Meet Floriane Magera, Innovation Engineer

Floriane Magera

Name: Floriane Magera
Title: Innovation Engineer
Education: Engineer specialized in Computer science

Book(s): All Liv Stromquist graphical books, I absolutely love her humor ! All her books are small essays; it gathers a lot of information and vulgarizes very well feminisnitic research works.
Movie(s): Hidden figures

Personal fun fact: I name my servers with Pokemon names.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

Hi ! I am Floriane, I am 28, I live in Liege with my husband and my cat. I am born in Liege and I always lived there except for an erasmus in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. I studied civil engineering at the university of Liege, and chose to orient myself towards computer science in my master's degree.

Floriane posing with her bicycle

Besides work, I enjoy being outdoors cycling, running and hiking. This is rather new, because I was never the athletic type. I caught the bug after I started running during lunch time at work a few years ago! I try to set myself objectives or challenges to keep improving. This year, I ran my third half marathon, and I climbed Mont Ventoux with my colleagues. It was the best team building ever!

My next challenge could be a long trail, there’s a few nice marked ones in the Ardennes. There are several levels of difficulty, ranging from green to black (like ski slopes). So far, I haven't done a red yet!

Misery Manor in Harzé

Another fact about me: I love beers! It's a love I share with my husband, so much that we plan our vacations depending on the breweries that we will be able to visit. I particularly love sour beers and dark beers, kind of both extremities of the beer spectrum.

A few belgian breweries worth mentioning: Misery, Atrium, Minne, La source, La mule, 3 fonteinen, Cantillon, de Struise Brouwers, Tilquin, Dochter van de Korenaar, Boon, Alvinne … And I could go on…

One of the nicest spots around Liege to taste good beer: Misery Manor in Harzé.

What is your job (or specialisation) and what does a typical (work)day look like for you?

I am an innovation engineer at EVS Broadcast Equipment. The company sells broadcasting equipment, it is belgian and it’s quite famous because I guess one can say that it’s EVS servers that enabled the use of replays for storytelling during live sport events.

Innovation engineer sounds quite vague, actually my job is a computer vision engineer one. It revolves around data science and deep learning and at the same time, mathematics and geometry. I landed at EVS by chance; I was going for an interview to become a C++ developer. But in fact, I ended up on a brand new project.

In 2016, deep learning was getting really famous for solving computer vision tasks that were until then very difficult (image classification), so I was hired in order to demonstrate that there was some use of deep learning for EVS. I learned deep learning on the spot. Since then, deep learning and computer vision proved to be really useful for the broadcasting world, and it is now used in several products.

So to truly answer the question; my job involves being aware of the latest trends and latest technologies that can be useful for creating new products, or adding features to existing ones. This means I spend quite some time on technology watch. I read scientific papers, and I get to attend scientific conferences. My main subject of research is camera calibration. In order to insert augmented reality graphics in any kind of sport videos, we must know how the camera shooting the video was configured. I got the chance to get a grant from Wallonia to start a PhD at EVS in partnership with the University of Liège.

A typical day might be filled with quite various tasks: reading papers, mentoring interns, brainstorming with colleagues, taking care of our own deep learning infrastructure, developing camera calibration techniques or maintaining existing ones that are already used in VAR systems for soccer.

Lately my job also changed to a more visible one. I get to present my job and the vision of our company regarding computer vision in sports to scientific conferences, or to universities in order to help students get to know EVS and make them apply. I feel terrible at speaking publicly, but improving ^^

What’s the main programming language you use for work?

I tended to use both c++ and python, but I now almost exclusively use python.

What are the requirements to become an innovation engineer?

It's such a broad term, you could have this job in very different industries, but I think the main characteristic that is expected is creativity, you have to generate ideas in order to do things differently, to see where new technologies can be leveraged to propose new features or even new products that fit an industry. There are different phases of the job :

  1. You find new ideas, based on customer needs, new technologies, you define an objective that you will try to implement.
  2. You try to implement it, this is the proof of concept phase. You provide a minimal setup in which your new functionality or new product is demonstrated.
  3. Gathering feedback. The prototype is shown to clients and used on the field to gather feedback and adjust it to the reality of the field. This is the fun/stressful phase where you get to go on the field and hope that your prototype will work in front of the customers.
  4. Productization. Then if everything goes well, the prototype is turned into a product and there is a period of transition of your work to other development teams. That's when you say goodbye to your baby basically. But of course you stay a referent for the new techniques that might be employed.

This is the workflow when everything goes well. You have to be resilient, because of course not all your ideas will work, be accepted and finally turn into products. Each phase might fail, and I guess this is the difficult part of the job, not see this as a failure and move on to your next project.

