Alexandra Craciun, Algorithm Engineer at XMOSAlexandra Craciun is an Audio Algorithm Engineer at XMOS.

Alex specialises in the field of voice technology, and her current work revolves around the science of speech. Specifically, she develops speech detection algorithms capable of distinguishing between a human voice and sound from a non-speech source. Alex personally holds five patents relating to her work in this space.

Prior to joining XMOS in 2017, Alex worked as a researcher at Fraunhofer Institute of Integrated Circuits and International Audio Laboratories in Erlangen, Germany. Previous projects include audio watermarking, spatial sound, sound scene segmentation and speech modelling.

Bristol-based XMOS stands at the forefront of the global far-field voice interface market as the first company to win Amazon AVS qualification for a far-field linear development kit. Its engineering has spurred a wave of third-party products that are democratising access to technology and transforming the way humans interact with their AI-enabled assistants. Examples include Pillo, the healthcare robot from Pillo Health, and Audio Spotlight, the directional speaker from Holosonics.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Currently, I’m an audio algorithm engineer at XMOS, working on designing low complexity algorithms, which allow our chips to efficiently detect when someone is talking.

I’m lucky, because my job is a good mixture of engineering and research work. It’s very hard to find a job that allows you to do both!

Prior to working at XMOS, I lived in Germany for thirteen years, where I settled after leaving Romania. In Germany, I enrolled in a private university, where I studied both electrical engineering and computer science.

I was fortunate enough to be chosen for an internship at Fraunhofer IIS, better known as the “home of MP3”, at the end of my university studies. This was a huge opportunity for me, because I had the chance to work and cooperate with many audio experts. It was at Fraunhofer that my passion for acoustic research blossomed!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

People always expect a “Yes” in response to this question. In my case, the answer is no.

What I thought my career path would look like at the start of university and what I’m doing now are totally different. I thought that after my electrical engineering degree I would be tinkering in a shed, fixing TVs and radios. Funnily enough, it didn’t quite turn out that way!

In my opinion, planning in advance is overrated. What you really need to learn is how to adapt. Technology is advancing at such speed that it quickly makes yesterday’s plans and ideas obsolete, so adaptability is key.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Of course, everyone encounters challenges in the workplace sooner or later. Sometimes these appear when the management changes the priorities of a project or when you encounter an unexpected technical problem, which requires substantial framework restructuring.

The key to overcoming career challenges is to never be afraid to ask for help. There is a lot to learn from the experience of others. Nobody is born an expert after all!

Also, you should see every change, whether good or bad, as an exciting new challenge. Trying something new can sometimes result in a solution that can be used to tackle old problems, for instance.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

No single achievement stands out—there are many moments I’m proud of! I consider all the things I’ve helped create, and the people I helped along the way, as equal achievements.

If I had to choose one moment, it would be when a former student sent me an unexpected email thanking me for my support and guidance. Sharing knowledge with others is so important, and to know I had shaped the path of another person made me immensely proud.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I always think of myself as very fortunate, because I’ve always had the chance to work with amazing people, from whom I’ve learnt so much.

My career has involved large amounts of hard work and commitment, of course, but sometimes it’s just a case of being in the right place at the right time.

It’s also vital not to let anyone tell you you’re not good enough or that you can’t achieve something. Have faith in your talent!

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

In technology, I believe it’s important to find a good mentor, or someone who inspires you, because these figures show us how much better we can be. It’s not about reaching perfection, but about becoming a better version of the person you were yesterday.

It’s also important to give yourself free time now and again, to have absolutely nothing on your to-do list. We all try to fit as many things into as little time as possible today. But great ideas often come about as a result of freedom to think, without the pressure of time weighing on your shoulders.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

In theory, if you’re good at what you do, you should have the same level of success, irrespective of gender.

However, some women might not be so confident or might not fight as aggressively for promotions and raises. While there are an increasing number of women working in STEM, there aren’t all that many women working in leadership roles within these industries.

I’m confident that this will change with time, if we raise young girls to believe they can do anything they turn their hand to!

In Romania, there is an extremely high percentage of women in STEM. This is because our parents teach us that we can do whatever we want, and this is instilled in us from a young age.

What do you think companies can do to support the careers of women working in technology?

The first step should be to ask women what they need to progress.

Some of us would profit from a mentor, others would like to try out different roles or learn new skills, some need flexible hours, or subsidised baby-care.

It’s normal to talk about salaries, but not so much about the needs of the person. We need a system with greater focus on the needs of the individual, instead of the broad brush-stroke approach we take today.

There are currently only 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

It’s important to start early. Tell young girls stories about science, and they’ll develop curiosity! Encouraging girls to think from a scientific perspective would go a long way to encouraging them into STEM careers.

Beyond that, juggling family and a career is difficult for women. There’s definitely a space for better family support programmes offered by the government, to support those that require childcare.

Removing that stress from the equation would motivate more women to pursue a career in tech.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

Thankfully, there are plenty of resources and events to choose from these days.

At the first conference I ever attended, I could count the number of women in attendance on one hand, but that has changed so much in recent years.

Now, there are many talks and events designed specifically for women in STEM, and there is a lot more effort invested in making women feel welcome in a tech environment.

In Bristol, we have specific tech meetups and groups for women, such as Women’s Tech Hub or Geek Girls Dinner. These groups offer a number of perks, including programming workshops, subsidised event tickets, or help in preparing for a job interview.

Thanks to the work of many talented and devoted individuals, there is no shortage of help out there for women looking to set out on a career in STEM.