What do you do at Northvolt?
Nowadays companies are moving from IT to software engineering because data need to be sent from the equipment to the cloud, to analyze and optimize what is produced. If we want to understand what is happening in our systems, we need to take ownership of our infrastructure and our software. Basically, we need to focus more on software development and data collection. And this is where I come in.
At Northvolt, my mission is to build a software engineering team and to ensure that we collect great data, both from the manufacturing line of our factory and the battery packs we produce. The final goal is to optimize our processes and the quality of our products.
We are aiming to move things into the future. We want to get to a point where we can change things in small ways, measure them and understand how they affect the production process and the quality of our batteries. We want to get to a point where we do automated improvements, where we use machine learning to predict and understand what specific parameters affect the quality of what we make.
On the manufacturing end, we will collect very detailed data with a very high level of traceability for every single step. We will know exactly what happens during the manufacturing process. And we believe that this will help us to achieve a continuous improvement of the quality and the production process.
How did you get interested in mathematics and computer science?
I would probably say that for me it all started with computer games. I had this small ZX Spectrum when I was a kid, with 48 KB of memory, which is a crazy small amount of memory, but it had some of the best games I have ever played.
I learned that you can do a lot of things when you have very restricted resources. You are forced to be creative and innovative. I was always a fan of Tolkien and on my ZX Spectrum my favorite game was The Hobbit, in which one interacted with the game via text. My sister and I tried to write a similar game and that is when we discovered that one computer with 48 KB of memory and high-level programming language like Basic was not enough. We would need to use a very low-level assembly language, which is quite difficult to program in, especially for a kid. We quickly found out that creating something was much more difficult than we initially thought, which is generally the case in my field. Many things in engineering, all types of engineering, look very simple but require a lot of work and thinking.
From playing computer games to graduating from Brown University, describe your educational background.
In college, I double-majored in mathematics and computer science. I got my B.A. at Brandeis University and my M.S. at Brown University. I liked both subjects. My father was a professor of mathematics, but I have always found computer science more interesting. And to be entirely blunt, it was also a way to find a job more easily. I was born in the Soviet Union but my family immigrated to the United States when I was 14. When we immigrated to the U.S., we emigrated from relatively poor circumstances, so when I graduated I decided I wanted to find something that would be interesting to do but that at the same time would help me earn a proper salary.
After my graduation, I enrolled in a Ph.D. programme at Brown University. It was fun doing research for a while, but in the end I realized that I didn’t want to be in the academic world. Soon after, I met my future husband who was in the process of moving to California from Sweden. I moved to California with him, started looking for a job, and found one with Google, where I spent over a decade.
How was your experience at Google? What kind of impact did it have on your professional growth?
I joined Google in 2004 when it was not at its early stage but it was not as big as it is now either. I ended up working in a team that was doing data science before data science even had a name. We were working with big data before big data was a known concept.
It was my first job after grad school, and I think it helped me become the engineer I wanted to be. At Google, there has always been this can do mindset that helped me learn how to think through the engineering challenges, how to approach them, and solve them in a variety of different ways. People developed their own tools and built everything from scratch. They focused a lot on system engineering and I think this has been a big part of their success, not every company can afford to do this. At Google I have also learned that you can do anything, you don’t need to settle. I think it’s an essential part of my DNA.
What advice would you give to a computer science graduate, especially a woman?
I think the most important thing for a woman who enters the tech industry is to find mentors who are senior and have gone through the same experiences before, those who can help her recognize warning signs of discrimination and point her in the right direction. Your manager is critical for your personal and professional development, and for your career.
In a company, diversity conditions the way people work on projects, analyze outcomes and deal with issues. Diversity matters when you want to use data science to solve problems that affect society.
I can’t say I have a positive experience as a woman in the industry. I have been in the industry for 15 years now, and until two, three years ago I had never understood what it’s like to feel at home at work. It’s important to recognize that a lot of people, minorities, don’t feel at home and this is forcing many talented people to leave the industry.
We need to create new companies like Northvolt, companies that care about diversity and aim to create an industry that represents the general population in a more balanced way.
It’s one of the big reasons I joined.
What does inspire you?
I come to work knowing that I will always do something new, interesting, and useful. This is really important to me. I also get inspired by working with people. I love getting together with colleagues in a room and try to figure out new ways to solve a problem. Combining people, systems, and processes to find new, different solutions to issues is very interesting. I think ambiguity is what leads to innovative outcomes.
What did you learn so far at Northvolt?
A crazy amount of stuff. I am learning daily from all my colleagues. I think at Northolt the amazing thing for me is this opportunity to interact with different teams and constantly learn from them: the colleagues in the quality team and in the process team, the electrical engineers, the control engineers, the business development team… I could go on and on. It’s another of the main reasons I joined this company, it seemed like a unique opportunity to learn. Many times in senior roles, companies want to hire you for the same tasks you have done successfully in the past. To have a chance to work in a company where you can learn, grow and still take all the experience you had before and apply it to your area… that’s unusual and cool.
Apart from your job, what else are you passionate about?
My family, coffee and painting watercolors. When I was in grad school I took some art courses, and a couple of years ago I started actively painting again.
My other big passion is getting more women into the tech industry and fixing the industry for all the minorities. I am one of the organizers of the Women in Data Science Sweden here in Stockholm. Its purpose is to bring together women who work in the field of data science and data analytics, or who are interested in it. We want to hear about their problems, inspire collaboration, and create a community.
We want to make sure that software engineering, AI, data science are areas where everybody is included. And we want to make sure that people are supported and feel supported so that they can continue doing what they love.