to compensate for that. And next time you find me hiding in a corner during a mingle, please come by and say: I read your blog post!

love who you are
Written by me and originally published here: https://www.ericsson.com/en/blog/2020/3/im-in-love-with-the-t-shape-of-you

Balance for Better

Do you know what’s the best strategy for playing solitaire? Balance your piles of cards.

When you have a choice between piles to reveal the next down-facing card, you should pick from the largest pile. It has been a while since I played solitaire, but the rule got stuck in my head. We all have many different piles in our lives, formed by our jobs, families, and hobbies. To succeed in the long run, we need to pay attention to all the piles, and specifically to the bigger ones. Every time we have a deadline at work, we give that pile more attention, which is ok for a while as long as we don’t forget to shift the balance later because we want to win the whole game, not just empty one of the piles.

Now, imagine that our piles represent blocks of different opinions. It may seem tempting to only work with opinions resembling your own. That way you may seem efficient in the short run but will be doomed in the long run because diversity is important for success. Diverse teams create the most innovative ideas and solutions. When you run an organization, a project or a meeting, don’t forget all the different perspectives, otherwise, in the long run, you may end up in a local minimum.

I love my diverse team at Ericsson Research. AI Research is composed of researchers based in Sweden, India, USA, Brazil, and Hungary. We have forgotten why physical co-location was so important and instead do virtual co-location. Working on the same data sets, within the same environments through the same tools and on the same projects is way more important than physical closeness. If only we could do something about the time difference…

On the other hand, when we in Europe come to work, we can build on the results from our Indian colleagues, and when we go home, we hand over to our colleagues in The Americas, so that cross-continental projects can deliver results around the clock. Diversity has a great social aspect to it as well. Our diversity is something that we all have in common, and something that we gladly discuss with each other.

Now to my biggest passion – technology. Working with Artificial Intelligence is fun – it’s broad and deep and can be applied to so many things. And one of the things that fascinate me most is that AI technology is inspired by humans and nature. This means that whatever humans found to be successful in their lives and in evolutionary processes can be used when creating new algorithms. Diversity, inclusion, balance, and flexibility are very important here as well, with respect to data and knowledge, and diverse, organizations are for sure better equipped for creating responsible algorithms. In the era of big data, let’s make sure we don’t discriminate the small data.

This blog was written by me and initially published here: https://www.ericsson.com/en/blog/2019/3/balance-for-better

Physical Twin

The concept of a digital twin has been around for a while. It is used to describe a digital representation of a physical thing on some abstraction level that continuously maps to the state of the physical thing. Before the introduction of cyber-physical systems this has been called a model.

Source: https://iiot-world.com/digital-disruption/the-right-representation-of-digital-twins-for-data-analytics/

Digital twins are widely used nowadays when we interact with physical things such as cars or robots. The beauty of the concept is that you can interact with the digital representation mirroring the behaviour of the actual thing you want to control. Controlling hardware involves embedded programming, adaptors and protocols, and these are abstracted away for you. Examples range from an app for your thermostat to a full representation of a manufacturing plant. And telecom radio sites have digital twins as well.

Looking at my 10-year-old son I start wondering how much physical things the new generation craves about. He’s very much into the digital world as many other kids and, unlikely his sister, does not care much about physical stuff. His room is pretty empty and his most important things are his computer and his phone. He’s very quick at spending his monthly allowance on computer games and in-app purchases. His heroes are digital, and physical things are of no interest.

Source: https://www.monash.edu/venues/venues/computer-labs

With my background in computer science I do admire the shift towards the digital, and the appreciation of pure-software products, with the willingness to spend money on those. This is a really good trend from the sustainability perspective as well. But empty rooms are really no fun, and I keep buying my 10-year-old nice pillows, pictures and other decorations.

And now it’s time for me to share my business idea with you – up for grabs, first come first served! What if we could bring that digital things that miss the physical side to life through “physical twins”? Similar to Disney et al selling their soft toys looking like Mermaid or Nemo. But a twin for real, acting in real-time and real-life, along with its digital original. And it should not be so big of a step given the 3D-printing techniques, the cost of motors and modems, and the fact that the digital model has already been designed. Wouldn’t you love your favourite character from SIMS walk around in your house? Do you see the scale if we could right-click and order home physical twins of our favourite game characters? Personally, I would immediately invest in a couple of friendly dinosaurs from Lost Eden.

