Life at DeepMind

Kyrgyzstan to King’s Cross: the star baker cooking up code

May 26, 2022
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Life at DeepMind

Kyrgyzstan to King’s Cross: the star baker cooking up code

May 26, 2022
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Today we caught up with Aliya Rysbek, a software engineer on the Platform team. She spoke to us about her path from Central Asia to DeepMind, and her endless curiosity for learning. 

What does a software engineer on the platform team do?

Our team is working on a custom project management system for organising all of DeepMind’s research projects. I’m a full-stack developer, so I build the system’s components, like showing team structure, and various backend services to add and improve the product functionality. This system helps to plan and track projects, see who’s working on what, and connect people. The goal is to make it easier for all DeepMinders to do their work.

Can you walk us through a typical day? 

My day can vary, it really depends on which phase of the project I'm on. Let’s say we want to add a feature to our product – my tasks could range from designing solutions and working with the team to find the best one, to deploying new features into production and doing maintenance. Along the way, I’ll communicate changes to our stakeholders, write docs, code and test solutions, build analytics dashboards, clean-up old code, and fix bugs.

Typically, I work from the office, so after a quick snack or breakfast, I try to concentrate on critical work for around two hours. Then our team usually has lunch together, which is really nice after working remotely for so long. My afternoon hours are the most productive, so I put my headphones on and jump into coding.

The end of the day usually consists of a break, some team chit-chat, and a walk around the office to work through solutions or get inspiration. We have such a beautiful library in our office. It’s inspiring just to look at the huge selection of books and to be reminded of what else there is to do in life – there’s still so much more to learn and so many complex problems to solve. 

What’s something you’re especially proud of in your career?

Before joining DeepMind, I mentored tech students and high-schoolers in my free time, helping them prepare CVs and do mock interviews. After I started working here, quite a few non-profit organisations and local projects reached out looking for the same kind of support. I’ve really enjoyed it and feel like I’m having a bigger impact than I could before. 

Some people I helped are already working at different tech companies, including two interns who are starting this month at DeepMind – yay! I really love that I’m in a position to share resources, time, and skills back with the community. As a female software engineer from a developing country, I know the importance of bringing more diversity and inclusion into the workplace. 

Can you tell us about your journey to DeepMind?

I’m from Kyrgyzstan – getting this role was such a big deal where I’m from that I even made it onto the local news.

English isn’t my native language and is hardly taught in my home country, if at all. But I’ve been really lucky. Back at home I received various scholarships that paid for my time at a private high school where, thanks to my amazing teachers, I was able to improve my English within months and further explore my interest in maths. I even ended up entering and placing 5th in a country-wide olympiad competition while I was there. 

After that, I decided to study computer science and ended up getting my BSc in Computer Engineering at the Middle East Technical University in Turkey, and my MSc in Computer Science Engineering at the Budapest University of Technology in Hungary. Studying abroad wouldn’t have been possible without scholarship support from the Turkish and Hungarian governments. 

Once I completed my studies, it was time to find a job, which was difficult. Fortunately, I had a mentor who was an ex-Googler and they spent months helping me prepare for interviews and survive more than 70 rejections from different organisations. Eventually, though, we were also able to celebrate five offers! 

How did you prepare for your interview at DeepMind? 

With my computer engineering background and internship experience, I felt prepared going into the process. I spent a lot of time focusing on the coding interviews, and I found these resources really helpful:

What do you get up to outside of work?

I’ve always enjoyed cooking and baking but I wanted to upgrade my skills, so I recently signed up for advanced baking courses – they went really well! I made delicious pavlovas, croissants (the real kind with lots of butter), tarts, and complex cheesecakes.  My friends who were in charge of tasting were very excited about my improved skills – I even became DeepMind’s Star Baker this year! 

I’ve also returned to practising dance and Aikido, the modern Japanese martial art. Both of them keep me really active, which is important when you spend a lot of time behind a computer. Last but not least, I’ve also been inspired to learn calligraphy and pottery. At DeepMind, you can take courses that don’t have to relate to the work you do – it’s been a dream for someone who loves to learn.

What kind of impact do you hope DeepMind has on the world?

In general, I would love to see fair access to quality education globally and I truly believe that DeepMind is capable of contributing to this. There has already been so much work done through the scholarship programme and summer school support but there’s always more we can do. Global access to education is so important as it would unlock a great share of undiscovered talent and increase the overall quality of life. 

Any tips for aspiring DeepMinders? 

Make connections! If you see something you’re interested in, do your due diligence and reach out to learn more about the company, position, or project. The relationships you make are invaluable and may help you find the perfect place for your skills, interests, and values.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

To ask questions. I believe that people inherently want to help others and will welcome curiosity. Once, during a careers talk, I was told that a human's default state is “not knowing”. I really liked that, and it made me realise that we shouldn't be harsh on ourselves for not knowing something, but rather be graceful and feed our curiosity by learning from others.

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