Reflections on the Last Decade

As 2020 is just starting and many summaries, thoughts, etc., regarding the last 10 years appear around you, it’s almost unavoidable to do the same exercise. Even though I don’t have the habit of just recollecting everything that happened in the past years, much less in a decade. Still, when I started thinking a bit about it, I realised some interesting things. For me at least :-)

Ten years ago I just had started my last academic appointment as a Senior Researcher in CISUC, at the University of Coimbra. It would last for almost two years and and half and it was during this time I did some of my best work, i.e., evolving Ant Systems, but more importantly, the one I had total freedom and because of that, it was lot of fun. The downside of it was that it was mostly a solo work, but closely collaborating with my friend Francisco, since back then it was hard times to get external funding. As such, getting students to work on the project was mostly impossible. But it was fun doing it, while also coding it in Common Lisp, publishing at the main EC conferences and finally getting a Best Paper Award at EuroGP. Not bad as my last academic role.

As such, around beginning of 2012, disappointed with the academic system in general and in particular with the Portuguese one, I decided to move to Industry. I also wanted to do a bit more engineering work and less pure research and the time seemed right. Back then I joined Microsoft in Munich, at the Search and Technology European Center. Mostly, I was joining Bing as part of the larger Core Ranking Team. To give some context, this was also approaching the end period of Steve Balmer as CEO. Joining Bing was actually much better than expected, even though the first year was a bit though since I needed to learn almost everything about a domain that I didn’t know much. But afterwards, I was lucky enough to be able to be part of key projects and later, given the pitch system that was used in our team, I was able to propose my own ideas, lead small teams and worked on some interesting stuff that got shipped world wide. Looking back, the Bing times were good. I had the chance to meet and work with lots of new people and with some really smart persons. I really learned a lot.

A large company like Microsoft is always on the move. Nothing stays the same for long and as such, it came the time where our team also left the Bing org. These were the times were conversational search and agents were trendy and the team ended up joining a new org related to that. Not being overly excited about it and wanting to try something new, I actually ended up leaving Microsoft and joined VW Data Lab, also in Munich. The world of the automative industry is so far away from the software world that I didn’t stay long and rejoined Microsoft a few months later. Nevertheless, it was a very good learning experience and met some interesting people. Back to Microsoft and the world of personal assistants, I managed to work on some cool things. Unfortunately, internal organisations were more often than desired and after a brief time on Cortana we ended up on the big world of Enterprise Search. Back to the search domain, back to familiar concepts but in a completely different territory.

But as always, things can move fast and opportunities can appear without the least expectation. Less than year ago, the prospect to join the project Brainwave and you know immediately you want to be party of it. It connects lots of things you want to learn and work on, from hardware to models, from engineering to even science. And that’s where you keep your mind busy.

Looking back at these ten years, I realised some important things. I do enjoy research a lot but it needs the real-world connection. Being able to devise new things, solutions, that will actually solve real problems for real people is more than just motivation. It’s critical for you to do even more and improve yourself. There were times I didn’t know exactly how to perceive myself. I was not a researcher but also not an engineer. Nowadays I see myself as a Scientist and Engineer of the Artificial. It combines both worlds. What will the next decade bring? Who knows, but I plan to make it even more fun that the last one :-)

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