Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Lisa Seacat DeLuca is a Distinguished Engineer for IBM Watson Internet of Things where she leads a team called the App Factory, focused on bringing IoT use cases to market. Lisa holds a Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization from the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, and a Bachelors of Science in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University with minors in Business Administration and Multimedia Productions.
This year Lisa was inducted into the Women in Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame and received an honorary PhD from Claremont Graduate University. In 2016, Lisa was named one of the Most Influential Women in IoT. She was named one of MIT’s 35 Innovators Under 35 in 2015, as well as, LinkedIn’s NextWave of 10 Enterprise Technologists Under 35, one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business, and IBM’s Working Mother of the Year for Working Mother Magazine. In 2014, she was named one of Network World's 50 Most Fascinating People in the World of Technology.
She is a TED speaker, a self-published author of two children’s books titled "A Robot Story" and “The Internet of Mysterious Things”, and the most prolific female inventor in IBM history and the only one to ever reach the 100th Invention Plateau Award (an IBM internal patent award system). Her innovation portfolio includes over 600 patent applications filed within the United States and abroad, of which, 300 have been granted, to date. The subject of her patent ideas range from areas such as cloud, mobile, IoT, social, security, cognitive, commerce and everything in between. Lisa is an AAAS-Lemelson Inventor Ambassador where she increases visibility to the importance of innovation. Lisa has spoken at numerous tech conferences and written articles to share her technology and innovation passion with others.
Lisa, how did you get into this industry?
I have always loved inventing things, even in the second grade when my teacher tasked us with designing a prototype. So since a young age I have been thinking of ways to solve every day problems, and I carried that with me to college where I studied computer science. I interned at various companies where I could put my engineering knowledge to use, and in 2005, I joined IBM as an engineer. Over the last 12 years I’ve worked on patents and technology for everything from IoT, cloud, mobile, security and artificial intelligence.
What does your current job role entail?
Currently, I’m a Distinguished Engineer for IBM Watson Internet of Things where I lead a team called the “App Factory.” We’re focused on bringing IoT use cases to market to solve issues facing businesses and professionals. My most recent project before joining this team was within our Commerce organization using the open source Apache Mahout machine learning project to improve recommendations. The solution, which we dubbed Cognitive Recommendations used real time user behaviors, events, and profile data to help to generate personalized and relevant recommendations. I got to work with one of the committers from the project and dove into how machine learning can be applied to almost everything we do.
Has IoT been an easy industry to get into or have you had many challenges?
In my experience, learning the technology behind IoT was a natural progression. Since joining IBM, I have had the opportunity to get my hands on all sorts of software and design a wide array of solutions. So in that case, I think my computer science background and having a technical foundation made it easy for me to embrace and learn how to invent new solutions with IoT. However, I've never considered myself to be a hardware person though. So in that regard, playing with wearables seemed outside of my skill set... that was until I attended an ApacheCon conference and one of the speakers, Don Coleman, showed how to control an Arduino using software. It opened my eyes to hardware. I've been passionate about IoT ever since.
How long did it take you to be where you are now? What was the biggest obstacle?
I’ve been working with IBM since 2005 but as I mentioned earlier, I feel like I’ve been coming up with inventions my whole life! That’s one of the most exciting parts of my job – I’m always posed with the opportunity to create something entirely new, something that doesn’t exist yet. The biggest obstacle I'd argue we all face, is ourselves. If you don't believe in yourself enough to push your own ideas and continue despite hearing a few no's, you've already lost. So for me, it's been prioritizing the time to play with new technologies to the point of being dangerous with what I can create or dream up.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Being IBM’s most prolific female inventor is one of the achievements that I am the most proud of. It has opened up so many opportunities and really pushed me to continue to grow, invent and mentor other inventors. Earlier this year, I was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame, and it’s an honor to be in the company of such incredible, accomplished women in technology.
On top of that, I am really proud of the children’s books I wrote because they are inspired by my own children and allow me to share my love of technology with our next generation. I think it’s hugely important to inspire kids to explore science and technology. “A Robot Story” and “The Internet of Mysterious Things” teach kids about technology in a fun, playful way.
North Star Bluescope Steel is working / has been working with IBM to develop a cognitive platform that taps into IBM Watson Internet of Things technology for wearable safety technology to help employees stay safer in dangerous environments. Can you tell us little bit more about this project?
IBM and North Star Bluescope Steel started working together in late 2016 to create the IBM Employee Wellness and Safety Solution, a research project that analyzes data from sensors in the workers’ smart wearables like safety helmets and protective vests. North Star employees face extreme environments, where they can be exposed to high temperatures, open flames, toxic gas, in addition to managing heavy machinery. By working with IBM Watson IoT, North Star can analyze the data from the workers’ connected gear and detect problematic conditions in real-time. This is an important project as it directly impacts the safety of workers. In fact, the Internet of Things Institute just named this one of the top 20 IoT industrial applications of 2017.
What does the #WomenInTech movement mean to you?
Women are incredible and as I stress to my daughters and sons, every bit as capable and intelligent as our male counterparts. A team that doesn't have diversity, and isn't representative of their end users, will miss out on opportunities to delight their customers. That diversity should be not only in gender, but our race, religion, sexual preferences, and our experiences... if our teams are unique we do a better job of telling the most engaging stories and uncovering product features and solutions that we might never have thought about otherwise. My best inventions and brainstorming teams are diverse. To me, #WomenInTech is providing the role models and proof that women can and should be making waves in technology so our next generation of women and men support each other.
What are the challenges of being a woman in IoT / STEM?
I don't see any challenges that are unique to being a woman in IoT or STEM - just societal challenges and bias to overcome for women in highly paid and highly visible jobs in general.
In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the IoT industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
I think that the IoT industry will continue to evolve but it is by no means slowing down. In the next five years, I expect IoT to become more integrated with artificial intelligence and voice as a way to analyze all of the data that is be generated by connected devices in real time and provide a frictionless interaction experience. Security is another area where IoT will see a lot of focus and development. Privacy and security when it comes to connected devices for individuals or enterprises is extremely important. Last, I think that IoT in the industrial and manufacturing space is really starting to take off as businesses realize the enormous impact IoT can have on optimizing their operations. To me, IoT is providing an opportunity to use technology to solve problems that we could never solve before and provide unexpected business value.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in IoT?
Harriet Green, IBM
Ayah Bdeir, LittleBits Founder
Limor Fried, Adafruit Founder
IBM corporate website: www.ibm.com
LinkedIn: Lisa DeLuca
TED video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JK3uQiMT-qY
IBM day in the life - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0ZTJ7OofIo
Bloomberg Inspired Innovation - http://www.bloomberg.com/news/sponsors/features/mercedes-benz/inspired-innovation/?adv=8662&prx_t=U0gCAm3IIAVUANA
The Internet of Mysterious Things - https://internetofmysteriousthings.com raised $25k on Kickstarter
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.