the cognistx blog

Chat with Cognistx Data Scientist Uxue Zurutuza During Covid-19

May 7, 2020

Holly Weaver and Uxue Zurutuza chat live from Pittsburgh about the Covid-19 crisis and what it's doing to AI, along with some classic Spanish recipes.

Name:  Uxue Zurutuza
Location:  Pittsburgh, PA
Hometown:  San Sebastián, Spain
Position:  Data Scientist at Cognistx
Alma Mater:  Duesto University and Carnegie Mellon University

Holly:  First off can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Uxue:  I am from Spain.  I did my undergrad and also my masters in Computer Engineering as well as Business.  Right now, what I do is I combine both of them at Cognistx working as a Data Scientist, so my background gives me a little bit of perspective both from the technique of data science/machine learning/deep learning perspective as well as a more business oriented and problem solving perspective.


What challenges did you face becoming a Data Scientist?

Learning at university is in a set problem environment, so going to real life it’s different.  Data changes quite a lot from place to place, so translating what you have learned from university to real life environments can be a little bit challenging sometimes. There is quite a lot of work with the data... data cleaning, data engineering that maybe in more of a university setting doesn’t really happen.  Then, also, another really challenging part of data science can be to really understand the business objective side.  Having those conversations with the clients and understanding their needs - I think that would be another challenge.


What’s the best piece of advice you can give our readers who also have big dreams and want practical tips on how to achieve them?

I would say to really listen to data.  Hire people who really know what data means.  You need experts, not just random people who say things without real facts and real data based analytics.  I would say really focus on that and a lot of the visions and a lot of goals will come just from listening to or looking at the data and doing proper analysis with real science.  


It’s not everyday that you get to work on something as big as AI.  What was your initial reaction?

At the beginning, I thought that what everyone thinks of AI is that it’s another level or it’s going above human intelligence, but then what you realize is that it’s not about that.  It’s more like proving human intelligence.  It has to be based on our thoughts, on our expertise and on our experience, and then it’s using computational resources to improve that or support that.


What about Cognistx and the brand made you want to work here?

It was attractive for the fast moving environment of a start-up that lets you experiment or try and challenge yourself, and also the opportunity to work in really different problem sets and to be in contact with not just using my technical skills, but also being in contact with science, and more customer-facing environments.  I think that was also really appealing to me.


Who are the customers you work with here?

In the past I’ve worked with quite a lot - PPG, ICF, VF Corp. - I have also done things related to SmartCourse.  Right now, my main client would be SAE.


How do you use AI in your own life?

In my personal life, I use technologies that enable my AI like everyone else.  I don’t actively create anything for myself to use, but everything is enabled by AI.  Your phone, your computer, when you go and take the bus, the predictions of when the bus is going to arrive, that’s AI.  We are surrounded by AI, I think.


It’s been two years since you started working with Cognistx.  What does this anniversary mean to you?

So, I think that it represents all of my learning processes, starting from out of school with maybe not that much work experience and now I think I have been really exposed to, as I was saying, different challenging situations and problems.  So, I think that there has been a huge career and personal development or improvement, so I think that is what it represents in the end.  Overcoming all of the problems and challenging yourself.


What do you count as your biggest accomplishment since graduating from CMU?

So, I think it would be to work in projects that are really impacting businesses and different organizations. I think that will be the biggest accomplishment at the end.  I can immediately see the effect of my work that I think in some other companies that might not be that clear.  So, here you have the chance to really be involved in seeing the impact you are generating.  For example, in another project that I worked on, which is ICF, they predicted and built models to see the benefits of what different environmental policies would bring to society and being able to reassure and see how potentially the government will take those measures based on your analysis.  That is really meaningful, I think.  


How has the Coronavirus epidemic affected you personally?

So, I think that work wise, we are able to continue work more or less the same at a similar pace.  It hasn’t been such a jump for us to work from home. It’s more like I feel that having the nice environment that we have at work, of course I think that everyone is missing that.  Also, not being able to travel and personally not being able to go back and visit my family, that’s also tough, but that’s more like personally.


Are there any shows that you’re watching on Netflix right now?

We have watched so many already that I forget about them.  I have a few Spanish ones that I’m watching.  I don’t know if you’ve heard of Money Heist.  That’s the best one I have watched.


How is it going... cooking your meals and exercising?

I have always liked to cook.  I always bring lunch to work, so that hasn’t been a huge difference for me.  I live really close to the supermarket, so I get all of my grocery shopping done immediately.  Exercise, I think that at the beginning it was tough to put yourself into the doing exercise mode without getting out of your house, but now I think that I have started doing a little bit of exercise everyday.  So, I’m trying to keep up with that. Let’s see how long it goes.


Is there anything you would recommend to our readers in terms of recipes online or places we can go for suggestions for how to cook at home?

Yeah, I always like this website called Bon Appetit, they always have really nice recipes.  And then also try different cultures or different types of meals from other countries.  For example, Spanish dishes... they are delicious.  Like Spanish omelets... they are great... tortillas...


So, Spanish omelets or tortillas... any other Spanish dishes that would be easy to try for someone starting off with Spanish cuisine?

There is one that I wouldn’t say is easy... it’s croquetas... it’s not easy.  It takes quite a lot of time, but it’s worth it, so if anyone has time and they are willing to learn, I would recommend making croquetas.


Ok.  So, where do you see AI going in the future and how has AI been affected by the current events?

In the future, I think that because of the current events there will be quite a lot of trends toward preventative AI predictions and ways to measure the impact of these kinds of events.  We have been discussing things like how to use computer vision to understand social distancing.  All of these things may come up, but otherwise, I feel that industry wise the trends will continue in a similar way in which we are trying to focus on improving efficiency or increasing revenue, so our goals will be maintaining the same.


Is there a charity that you're passionate about?

My sister works for UNICEF, so I guess that I’m inclined toward that one too.  So, I would say that they have done great work in helping increase education all around the world and improve kids’ lives.  


Are there any clubs that you are a part of or want to join?

I used to go salsa dancing at CMU.  It’s a social dancing, salsa bachata club that my friend started when we were at CMU.  We started with just a few people joining, like five per class, and now they have almost fifty students.  So, that was really fun.  It’s always fun to learn new things and then also it’s another way of exercising.  I think it’s really fun.  It’s called Tartan Salsa.


Well, thank you, Uxue.  It has been very nice to talk to you.



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