Thank You ThoughtWorks

I owe you this ThoughtWorks: Thank You.

Thank you for bringing me back to who I once was. Someone who believed in herself and in what she did, who is passionate, joyful and full of energy.

I came to ThoughtWorks (TW) because of a good friend’s recommendation. He said “Pinar I know you are going on a sabbatical and jobs are the last thing you want to hear about. Still, when you start looking for jobs again one day consider TW, it is a great company and I think you two would fit nicely”. I said thank you and moved to Barcelona, where there was no TW office. After almost a year of sabbatical, indeed I wanted to start working again, and working on what I used to be passionate about: innovative digital technology. Not on something else as I had initially assumed. Magically, during that one year TW did open an office in Barcelona and they were looking for project managers.

I applied to TW. They made me go through 5 interviews, as they always do, including logic tests, live presentations and a dedicated interview to social matters, ethics and individual values to assess the culture fit. It was an adventure. I did all five of them in the same week, the final 3 being on the same day and a few hours before I boarded my plane to Buenos Aires. They gave me the answer on that very evening, so that I could happily fly to my vacation.

I started in March, worked for 6 months and left TW on my own will.  I left also my heart with them. I had a team of the youngest, most diverse, most passionate, sweetest and smartest group of people, who were not only colleagues but friends, families (literally, as there were a few married couples in my team) and comrades of each other.

I am professionally reborn with TW Spain and I will always remain grateful to them for that. They cared for me to the point that they brought food without me asking when I worked too long. They literally ran into my arms to hug me, when I had been away too long on my projects. They praised me at every opportunity and never let me down when I needed help.

In my first month, the research director Erik, came to the Barcelona office, announcing the dates of their annual conference the XConf. I told him I wanted to give a talk on AI topics at the conference. Without much discussion and him not knowing me at all, he welcomed me warmly to XConf and said that I could speak as I pleased.

He didn’t know how  much this meant to me. I had been off the business scene for a year, I hadn’t been presenting at conferences for many years. I used to be passionate about presenting my research and ideas. Before, during and after my PhD I had taken every opportunity to present things. I love to share what I know and I am the happiest person if someone finds value in what I share and can be inspired. A long break intimidates you. I had asked for this opportunity to challenge myself and to prove myself that I still can do it. I am up and alive. I have my passion and capabilities still. Erik didn’t know what was going on in me. Of course not, how could he? He simply trusted me. That’s it.

I talked about Natural Language Processing and Conversational Agents twice at XConf, which happened once in Hamburg Germany and once in Manchester UK. I had some of the most emotional, inspiring, fulfilling two hours of the last few years of my life. I was one with my audience. I felt I was contributing my little contribution to this community. I felt happy, alive and creating something meaningful.

Thank you TW for the past six months with you. It was a wonderful ride. I hope I could return some of what I got from you personally and professionally. I left my heart in Barcelona and TW to sail off again to discover new shores. I know this is want to do at this stage of my life and I am excited about what will come across my way. I don’t want to say I am not looking back though. Because I do. And I feel grateful and I feel content. Thank you lovely people of TW Spain. Muchas gracias para todo.


User Story Mapping

I read a wonderful book, User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton. If you are a Product Manager in an Agile environment and are to read only one book, then make it this one. It is not only eye-opening, insightful and full of content, it is also funny. I laughed and learned a lot.

What is User Story Mapping? It is a technique he developed over time and with experience, which helps writing effective user stories for a product backlog. In fact, the crucial point here is not writing them but living them and making them happen together with your team. The stories have value as long as there is a shared understanding for them among the team and the stakeholders, i.e. that they make sense and the same sense to everybody on the team. So much so that they want to to deliver it.

User Stories are typically little stories composed of a sequence of tasks that a user of a (software) product would do to accomplish something. For example, a user story can be “Reserve a Thai Restaurant online for tonight” and it would consist of the following following tasks: Open your favorite search engine — Search for a Thai Restaurant — Select your favorite — Visit the restaurant website — Click on online reservation — Enter reservation date and time — Confirm and send. Now this is a very basic illustration of a story, but it can give you the idea. The tasks in the story are to be read from left to right, in the so called narrative order, so that with the last task you read you know the whole story.

