A 40-minute talk over the phone with Soodeh Farokhi, PhD in Cloud Computing left me inspired!. She is the founder and CTO of C2RO Cloud Robotics, a Canadian Start-up that offers the 1st Cloud Robotics SaaS Platform, providing AI software solutions for affordable service robots that can increase business efficiency or improve the quality of life.
Below are her answers to the interview – I only wish I could share the enthusiasm of her voice via this article!
About what she studied in school, and the path that lead her to where she is today:
Soodeh obtained her Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Software Engineering which landed her jobs as a software engineer in the telecommunications industry. After just one year, she was promoted to software project manager, and the year after that, she was awarded best manager in the company. She gained her industrial experience during the 5 years working there, and then she wanted a new challenge. Following brainstorming meetings with her colleagues, she then co-founded the first research-industrial service-oriented architecture institute – a first of its kind in Iran, – SOEA-Lab, at age 26, which focused on automation of enterprise business processes.
The SOEA-Lab was a great opportunity and they were quite successful in getting large scale projects. After a year and half, Soodeh, as a technology savvy woman, felt she needed to learn more about new technologies. To achieve that goal at the next level, she decided she needed to pursue a PhD at one of the best research labs in the area of “Distributed Systems and Cloud Computing” at Vienna University of Technology in Austria.
She received her PhD in Technical Computer Science in “Cloud Computing”. Allowing her to be multidisciplinary, and apply robotics techniques on cloud applications is what really excited her and where she found her niche. She graduated in only 3 years while publishing more than 7 papers in the field of Cloud Computing, conducting successful research collaboration with international researchers and acting as a reviewer of more than 15 international conferences and journals.
She wanted to be able to apply all her expertise in building a product that people could actually use – her dream job was to launch her own high-tech start-up.
After completing her PhD, she searched for incubators where the focus is on deep technology start-ups, where she could potentially become an entrepreneur in resident and where she could thrive within her industry.
Although “Cloud Computing” was not the expertise that TandemLaunch, a Montreal-based incubator, was looking for at that time, Soodeh could convince them that she is an entrepreneur with a big vision of building a data-driven start-up where she can develop her passion in Cloud, AI and Robotics, and so she moved from Vienna to Montreal!
Inspired by her PhD research on cloud and robotics, she founded her start-up: C2RO Cloud Robotics, now an independent company (no longer with TandemLaunch). Building the team, Soodeh explained to me, was one of her biggest challenges to not only find the talent in her niche within the industry, but for her teammates to share her passion and vision; basically, fit the culture of the start-up – which is an obvious must. Currently her team is a dozen strong, and growing – and the team she built is what she is most proud of.
How/why STEM in the first place?
For Soodeh, studying to be an engineer was the most natural thing to do; her math and physics grades were always high, her parents knew she would study engineering, she always knew it, and her sister also became an engineer. She also explained to me that at university in Iran, at least 70% of her classmates in the engineering program were women.
How does C2RO Cloud Robotics “disrupts” and has an influence in advancing the industry?
Soodeh explains that Robotics need to be more than they are now; currently, they are not intelligent enough.
To tell a robot to go from point A to point B in a room with walls, people, or objects in the way, (and as there is no GPS indoors), computation of each robot, and adding some sensory technology on each one, can be quite expensive. Therefore through C2RO’s innovative technology, all robots within a given area/space are connected to a Cloud-based software platform, and as their “brains” are uploaded to this platform, in Real-Time they all get to “see” the mapping of a room and know where to go, and with computer vision algorithms (human and objects recognition), they avoid bumping into people or objects. With this technology, a robot can function without having a sophisticated computation in it, and many can be programmed to collaborate together for a considerably lesser cost and unlimited capacity.
Additional question on the subject: What about the issue of robots taking over human jobs?
Soodeh explains that “Robots want to help us”; they would exist to collaborate with people. Their purpose is to take over the boring, mundane or laborious jobs, and allow humans to get new skill-sets. She shared the farming analogy and how if we could go back in time and tell a farmer that technology would take over his job, he would initially be against it! But if we showed him how the arduous labor can be done by a machine, and increase productivity with this new technology, which in turn would save him time, and bring value to his business, than he would really want that!
The human side, our intellectual, innovative and creative side (which robots do not have) will be more and more the focus of future-generation careers, and school programs will have to develop and adjust to cater to these new skill-sets.
Another point Soodeh brought up, which gave me a totally new perspective on including robots in our world, while also bringing up the issue of gender equality, is the following:
(Although it is Soodeh that made me realize this point, the following part is explained and elaborated in my words.)
Currently there are some gender-specific jobs, for instance, heavy lifting is usually done by men, but if robots took over these laborious jobs, or where tasks are repetitive and mundane, and new careers focused on the human brain’s capabilities, our minds’ abilities – versus physical strength – then gender-based-stereotypes on jobs, or limited cultural mind-sets about them, would be more and more a thing of the past.
With global population growing exponentially and for economic purposes and for simply a sense of equality within societies, women, half the world’s population, need to contribute to the overall equation. Providing for their families, starting businesses, being more educated, are all qualifications that would instantly make women role-models for their children (as women are most often the main caregiver or the ones most present around children).
And so developing more jobs focusing on our intellectual abilities, where men and women are equal, and bringing more women to the workplace, would allow a virtuous cycle in the technological revolution and in the progression of humanity’s path.
Any challenges being a woman in a STEM field?
As mentioned earlier, in engineering programs in Iran, 70% of Soodeh’s classmates were women, but she noticed a drastic different in Vienna, pursuing her PdD: she was the only female amongst the 60 students in Cloud Computing. (This is not the challenge in itself, but merely an observation.)
The challenges were in having to shout louder to get heard, to get a promotion; Soodeh had to prove herself harder. She and her husband had the same professional background, and while his interviews were short, hers were longer and she had to demonstrate her abilities much more.
Any advice or last words?
Always think about this: What you would do, if you were not afraid.
Find your passion, be confident and plan towards it. You will learn as you go, so don't wait for an opportunity that you can meet 100% of its requirements, it will never happen. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and would boost your confidence.