For the generation of new ideas, either you get them by the knowledge of your industry and clients, or by monitoring new technologies. For instance, we see new deep learning techniques such as frame interpolation evolve in the scientific community, and at a certain point, we judge that the technique is getting mature enough/obtaining sufficiently good results in order to be integrated into a prototype.

So the main characteristics required would be creativity, curiosity and perseverance.

In what way does Deep Learning differ from Machine Learning?

Deep learning can be seen as a subset of machine learning techniques, so it is machine learning. The specific thing about deep learning algorithms is that it was enabled by the computing power that GPUs now have, and by the insane amount of data that it is now possible to gather.

Really roughly the idea is that by having a gigantic dataset, and very good computing power, why not feed directly your data to a very complex model? It might learn the best features to directly solve your problem, rather than you designing features that will be provided to a smaller normal machine learning model.

How about when you’re not working? Any hobbies or interests you’d like to tell us about?

Lately I got into slow fashion, I learned sewing with my grandmother with her old sewing machine, then I bought my own! My main realizations are a sports bag and shorts. Next I plan to make a banana bag and a hat. I am learning embroidery with friends too but this requires a very high level of patience.

As a consumer, I love vintage clothes and upcycling brands, and last year, I subscribed to a clothes renting service; I choose one or two pieces out of a shared (and fair!) wardrobe every month so I get to wear original clothes that I will never tire of.

Any recommendations on brands that upcycle or clothes rental services for people who like to dive into this?

Of course! In Bruxelles there is Coucou shop that proposes dresses, combi rentals for nice events. I love this initiative, because when you have a wedding/ceremony coming up you want to be well dressed, but if you buy a new outfit for the occasion, you probably won't have dozens of opportunities to wear it. I rented a dress there for my wedding and fully recommend it!

For a more daily outfit type, I rent clothes at Jukebox Clothes, which is also in Bruxelles. You can rent a piece just once for a month or you can have a subscription. As said before, I went for the last option. As I come from Liège everything is done online, but I know many clients go to the showroom in person to select their next pieces. I try to go once or twice a year to try on as many clothes as possible to see in advance which pieces will fit me, and for the rest, I totally trust Nathalie and Catherine, they have a sharp eye to know which size you need.

Jukebox clothes showroom in Brussels

That's it for renting. For upcycling brands, there is Retro Reset (Bruxelles), Wabi-Sabi (Namur), Stay Calma (Liège), Atelier Seize (Liège) which all sell clothes. For jewelry I love Anicet and Tête d'orange which are two French brands.

For other shops in Liège there is Miscellany (vintage ❤️), Endless (second hand), WeCo Store (ethical brands), Slow 31 (second hand). And I am hoping that one day a Think Twice will open in my city too!

What or who got you initially interested in coding and / or pursuing a career in tech?

Well it was not love at first sight at all. There was a programming course in the first year of my engineering degree which I failed completely at first. But then when I had to study it alone, I enjoyed it a lot. The exercises were full of small algorithmic problems which looked very much like small riddles. I really like solving those, so this is how it started!

If you look back on when you first started out. What advice would you give yourself?

I would say, chill it’s not a race ! Well in fact, it is still valid advice today. So many things that need to be done, I find it very hard to pause and truly rest. If I could coach myself in the past, I would choose to do it during university. It was not a very flourishing time, there is something about the elitism there that makes you feel easily you’re not enough, and that’s nonsense.

I was putting way too much pressure on myself to succeed at everything at once, but in the end, nobody cares if you failed some years and everything you’ve learned will be forgotten, except the few things that you use regularly. In a nutshell, I would say take it easy, much easier, and focus on the subjects you love!

Why did you choose engineering, was there anything that triggered the interest during your high school years?

I always loved math! Always helped my friends, family, and younger students who had more struggles. Apart from that, really no predisposition for the job.

In fact, I chose engineering for the very naive idea that I would understand the world thanks to that, still know so few, and mainly because I knew that these studies offer a wide range of possible jobs.

Are there any particular women in tech who have inspired you?

Not really, it is quite sad! I got inspired by my teachers or colleagues. Back then I did not pay attention to gender equality (probably made it easier for me to ignore those issues at that time), but now I wonder; how come there is not a single woman professor at the Computer science department of the University of Liège?

Are there really so few women in the field? I think schools should address this directly, maybe by now they have. I did see some nice initiatives at the University of Liège such as an informative leaflet about respect and inclusion.

Do you have any favourite resources or projects you like to follow?