Why is User Story Mapping good a thing? Because it gives structure and a backbone to the your product development process. It helps you to frame the who, the what and the why for your product. In other words, it lets you define your users, your product, and the benefit your users will get out of your product. All makes sense, no? Otherwise why would you bother producing your product?

User Story Mapping’s structure is like this:  On the way to developing your product you have several Goals to achieve. Each one of these Goals are composed of Activities, and those are broken into Stories. A sequence of Tasks in a given order (left-to-right) make a Story. Tasks may have Subtasks (e.g. putting on my shoes is a subtask of getting dressed). In this way, a Story can but doesn’t have to yield  a MVP (Minimum Viable Product), but a few of them together should yield at least a Minimum Viable Solution (MVS).

If there are too many Stories, then there are potentially multiple MVPs (or MVS for that matter). So those Stories should wait the next iteration(s) to be included.

A User Story typically has the following format: As a <Role> I want to <Functionality> so that I can <Value>. For example, as a <jazz music fan> I would like to <know the weekly concerts in my town>, so that I can <buy tickets online automatically>. This format conveys the necessary information in a clear and concise way. It gives a first overview of what the system has to offer for that type of user (also called Persona) i.e. the jazz music fan.

For the fun of it, I did a User Story Map for myself, while hoping it can show you its power. It shows the structure that I have been describing. My product is: Pinar’s New Life in Barcelona. This product offers me a new life at a new city, therefore I think it will add a lot of value to my life in general. I expect it to be a wonderful product and this is the User Story Map towards the first MVP.

Product: Pinar’s New Life in Barcelona
Goal: Release new life in Barcelona
Activity 1: Set up social life
Story 1.1: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Rent a Flat> so that I can <Live>
Task 1.1.1: Search for flats to rent
Task 1.1.2: Make appointments for visits
Task 1.2.3: Sign contract
Story 1.2: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Find Friends> so that I can <Socialize>
Task 1.2.1: Find relevant social events
Task 1.2.2: Visit social events
Task 1.2.3: Join hobby clubs
Task 1.2.4: Exchange contacts with participants/members at the events
Story 1.3: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Learn Spanish> so that I can <Communicate>
Task 1.3.1: Find a language school
Task 1.3.2: Register to the language school
Task 1.3.3: Follow classes
Task 1.3.4: Do homework
Activity 2: Set up professional life
Story 2.1: As a <Newcomer> I want to <Find a Job> so that I can <Get an Income>
Task 1.3.1: Prepare CV
Task 1.3.2:Search for relevant vacancies Subtask: Search on the Web Subtask: Search among the personal network
Task 1.3.3:  Apply for the vacancy
Task 1.3.4: Go to interview
Task 1.3.5: Sign contract

User Story Mapping is a fun and powerful tool to create and structure your stories towards your first MVP. The book itself, besides being fun, brings you closer to the principles of Lean.  Hope you discover it for yourself as well and drop me line if you do so 🙂

 If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story. Orson Welles

My/Your Next Job

I now have been in an intensive process of looking for a job, applying, interviewing etc. Much reflection and experience have accumulated, which I want to share. I hope it helps you if you are going through the same process.

Here is what I learned for myself:

Knowing who you are: It is as simple and as difficult as it sounds. When we go to an interview we bring ourselves. We are expected to talk about us. So, we really need to know who we are, otherwise we are wasting our host’s time and ours as well. For me who I am, for the purposes of an interview, has two main pillars. One is what I can do for the company/organization professionally. What skills and experience do I bring to the company that it needs? How can I help the company make a difference with my experience and expertise? For example, “I am an IT Program/Product Manager with more than 10 years of experience in delivering products and running and evaluating projects. I have done this at global enterprises and organizations in the software and life sciences industries.” So I can help them run IT projects and develop IT products, and I can do it fluently also in the pharma industry, which is always a bit different. It would be best if I can additionally help the company explore new horizons  with what I bring in. New opportunities, new markets, new customers.

