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Message for students 2022:Ayako Hoshino

January 31, 2022

A perfect environment for working and raising children enables me to have a long-term career at this company

Technology Value Creation Division
Senior Researcher
Ayako Hoshino

Hoshino joined NEC in 2009 after majoring in natural language processing and earning a doctorate in interdisciplinary informatics. Working at our laboratories for 10 years, she has been engaged in a variety of studies. Currently she is the Senior Researcher of the Advanced Technology Development Office at the Technology Value Creation Division, which was launched in April 2020, working on research and development toward the practical application of graph AI. She is a mother of two children.

Thankful for good research themes, a good environment, and supportive peers

In April this year, I transferred from the Laboratories to the Advanced Technology Development Office in the Technology Value Creation Division, and since then I have been involved in the research and development aimed at the practical application of the graph-based AI developed by the NEC Laboratories Europe in Heidelberg, Germany. It is a technology that infers new relationships from among data on the relationships of people, things, and contexts. It is characterized by the capability to discover unexpected combinations out of a massive number of possible combinations of, for example, people and products or different materials. I investigate what kind of setting this AI can perform the best in and what values we can propose using it. Then we listen to what the business divisions say and make a proposal, based on what kind of value this technology can offer.
What we do at the Technology Value Creation Division is to understand the core technologies and make them a reality—an activity called applied research. Because core technologies on their own cannot solve the problems out there, we think about problem solving and businesses that make these core technologies come to life and propose them to business units and prospective customers.

For 10 years, until I came to the present office, I had the chance to study a wide variety of research topics. Among those was natural language processing, which is close to what I studied in university. I also studied data mining from the basics. In a chat bot project, I worked on the difficult challenge of applying a reasoning engine. Each and every one of these projects is memorable. Having had the opportunity to learn a wide range of technologies at different laboratories is contributing a lot at my current office. The reason that I got to do this much is due to the good research themes, the good environment, and everyone’s support. I am thankful for my peers who supported me.

A helpful environment for raising children, with the super flex-time system and peer understanding. Many of my male colleagues take childcare leaves, too.

I have two children, aged 8 and 6. The reason why I can strike a good balance between raising children and work is the corporate systems that allow for such life-work balance and the understanding of the people around me.

The company provides easy access to maternity and childcare leaves, and male employees taking a childcare leave is not uncommon. If your child cannot make it into a daycare service, the company lets you extend your childcare leave, saving you from having to drop out for child rearing.

Additionally, NEC adopts a shorter-time shift system and a super-flex time system, which means that it does not have a core work time. You can work at any time during the 24 hours, which adds to the convenience of working while raising children. Like yesterday, when it suddenly started raining, I went to the daycare service to deliver rain boots to my children despite it being during my work hours. The flexible work-around that the systems offer really makes it easy on employees with children.

Through using such systems, our team forms a framework for functioning as a group as a whole, based on the concept that we work as a team on the tasks rather than placing the burden of any specific task completely on individuals. Even if someone needs to leave work for their child when something happens, the teamwork ensures that operations are smoothly handed off.

What I find the most reassuring is the understanding I get from peers regarding working while raising children. Not to mention the helpful systems being in place, NEC has many people who respect and show compassion for others, which also makes for a friendly environment for employees bringing up children.

For example, my unmarried supervisor says things like “Taking care of children is another job” or “You must be busy on weekends, too” to employees raising children. It is a very pleasant working environment, with people respecting and caring about you with the understanding of your standpoint and background.

The organization also characteristically has a high rate of paternal participation in child rearing. Here we commonly see couples taking turns picking up their children and posting by male employees in a child-rearing community on the Slack bulletin. Even the smallest problems about child rearing shared on Slack are helped out by people exchanging information.

I was promoted to Senior Researcher about three years ago. I remember being very happy with this promotion because it happened while I was raising children. As long as you produce solid results, you can get promoted even when you are raising children. Having that chance also makes me motivated and grateful at the same time.

Work on research without forgetting to work on the essential problems

With research, it is important to work on essential problems. Once in a while, I see people working on R&D with an attitude that they can just solve the problem on the surface or only clear the problem asked for. However, there is always someone who takes notice that that is not the essence of the problem. Such superficial attempts end up in discussions and put us on a track to identify the essential problem and rework.

I hope that as students now, you work on research while asking yourself whether what you are doing is attending to the essential problem. Whether a problem is essential or not can be verified by thinking about it from a wider perspective, such as whether a solution can be applicable and effective in a different place or age.

  • The information posted on this website is the information at the time of publication.

A day at work

Message to my past self in my school days

Private column

I am into learning different languages. In addition to learning Hindi using an Estonian app that I thought was great in terms of design and user experience, I can now read Arabic texts just from having learned the language using an app. I also like the “sound” of words, so I watch videos where I can listen to the names of colors in different languages. It is interesting that Finnish has a totally different sound. For example, aka (Japanese for “red”) is “red” or “rød/rood” or somewhere along those lines in many languages, but in Finnish, it is “punainen” (pronounced pu-nai-nen). It was surprisingly cute. Having taught me such fun sounds, I hope to be able to learn Finnish properly one day.