How Do You Say “Hey Google” in Pashto?

If Min Ma (Ph.D. ’18, Computer Science) has her way, people around the world who speak languages other than English will soon reap the benefits of speech recognition technology. A software engineer at Google — a position she started two months after completing her Ph.D. — she wants to improve the way that software learns new languages.

Ma started the work while still a doctoral candidate at The Graduate Center. For her dissertation, she developed and tested an algorithm that reduced the time computer software needed to understand speech patterns from days to hours. Better use of data meant that speech-recognition software could pick up speaking habits from as few as 10 hours of recorded speech. Ma’s research bodes well for speakers of more rarely recorded languages such as Zulu, Tamil, and Pashto.

While pursuing her doctorate, Ma learned about an internship at Google, her “dream company.” “With the encouragement and help from my advisers, I applied and interviewed for the position, and I got it,” she says. She subsequently secured a second internship and then, after publishing two papers with Google’s speech recognition team, she landed a full-time role.

Ma, who grew up in China, came to The Graduate Center to conduct research with Professor Andrew Rosenberg (GC/Queens, Computer Science) on spoken-term detection and speaker-state recognition. “He is so proficient in programming languages and always comes up with endless creative ideas,” she says.

Others at The Graduate Center guided her as well. She conducted research with Professor Michael Mandel (Brooklyn, Computer and Information Science), who served as her thesis adviser and mentor, playing a “very, very important role” in her success in finishing the Ph.D. and landing her job. Professor Robert Haralick (GC, Computer Science) inspired her with his dedication to and enjoyment of his work.

“I feel like I was a lucky dog,” she says. “I was around such amazing researchers and professors, and they helped me so much — more than I could have imagined.”

At Google, where collaboration is encouraged, she continues to find mentors.

“There are so many wise people here,” she says. “You may find that the person who wrote the textbook you studied in college is actually working on your team in another office. Or there could be an intern that is a notable professor in his field of study.”

Photo by Rachel Ramirez

Submitted on: SEP 5, 2018

Category: Alumni News | Computer Science | General GC News