Early years and where you came from?
I have wanted to be a scientist for as far back as I can remember, even before I started primary school. I wanted to learn and understand how the things around me worked. My parents always encouraged me to follow my thirst for knowledge, and I embarked on a Physics degree at the University of Porto. But it was not enough to understand physics – I wanted to learn more and from the best.
That’s when I traveled to Cambridge in England. I earned a Masters in Advanced Mathematics and a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics, focusing on models of the early universe. After that, I put my brave hat on and traveled to the U.S. to pursue postdoctoral work in the area of dark energy. I then returned to England for another postdoctoral appointment in London.
After learning a lot about the universe, I felt I was not challenging myself enough, so I decided to redirect my background with a new focus on data science. I may not be solving the wave function of the universe now, but I am certainly improving people’s lives by using mathematical models to interpret data.
How were you introduced to the world of the Portuguese tech industry?
Having lived abroad for nearly 10 years, I missed home dearly. I wanted to come back and put my skills to work in the country that had entrusted me with a Ph.D. fellowship through FCT. I was already working as a data scientist in London when I learned about a startup in Portugal, called Feedzai. Working as a data scientist in an anti-fraud company had all the key points that I was looking for in a job. It combined mathematics and data science to fight fraud. So not only does it affect almost everyone in the global world we live on nowadays, but it is also related to finance, an area I am interested in.
In addition to this, I was noticing many articles published in international news sites and magazines about Lisbon becoming the tech city in Europe. My attention was captured, and after being approached by the HR team, I had to explore the possibility of coming back to Portugal and joining the Tuga tech scene! And I am really glad I did!
Walk me through your work and what you are doing now in the tech industry.
Fighting fraud is second to none. Fraudsters are smart and always find innovative ways of deceiving the rules in place to protect customers. To fight them, we need algorithms that learn constantly, and that can adapt to different patterns and trends as soon as they arise. At Feedzai, we use Machine Learning to detect and prevent fraud. Our group achieves this by feeding data to an algorithm which automatically learns the patterns therein to understand what leads to fraud and how we can prevent it.
What part of what you do, you love the most?
Whichever work I do, I love brainstorming and writing on boards. Some of my best work starts on whiteboards, drawing functions and understanding equations. Another aspect that I like about my work is how engaging it is. Data is incredibly rich and can have the most intricate patterns, so it is really exciting when you find something unexpected in data.
How do you think that your background and knowledge impact the way you approach your work in the Portuguese tech industry?
Being successful in the tech industry requires a selection of skills that combine natural motivation, background academic knowledge and hard work. I believe the technical skills I have acquired in Math and Physics allow me to approach every problem with an inquisitive mind, and to seek mathematical explanations for the behaviour in data. My experience abroad on the other hand gives me a different perspective on a technical/business problem.
What advice do you have for young women that want to get into tech and don’t know where to start?
All you need is motivation and curiosity. Learn as much as you can about tech, not just the technical details but also the business aspects. That combination can give you the edge and a great passion for your subject in return. Don’t ever feel content with what you learn. Rather, strive to learn from different sources. Nowadays, there is a vast array of online learning platforms which teach you virtually everything.
Walk me through a day in your life as a Portuguese women in tech.
I enjoy cycling to work, and I am fortunate enough that Feedzai’s penthouse office offers a spectacular view over Parque das Nacoes. My day is usually filled with data wrangling and monitoring, figuring out how to improve our deployed models, and discussing ideas with my colleagues. Many people reach out to me to get advice on how to become a data scientist, so I try to be active on Twitter for outreach purposes.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Do what you love and learn to do it well. It only counts when you give it your best.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Jupyter notebooks and Rstudio. Having said that, I find that the notebooks where I can write down my scribblings can’t be replaced with any software. On a personal level, like everybody else, I have to control the urge of checking Instagram every other hour.
Links that you want to share? In what are you working on…
Head over to feedzai.com to learn more about the work that I do with the fabulous anti-fraud ninjas in the team.
Anything else you want to share?
I’m incredibly happy to be back home, and I can’t wait to see the tech industry booming with more great ideas!