Catherine Breslin

Manager, Machine Learning, Amazon Alexa

What does your job entail?

My job bridges the gap between engineering and machine learning. So we take things out of the lab and put them into products. We take innovations and get them in front of products that are used by millions of people around the world. The products that we’re building right now are changing the way that people interact with machines.

It used to be unthinkable that you could talk to a machine – it was the stuff of sci-fi, but now we’re actually building systems that do this. They’re not perfect and there’s still a long way to go, but we’ve reached the point that these systems and products are actually usable by a huge number of people and are changing the way people work and live. So it’s a really exciting area to be involved in and there’s a chance to make a big impact in the world.

Where do you find your confidence?

I don’t think I have a lot of confidence. I prefer to be well prepared, so if I’m faced with something new I tend to practice and read up a lot and try it out a couple of times before I feel confident. But once I’ve done something a couple of times, and I know how to do it, I feel comfortable.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

The best advice I’ve been given was from an old supervisor who reminded me that I shouldn’t undervalue myself. I think it’s something that a lot of women tend to do. I see a lot of women undervaluing their skills, so it’s something that stuck with me.

Catherine’s object:

This necklace that I’m wearing right now. It was given to me by my grandparents when I finished my PHD. It symbolises for me a couple of things: first is that I can do what I put my mind to and finishing my PHD was a big achievement. And the second is that it symbolises our family’s values – my grandparents were proud of our educational achievements and it reminds me of those values.

I see a lot of women undervaluing their skills.
Are there any popular misconceptions about data science?

Something that’s misunderstood about this field is just how creative it is. There’s a lots of creativity involved in building up cutting edge technology – in coming up with ways to apply what you know at scale. I think that the bridge between science and engineering is a great one because it allows you to be involved at the cutting edge.