Meet Mairead - a Principal Software Engineer
Saturday, March 21, 2020
How did you find yourself in a Principal Software Engineer role in LIT?
I have a degree in Accountancy with French from QUB – so not what you might expect for a PSE!
I did my placement year with Air France in Toulouse, assuming I would be doing accountancy work – but I was placed in their IT dept to run a training centre. This did make some sense as the training they delivered included an accountancy package. I was surrounded by developers and was really interested by the work they were doing – they taught me coding and I taught them English! They had quite a high number of female developers coming from different backgrounds, which inspired me too.
I was already aware of the MSc conversion course at QUB – so decided after completing my degree to give that a go, and I completed the course with Distinction.
My first job in tech was at Allstate and then, as I loved working in insurance so much, I moved to LIT! In seriousness, I had heard it was a good company and then I saw an article in the paper about my now-colleague Adele McComish – she talked about what a family friendly company LIT is, and she has been my role model ever since.
So three kids later, I’m still here! I’ve worked in so many areas in the company within that time – it’s great to work with different people, using different approaches, evolving tech and understanding how things integrate.
What are you working on at the minute? What does a typical week in your role look like?
I’ve spent most of my career in software development, but I’ve always enjoyed working on the data side of things and over the past few years I’ve had the chance to get more into data analytics and machine learning, with projects involving cybersecurity analytics and chatbots.
I recently moved into our applied innovation unit, Incubator – where we get to experiment with and apply new kinds of emerging tech to different areas within our parent company. I’m currently working on a Document Digitization project where we’ve been developing Machine Learning models to automate document processing. Every week is different, and I could find myself doing anything from trying out new Python libraries, meeting with Cloud vendors to assess their new services, setting up POCs for new machine learning models or brainstorming with our business partners. I love that we get the chance to be creative in the solutions we’re providing and pioneer new technology along the way.
You spoke recently about AI capability in NI, at the Women in Tech Belfast conference – what do you think the coming years look like for AI development here? What tips would you give for anyone wanting to work in AI?
I think we’re going to see exponential growth in the use of AI to solve business problems across every sector. Right now, we are on the tip of an AI revolution with lots of companies just starting to find their feet in AI practices such as ML. Belfast has got off to a really great start with many companies at the forefront of this. In LIT we are punching above our weight in facilitating Liberty Mutual to put AI solutions in place.
For anyone wanting to work in AI, meetups are really valuable for getting a feel for what’s going on and what’s possible – you hear from lots of different perspectives and get to learn together. Look into meetups held in Belfast by AINI and Everything Data. There is a wealth of online training material available too, on sites like Coursera and DataCamp.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I love having the chance to help areas of the business that are having problems, by looking at them with fresh eyes and experimenting with different ways of creating solutions for them. In fact, we are not just solving problems but also looking for new opportunities for growth, particularly from a data and AI perspective. We work on incubating ideas and getting them off the ground – trying out new technologies and techniques and rolling out recommendations across the business on how to proceed. We are also working on the Knowledge Transfer Programme with QUB – hoping to bring best of academia and industry together to bring even better AI solutions to life, helping each other on the AI journey.