The other, and equally important pillar, is what are our values? What is important for us as a person, not as workforce.  We spend the bigger portion of our daily lives in our work environment. Whether we like to think of it that way or not, it is our family. Can you think of being a part of a family, whose values you do not share? I don’t. That’s why it is important to express our personal values, understand the company’s values and see if they are aligned. For example, for me respect, transparency, trust, open communication, humbleness, integrity and good will are extremely important. To me having a good social cause, helping the ones who are underprivileged are very important. As result I have preferred to work in the life sciences and healthcare sector over working at the finance sector. In the same way I will always linger longer in the teams where both negative and positive experiences are discussed openly and with good will. I will run away from the ones where shaming, blaming, fingerpointing and intrigues are common practices, even if the pay is very well. These are my values, these are what I bring in and look for.  It requires time and reflection to understand who we really are, but once we know the answer, I believe finding what we look for is so much easier.

Knowing what you want: Of course we all want a steady income, stability, routine and being able to say “Yes, I have a job”. It is only human. Still it is important to know exactly what we want and go only for that. If it is something temporary just to get an income we should be aware of it. If we want a career and have aspirations we should acknowledge it. If we value money over convenience it is good to keep it in mind. If we prefer a friendly working atmosphere to everything else we should prioritize it. It is very helpful to reflect on what we actually want and what fulfills us, so that we can be selective about the positions we apply. In this way we don’t randomly apply for just about anything which will show during the interview if we get selected at all. Instead we know how to position ourselves and speak confidently about why we are there.

A short CV: Definitely not more than 2 pages. I know this is very hard if you are an experienced professional. It feels like everything is important, which it is.  It is about you and your life and accomplishments. My earlier CV was a 6 page monster. Yet, realistically we are only one in the bucket of a million applicants. The recruiter is also only a human with limited time and resources. So we have to help him/her, otherwise s/he has no other choice to move on to the next shorter CV on his/her monster deck of applications. It is good to only mention the positions relevant  to what we are applying for. Surely this is much more work for us, but it pays off.

Customizing: Have you heard about Applicant Tracking Systems? This is an HR software that handles CVs before it gets to a human. It parses the CVs to extract keywords to compare them with those from the job description. Only when your CV passes a certain overlap threshold a human eye gets to see it. This means that we have to customize our CVs for each and every position we apply for to convince the software in the first place. Ideally, we reuse the keywords from the job description in the CV to  reach the optimal overlap. It goes without saying that I would put only those things that I am skilled at otherwise it would be asserting untruth. In other words, I write down things which I can defend and exemplify during the interview.

Being authentic: What really pays off, I think, is being authentic. I have heard this so many times from senior managers during my career. I admired it. Yet, I can say it is only now that I also truly understand and value it. Being authentic at work is not easy, because  after all we need money, stability and recognition. It seems an easy way to get there is to blend in. Going with the crowds, doing what the others do, not falling off. In the long term though this is not good. As human beings we are all unique and have our individual characters and values. This is what makes us us. If we compromise on it, we compromise on ourselves as humans, and no job is worth it. I learned for myself, given that I can afford it i.e. no children nor sick people depend on my salary to survive, I will not work for a company that does not share my values. I prefer to work for a company/institution that has a social cause than one that does not. I will not take a job, in which I do not find meaning, only for the sake of money. I will not compromise on my values and integrity. I learned that if I stay loyal to myself and to that what makes me me, I have the chance to contribute my best to the company I work for and that shines genuinely.

Embracing rejection: Not getting a position, being turn down after an interview is not a personal failure. There are so many factors that contribute to the decision of a company whether to hire or not. The budget may be cut, the managers might be leaving, the position might have been promised to someone internally long ago. Or we just don’t fit with the company culture, which is totally fine. It means the company culture doesn’t fit with us either. Would you want to spend your everyday with someone, who you do not understand and appreciate? Would you choose to marry someone who you do not love? It is the same thing. So rejection is not rejection as such, but it is an opportunity for us to understand ourselves better so that we will still have the chance to find the right match. It is an opportunity to grow personally.