Commodities in Our Life

We are constantly looking for new values that can be created out of old technologies that become more mature and scalable. Processors are powerful enough to give us search results in seconds, telecom networks become fast enough to transmit huge amounts of information almost instantly, small connected devices are deployed in everything, we expect mobile internet to work everywhere, and we expect all this to be for free, or almost for free. What we gladly pay for is the “Jet Black” shade of the phone, fancy filters in the camera application and Siri with a sense of humor. And we can easily forgive these value-adding services when they misbehave – it’s not a big deal if Siri does not get what you want from her. But when we lose coverage it becomes very annoying. Or if your device suddenly freezes and restarts, especially when you are right in the middle of credit card payment process. Can I trust that my microphone is actually muted after I clicked on mute? Can I trust that my information will stay secure?

Apple iOS 10 is Apple’s high score in the number of bugs. And here we’re talking about bugs in that basic functionality, such as battery life or sound, that we do not want to pay any extra for. They have already released several updates to it, still failing to fix the sounds problem on iPhone 6S. Isn’t is unacceptable for a phone that costs $600?  There are tons of information on the web about fixes and workarounds for the bugs in iOS 10, and even detailed instructions on how to revert to iOS 9. Some people even turn it to something positive: “Apple are so quick with their bug fixes and updates!” But isn’t it exactly what we paid Apple for from the very beginning – things just worked. 
If my device tells me that the sound is on when in fact there is no sound, can I trust it’s muted microphone to actually be muted? Does the fancy outfit matter when you stop trusting someone?

Saying no to IoT

I did not think I would ever do it – refuse some new sensors around me. Generally I’m all for that, and I will gladly augment my body with IoT devices when the technology is mature enough. And now this offer from Stockholm university arrives: my little boy has been selected to participate in a research study that tracks brain wave patterns through an electroencephalogram. Check it out:

Most probably the researcher who composed the letter does not have own kids. Because to me this picture looks as if it has been taken directly from a horror movie, and I would never let my little Paul participate in such an experiment, even if I know that the small metal discs with electrodes placed on the scalp only read and send the signals. This is still too much for a mother. This is how my heart reacts – we are programmed to defend our kids in every situation. And of course I see the value of such experiments and that researchers in linguistics do need a representative population of small kids to make experiments on. But then at least ask a marketing person to present it to parents in a selling way, especially when using Stockholm University branding. 

Slow Science

Did it ever happen to you that you cannot see the forest for the trees? I could see it so clearly right after vacation. And this time of year we are busy finalizing the targets for this year and at the same time setting the strategy for the next year. And technological progress is constantly accelerating, researchers are supposed to deliver new results in a high pace, publish more papers, submit more project applications and produce more PhD students. 
Quality of research education can be assessed with respect to different expected outcomes of it – the quality of the produced PhD thesis, the quality of the main product of PhD education, i.e. the independent researcher, and the ability of this independent researcher to drive science and well-being forward by collaboration and innovation. Studies [123] state that several factors impact PhD thesis quality in a negative way. Governments require universities to increase the quantity (in terms of completed PhDs and articles), which results in situations when persons not suitable for PhD education are being recruited. In combination with difficulty of termination of PhD thesis work it results in situation when supervisor puts major effort in the student’s PhD thesis just to get it done.  Additionally, with increased number of students per supervisor and a time limit for producing a PhD thesis, there is a decrease of thesis quality. In other words, when academic research tries to move with a pace of technological progress, there is a negative effect on the quality. 
What about decreasing the pace and letting scientific results emerge at their own pace? Slowness has got a lot of attention recently. Slow cooking, Slow gardeningSlow readingSlow educationSlow parentingSlow designSlow cinema, and Slow photography are examles of so-called Slow Movement that has been coined as opposed to increasing speed of technological progress. And the concept of Slow science is based on the belief that science should be a slow, steady, methodical process, and that scientists should not be expected to provide quick fixes to society’s problems. Slow science supports curiosity-driven scientific research and opposes performance targets [4].
And even though I can see values in Slowness, it is not my thing. I have never liked longer hikes, meditation and power walks. Long-distance running is OK only within a race, and long-distance xc-skiing is OK only in a hilly terrain. But in some cases one needs to go slow and I was lucky that 18 years ago my PhD supervisor did not let me have these quick ego-kicks that i was craving. We had to give it time, let the work mature and only publish it in the best forums. Sometimes we need time to find the right thing, and sometimes there’s love at the first sight and no time to lose.