The Loneliness of the long-distance … VUI Designer!

13 Jun

On Friday 11th June, I took part in the “Pathways” event organised annually by the University of Manchester Career Service to support PhD researchers as well as research staff in “making career choices, exploring future plans and discovering the breadth of opportunities available to them“. I was Guest Panellist at 3 different Sessions:

  1. Opportunities for Engineering and Physical Sciences
  2. Working as a Freelancer or Consultant and
  3. Enterprise, Entrepreneurship and Business Start Up

The University of Manchester Logo

As a University of Manchester graduate (well, technically UMIST, I felt compelled to take part in those Question and Answer panels in order to give some insight on how a career can develop: from a Bachelors in English & Linguistics in Greece, to a Masters of Science in Machine Translation and a Doctorate in Automatic Text Summarisation in the UK, to a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Spoken Dialogue Management and a position as a Research Project Manager in Germany, to working in Industry both as a full-time employee and as an external contractor as a Voice User Interface (VUI) Designer in Germany, the UK, Switzerland, the US and further afield. It’s been a fascinating journey for sure! And I probably would never have arrived where I am now, if I hadn’t done those degrees or taken up those jobs in those specific places.

Have a look at the Guest Speaker profiles, including mine (p. 24), here: http://www.careers.manchester.ac.uk/media/media,172749,en.pdf

Some very inspiring career journeys!

I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole journey, the projects I have worked on, the people I have met on the way, the different organisational cultures I had the chance to experience. Plus, I wouldn’t change what I do now for the world! I love working as an external contractor and coming in to design speech self-service systems and voice-to-text services from scratch, or optimise existing ones, and the whole development, testing and tuning cycles:

  • writing functional specification documents
  • defining the system persona
  • drawing call flows
  • crafting system messages and coaching voice talents for the recordings
  • writing speech recognition grammars and pronunciations
  • devising and carrying out Wizard-of-Oz tests and Usability tests (including recording test subjects on video and interviewing them afterwards!)
  • transcribing and analysing phone calls
  • writing tuning reports

Everything is a lot of fun! It’s also great to be bringing in the same VUI Design processes and skills in different organisations and projects, and also getting to work at different places in the world at any one time! I love the variety of work and location of work, as well as the flexibility to work anytime and from anywhere! (Yes, working on your laptop – iPad soon – from a beach in the Caribbean is no longer a daydream but a realistic plan! :))

working on a deserted beach in the Caribbean is no longer a daydream!

Okay, it does get lonely. No gossiping in the kitchen during coffee breaks and no Christmas office parties. I still get to have probably as many face-to-face project meetings and conference calls as the average office worker though. We all have to work independently and in isolation, when analysing data or composing a report anyway. Only office workers have also got the hectic running-around of their colleagues and lots of intrusive and loud phone calls they have to unwillingly witness in silence. So my loneliness is a very content one! 😀

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8 Responses to “The Loneliness of the long-distance … VUI Designer!”

  1. Πέτρος Γαβαλάκης July 16, 2010 at 6:56 pm #

    Well teleworking/telecommuting was one of my dreams too.
    But I also had a little chance of trying it also…
    The ..asynchronous nature of some part of our work (speech engineering in general e.g. model training, recognition engine parameter tuning through batch experiments etc) along with the advances in cloud technologies allows us to expect more 🙂

    Keep on ..dreaming!

    • Dr. Maria Aretoulaki July 17, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

      Indeed, no longer a dream, but a reality! And a very fulfilling and effective way to work too!

  2. Kevin Brown June 13, 2010 at 9:00 pm #

    Maria, My dream that I am working toward is working from a beach and/or sailboat in North Tasmania.

    So I am in agreement with you regarding the most productive work environment!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  2. What to do after a PhD? (University of Manchester Pathways 2011) « VUI Design, Speech Recognition Apps & all that - June 10, 2011

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    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dr. Maria Aretoulaki, DialogCONNECTION Ltd. DialogCONNECTION Ltd said: The Loneliness of the long-distance … #VUI #Designer! http://bit.ly/9Nl732 or working from a beach 🙂 #voice #UX #UI #speech recognition […]

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