For anyone that wants to learn deep learning, there this one tutorial that we always advise to our interns: CS231n Convolutional Neural Networks for Visual Recognition

For general tech news, I check this everyday: news.ycombinator

For the latest scientific papers in machine learning and to find open source code, I use papers with code it’s also a benchmarking tool so if you want to find the best algorithm for a specific machine learning task, you’ll find it there.

And finally, I also use LinkedIn and reddit, their algo does a pretty good job once you follow a bunch of subs/groups/pages/people that matter in your field.

Are you currently doing anything specific to improve your public speaking skills?

Yes, seizing every opportunity to practice! I made a lot of progress in the last two years since I was even afraid to speak in front of my direct colleagues that I see every day. And yet we all get along very well, very nice ambiance.

This was really an irrational fear. I was aware this was something to work on, so when we were asked to do a workshop at an internal conference at EVS, I finally volunteered. And this was the best decision! Maybe that can be seen as the event that changed my career lately.

The workshop went terrifically well, so despite the insane stress and pressure I put on myself for this, I think it was worth it. At that moment, I guess the will to exceed myself that I have for sport, entered my job dimension. Now, when an opportunity seems interesting to me, feasible but scary, I know taking this opportunity might be a way to grow, so I go for it.

Is there anything you really wish/dream to accomplish in the next couple years or so?

I would love to do an internship abroad, work a few month in another country in an university with a team working on subjects close to mine, and experiencing life in another city!

Another thing I would really like to do, is go on holiday completely by bike. We've looked several times to do this a few days by renting bikes and having our luggage carried, but this is so expensive…

What made you join the women.code(be) community?

The need to find women with similar experiences, the will to change things and the hope to find support in difficult times.

How could the tech industry be more inclusive for women and minorities?

First, the tech industry should be aware it is not inclusive, and acknowledge that it is an issue. In my opinion, we are at the really early-stage of this first step. It has become an appearance issue - if there are no women or no minorities, companies are aware that it reflects badly on them. This is awareness, I think it is easily checked.

Now the difficult part: acknowledging that it is an issue and taking action to make minorities feel included. This means paying more attention to their comfort than other majorities employees. This means explaining (yep it is sometimes needed) why some remarks/jokes are not acceptable in a working environment, so I guess actively educating employees to behave nicely… In my opinion, this is how the minorities will feel engaged in a tech company.

The difficult thing about inclusion issues is that often a significant part of the sense of exclusion can be found in situations that in isolation seem absolutely tolerable. It is the repetition of small things that seem anecdotal to those who do not experience them every day that worsen the experience of minorities. It is the quantity and the systematism of these uncomfortable situations that are problematic, and this is obviously very difficult to imagine for someone who does not experience them.

I think in our community we could help educate our colleagues by collecting all these stories of the times we didn't even think to report a behavior to HR because we thought "it was just a joke", or "it wouldn't do any good", or "it might disproportionately harm the person who caused us harm", or "it was just clumsy"... Maybe the amount of it would help people see what it feels like on a daily basis.

For the long-term view of the question, I think that there are plenty of books that address this in a very complete manner.

Any resources that you would specifically recommend on the subject?

Brotopia book cover

In my opinion, the best treatment of the topic specifically about to the tech world was done in a French podcast which cites “Brotopia” by Emily Chang and the survey “The elephant in the valley”.

There’s also been a nice documentary about it called “Casser les codes”, produced by the RTBF.

Have you ever had to deal with gender based prejudice in your job or micro aggressions?

Yes but this never affected my work itself. It never prevented me from working with someone for instance. I suffered several inappropriate behaviors but these were not harmful. I consider myself lucky. I have my own list of anecdotal stories that never went to HR department except for one.

Mostly sexist jokes or remarks, and some non harmful inappropriate behaviors. The ones I hate the most are those that make us feel like prey, it’s really insidious.

How do you deal/handle those situations?

I mostly don’t ! I don’t laugh at sexist jokes anymore, and it took quite a long time to achieve this. It’s so common, I used to automatically laugh at it and then feel bad about my reaction.

Reacting and explaining why something is wrong is quite some work. I only do it for the best, the most open and interested minds. So most of the time I don’t say anything and I noticed that it’s getting more common that some other colleagues do respond and educate the others. In these moments, I feel blessed to have such nice colleagues!

I only react when something is way off limits, that’s it! In these cases, it is not always easy to react quickly. You need time to process things to be able to name what exactly is wrong. And when you’re at work, you better not get too angry without a clear explanation if you don’t want to be labelled the “hysterical” one.

So I try to flee as soon as I feel awkward. Then later, I can explain in a calmly manner why that feels wrong to me.

We hope you enjoyed Floriane Magera's story, feel free to share this article with your network. ❤️

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