Not overselling and underselling oneself: We all put ourselves out there. We want to look good, smart, we want to be accepted, we want to convince. It is so easy to overdo this during the interview within the intensity of the moment. One more skill to add up, one more little success story to share…However, recruiters and hiring managers are also humans, and they have been there where we are now. All day They keep seeing many other candidates, who tell that they are “oh so great”. I think, also here being authentic, being modest but self-confident is the best approach. Just to tell what is relevant to the question, and to undermine it with credible facts and numbers. A small anecdote may help, but not to each and every question. Having said this, overdone modesty is not good either. We all have lived, worked and accomplished things in our lives, that we consider as success and we are proud of them. Why hold back on those? Isn’t it wonderful to share those experience with others? Maybe our experiences can help them in their current situation, or at least make them smile. Isn’t a smile worth a try?

These have been the major topics that I had to reflect on for myself. I will share others as I accumulate them.

Would You Do a PhD?

It has been 5 years since I completed my PhD. After a very long time, this morning I returned to my thesis to read the Acknowledgements section I wrote back then to feel and understand why I chose to do a PhD. At this very moment, I can only say I am a happy and a lucky person that I could do exactly what I wanted to do. I feel the same passion and emotions that I felt before I got on that journey. I am sharing what I wrote back then hoping that it could help maybe you to decide if that could also be your journey.

15. April.2011

My limitless curiosity and hunger to know more has led me to do a PhD. The reason why I decided for a PhD in computational linguistics is that I find peace in the calmness of rational thought and excitement in the surprises of natural language.

After three years of research, I realized that this has been one of the most challenging journeys that I have ever taken. I have taken many journeys to many different places and cultures but this has been an essentially different one. It has been a journey to myself, during which I discovered new horizons and my own limits.

In the first place I would like to thank my supervisors Klaus Schulz and Paul Buitelaar, who invested a wealth of time and thoughts to make this research happen. Without their expertise, insights, patience and without our valuable discussions that inspired me, I would have been lost during this journey. Whenever I was on my way getting lost, they showed me the directions that put me back on track. Thank you.

I want to thank my parents for encouraging me, supporting me and cherishing in every little success I had, be it a paper accepted or a presentation that went well. Thank you that you stood by me whenever I felt insecure along the way.

My Dr. Göran Wennerberg thank you for the unconditional support you gave me, when I most needed it. Having traveled the same journey, you knew how I felt at every single step I took. Without your support, this book would not have been here now.

Thank you my friends that you have been very supportive and understanding for all my unavailabilities and my moods that ranged between joy and agony.

Finally, I want to thank Siemens Research for funding the research presented in this thesis, and supporting me to make it happen. It has been a valuable experience for me to conduct this research within the Siemens Corporation as it showed me real life research problems. It has been a very satisfying experience to and solutions to actual problems and to eventually make the owners of the problems happy.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. Samuel Beckett


Reflections from Eyeforpharma

I survived my fist marketing conference.

I am a researcher, and I am passionate about it. So to this date I have attended to a few conferences. Academic ones. I was recommended at work to attend to this conference, a non-academic one, and so did I.It was an experience for me. In all aspects. And I am happy about it. Honestly, it has been a long time, if ever, since I have seen 2000 extremely well-dressed (with very expensive looking shoes in particular) people in one place.
In eyeforpharma this was the case.

It has been long time, if ever, I felt like a ‘celebrity’ and I could totally understand how stressful  it can feel like…Actually, it feels a bit like being a tourist in a south mediterenean country, take Turkey, when everyone wants to sell something to you. If you work for a global Pharma company, and go to a pharma marketing conference, it is pretty much the case. At the same time, this was a good conference. I attended to many tracks and listened to many lectures. Because I was curious, and I wanted to learn. I learned indeed.
I like it when things are tangible, when there are ‘use cases’. Meaning that, when I can clearly see someone in the end will benefit from what is being developed or implemented.
With that said, again in my essence, I am a researcher. I am experimental, I take risks, I create, I like exploring the unknown. But then I like to see that my conduct will have an impact. Someone will feel happy, or grateful or helped out, directly or indirectly, as a consequence. This is where my industrial part leans in. I am practical.

