Blog: Featured AI2er: Joanna Power
What put you on the path to your current role?
I took computer science classes for fun as an undergrad, while getting a degree in biology. Out of college, my first real job was doing computer “stuff” for some labs involved in the Human Genome Project. That’s when I realized that day to day, I enjoyed working with computers more than doing work in a biology lab. The near-instantaneous turn around time to try something new was hugely appealing to me. After a year of that work, I went to graduate school and got a Master’s degree in computer science.
What’s the most surprising or interesting thing that happened with your work at AI2 recently?
As a result of working at AI2, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on AI and Policy last month. Experts in computing, business and law all presented on the practical aspects of regulating AI research and development. Despite the fact that so many questions in this area don’t have full answers yet, there was a common theme of urgency that policies related to fairness and accountability are needed, since every day new systems are launched that have real impact on real people’s lives. I think this is a fascinating and really important area.
What are you looking forward to with your work this summer?
I am on the Semantic Scholar team, and we are working hard to expand to all of science. The product started off with just computer science papers, and then expanded to include neuroscience. Last year, which was my first year at AI2, we expanded to include all of biomedicine, which was a huge change and required significant changes to our systems. By the end of this year, the product will have papers for more than nineteen other areas of science. It’s exciting to scale our systems to handle all the extra data, and we are all very interested to see how our new users will interact with the product.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give an aspiring software engineer?
Learn to keep an open mind and collaborate. In software engineering, there is never one answer to a problem. What makes it engineering, in my mind, is that there are always multiple possible solutions with different trade-offs. The best engineers are those who can come up with workable solutions as starting points and then improve those solutions by going back and looking at new data, questioning original assumptions, and listening to ideas from other people.
Most underrated activity or place in Seattle?
This is a bit general, but I’m going to say the city parks. There are so many beautiful places around Seattle, it’s easy to overlook the great places we have to get out in nature that are right here. Discovery Park and Seward Park are two of my favorites.