Champion Innovator Elyes Manai, based in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

Posted by Max Saltonstall, Developer Relations Engineer

In this ongoing interview series we sit down with Google Cloud Champion Innovators across the world to learn more about their journeys, their technology focus, and what excites them. Today we're talking to Elyes Manai. Elyes is a Machine Learning Consultant, Educator and Mentor. He helps companies tap into the power of data science to reduce costs and increase revenue as well as build relationships with relevant target audiences through educational content and community building.

What is a Champion Innovator?

Champion Innovators are a global network of more than 500 non-Google professionals, who are technical experts in Google Cloud products and services. Each Champion specializes in one of nine different technical categories which are cloud AI/ML, data analytics, hybrid multi-cloud, modern architecture, security and networking, serverless app development, storage, Workspace and databases.

What tech area has you most fascinated right now, and why?

Machine Learning: There are so many new insights we can gain from applying ML and AI to problems right now. Especially in security. I'm currently pursuing my PhD in AI applied to Cybersecurity, and am eager to teach the next generation about computer science, AI and security.

I fell into ML by accident, after trying to pursue something else in university. I had hoped to study architecture, but did not do nearly well enough in high school (in Tunisia, where I'm from). I ended up at my last choice of universities, in an IT program. And then I tried to transfer to an architecture school, but my paperwork got messed up so it didn't work out.

There I was, in a field I had not chosen, and yet I liked it. It felt pretty easy to do, I got good grades, and I realized I could make a career out of it. I liked solving problems with code, and progressed to doing web development and managing a team. From there I started thinking about what I wanted to do next.

I really love teaching, so I began looking into how to become a professor. That led me to the computer science? 50 class at Harvard, where I saw many signs pointing to a big AI trend, and so I decided to pursue a masters in computer science.

How do you like to learn new services, tools, and applications?

I dive right in; learn by doing. I frequently bounce around between subjects. I keep a list of ideas that come to me, and then when I'm ready for something new, I just scan through the list and pick one. This helps me stay fresh and excited.

Whenever I'm learning new skills I remind myself to go with the flow. I start small, learn just enough to start using the technology or tool. I'll ask myself:

  • What key concepts or pillars do I need to understand this more deeply?
  • How do I branch out from there?
  • Who should I talk to?
  • What can I make?

Since I'm in the middle of a doctoral program right now, I always challenge myself to make that idea somehow connect to my research, so I can bring it back to a common theme that's pervasive through all my work.

What are some exciting projects you have in flight right now?

Explainable AI, especially applied to less frequently used spoken languages in the world. We have a wealth of research on English language AI models, but what about applying BERT (and other technologies) on some lesser used languages, to expand the benefit to a wider population?

I'm also very excited about how we (as researchers) can optimize AI models to be more secure, be more private in terms of protecting our data, and be more useful to a wide variety of use cases.

What engages you outside of the technology world?

I love biking, and whenever it's warm enough in Québec I will go bike outside.

I like to read, especially science fiction. I recently started reading autobiographies to know more about the world from different perspectives. I'm currently reading autobiographies of Scott Kelley and Sohaila Abdulali.

I also keep a big list of ideas outside of tech for me to pursue: people to meet, foods to try, places to go. I'm always working on new experiences and adventures from that list, to broaden my world and learn more about what's all around me.

What brought you into the Innovators program?

I've been a Google Developer Expert (GDE) for two years and then got an invitation to join the Innovators program, after I attended a GDE event. It's helped me gain some respect and credibility, as I have a little bit of Google's reputation behind my voice now when I share my perspective or opinion. Also they have helped me get some great swag!

What's one thing our readers should do next?

Very few things stand the test of time, as our industry is shifting so quickly. I think CS50 on YouTube still has relevance for folks new to computer science.

I also want to encourage people to create social connections, and go meet the people behind the systems you are using. There are humans out there who can help you find the next project or position, and getting to know them is so important.

Each Champion Innovator is not affiliated with Google nor do they offer services on behalf of Google.