Engineer's Week 2021
Feb 23, 2021
7 MIN READ

In Celebration of Engineers Week—Imagining Tomorrow with SoundHound Inc. Engineers

“Imagining Tomorrow” is the theme of this year’s Engineers Week. When SoundHound Inc. was launched in 2005, our founders had a vision of a time when people would interact with phones, computers, coffee makers, TVs, and every other hardware device the way we do each other—by talking naturally. They imagined a future where voice AI could make our lives simpler, more convenient, efficient, and hands-free and where technology is accessible to more people. Today, our engineering teams are making that vision a reality—and more.

This year, we join the National Society of Professional Engineers in celebrating Engineers Week with the hope of inspiring future engineers through the formation of more pathways to engineering education and careers. In celebration, we talked to our engineers and asked them to provide answers to these three questions:

  • What excites you most about engineering? 
  • Why does that part of your job stand out? 
  • Is there a time you remember being especially happy doing that?

Their responses left us feeling positive, energized, and excited for an inspiring tomorrow. Read their stories here:

Creativity in Engineering

When we think about the engineering mindset, we often think about logical and methodical minds solving complex problems using advanced math and science concepts. But problem solving has another dimension: imagination, innovation, and creativity. A flexible mind that can think outside the box and envision beyond the constraints of what’s possible is key for  engineers trying to solve complex problems.

In fact, the ability to be creative is one of the factors that has attracted some of the world’s most talented engineers to SoundHound Inc. Here’s what they had to say:

Sadegh Rahnamoon, NLU Software Engineer

As an engineer, you always invent something new. As a software engineer, every line of code you write creates something which didn’t exist before. Writing software libraries is like architecting a new building, only in code. Solving an algorithmic problem is like solving a fun puzzle. These are the moments that make my job so gratifying. 

Austin Gore, Software Engineer II

The thing I enjoy most about my work as an engineer is getting to create something useful from scratch. It is so satisfying to build something that will be helpful and entertaining for many other people. Recently, I’ve been really excited about working on an improvement that will make the SoundHound music discovery app recognize songs that were just released faster.

Growing up I always admired my dad’s skills in carpentry and fabrication and wished that I could build things like he did. Only after my first programming class did I realize that I was capable of creating things, too. As a software engineer, my tools may be different than his but now we share the same satisfaction of making functional, beautiful things from scratch.

Hongli Zhao, Software Engineer

I have always liked to tinker with digital products and try the latest technology. In some people’s eyes, technology devices are a bunch of cold inorganic things. In reality, they may be very intelligent and can even have personalities—once they can speak and understand our language. The most exciting thing for me is to develop new domains, because new domains always make our voice AI technology smarter, skilled, and also give us a sense of accomplishment.

When we were working on the Meituan project, we tried knowledge-based question answering—enabling our voice AI platform to obtain information from the database and respond when asked for restaurant recommendations, encyclopedia knowledge, or the latest movies, etc. I designed the database and the utterances and often tested the queries late at night. It felt like opening a door, because the same technology could be used for a variety of information acquisition. The project has won the love of customers and once again, helped me feel the potential power of voice AI and the business value of the work we have done.

I believe that in the future, robots will actively chat with us, accompany us, and may become a member of every family.

Problem solving to improve lives

We believe every brand should have a voice. Our engineers work everyday toward building custom voice assistants for companies that enable their customers to interact with their hardware, services, and mobile apps like we interact with each other: by speaking naturally. 

Creating solutions that improve lives is one of the driving forces that keeps our talented engineers coming to work everyday. Read what they had to say:

Nikki Sharifli, Software Engineer

Since I was a kid, I enjoyed solving puzzles and math problems. This job gives me an opportunity to do that every day. I really enjoy solving problems and coming up with solutions that make people’s lives easier. I’m very happy when I am learning something new. At SoundHound, we have a great learning culture and everyone is encouraged to share their knowledge. I love that I have the opportunity to work both independently and collaboratively—and learn from others.

Tamer Abuelata, Senior Partner Engineer

For me, the most exciting thing about engineering is releasing a piece of software and watching it being adopted by people who think it’s useful. Recently, I released an internal web application I had created for my own needs and then got email from coworkers asking if they could spread the word about it. Turns out they thought it was useful for them and their colleagues too, which made me happy.

Another exciting thing is being able to interact with very smart people. One thing I like about working at SoundHound is that there is so much collective technical know-how among the team and so many different kinds of technologies being used and developed across the company. This is a good environment for engineers to be exposed to new tech and learn from smart people.

Finding patterns, using data, and solving puzzles

Designing, defining, and implementing a process to solve a challenge is a valuable role for engineers. In voice AI design, those processes include establishing testing models that are comprehensive and effective and then following the data to ensure outcomes exceed expectations. 

Our engineers find inspiration in creating those processes and watching them work. Here’s how they explain it:

Guangyu Feng, Senior Software Engineer 

In my opinion, the most exciting part of engineering is to see things work out as expected. It can be as simple as typing “1+1” and getting a “2” on the calculator, or more complicated, like speaking out a voice command and seeing it turned into text and getting the results you wanted.

The latter one is my job. It’s about the parsing and processing of natural language queries. It is challenging because of all the nuances of human language. However, there are certain patterns in it and some of them are shared by even very distant languages—like English and Chinese. We are exploiting as much of these as possible, which allows us to translate our voice AI into more languages in an incredibly short amount of time!

The whole process is tedious and you might have to touch many components along the way, but the moment your end-to-end domain-level test works, the sweet, rewarding feeling is unbeatable!

Eunjee Na, Software Engineer

The most exciting part about engineering for me is that it helps us to derive useful insights from data in unlimited approaches beyond our perspective. Our team stores and manages the text and speech data. Given the data itself, it’s hard to know what is going on and what we should do for the next step beyond a certain level of human analysis. Moreover, human analysis requires labor and is error-prone.

