We’re talking to Dr Dilusha Weeraddana from the CSIRO’s Data61’s Data City on her career journey, why she pursued career in tech, and the advice she’d give to someone wanting to pursue a career in STEM.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at CSIRO's Data61
I pride myself as a proactive researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence with more than 10 years of experience obtained through both industrial and research pursuits.
I received my PhD degree from Monash University, Australia, and a BSc degree in electronic and telecommunication engineering from University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, in 2017 and 2011, respectively. Working in the field of AI, I have found my place in the world; an industry where I can apply my lifelong love of mathematics and problem solving.
Currently, I am working as a Research Scientist at CSIRO's Data61. In my current role, I am involved in multiple projects on infrastructure and asset management, including water, energy, transportation-structural health monitoring.
What was your first job?
In 2011, I completed my BSc honours degree in Engineering, and joined a Microsoft affiliated organisation as a software engineer, where I had the opportunity to be involved in development and maintenance of Microsoft SharePoint Search Engine (search engine for document handling).
What led you to choose a career in tech? Could you give us a brief overview of your career?
Since I was a child, I was always fascinated by solving puzzles and mathematical riddles. Working in a STEM field is like solving a puzzle made up of thousand pieces. This is what initially motivated me choose a career in tech.
Later, I realised we can do wonders with AI to uplift the living conditions of the society. All the projects that I have been involved in contribute valuable support to the society. This always motivates me to do the job right. Also, this field is being continually updated, which makes my day-to-day work life non-routine and exciting.
I began my professional career in year 2011 as a software engineer at a Microsoft affiliated organisation, where I had the opportunity to develop a gateway for Microsoft SharePoint search engine. In 2012, I joined a telecommunications service provider (Dialog research laboratory) as a research engineer, where I developed frameworks for mobile and sensor networks.
In 2014, I came to Australia after winning two highly competitive PhD scholarship awards at Monash university, Australia. For my PhD research, I worked on developing mathematical models to optimise the quantum-level energy transfer. This was a joint project with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, United States.
How did you end up at CSIRO's Data61? What inspired you to join the organisation?
In 2017, just after completing my PhD, I joined CSIRO’s Data61 as a postdoctoral research fellow, where I have had the opportunity to work on numerous industry and research projects.
I always wanted to join an organisation where I can apply research outcomes on real-world applications. Data61 is the ideal place to work on both research as well as industry projects. This is what initially inspired me to join Data61.
At Data61, I work on multiple industry projects to solve real-world problems by applying cutting-edge research and technology. I often get to publish and present my research in top-tier conferences and journals.
I always love to address very challenging problems and learn new technologies; life would be less interesting otherwise. Working with multiple clients across multiple projects is always challenging.
In my position, I’m able to work with various industrial and research organisations on multiple projects, such as Sydney Water, Western Water, Australian Energy Market Operator, Department of the Environment and Energy, Monash University and Transurban.
Over the past four years, I’ve been thinking about how privileged I am to be a part of the Data61 family where I’ve had the opportunity to address challenging problems while learning about new technologies.
What are some of the projects you are working on that are helping the organisation achieve impact?
Currently, I’m involved in multiple projects in energy and transport-structural health monitoring. With respective to energy projects that I am working on, it has been identified that predictive analytics could save about $300,000 per year for every 1% improvement in the load forecasting accuracy.
The novel high accurate energy forecasting models that I have developed would help the Australian Government to understand the intricate interplay among the factors affecting the energy industry. They also provide meaningful information that will unlock the mysteries of Australia’s energy behaviour and help to deliver a more efficient energy future.
Public safety is the number one factor in transport infrastructure. I’m also involved in developing an AI platform to detect damages in real-time. This real-time anomaly detection model uses advanced deep learning techniques to predict potential damages before it affects safety of travellers on the bridge.
In general, in all my project work, I develop new methods to accurately forecast what’s going to happen in the future. During this process, I investigate existing methods and develop more efficient and accurate techniques to overcome the bottlenecks associated in the existing practise. My models have given new dimensions to our clients’ financial landscapes, while also providing social benefits and less disruption to customers’ daily lives. Ultimately, this is how CSIRO's Data61 achieves impact in both research and industry.
What do you love about working in tech?
Working in tech means learning about the world around us and solving greater challenges, and I have always been fascinated about finding innovative solutions to real-world problems. Working in a STEM field allowed me to play a role in society’s major discoveries and developments.
Why is diversity important and how can it improve tech?
Even though STEM professions come from a broad spectrum of industries and roles, they all share one common attribute, which is innovation. Innovation is the ability to imagine and create something new which no one has done before. People from diverse background would collectively bring different perspectives and viewpoints which will lead to successful innovations.
In your opinion, what's the single biggest change that needs to happen in order to encourage more women to pursue careers in tech?
In my opinion, the biggest challenge for the women to pursue their career in STEM is gender stereotyping. The negative stereotypes about girls’ intellectual abilities often discourage girls from pursuing STEM at an early age. Therefore, the single biggest change that needs to happen to encourage more women to pursue careers in STEM would be change all negative stereotypes about women’s intellectual ability.
Parents and teachers can play a major role here. They can often step in and shield girls from the belief that they’re less suited to STEM than boys. Moreover, these gender stereotypes can also be challenged by exposing girls to examples of women who have succeeded in STEM careers. By changing negative stereotypes I believe it will be easier for women to envision themselves following successful paths in STEM.
If you were a superhero, what would be your superpower and why?
If I were a superhero I would like to have healing ability as my superpowers. I want to help people who suffer from incurable diseases like cancer.
If you were down to your last $10, how would you spend it?
If I were down to last $10 without any job, I would spend most of that money (about $7) to find a job (transport, internet etc.). I would then go to grocery and buy some bread and milk from rest of the $3.