Employee Profile – Salome Apkhazava (EN)

This article is being posted as the first in a series of employee profiles shortly after Women’s Day 2021. That and only that is why gender is an issue in it. We will be using this format to highlight the stories of members of our fantastic team, no matter how they may identify.

After finishing her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in her home town Tbilisi in 2013, Salome moved to Germany to do as master’s in sociology. She was originally looking to make her way to the Viadrina in Frankfurt. A spot at the Free University of Berlin got in the way and she moved towards sociology. We have never grilled her about the totality of societies – but we can vouch for her people skills.

She did the usual thing for a student in Berlin, working a multitude of gig-economy jobs at once, experienced the usual resulting mental and physical fatigue and decided she needed to do something. She ended up at a different start-up first, but that “was not for her“. She stumbled upon a job posting on indeed.com in late 2018.

We were looking for a ‘Data Annotator’ – someone to help label video data to train Machine Learning Models with. That sparked her interest because she had “no idea what exactly that meant”. 

The founder trio

The interview party back then.

This article is simultaneously appropriate and ill-fitting with the theme of Women’s Day. When Salome first walked into Q-Damm 123, the office was populated with three male founders and one female annotator. You do not need to have spent an awful lot of time thinking about power dynamics to notice the discrepancy. Her pitch of “your work is interesting, I want to understand it and you guys seem like an awesome bunch” did the trick. Interestingly enough, this approach might be what enabled the suspension of gender roles – a problem that should not have been an issue, but may very well have been.

Salome grew up in a household where gender was never even a topic. Naturally, “she never really perceived” it as an issue. That changed in school.  Salome was often told she “had a boys brain” – meaning she felt comfortable moving in a men’s world. That ‘praise’ equipped her with a healthy dose of impostor syndrome and insecurity when entering academia. Sociology and psychology are both considered inclusive fields, but the classics are still men. Hardly anybody would feel the need to gender their neural processing units.

Contrary to what overly clichéd thinking suggests, that impostor syndrome never made itself felt in the tech world. We do not want to attribute this to Signatrix inclusiveness. Entering an organization without preconceived notions can occasionally be the cure to the power of stereotypes. Kudos go to Salome here.

While absolutely crucial for any Machine Learning company, the job description of an annotator is admittedly rather bland. In the end, you are mainly drawing boxes around objects and labelling them. That and ensuring that our data is of the highest quality is why Signatrix has always refrained from using third-party services and considered the annotators a key part of our team – proper compensation included.

Right from the start, Salome was deeply involved in the development of our annotation tools. She also played a major role in turning the office from an almost empty studio apartment into a place where people want to spend time, which sadly they do not get to do right now. In 2019 she also managed to score us a fantastic employee in her best friend – Salome Archemashvili. Thanks for that. 🙂 

After two years, she had outgrown her previous tasks and we decided to allow her to put her management skills to good use by coordinating the annotation team. The fancy wording here is Annotation Manager. She has also been working closely with our COO Julia Richter to streamline office processes and doing a great job there. We can only look forward to what will happen once she finishes writing her thesis and hope she decides to stay in the boy’s club for a while. We have gotten a little more diverse since then and will continue to keep working on that front. More profiles coming up.

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