The Next Stretch

Where I Am Heading and Why

A modern magnetic compass

If I were to write a career advice book, I’d call it Stretch Out in reference to what I believe is the third most important consideration for career decisions.

The first — and most obvious — piece of advice everybody gives is to follow your passion and do what you love doing.

The immediate second one (from Warren Buffett who might have borrowed two thirds of the saying from Stan Lee) is to choose roles in which you get to work with people you like, trust, and admire — and I would add ‘and can learn from.’

The third consideration is to stretch into new areas. This can be done by accepting promotions that change the kind of skills needed for success (“What got you here won’t get you there”) and also by consciously making lateral moves into roles which expose you to new experiences and allow (and require) you to develop different skills.

I am highlighting the last one not only because it is repeated less often but because I know it made me more successful. Hands-on experience gained from related roles gives people broader insights and credibility that is difficult to gain otherwise.

By stretching out, you take on a new challenge, learn or sharpen a set of skills, and embark on a new adventure all at once.

Something Old, Something New

I have always enjoyed learning and doing new things. In many ways it is a part of who I am and what I find fulfilling. Even in my free time, I tend to pick up a new hobby every few months.

When you look closely at something new, there is almost always an element to it that is familiar or related to something you already know, and which helps you master the new task. Given how we gradually learn from the time we are born, this is hardly surprising.

To illustrate this relationship between new and old, here are two questions you could ask about anything new you want to learn or do:

  • Which strengths and skills that I already have could I leverage here?
  • How enjoyable, interesting, and attainable are the skills I will need to develop?

The important thing is not how adventurous we are in balancing old with new but the fact that we are all able to grow and enrich our lives.

What’s Next

So what’s next in my own career? Unsurprisingly, my new role — building and selling enterprise solutions focused on AI services and localization technology — combines new and familiar elements. In many ways though, even the shift to AI and technology represents coming full circle to the things I love.

AI

Even though there are only a handful of mathematical formulas behind neural networks, the complexity of issues that can be approached with them — and the results they achieve — were difficult to imagine a mere five years ago.

My personal connection to AI has been through chess. Chess is actually a bad case study for advancing AI because brute force algorithms combined with clever tricks (alpha-beta pruning, quiescence search, zero-move analysis) historically provided better practical results than machine learning.

But even in the world of chess engines, one can see an analogy where the expert systems with human-encoded rules (equivalent to rule-based machine translation, for example) were eventually surpassed by neural networks that can be ‘learned,’ given enough data.

IBM’s Deep Blue, which beat Garry Kasparov in 1997, was an expert system hard-wired to crank through over a hundred million positions per second. But twenty years later, DeepMind’s AlphaGo and AlphaZero achieved mastery at chess and go that surpassed both the brute force chess algorithms and human intuition at go while evaluating only a fraction of moves compared to traditional programs.

Self-contained systems like chess can be best mastered by AI playing games against itself. On the other hand, solutions to real-life problems, from building self-driving cars to speech recognition, require human input, and I’m excited to add AI services to my professional journey.

Interestingly, Demis Hassabis, the founder of DeepMind, programmed AI for the simulated visitors in Theme Park, a game which made me take notice that aspect when I played it as a teenager.

Technology

Software technology is now omnipresent. I learned basic (pun intended) programming when my dad bought me an 8-bit Atari, and my first paid job was coding a driver in C++.

To make my translation job easier in early 2000’s, I used API to extend Trados with features ranging from trivial but nice (moving to previous segment), through complex (propagating translation changes across identical segments within and across files), to clandestine (a server synchronizing translation units between multiple instances of cheaper Freelance editions in real time).

I believe an important part of moving localization forward is sharing our expertise with the next generation of professionals. Teaching localization engineering has given me an opportunity to do that and to look at the different available platforms through fresh eyes.

Since technology has always been at the heart of localization, I am now very excited to work at a company that is offering robust technology platforms both independently and as part of its services.

Enterprise Solutions

Finally, the ‘old’ element in my new role is enterprise solutions. I have been fortunate to take part in building, selling, and delivering enterprise solutions for the top technology companies in the world.

Even though the word ‘enterprise’ suggests something impersonal, I find that this work, done right, is about gaining understanding of complex challenges through meaningful conversations with clients and then building smart solutions that let them accomplish their goals.

This is something I have always enjoyed, and I am excited to combine my expertise and passion for AI, localization technology, and enterprise solutions in service to clients who rely on AI and technology to better serve their users and customers around the world.

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Pavel Soukenik

Pavel Soukenik

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I write about technology, art and history. I have a background in localization, and work on enterprise Digital Content Services at Webhelp.