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With over 35 patents, Kelly Abuelsaad has always had a passion for creating, whether she’s been playing guitar or finding a new way to apply technology to everyday tasks.
Kelly is a member of the IBM Watson and Cloud Platform team, where she helps bring AI to clients via the cloud. From tinkering on projects in her studio to working within a large group to find answers and patent new technologies, Kelly never stops thinking about what’s possible with AI.
Kelly expands on her career path in AI, the value of teamwork during the creative process, how she strives to improve efficiency through inventing — and the role her team has played in helping IBM achieve 25 years of patent leadership.
Technology has always fascinated me. It holds such opportunity and great promise that I couldn’t help but tinker in computers and science at a very early age. I took BASIC in high school and was hooked. I ended up majoring in information technology because in IT, you work with an entire system. You build and orchestrate a whole data center and you get to understand how things intertwine and operate from the ground up. At IBM, my first job was as a systems administrator on a developer team. I was struck by how great the technology was, but it needed to be simpler. It needed to be easy for customers to understand and use.
That’s how I eventually came to be a Master Inventor at IBM. A Master Inventor is frequently involved in a number of areas – including inventing new products and services, mentoring others and evaluating ideas. One thing I’ve learned is that solving technical issues is only one part of what it means to be a successful innovator. Inventing involves brainstorming with colleagues and working to develop applications that could become patents or core services for our clients. It’s about being collaborative, sharing ideas – and knowing how to work with people. I’ve always been what I consider to be a “tech person.” I enjoy tinkering on my own, and still do that quite frequently – but I’ve grown to understand the value of creativity and the perspective of others. I honestly have found the whole brainstorming process fun and addictive.
An invention is a solution to a problem, and there are always multiple solutions to any given problem. I start by asking, “Is the solution I’m developing unique?” Then I next ask, “Is the solution I’m coming up with better than other solutions?” For example, if you need a better way to tie your shoes and you develop an invention to help this problem but it takes five minutes longer, it’s technically unique, but not very useful. If what I’m creating makes a process faster and more adaptable, that’s when I think there might be something there. I also factor in if it’s useful for IBM, in terms of it positively impacting our business.
How are you helping to change the way businesses work?
One of Watson’s greatest values is being able to train it on specific industries and their corresponding data. It’s highly attuned to what our clients need.
What’s exciting about my role is I get to sit at this critical intersection — my role is one that helps connect our IBM Cloud technology with Watson. The amount of data that’s in the world is exploding. Tools like Watson help us make sense of all that information and knowledge, while advanced cloud platforms can process and securely manage that data. Without both those pieces, neither is as valuable. I’m responsible for continuing to connect these dots, making the process more seamless and intuitive by creatively applying these technologies.
A tangible output of that, which gets me out of bed in the morning? AI is evolving, scaling and becoming more accessible, every day. The progress this industry has made in just a few years is incredible. We are constantly improving Watson so it can learn better, make more sense of data and easily train models according to each industry.
My job is to create common components so our brilliant IBMers who are creating the internal intelligence of Watson can continue focusing on those algorithms without being hindered. The result is that the capabilities of Watson are improving at a faster rate and we have better response times for training and serving models.
You play guitar. You’re a new mom. How do you think these important roles and skills outside of technology have improved your technological creativity?
If you’re playing an instrument, you can read the music notes off a sheet and play a song. In the same vein, if you’re a software developer, you can get design plans and write the code to create a program. You do both by following the requirements; you’re following someone else’s instructions.
You can create wonderfully beautiful things this way and have lots of fun doing it. However, I’ve found a whole new level of enjoyment and empowerment in coming up with my own ideas – writing that song myself, kickstarting a new invention myself. This can be very hard because putting your own ideas out there for others to listen to makes you vulnerable. But if having a son has taught me one thing, it’s to not take myself too seriously. I’ve learned that parenting often involves coming up with creative solutions. Some ideas end up being great, and some end up being less than stellar. But in the process, I’ve learned how creative I can be by just allowing myself to take a chance.
I encourage everyone I work with to be creative in many different ways. The more experience you have, the more things you’ll learn and the better perspective you’ll have. I’ve learned, quite by accident as I never thought of myself as a creative person, that creativity is a skill that is earned through experience. Get out, try new things — and most importantly, enjoy what you do.
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