Please tell us about yourself
I did my Masters in biomedical engineering. Bachelors in computer engineering. I have a PhD in and Masters in Biomedical Engineering from the University of New South Wales which I completed in 2006.
How did you get your first job?
I got an internship at CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Canberra). Don’t worry if you don’t match the criteria exactly, just apply. I learnt skills when I was in the job that I didn’t have when I applied. That was really valuable. As soon as I graduated it turned into a job. I did an industrial PhD. Incredibly valuable program. I learnt how production systems work in the real world.
What was the best CSIRO project you worked on?
Building surgical simulators. Articulated arms with pens on the end. The pen was connected to a force feedback device. We took scans from the patient, work with another team that would identify objects from another scan e.g. bits of a liver or brain. Another team measured the mechanical properties. I had to combine that all together and come up with a computer generated graphic of it all! And also generate force feedback. The idea was to model surgical simulation to give surgeons an idea ahead of time what tissue feels like.
Let’s jump to the next highlight in your career.
I had a long-standing interest in computer graphics and visual effects and really, really, really wanted to get into it at some point. The experience that I got in biomed in computer graphics and simulation turned out to be the ideal stepping stone to move into visual effects. So just for the hell of it I applied to Industrial Light Magic, part of Lucasfilm in the US. I worked for them for 6 years. I worked for George Lucas on movies. It was an amazing experience.
The take away is that Biomed is just a start. It’s not an enormous industry in Australia. If you do have other interests, don’t feel you need to be locked into biomedical engineering.
Let’s link that idea to your time at Flickr.
I picked up a passion for photography. There’s no reason that a hobby can’t become a job. Computational photography, and image science and image processing. And again the stuff that I learnt at first and second year uni was an ideal stepping stone.
Now I’m working as a data scientist at Flickr. I’m taking the stuff that I learnt in analysis and medical imaging at uni and reapplying it to the field of just working with photographs. Pretty amazing. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of using your cross-disciplinary skills.
People will invest in you if you demonstrate that you’ve got a strong interest and a wide range of engineering knowledge like you get in the dual degree. Then you can become an expert in the field by learning on the job. I think it’s surprising the latitude and time employers give you to get up to speed if you have the right attitude.
So don’t wait for the perfect job ad?
Absolutely not. If you do see a job in the paper, don’t look at the requirements and go ‘Oh no, I can’t do all of those’. It doesn’t matter. Think more about the company that you want to work for and if that organisation interests you, chances are they are going to be interested in you as well. So go and have a chat with them and you can negotiate with them. You’d be surprised how much latitude they have to accommodate you.
It’s a partnership. When you are starting your career you are bringing your enthusiasm, your keenness, your novel ways of doing things. They need to bring in someone who is fresh, has a new set of ideas, a new approach. In return they give you a bunch of experience on the job. These partnerships can be very very productive.
Tell us about the whiz bang stuff you do at Flickr.
One of the absolutely amazing things is learning about machine learning. It’s going to be an amazing field over the next 5-10 years. It’s not really image processing; it’s not really image science, but it’s related to the work that I’m doing I’ve had the opportunity to learn about machine learning, object recognition and object learning. So for example I work with this amazing team who have basically developed a ‘seeing computer’ that recognises objects and images. I’ve been able to take their algorithms and turn it from a research project into a productive system. I have had the opportunity to learn a LOT about that field. If you get into the right cadence you are always learning something new. Chances are one of the things you learn in this job will turn into your next job. For example at Flickr I needed to learn about cameras and photography and how they worked. That turned into an interest and a passion which I was able to then turn into the next job. Don’t be afraid to explore and learn things. I am constantly open to trying the next thing, as opposed to getting deeply into one academic area.
Bhautik what is in your future?
Haha! I’d like to finish what I’m doing at Flickr. There’s a lot for me to still learn there. But I love the idea of machine cognition and training a machine to think like a human for all sorts of tasks that you’d never imagine. Like using it for classification of text. So for example working with cataloging large libraries of images, videos, audio, and text. And then grouping it together. Using the machine to fill in the blanks. It’s going to be fun!
What was it that made you study biomedical engineering at UNSW in the first place?
Biomedical engineering stood out. I didn’t think I was suited to medicine. There’s a level of emotional engagement that I wasn’t ready for. I liked the idea of working with engineering but still moving humanity forward. Biomed engineering had ‘the cool factor’. It’s really different. The idea of taking medicine and computer science is novel and weird. Another major part of it was that the work that you’re doing is always moving humanity forward. It can be gradual but everything you do is a contribution to the pool of human knowledge.