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James Fitzpatrick, Machine Learning Engineer, Axial3D

James Fitzpatrick, Machine Learning Engineer, Axial3D

What are the tasks required for you to perform in your current position?

As a Machine Learning Engineer with Axial3D, my job is a cross between a researcher and a software engineer. I have to perform the software engineer role while also playing the role of researcher. The core of my work comes down to giving the algorithm a bunch of images and a set of examples. These images might be images of a medical scan. We might want to ask our algorithm to identify something in the scan by giving it a bunch of examples of what we want it to see and what we want it to give us. We can eventually train it to do something that humans can do very well but computers can’t, but we can get that computer to do it very quickly. One of the things that I spend a lot of my time doing is producing high quality code, or at least what I consider to be high quality code. A lot of the work that we do for our algorithms comes from papers which might have been published two or three months beforehand or possibly even more recently than that. It’s quite exciting to be part of that. I’ve also gotten the chance to contribute to that as well and also talk to some of the people who’ve been working in that field, both the experts and people who are fresh to it, like I am.

How did you get your current job?

I received an email with a job offer in the field of AI, which was what I really wanted to do. I had no idea what the InterTradeIreland Fusion programme was, and I applied through its website, which was the same as many of the websites that I’d seen before. I found out that not only do I get to do this job but I also get the opportunity to work with an academic supervisor in UCD, and as part of that I get to do a business management course in Queens University as well.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

I spend quite a lot of my time sitting behind a screen reading papers. Once I develop an understanding and produce results from my experiments, I then share those results. This gives me a chance to not only tell everybody why my results are the way they are and why they’re important, but also to mentor other people and make them understand that their work is also important. Eventually we have a company-wide appreciation of how important the work we do really is.

What skills should students develop for a career in this sector?

There are a couple of key skills that interact with one another for various reasons. The ability to communicate, to think abstractly and to break your problems into smaller tasks is fundamental. As part of a team, you’re never going to conduct software development or machine learning research independently, and if you do you’re not going to get very far. As a student, I spent a lot of my time outside of college participating in things like Kaggle competitions. This gave me a chance to get to grips with the sort of messy data that I could perform machine learning on, along with the opportunity to develop my programming skills, which I might not have had much of a chance to develop as part of my formal curriculum.