The original interview has been published on the company’s blog here. (Interviewer: Maiko Mizuno, HR)
(Maiko) Hi Imad, as one of our new grads joining our company this year, today I’d like to ask some questions to hear your story about how you ended up working at Alpaca. So as a start, what was your very first contact with Alpaca?
(Imad) I actually heard about Alpaca from a person at PFN (Preferred Networks). I went to this deep learning meetup one day during the time I was looking for a job last summer and there this person saw my CV and background and told me “there’s this young AI Fintech startup that’s doing some really interesting stuff on deep learning and machine learning which could be of interest to you.” I looked up Alpaca in Wantedly which was actually all in Japanese (laugh) but managed to translate all the information and immediately submitted my application. After that it was all pretty quick before getting on a phone interview followed by a face to face interview with Yuki (CTO) and my current team members in the Data Science Team. And here I am now!
(Maiko) I can totally imagine how excited Yuki and the team must have been when they saw your background/skill sets and spoke to you for the first time. Can you tell us a little bit about your background before joining Alpaca?
(Imad) Before joining Alpaca, I was doing a 5 months internship at RIKEN Center for Advanced Intelligence Project where I was working on a research project related to drug dose allocation (bio medical) using deep reinforcement learning. It was really interesting to see real world applications of data science and deep learning. My supervisor there was a professor at The University of Tokyo from whom I was able to learn a lot, moreover, the research environment was very stimulating. After I finished my internship at RIKEN, I presented the results of this research project at my university in France, ENSTA ParisTech and École Polytechnique — Paris Saclay University, before my graduation.
(Maiko) Did the experience at RIKEN have an influence on your decision to start a career in Japan?
(Imad) Well, Tokyo is a very different city compared to other cities I’ve been to. I really like the living environment here. I’ve been away from my hometown in Morocco ever since graduating from high school. Prior to my internship in Japan, I also did other internships in the UK and New York. It was only natural for me to go beyond my comfort zone and to take an adventure. My parents were kind of shocked and afraid when I told them I was going to live and work in Japan, but I assured them how good the environment is and they are accepting the situation now.
(Maiko) I see, your parents must be very proud of you! I can really sense the extraordinary talent, the focus and passion that you and your team members have towards data science and machine learning. So how did you get yourself into this field to begin with?
(Imad) I started out from studying applied mathematics and computer science. While I was a student, I had a chance to do an internship at Credit Agricole CIB. Back then I discovered that there is a huge amount of data in the bank but the issue was how we can get the maximum information and value from the available data. It was at that moment that I discovered — through real work experience — the field of data science and machine learning. Later I decided to take a masters degree in this field and It’s been one of the best decisions that I’ve made in my life. As you can see, there’s so much advances and breakthroughs going on in this field, always something new, challenging and new tools coming up.
(Maiko) It’s really the cutting edge of the world, isn’t it? Hearing your story, I suppose data science and machine learning can be applied in any kind of field, right?
(Imad) Exactly, it’s not something specific to a particular field. The great thing about it is that such tools can be applied anywhere where you have data — you can make predictions, create models and the knowledge that you have can be applied in any kind of field, which provides flexibility and usefulness in what you can do as well.
(Maiko) Amazing, it really sounds like this is our future…and you know, there’s probably a lot that startups like Alpaca can do with accelerated speed in research and decision making.
(Imad) That’s right. One of the main reasons why I chose to work at a startup is because I can see the outcome, value and impact of my work very easily. Such environment is definitely very challenging and stimulating.
(Maiko) So how do you feel right now working in Japan and at Alpaca for a few months now?
(Imad) It’s really surprising and great that the team is very young, we can share the same jokes, it’s easy to understand each other and we are extremely diverse.
(Maiko) We should make it even more diverse!! And tell me, why is it that we don’t see that many female engineers?!
(Imad) I agree it would be great if we could have female engineers (laugh)!! I think, in order to have more female engineers in this field, we need to start from the education point. Schools need to further encourage science majors for female students.
(Maiko) Let’s hope we can see more female in the engineer population in the future! I wish I had the talent to become an engineer (laugh)!!
(Imad) I guess, whatever you do, you have to have a lot of passion in what you are doing. I feel that when you have the passion, you don’t even feel like you are working. Seriously, some days I find myself spending time in the office and suddenly it’s already 6, 7pm.
(Maiko) Talking about passion, how do you see yourself in the near future?
(Imad) I never have a good answer to this question — I think, to keep learning is more important than making a prediction of your future. If you keep learning, you will always be updated of what’s happening in the world and can be flexible in what you do. If I can keep working at Alpaca, I hope to have more responsibility in the organization and have a broader overview of where we are going.
(Maiko) I agree, you can’t predict the future, I myself am busy enough just trying to be present and to do whatever I can do right this minute.
(Imad) Yeah, I would say just enjoy the moment that we are living now and stop worrying so much about the future!!
(Maiko) Alpaca has been growing so rapidly, especially this past year but we need to stay focused in hiring great talent and keep growing. What is it that you seek in Alpaca?
(Imad) I would say — to stay a startup but in a bigger scale. Become even more recognized in our field as a cutting edge AI fintech startup globally by clients. Go beyond the frontier.
(Maiko) Alpaca will definitely keep growing with people like you!!
(Imad) The data science team recently had an offsite in Ito (hot springs) and it was an interesting experience. Changing environment opens up your mind and even changes the way of thinking. The offsite gave us the chance to come up with new ideas and new problems we are facing and we were able to have a different kind of discussion that you don’t necessarily have in the office. We plan to have this off-site regularly going forward — the plan is to define our goals each time and include a check point every 3–6 months. Keep re-defining objectives is very important — it allows us to keep fixing problems and to find better solutions for them.
(Maiko) I guess we can say this is one of Alpaca’s Way of moving forward to keep developing ourselves. That was a lot of great information you shared with us, thank you so much and let’s keep growing together!!