Interviews

Katarzyna Marszałek-Kowalewska – Manager Knowledge Engineering at YUKKA Lab AG

Katarzyna is Knowledge Engineering
Manager at YUKKA Lab AG, a company that uses software to read and understand financial news within seconds and provides asset managers and financial advisors with an information advantage at a considerably smaller expenditure of time.

What role does technology play in your job?

Technology plays, of course, a very important role in my job! At YUKKA Lab we work on a software that reads and analyses financial news in order to detect the sentiment or the mood around certain indices, companies, products or people. For that, we use various techniques from the fields of Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing.

My main role at YUKKA Lab as a Manager Knowledge Engineering is to make sure that the data and resources that we use are of the finest quality. A knowledge engineer is like any other engineer. While an automotive engineer tests and optimises prototypes of automobiles, a knowledge engineer works on constructing knowledge representations that enable machines to think ‘better’ and make ‘better-informed’ decisions. As a knowledge engineer I’m responsible for extracting relevant information, the organization of data and developing ontologies and knowledge bases.

All these tasks could theoretically be done without technology but it would take incredibly lot of time and would be extremely inefficient. Imagine that one person can read up to 50 subjectively-chosen articles per day. With the help of technology, our system processes over 200k articles per day in a very systematic way. Moreover, unlike human, technology does not base its decisions on emotional bias which in case of financial markets and investments is crucial. Investing shouldn’t be emotional.

In a nutshell: How does a workday in your life look like? What are the most used tools in your work?

Well, the first tool I use when I arrive at the office is the coffee machine. I like starting my day early and I’m usually around 8/9 in the office. I try to do the tasks that require most focus before lunch and then spend the remaining time on meetings and planning.

The tool I’m using the most is our YUKKA Ontology. An ontology could be defined as an organisational system designed to provide classification and explanation of the relations between various concepts of a particular domain. It should represent a common understanding of that domain. Let’s take a look at for example, the automotive domain. An ontology representing that field could consist of automotive brands and their CEOs, car models and their types, auto parts suppliers, automotive topics like vehicle-to-everything, autonomous driving etc. The sky really is the limit here! And since ontologies are built in machine-readable format they are very powerful tools.

Data are an often-discussed topic these days. What role does Data play in your life? Both work and personal life?

Data in all its possible sizes and shapes is the main protagonist of my work life. Human civilization is drowning in data. In 2008, Google reported that the web had one trillion pages. In 2016, the number was estimated to 130 trillions. IDC projects that by 2025, available data may expand to 175 zettabytes. Although these estimates include video, image data and databases, most of it is plain old text. Unstructured data (also known as free-form text) comprises 70% – 80% of the data available on computer networks. The information content of this resource has enormous potential, yet it is unavailable to authorities, businesses, and individuals unless humans read these texts or devise some other means to extract meaningful and valuable information from them.

Making data meaningful, readable and useful is one of my key responsibilities. Many people claim that ‘data is the new oil’. Yes, data can be extremely powerful. But in my opinion if you don’t know how to use it (or how to identify valuable data in the excessively abundant and still growing amount), its power is only potential.

There is this saying in tech: ‘Garbage in, garbage out’, meaning that if you feed your system with low-quality, incorrect data, it will simply learn to provide you flawed, meaningless and wrong output. Therefore, just like oil needs refining, data needs processing and filtering.

When it comes to my personal life, I try to be very selective when it comes to data, especially the digital one. And after working many hours with digital data at work I do prefer the analog one in my free time.

Tell us a bit about your journey? Where did you start and how did you get to where you are now?

My journey has actually started not in tech but humanities. I studied English Language and Literature and during my third year I decided to go more into core linguistics. Thus, I started my second faculty in Ethnolinguistics with major in Persian language and Corpus Linguistics. I got a scholarship at Centre for Corpus Research at the Birmingham University and I literally fell in love with Computational Linguistics and Natural Language Processing.

I worked on a number of NLP projects, discovered knowledge engineering, learned how to code and here I am. Apart from working at YUKKA, I’m also planning to finish my PhD on Persian NLP this year.

Seeing still mainly men working in the tech industry, what would be your advice for (young) women who look at pursuing a career in tech, but are too shy or reluctant?

I work at the company where I’m being evaluated on what I do and how I do it, regardless of my gender. But there have been a few times when I’ve heard ‘Do you really know how to code?’, ‘Are you really a senior? You look too young.’ which, believe me, are not the questions you want to hear during professional business meetings.

Thus, my advice for young women would be: “First of all, do what you love and what really makes you happy! Know your value, be confident and always speak up for yourself”. Tech needs creativity, knowledge, curiosity, and willingness to learn! Tech knows (or should know) no gender distinction.

If you had to leave home and stay on a deserted island for a year and you could only take one tech tool – what would it be?

That depends. If this is my own choice to go and stay on a deserted island, I’d definitely take a water purifier. If the scenario is that I’m stranded there, my choice would be a satellite phone so I can call for help as soon as possible.

Please continue this sentence: I have failed …. and these were my learnings…

I have failed many times in saying ‘no’ and taking too many responsibilities. I am a bit ‘I want to make everyone happy’ type which often meant working overtime. But I’ve been practising to be more assertive and I need to say that day by day I’m much more confident in saying ‘no’.

What has been a moment of fame this week?

I’ve just got the final version of the cover for my book! A few months ago I was asked to become an editor of the ‘Handbook of Persian Computational Linguistics and NLP’ by de Gruyter. I’m super excited about that as it was possible to invite the most distinguishing scientists working in this field to contribute to the book. I also think about this book a bit as a way of me paying back to the Persian Computational Linguistic community.

Who’s your personal Shero & give us three sentences why?

I’m probably not going to be original here but my personal Shero (and Hero at the same time) is Madame Curie. Maria Curie-Skłodowska was a chemist and physicist. She was born in Poland during the time when Poland was under Russian Empire, which forbade women to study. Maria was taught by her father and attended a clandestine Flying University in Warsaw. Despite the difficulties with the access to education, she did not give up. She left Poland and started her studies in France.

Curie-Skłodowska was the first female professor of Sorbonne, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win in two fields, the first PERSON to win two Nobel Prizes and finally the ONLY PERSON to win in more than one scientific disciplines. She is without any doubt a female role model since she broke down many barriers for women at the time, but for me, she is primarily an inspiration as a scientist.

If you could go back in time or into the future, what advice would you give your 23-year-old self? What advice would you give your 75-year-old self?

To 23-year-old Katarzyna: “Keep being curious!”

To 75-year-old Katarzyna I hope I can say: “You made it to the best age group at IRONMAN in Kona! Good job Girl!”

Katarzyna Marszałek-Kowalewskay is Manager Knowledge Engineering at YUKKA Lab AG, a company that uses software to read and understand financial news within seconds and provides asset managers and financial advisors with an information advantage at a considerably smaller expenditure of time. Katarzyna has a linguistic background, worked on a number of Natural Language Processing projects, discovered knowledge engineering and learned how to code. Apart from working at YUKKA, she is currently doing her PhD on Persian NLP and she is also publishing a book:
‘Handbook of Persian Computational Linguistics and NLP’.

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