Interview with Azamat Sarkytbayev – former ISSAI Research Assistant – on his work experience in ISSAI

  1. Hello, Azamat! When did you join ISSAI?

I joined ISSAI on January 6th, 2020 for a five-month internship.

2. Can you tell us what were your job responsibilities in ISSAI? What was your typical daily job routine?

Usually I spent 80% of my time collecting data and 20% of my time complaining about data (joke – pretty famous in the data science community).

My responsibilities included: collecting, processing, and analyzing data for research purposes. I’ve mainly worked on the WiFi-based localization using Recurrent Neural Networks. We wrote the models using the Pytorch library and ran our experiments on the state-of-the-art DGX systems. We would have daily meetings with our director Professor Atakan Varol and supervisor Dr Khassanov.

3. What was the job application procedure? Was it difficult, or easy and straightforward?

I found out about ISSAI through my friend who works at the Nazarbayev University. I contacted ISSAI, sent my documents and later had an interview. There were both technical and personal questions – luckily I’ve passed and landed an internship at ISSAI. The bar was high and it required preparation on my part.

4. What did you like about working in ISSAI?

I really liked the atmosphere at ISSAI, working alongside bright, driven and friendly researchers. There are plenty of opportunities to learn and grow professionally. The labs are fully equipped, the projects are interesting and are in the active areas of research. Plus, you can participate in conferences.

5. What kind of work and skills benefits has this job provided to you?

This internship has given me an opportunity to apply machine learning to solve real world problems – like Wifi-based localization. I saw the whole lifecycle of a data scientists job – collecting, processing and analyzing data. It’s an invaluable experience.  Technically, I’ve massively improved my Python coding skills and understanding of machine learning and deep learning in particular. On a personal level, I’ve gained confidence and improved my communication skills, especially since the second half of my internship was remote due to the COVID-19 related quarantine.

6. Can you tell us more about your team and colleagues, did you easily get along with them? Did you like the team-spirit at ISSAI?

I’ve worked closely with Mukhamet and Dr Khassanov on the WiFi-based localization project and we are a great team! However, I’ve also had great relationships with other ISSAI members. Everyone was welcoming and friendly. We would celebrate birthdays, holidays such as International Women’s day and have interesting conversations during coffee breaks. Our team is young, hard-working, fun and ambitious.

7. Which universities did you graduate from? And what degrees do you own now?

I’ve graduated from University College London with BS in Mathematics and Physics. I’m currently pursuing MS in Computer Science at Northeastern University.

8. You had some work experience in overseas universities, for example as a Teaching Assistant, didn’t you?

Yes, I’ve worked as a TA for Object-Oriented Programming and Intro to Computer Systems and Algorithms classes at Northeastern. 

9. Having studied and worked in different overseas universities, in the UK and in the US, how would you evaluate your experience of working in NU which positions itself as a Western-style university in Kazakhstan? What kind of similarities and differences in management style have you noticed?

Working at NU felt like working at a Western institution. You are given a responsibility and are expected to take the initiative. In addition, there’s a healthy and respectful relationship among colleagues and an opportunity to ask for help and get feedback. Finally, your opinion truly matters in discussions!

10. How did the move to a remote work during the quarantine affect your overall work experience in ISSAI? What was the remote daily routine like? Was the work pace still efficient?

I miss going to the office and chatting with my colleagues over coffee! However, our daily online meetings help to keep me focused and positive. We also have Telegram chat so that we can easily reach out to each other and get things done quickly.

11. Overall, do you think that this work experience in ISSAI will positively contribute to your future career/profession?

Sure! I got a taste of what it’s like to be a Data Scientist and made connections with future leaders of the tech scene in Kazakhstan and internationally.

12. Would you recommend ISSAI as a workplace to other people?

I’ve already referred a friend to ISSAI 🙂 You work on hard and interesting problems, which will keep you motivated, in a friendly and welcoming environment.

13. Any recommendations for future RAs who want to work in ISSAI?

Make sure you are comfortable programming in Python, know Machine Learning and are interested to learn more.