“Let the data speak for itself,”  is what my manager encourages me to keep in mind—it has become one of my favorite phrases.

During one of my recent projects called “bulk labeling”—requiring evaluating the data quality one by one—a million manual evaluations was needed for a million data entries. I had to think how to let the data spit out the evaluation outputs by themselves. We processed and clustered ready-to-label data based on their similarity so that one evaluation affected many similar data entries. This implementation was preceded by the data itself, but the outputs seemed decent and saved lots of labor time.

Collaboration and problem solving

Engineering teams are made up of individual engineers. Yet, it’s the collaborative environment that allows these individuals to achieve greater success and innovation. Learning and growing is an important aspect in any career. For engineers, it’s critical to bringing innovation and providing business value. Our engineers collaborate with each other and also with our many business partners to create voice AI solutions that are unmatched in the industry. 

The goals of Engineers Week match our internal goals to create more paths to success and encourage the engineering spirit. Here’s how our engineers think about the collaborative process:

Anis Khlif 

One of the things that excites me most about engineering is the opportunity to learn from others. Often, the best solution is not obvious. This is fertile soil for ideas to grow and creates an environment where teams collectively learn and create the best solutions. 

Another defining aspect of engineering is the variety of challenges that require drawing from a wide skill-set and knowledge base. I feel this is particularly true at Soundhound where engineering projects regularly require teams to come up with powerful code design and abstraction, optimize at the code and system architecture level, manage resources, integrate an extensive codebase, while staying on top of the latest research and technologies. 

We are fortunate at SoundHound to have a multicultural team, and a great diversity of people working together on such projects: something infinitely valuable when you develop models for tens of languages! I have definitely appreciated the eagerness of the engineering teams to help and share knowledge, as well as their warmth and inclusive mindset! 

Rashad Woodley, Corporate IT Technician

There are a lot of aspects about my job that excite me, but the one that stands out the most is solving new issues and challenges everyday.

Since my job is basically fixing and finding solutions to problems—whether it’s helping users with laptop issues or assisting my teammates with some of our corporate IT projects—being able to solve these issues in unique and interesting ways adds a layer of excitement to my day-to-day tasks. I approach problems as more of a challenge rather than an issue I have to fix and most of the time I would  say it’s very fun. 

 A good example of this was when I first deployed the polycoms in the office. At first, I was getting really strange problems with them like random restarts and freezing. I spent days trying to figure out what was going on. At one point I had thought the phones were defective but as it turns out they had to be on a specific firmware to work 100% when provisioning the phones in zoom. The joy of finding the solution to a difficult problem after spending days looking for a solution is unparalleled. It’s odd situations like those that test your patience but also help you learn to think outside the box when troubleshooting. 

New tools and approaches

Engineering challenges and opportunities come in all forms. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of learning a new tool or a new technology that makes your life a little easier. Other times, it’s finding the resources to balance multiple priorities.

No matter the type of challenge, one thing is clear: Engineers love to solve problems that require creative approaches. Here’s how our engineers approach unique situations:

Matt Hayden, Senior Systems Administrator, IT
What excites me most about engineering is the ability to leverage new forms of automation to radically change how infrastructure is managed.   

This part of my job stands out because even the best script-driven solution for infrastructure is ultimately inadequate to the task of being able to repeatedly ensure a consistent end-state on deployed systems.  With the new tools—which, admittedly, do have a steep learning curve—IT now has the wherewithal to create highly reliable and repeatable configurations.  As Soundhound continues to add clients, this allows us to scale out in the same way as the huge companies that push and deploy on a continuous basis. 

I’m always happy when it’s possible to use the automation we’ve built to say “yes” to a request from another coworker to rapidly deploy new builds and features. The nature of deployment has always involved high human costs—either involvement, which leaves a lot of room for mistakes, or serialization of tasks, which leads to queues and waiting. With the new automation, it’s possible to very reliably deploy multiple items almost simultaneously, which means that the people requesting deployments receive a product that is ultimately higher quality (less human intervention) and completed faster. It’s really nice to be able to tell a project manager that their new build is up an hour or two after their request is received, versus the next day. 

Jennifer Andrea, Software Engineer

The challenge of balancing different and often competing priorities, including user needs, backwards compatibility, and maintaining flexibility and extensibility for future development work is what I find most exciting. Between that, and the broad array of features I work on, it means that every feature or task is different and interesting and presents a new set of challenges each time. Working on our SoundBites feature for the SoundHound music discovery app, was a great example of this! It presented an interesting technical challenge to fit in with our existing architecture, as well as requiring new tools to support the feature.

We’ll be celebrating Engineers Week all week. Watch SoundHound Inc.’s social channels for more profiles and expert advice from our engineers.

Learn more about Houndify’s independent voice AI platform at Houndify.com and register for a free account. Want to learn more? Talk to us about how we can help you bring your voice strategy to life.

The challenge of balancing different and often competing priorities, including user needs, backwards compatibility, and maintaining flexibility and extensibility for future development work is what I find most exciting. Between that, and the broad array of features I work on, it means that every feature or task is different and interesting and presents a new set of challenges each time. Working on our SoundBites feature for the SoundHound music discovery app, was a great example of this! It presented an interesting technical challenge to fit in with our existing architecture, as well as requiring new tools to support the feature.

We’ll be celebrating Engineers Week all week. Watch SoundHound Inc.’s social channels for more profiles and expert advice from our engineers.

Learn more about Houndify’s independent voice AI platform at Houndify.com and register for a free account. Want to learn more? Talk to us about how we can help you bring your voice strategy to life.

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