In this respect, this conference was a good one, as the ‘customer’ is in the focus (maybe a little too much), it is all about him. Here is what I took home with me:

Closed Loop Marketing (CLM) is Dead:
To me it was only born on the first day of the conference. On the second day it was dead. CLM is about digitally tracking customers’ (doctors, GPs etc.) behaviors and preferences. The loop is closed when the behavior changes as a result of the marketing strategy. CLM was claimed to be dead because it currently lacks Big Data/Predictive Analytics.

Is People:
Listen more and talk less. Dare to innovate. Trust your data, not only the gut feeling.

Collaborate with Academia (which makes ME feel at home again…):
If you want to get your statistical models right to do proper predictive analytics, you have to collaborate with research and academia.  They do the real maths!

All Trends Have Big Noise:
We did an interesting experiment in one lecture, where the presenter told us that he was going to count to 3 and to introduce ourselves (say the name + where we come from), all at the same time. 1-2-3 and and everyone buzzed. Then he said, now we all know (app.40 people in the room), where each one of us came from and what our names are. Of course, we didn’t. 40 people talking at once. Big Data has noise…

GLOCAL =  Think Globally, but Execute Locally:
Radhika Kaizada of Pfizer shared her experiences for reaching out the users/customers and the key factors for a successful product development strategy: think global, capture moments and experiences and share, standardize so that you can compare one thing to another, engage people. develop champions, make it fun, engage, take time to celebrate your success, enjoy

Patient is Dead Long Live the Person:
Patients are not a list of clinical problems.
They are viewed as a collection of  ‘bills, prescriptions, treatments, diseases, symptoms, complaints, visits’ etc. No-one sees there a Person behind. It is not about the ‘things that need to be done’ to the patient, but it is about the Person. That Person has also other lives and other roles: Mother/father, a professional,a son/daughter, and since his/her diagnosis the Patient. So it is about Me and You, it is about the Personalized Medicine. Patient value can be increased by adherence to treatment. Pharma loses yearly 350 billion US$ due to poor adherence to treatment. A new research field emerged ‘Adherence Research’ to mitigate this problem.

Prevent, Not Cure:
The trend is on keeping the people out of the hospital. Making sure that they remain healthy  and they live healthier lives.  Hence, pharma and healthcare collaborate to explore new ways to increase awareness about the importance of leading a healthy life, e.g. by following a healthy diet.

Open Data:
All data published
Contribute to Big Data
A change in the mindset of the governments and the pharma in Europe.
Transparency and sharing are welcome and are fostered
UK seems to be pioneer in this trend.  The logic or the assumption behind
it is whatever belongs to the public has to be accessible to the public. Fair enough. Open Data is Big Data, as you open your data, share it and it becomes bigger. The best quality Pan-European Open Data is provided by OECD and WHO (and can be acquired from their websites), while the most ‘open’ European countries are: UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy

Final Sentences that Stuck:
Medicine is social
Truth well told
Let the patients speak
Prevention not cure
All data published
The patient is dead, long live the person

On Big Data and Human Interactions

Just now I read a very interesting and insightful article about Big Data and what insights it provides to human behavior and the social interactions. MIT professor Sandy Petland is a (Big) Data scientist, a social observer and also a regular invited speaker at the Davos World Economy Forum. Some sentences that stuck to my mind: “I believe that the power of Big Data is that it is information about people’s behavior instead of information about their beliefs.”

“This sort of Big Data comes from things like location data off of your cell phone or credit card, it’s the little data breadcrumbs that you leave behind you as you move around in the world.”

“What those breadcrumbs tell is the story of your life.  It tells what you’ve chosen to do.  That’s very different than what you put on Facebook.  What you put on Facebook is what you would like to tell people, …”

How very true. What I put on Facebook and what I talk there is about I want the others to perceive me. But who I actually am is only revealed about my behavior.  What I eat, what I wear, what I buy, where do I go for holidays and whom I engage with.  There are many ‘words of wisdom’ relating to this:  tell me who is your friend I will tell you who you are,  don’t judge people according to their words but their actions, etc…

Here is the whole interview with Prof. Petland and the video: