After fifteen years in speech, language and Internet technology, I’m about to make a big career shift. Three weeks from now, on February 22, I will join the ranks of the TeleAtlas/TomTom engineering force in the beautiful city of Ghent, on a permanent, full-time basis. My task: contribute to various process automation and improvement initiatives.
The reasons for this change are manifold, as they always are.
Firstly, I was craving to work (again) in an environment that blends innovation culture with a clear international dimension. Over the last five and a half years, I have had the chance to work on a number of international opportunities, ranging from the Beavis and Butthead Hotline to a project for a speaker verification company in Ireland. But in between, and all too often, I had the feeling to be missing out on much of the professional fun. This situation could not last forever.
Secondly, every now and then it’s good to enter a domain (geographical data management and applications) that is both new enough to be intellectually stimulating, and familiar enough to be digestible in a reasonably short time-frame. I’m very much looking forward to applying software development automation, process improvement and/or machine learning techniques in this new setting.
Thirdly, it will be great to have real colleagues again. However hospitable a customer’s working environment may be, a freelancer fundamentally stays an outsider; however amicable relations with partner companies may be, there generally is no Big Plan or Strategy guiding your actions in a direction that goes further than your next assignment.
It’s not that we haven’t tried, as an industry. Since 2005, the Speech Technology Workgroup of ContactCentres.be have put a lot of effort into getting the speech technology business (back) on track in the Belgian telco and call center world. Our seminars in Diegem and Brussels have featured a number of local success stories. But the fact remains that the adoption of speech technology in this country has been slower than in the Anglo-Saxon world, Germany or France. A bizarre blend of overconfidence and lack of ambition from the major local players is one reason. Another one is the refusal of government agencies and state-run companies to programmatically open up public data for the innovative developer community (contrast this with data.gov and data.gov.uk).
Don’t get me wrong: our industry pipeline does have a few high-profile speech projects coming up. But they won’t be for me anymore. It’s time to (let) go.
My life as a freelancer has brought me to some interesting (read: sunny) places like Silicon Valley, Mallorca and Cannes. It has also put me in contact with a number of smart and driven people who have made a difference to me. Special thanks, in no particular order, go out to Alain, Jean-Marc, Vincent, Peter, Vincent, Jon, David, Myriam and Patrick. We’ll be in touch.
And now for something completely different.